Alton Brown, right, and his mini-me: Justin Warner, the winner of Season… (Food Network )
The audience vote was a mere formality. The winner of Season 8 of "Food Network Star"was clear from the start. It was up to viewers, but it was practically preordained: Justin Warner, a.k.a. Lipsticks, a.k.a. Alton Brown's mini-me, is the Food Network's newest star.
Warner, 27, the Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurateur with an Elvis-like pompadour, was a front-runner from Day 1. At first, he came off a little edgy and a tad bit cocky as he blew the judges' minds with culinary concoctions that should have failed -- but soared. Viewers soon discovered that his rebellious 'tude was a front for a marshmallow interior topped off with pillow-y, rosy lips. (Hence the nickname, Lipsticks.)
Warner, sounding a bit drained from the win, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that he was grateful and joked that "culinary justice was done!"
He said he credited Alton for his success. "I definitely wouldn't have done as well. I don’t think I would have made it to the finals" without his mentor, he said.
Warner said he plans to stick with the show POV that brought him to the finals "Rebel With a Culinary Cause." Set the DVR, folks.
His win was a fitting finish to a spectacular reboot of one of Food Network's most popular series but one that has struggled at times to live up to the fanfare. (Just try to remember the names of all the past winners, without including superstar Guy Fieri or our hometown favorite, L.A. food blogger Aarti Sequeira.)
This season's revamp pitted some of the network's biggest stars against each other as team mentors who, if victorious, would move onto Act 2 of their Food Network careers, as producers.
If there was any fear that Alton, Giada de Laurentiis and Bobby Flay would play nicely with one another, it was quickly cast aside. These three were in it to win it, injecting a refreshing burst of cut-throat competition into a reality show series that too often puts a premium on creating a happy family persona. (Example: Sunday night's season look-back included some of the competitors sniping at each other. Viewers didn't get much of that during the season.)
Warner is correct when he says he would not have made it this far, for the win, without Alton's coaching and mentoring. It's just hard to imagine that the Flayman or De Laurentiis -- though brilliant in their own ways -- could have coaxed out Warner's lovable, nerdy, geekiness as Alton did.
Well done, A.B.!
Alton said Justin is the son he never had, and he looked on as proud, preening papa. (I admit it. I choked back a tear at the end when A.B. paused -- cameras perfectly poised to catch it all -- to glance up at the larger-than-life poster of his mini-me.)
Let's just hope this is not the passing of the baton from one generation to the next. More "Good Eats," or something like it!
Only time will tell if Warner can become the second-most popular winner in the show's history.
Warner said his late father, who was so influential to his "break the rules and then rebuild them" style, wouldn't be surprised by the win.
"He also wouldn't have been surprised if I got knocked out in the first round," Warner said, laughing. "He raised me to be a little bit polarizing. I think today we’ve seen how that all pans out."
He added: "I cook to make people’s brain pop a little bit." By contrast, he said, the Flayman's team cooked to cook. Giada's team cooked to get all huggy-feely. "Alton Brown's team cooks to blow minds."
Now, let's see, that just leaves one last question: Justin, what is it with the lipstick? (Not that we want you to stop, mind you. ...)
Claims Justin: "I don’t wear lipstick. On occasion I have chapped, dry lips, and I use lip balm. ... I think something happens between my lips, the camera, and the TV that makes them pop."
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