Natasha Clement’s long-term love affair with the Food Network is coming full circle.
The LaPlace home cook is one of nine in the kitchen for the second season of the network’s series “All-Star Academy,” debuting Sunday. Clement says she became hooked on the culinary network when she was put on bed rest before the birth of her son, who’s now 12.
“I love the Food Network, all the chefs on the Food Network, and when I found out what type of show this was it was literally two days before the casting call,” Clement recalls.
Those New Orleans auditions were taking place “150 feet from the front door of the restaurant I work at, so I felt like it was kind of a sign that I should give it a shot,” says Clement, 37.
After having worked at Houston’s in Metairie for more than 15 years, the restaurant closed in May.
“It was kind of strange in my mid-30s to have to apply for a job,” she says.
She’s been a server/bartender at La Petit Grocery on Magazine Street since July.
“I like to cook French-inspired dishes, more of a sophisticated version of southern French Creole cuisine,” she says.
She and the other “All-Star Academy” contestants will create dishes for elimination challenges each episode, with the winner taking home a $50,000 grand prize. Each pair of home cooks will be mentored by a star chef — being Alex Guarnaschelli, Curtis Stone, Robert Irvine or Andrew Zimmern.
Clement goes into “Academy” with some cooking competition experience. After cracking the top 40 on last season’s “MasterChef” on Fox, Clement was soon eliminated from the Gordon Ramsay-hosted series.
“I did not get an apron on that show, so I was determined to get one somewhere else,” she says.
Preparing for the Food Network show meant trying to challenge herself on a daily basis in her own kitchen, she says.
“And of course, I like to learn from the chefs and others in the industry I work for.
“It is a lot of pressure to put yourself out there in the form of a plate of food and have people understand where you’re coming from and actually agree that you are good at what you do. So, I cook constantly and luckily for me, I have three kids (including 10-year-old step-twins) that really will try anything, so my practice is really at home,” she says.
This season of “All-Star Academy” was shot in New York in November, and Clement calls her stint in the kitchen there a great experience.
“Your time is more well-spent with the Food Network on learning how to be a better home chef,” she says. “I brought a lot of flavor to the competition and that was one of my goals, to have my food taste the best.”
Clement says she also learned not to doubt her decisions.
“I learned I’m a lot better than I thought I was. I also took a lot of constructive criticism on time management, and just calming down and focusing on exactly what I want to serve, and enjoy it more instead of worrying that it’s going to be good enough,” she says. “If you love what you do and you execute it properly, it’s going to be amazing.”