When the new season of "The Next Food Network Star" debuts on Sunday, June 6, Austin residents Brad Sorenson and Dzintra Dzenis will be among the 12 contestants competing for their own show on the network. The reality series follows the hopefuls as they learn to prepare food on camera, with a little help along the way from celebrity chef Giada de Laurentiis and a host of other guests.
In addition to giving Sorenson and Dzenis a shot at the limelight, their appearance on the show will add to Austin's ever-growing reputation as a culinary hot spot. Ironically, both Brad and Dzintra say they are so busy in their current jobs that they don't have a ton of time to sample much of what Austin has to offer. Sorenson, 25, works as line cook at Asti. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he opened Black Creek Bistro in Columbus, Ohio, as executive chef at the age of 22. He moved to Austin last year in search of a new adventure. "Since I started cooking I've always been in pursuit of the next challenge, of bettering myself in the kitchen, and it was time to find the next thing," he says.
Dzenis, 44, studied cooking at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu school and remained in Paris for 20 years before relocating two years ago with her husband and 13-year-old daughter. The New Jersey native runs Plates by Dzintra, a catering business and supper club. A self-described "mobile chef," she develops custom menus for her clients and teaches cooking classes. Austin's adventurous attitude toward food suits her approach. "People don't necessarily want to go to regular restaurants or steak houses; they want to try different venues," she says.
Both Dzenis and Sorenson say they were inspired to audition for "Next Food Network Star" by their love of cooking education. The show, unlike Bravo's "Top Chef," emphasizes contestants' ability to explain their craft to an audience just as much as it judges their cooking skills. The contestants are almost immediately asked to film promotional spots for their prospective programs without much coaching. "What you see on TV, that's one thing, but when you're actually there, it's nerve-racking but it's a lot of fun," Dzenis says.
"The first time I was on camera for the show was the first time I've ever been on camera," Sorenson says. "I don't have any performance background, so the nerves were definitely peaking. I always feel comfortable talking to people, but it's different talking to the camera to talk to people."
The show's contestants were required to live under the same roof. That sounds like a potentially sticky situation for a group of strangers from different backgrounds, but Sorenson and Dzenis say there was a lot of camaraderie. "Within the cast, we had a good support system," Sorenson says. "We were all put in the same situation, dealing with new things for the first time together, and moving through everything together made it a heck of lot easier."
Dzenis adds that it was nice having someone else who calls Austin home as part of the cast. "It was something I could relate to," she says. "We both chose to live here (in Austin), so that gave us a kind of bond."
We'll have to wait to see whether either Sorenson or Dzenis winds up as a regular face on television. In the meantime, Dzenis plans to continue building her business, which she says has been keeping her increasingly busy. Sorenson says that if things don't work out with the show, he would like to find other ways to share his love of food with others. "I really love teaching people how to cook, and if I can find a venue for that, that would be great," he said.
'The Next Food Network Star'
Two-hour season premiere
8 p.m. Sunday, June 6