To become a reality-TV cooking star requires personality, on-camera charisma and culinary abilities, topped with plenty of nuts. So when San Francisco’s own mohawked chef Russell Jackson (Lafitte, SubCulture Dining) was invited to join the current cast of “Food Network Star” in Los Angeles late last year, it was a no-brainer.
“After having my experience with ‘Iron Chef America,’ I was very comfortable with the idea,” Jackson, 49, said in a recent phone interview. “I enjoyed it, so I thought, ‘How bad could it be to be locked up for months with a bunch of other crazies? How bad could this possibly go?’”
See for yourself when season nine of “Food Network Star” returns at 9 p.m. Sunday.
Over the season, contestants will compete in a series of high-stakes cooking and on-camera challenges to be decided by famed judges and mentors Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay, Food Network executives — and, for the first time, fan focus groups. Viewer voting will again determine the winner.
Temperatures may have risen in the kitchen during challenges, but Jackson was cagey about tempers flaring up elsewhere on the show.
“There’s an aspect of [drama]” he says, “when you lock up 12 people into a small, confined space, and you take away everything that connects them to the outside world, and then put them through these intensive tasks and pressure-filled moments.”
For Jackson, the intensity of the isolation involved was harder than anything else.
“That realization that I’m truly, truly alone,” he says. “When you have that realization that you have to count on yourself, what you’ve done in your life, what you’re capable of doing and how far you are willing to go, it’s a shock to your system.”
It’s unquestionable that Jackson’s thick résumé — which includes award-winning Los Angeles restaurant Russell’s, private chef duties for Counting Crows and two multibillionaires, James Beard-nominated Black Cat in North Beach, the development of innovative underground supper club SubCulture Dining, and the famously ill-reviewed Embarcadero eatery Lafitte — prepared him for the ups and downs of a culinary competition like this.
As he prepares to become a bicoastal chef with the expansion of SubCulture Dining into New York City, he also hopes to find a more permanent home on television through “Food Network Star.”
“Because of the quality of the work and the way I do things, the media has always gravitated toward me,” he says. “And I really enjoy being in front of the camera. Maybe that’s the evolutionary process of my career, and it’s a place that I’m really comfortable with right now.”
Food Network Star