Food Fight

Posted on June 19, 2016

Monterey Salka, a Torrey Pines graduate and former model, clinched a slot as a finalist on season 12 of Food Network Star, billed as a “food fight” featuring 13 chefs vying for a chance to host their own network show. The show debuted on May 22 and runs through July 31, when the winner will be crowned.

Salka and the other finalists compete in a series of challenges that test both their kitchen skills and “on-camera chops” when things in the kitchen get very hot. Celebrity chefs Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay serve as judges and mentors.

As a model, Salka appeared in Vogue Italia, Elle, and Marie Claire Australia, and was the face of campaigns for Tacori jewelry, among others. The demands of modeling, where she always had to watch her weight, led indirectly to her culinary career. “I gained 30 pounds my first year in the kitchen,” she recalls. “I got to eat anything I wanted!”

She got her start in the kitchen at Lazy Ox Canteen in Los Angeles, and later worked with San Diego chefs Brian Malarkey, Andrew Spurgin, and Chad White before moving to Manhattan as sous chef at Skal restaurant. In New York, she appeared on the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen and Camp Cutthroat before landing on Food Network Star.

The show is a pressure cooker, designed to test not only the cooking skills but composure of the contestants during a grueling shooting schedule. Salka says the finalists “were under lock and key,” during shooting, with no Wi-Fi, Internet, or communication with family and friends. Off camera, Salka says she and the other finalists got along well, and she admits to being a bit star struck at times by some of the “cool” judges for whom she cooked. “Regardless of who wins, I learned so much about what I can do as a chef,” she says. “The sky’s the limit — I want to do it all.”

Salka now lives in Nashville, but growing up in San Diego influenced her love of food: fish tacos in Rosarito Beach, Korean barbecue on Convoy, fresh tortillas and sopas in Barrio Logan. “There’s such a wealth of good food in San Diego,” she says. “It’s simple, good, honest food. Some of the best tacos I’ve ever had were out of a food truck in Golden Hill.”

But when asked what she’d like to have for her “last supper,” Salka picks her grandma’s pot roast, hands down.      Andrea Naversen