Bravo’s latest entry to its line up of mouth-watering reality shows is “Chef Academy,” which follows Michelin-winning French chef Jean Christophe Novelli, who comes to Venice, California to start a culinary institute.
And when it premieres tonight at 11, among the 9 students he seeks to teach and train is Carissa Loughhead St. Aubin, a Charlotte newlywed who says she’s ‘nauseous with excitement’ to see the first episode.
The show is a little different than “Top Chef” or “Hell’s Kitchen,” or the other do-or-die elimination food shows. On this show, students get three chances to fail before they flunk out of the school. But while Novelli, a prankster who reveals a deep love of the TV character “Columbo,” isn’t the cussing tyrant that is Gordon Ramsay, St. Aubin says he’s not a pushover either.
“Novelli is tough. He has this silent stare that will make you sweat in your chef whites,” she says. “And he’s hard to read. You can’t tell if he’s going to tell you this is the best or is he’s going to throw your food in the trash.”
Still, Carissa must have learned a few things. When we caught up with her she was adding some light to a gloomy overcast day by making bacon eclairs.
Carissa wasn't always a foodie; "I had my food awakening later in life," she says. (She just turned 27, but was 25 when the show taped.) That awakening came, in part, in the name of love; her very honest, now mother-in-law told Carissa she would never get the family diamond if she didn't know how to cook.
That sent Carissa on a self-described "culinary rampage." Among other things, she auditioned for "Hell's Kitchen," but didn't make the cut. The casting agents remembered her when "Chef's Academy" came up.
"I think I did much better," Carissa says of missing "Hell's Kitchen." "I'm not good at getting yelled at. I'm a delicate flower."
Ramsay would have surely annihilated her for a mistake she makes on the first episode of "Chef Academy": she serves Novelli a dish with a hair in it.
"Oh my goodness, it was the most embarrassed I've ever been in my life," she says. "And then when I called my fiance he said 'But that's the best part of the dish.'"
Along with Carissa, the show features a diverse group of characters. (Wait until you meet Suzanne, the Orange County, CA mom; wait till you see Emmanuel, the French guy.)
"You can not make up these characters," says Carissa. "We were all from such different backgrounds, yet we had so much fun. I think it's because sharing food is a really personal experience." She says there were a few people she didn't get along with, but "I tried not to sip the haterade."
We won't know whether she graduated from "Chef Academy" until the show's finale, but Carissa must have learned something. "Entertaining is a blast," she says of life post-show. "I have a knowledge of the basics and that has given me confidence. I'm not daunted by any ingredient."
Another telltale sign: she's been put in charge of Thanksgiving. "My mother handed over the oven mitts. She says she's happy she has one daughter who can cook."
Yet she's managed to avoid the obvious pitfall of cooking well: gaining weight. "My husband and I are known for being 'oinky'," she says. "You don't want to go to the buffet with us. We look at items for price per protein. People always ask why we have not massively grown. We splurge, but we get out a lot. We walk the dogs a lot. My husband just had a cholesterol check and I can report that he's extremely healthy."
For tonight's premiere, Carissa's husband Jason surprised her with a viewing party at Charlotte's Common House. "I feel like a VIP. I'm more important than Monday Night Football."
"I'm looking forward to it, but I'm wondering if I should hide in the bathroom."
Nah, you're fine Carissa.