Damaris Phillips, a southern cook who was all about the food love, won “Food Network Star” Season 9 on Sunday (Aug. 11). Find out what she had to say about her win, favorite foods and the future in this interview.
What was your reaction to winning?
Damaris: Oh I was shocked! Really excited.
Did you expect to be the winner?
Damaris: No, I hadn’t even let myself go to that place. I really was trying to focus on being OK with the outcome, whatever it was. I was nervous that if I didn’t win, I was going to be down on myself. I didn’t even think about winning! I just thought about feeling successful no matter what. And then I did win … [laughs]
Was there a point when you started to think that you really could win the whole thing?
Damaris: Definitely when it got down to … Definitely after Nikki and Stacey left. I really thought that one of those lovely women were gonna win. Once they weren’t there, I started to think that there might have been a chance. But I really tried my hardest not to think that I could win.
What do you think it was that the judges and the audience responded to about you?
Damaris: I think that there’s something about me that makes it easy for people to imagine that I’m somebody that they know. Thankfully, I don’t seem that different than the girl next door or their daughter or their cousin or their best friend. So I think that, for whatever reason, I’m relatable. And that has been the best thing for me.
What’s coming next in the crazy process of putting on a new show?
Damaris: We are in the very beginning stages of that crazy process. It’s all very, very exciting. We’re starting conversations on where to go from here. I’m so excited to be even having these discussions!
Will your eventual show follow the framework set-out by your pilot, or are you going in a different direction?
Damaris: That is definitely an option. That is definitely an option, but there are other options that are being considered and are up for discussion. I hope that in the end, we find a show that’s going to be a great spot for me.
What was the hardest challenge for you?
Damaris: The first challenge was, without question, the hardest for me. I was so overwhelmed and star-struck, and I hadn’t really prepared mentally for what was going to happen, I don’t think. But then also the first challenge is 30 seconds to tell these people why you are special, why you are important, why you should be a star. And that is the hardest question to answer.
How about your favorite challenge?
Damaris: The most exciting was with Nikki and Stacey and the donuts. It was nice to work in a team. The women were lovely, I love donuts — and so it was the first time I had a lot of fun doing the job.
Did the judges give you any advice that you found particularly helpful?
Damaris: At one point, Alton looked at me and said, “You should use the tools you have to your advantage … Sometimes nerves help you. But in this case, nerves don’t help you anymore, so don’t go and feed the beast.” And that was really a changing point for me.
What is your favorite food to eat and your favorite food to make?
Damaris: Favorite food to eat: I absolutely love spaghetti. Spaghetti with meatballs — I love it! I also absolutely love banana pudding. I mean, in a non-normal “I love it” kind of way.
My favorite thing to make is … Usually I just ask someone what their favorite food is, and then that’s my favorite to make. I just like to make food that people love. When I miss my dad a lot, I make butter beans and cornbread. It was his favorite food, so I make that when I miss him real bad.
Why did you get into cooking in the first place?
Damaris: I do have a real belief in the ability of food to unite people. So knowing that, no matter what I’m going to use food as a way to connect with people for the rest of my life.