Giada De Laurentiis homegirl Linkie Marais finds “Food Network Star”-dom her own route

Linkie Marais starred on season 8 of Food Network Star. While she worked well on team Giada De Laurentiis, Marais didn’t end up winning the contest. Big deal! She has a lot more going on with her TV show and sweets company…

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What happened on your second audition that made you get cast for Food Network Star?

I think it’s important to mention that on my first audition, I got all dressed up. I’m talking red lips, red nails, a cute little black dress with white polka dots and red high heels. At that point, I was not yet working as my husband and I had just moved to Massachusetts. The casting director asked me what I did for a living, and I told her at that point, I was a housewife. She looked at me and said, “Oh yeah, you look the part.” (LOL) To this day, I’m not sure what she meant by that…

For my second audition, I decided to be myself. I wore cowboy boots and a casual dress. When I walked in, the casting director asked, “Where are you from? You have such a cool accent.” I knew from that point that I already had her attention and the the conversation was going to be great. I told her I was a hybrid from South Africa, who detoured to Mississippi before immigrating to the north. She laughed. She then asked me what I did for a living, and by that time I was a wedding cake artist at Montilios Baking Co. and had done cakes for Franki Valli and Patrick Kennedy. She immediately told me that I made it through to the next round. So in all actuality, I had three questions to make an impression…and I did!

When you say you wish you could do something on the show differently, what do you mean?

If I could do something different on the show, I would not allow myself to be boxed in to a small category, and I would stand up more for what I believe is going to make me shine. I love to play with cakes, but I don’t really have a sweet tooth and personally enjoy savory food much more. I wish I had been able to cook more of that on the show. I would also be much more competitive from the start. When I stepped onto the set, I was star struck and intimidated by the lights and cameras. I wanted to make friends with everyone and thus, almost forgot that it was a competition. Now that I’ve done Food Network Star and other shows, the cameras and lights don’t scare me anymore…in fact, they feed me to perform. I can be myself much easier and get into my groove of cooking and talking at the same time.

I wish this weren’t true, but often in contests, people win or lose based on physical and mental characteristics that have nothing to do with the contest requirements. If someone has the wrong accent or hair shade, or if a judge hates your shirt, anything, you lose the contest because ONE person did not like you. How would you have proven them wrong as a popular popular Food Network host?

I think the biggest lesson I have learned thoughout the whole process, is to be myself. I actually love the challenge of proving people wrong. As a fun-loving person, and someone who can relate to anyone, I know that I could have made people fall in love with my personality if I had the chance to cook the food that I loved. The competition is about the entire package, and that entire package comes together when you are passionate about what you do. I am passionate about my history and heritage, and that shines through in my food. I would not worry about that “one” judge that may hate my shirt or shoes, but I would be confident in who and what I am, and show them I have the culinary skills to bring the package together.

A negative about network TV is you don’t have enough control over the production. On your own regional TV show, what do you do as the boss of everything?

I try to have a blast and not be too scripted. I absolutely love Julia Child and adore her fun, unedited personality on camera. As a person who loves to relate to people, I think that my show comes across the same way. On my show, I  am not perfect. I laugh at my mistakes, and people love to see that…and can relate to that. Cooking can be intimidating for some people, so if they see that everything doesn’t always goes perfectly in the kitchen, it gives them confidence to try more recipes and take more chances. I love having free reign over what I cook, how I cook it and where I shop for ingredients. It’s so much fun to pick items up at a local farmers market and show people that “perfectly imperfect” food can still be beautiful if you just know how to prepare and plate it.

You’ve talked about your initial surprise to American preserved foods when moving here. How do you avoid using these ingredients when almost everything is preserved?

I have a repect for preserved foods when you preserve them yourself. Pickling for example. Even though I am not a health fanatic, I do like to know where my food comes from. I think that extra preservatives in foods just take away from the taste, and I like to really taste food in its natural form. I frequent my local farmers markets and grow my own herbs. I would love to eventually have my own garden too. Being from South Africa, I grew up eating mostly steamed veggies and not overly sweet desserts. Because of that, I really appreciate the the “rustic” beauty of food in its naked form.

As a master cake baker, what are your tips for baking delicious cakes with lower sugar or calorie counts?

I would suggest staying away from refined sugars, if possible. Instead, try using sugar in the raw form, or natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and molasses. Also, it’s important to realize that there are foods that have a natural sweetness to them, like carrots and beets. I love playing around with those ingredients when baking a delicious cake!

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