You may not like being described as “on the edge of brilliant and crazy” on national TV, but it turned out fine for Vanessa Craig. Those were the words of celebrity chef Michael Symon, who picked Craig for his team during episode one of Food Network’s new All-Star Academy. At the end of this competition’s eight-week run, one home cook will walk away with $50,000.
“My first job was at Olsen’s Bakery,” said Craig, a Goleta resident who grew up in Solvang. “That was the coolest thing when I was 13 or 14, all the big baking machines.” While she still has her aebleskiver pan, Craig’s skills have grown, even on the service side, with stints at The Palace Grill (when Opal owners Richard Yates and Tina Takaya managed), Seagrass (when Mitchell Sjerven and Amy Sachs owned it), and Downey’s, too. “I always felt you had to go for the best,” said Craig, whose cooking style and spirit can be enjoyed on her website vanessalovesfood.com, which “showcases my love for all things culinary in the Santa Barbara area.”
She was motivated to strive for the best on All-Star Academy by her stepfather, who died in 2000. “He was my rock,” she said. “When he passed, I found my comfort in cooking. The restaurant world became a new kind of family, and giving of my passion really helped me heal.”
Craig can’t give any spoilers about how she does on the show, but she will talk about what she might do if she takes home the big prize. “As an entrepreneur, I’m always looking for that new niche that will work in the community,” she said. “I’d like to combine my culinary skills, both savory and sweet, to do more of a private chef type situation in which I could showcase my talent and personality.”
Vanessa Craig appears on Food Network’s All-Star Academy every Sunday at 9 p.m. (unless she loses). See foodnetwork.com.