How did Wellington chef win Food Network reality show contest?


The last two times I interviewed local chef Clay Carnes about his appearance on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen: Time Warp Tournament,” I got the feeling he wasn’t telling me everything.

I was right.

“Now I don’t have to hide everything!” says a relieved Carnes, 31, who won both the 1970s-dedicated episode of the show’s special summer series and the 1990s-themed finale last week. In both appearances, he competed against three other chefs in several goofy, decade-specific cooking challenges while navigating fun sabotages.

The Wellington resident, whose whose long-awaited restaurant Cholo Soy Cocina is set to open next month on West Palm Beach’s Antique Row, won his first episode in challenges included cooking while riding a bike carrying two other contestants and running around the kitchen in giant platform shoes. During the finale, “one of the most entertaining ‘Cutthroat Kitchen’ episodes,” he had to form a boy band with the other contestants and witnessed an appearance by Marc Summers, host of Nickelodeon’s 1990s hit game show “Double Dare.”

“I remember watching it as a kid, knowing you could get slimed!” says Carnes, whose childhood dreams were realized during his winning finale performance in which he “had to go through an obstacle course during the final dessert round and get ice cream dumped on my head.”

The talkative, down-to-earth chef is one of several Palm Beach County residents to appear on reality television competitions this summer. Currently, Palm Beach Gardens teacher Tiffany Rousso is trapped in a house in search of cash and prizes on CBS’ “Big Brother,” and Delray Beach barber/DJ Vinny Vintiera was recently sent home without a rose on ABC’s “The Bachelorette.” Palm Beach Gardens dog trainer Tibor Feigel has his own show “Tibor To The Rescue” on FidoTV. And then there’s Vanilla Ice, whose DIY Network hit “The Vanilla Ice Project” wraps July 9, and is starting another almost immediately after.

Because of the risk of spoilers, most networks are either very careful about what current contestants on their competitive shows can say to the media, or just don’t let them talk at all until they’re no longer on. I do a careful dance on Twitter and in interviews trying to report on the fun stuff that locals are doing, but I hate spoilers as much as you do, and I don’t want to mess up the games of contestants who find they like being on these shows and might want to do another one.

Take Carnes, who’s been on a total of four “Cutthroat Kitchen” episodes, including the two in the “Time Warp” competition. The funny thing is that before he was recruited online to apply for his first, “I wasn’t that interested in doing TV at all. It wasn’t something I thought of until they made it so easy.”

His first job is being a chef, specifically “getting up and running with the restaurant,” and he’s not able to take part in anything that’s going to get in the way of that projected August opening.

At the same time, he’s aware the the exposure that appearing on television provides gives the opportunity for he and other chefs to “be recognized for our hard work, for something cool that we’re doing,” he says. “Maybe you want to open the door for other opportunities. More than anything, it’s a ‘What can it hurt?’ situation. For me, any exposure is good exposure.”

So far, the only Food Network show Carnes has appeared on is “Cutthroat Kitchen,” although he says he’d welcome the opportunity to be on another. But making himself known has paid off in other ways, like a planned appearance at the Devour Food Film Fest in Nova Scotia, Canada, and leading a series of mostly sold-out cooking classes at West Palm Beach’s Shoppe 561.

“It’s one of those things that you think ‘If you can go on TV, would you go on (if offered an opportunity) on your wedding day? Do you hold off on your restaurant?,” he says. “I would say ‘No’, but you’d hate to tell the Food Network ‘No’.”

At the end of the day, the point of all of that exposure is the ability to do what “brings me so much joy, and I can’t be happy unless I’m in the kitchen. Everybody always told me that if you work hard enough and you’re good at something, you get what you need out of it. You keep your eyes on the prize, and the prize is to keep working at what I do.”


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