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College of Media alumna wins Food Network cooking competition

Reed College Alumna Brittany Furbee chopping vegtables on Food Network TV competition.

Photo courtesy of Food Network

Interview by Hannah Booth

Many of us enjoy watching competitive TV cooking shows, but West Virginia University Reed College of Media alumna Brittany Furbee (MSJ, 2015; BSJ, 2014) prefers to win them.

On a whim, the WVU PR specialist decided to submit an application for Food Network’s “Cooks vs. Cons,” a cooking competition program in which two home chefs go up against two professionals. But their identities are hidden from the judges and viewers until the end. As a contestant, Furbee went on to prove “Mountaineers go first” by winning $10,000 and bragging rights by beating two professional chefs.  

Hannah Booth: What was it like to be a contestant in a food competition?

Brittany Furbee: The whole experience still doesn’t feel real to me, but it was by far one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Knowing that I would be competing against two professional chefs was definitely nerve-wracking, but I was so excited for the opportunity to show people what I could do in the kitchen. I’m naturally very competitive, but having to cook on the clock was an adrenaline rush unlike anything I had ever experienced.

HB: What’s the biggest thing you learned from the show?

BF: Being on the show taught me to embrace my strengths and dream big. I always secretly dreamed of being a chef or food TV star, but as I became an adult and an aspiring journalist, I didn’t really see how that would be possible. I always kept those dreams in the back of my mind though, and I didn’t let my doubts stop me from applying for the show, which clearly paid off!  As I was filming for the show, my goal was just to represent myself, WVU and West Virginia in a positive light. I never expected to win, but I stayed true to myself and made dishes that were a reflection of who I am as a person. The rest just fell into place. This experience was a dream come true and really showed me that anything is possible.

HB: Did any of the skills you learned at the College of Media help prepare you for the show or during the show?

BF: Definitely. One of the fundamental things I learned as a journalism student at the Reed College of Media was how to interview people and how to tell a story. When I filmed for the show, it was the first time I’d ever been on the other side of the interview or camera, which was kind of intimidating. But my background eliminated a lot the nervousness I was feeling, which helped me stay calm and focus on the task at hand.

HB: Would you say cooking relates to your role as a PR specialist?

BF: As a PR specialist, I spend a lot of my time collecting facts and information that can be used to create publications and new stories. My favorite part of the job is getting to see how all the pieces come together to create a final product I can be proud of. I definitely get the same satisfaction from transforming ingredients into dishes that I can share with others.

HB: Was your Food Network experience a one-time thing, or could you see yourself appearing on another cooking show in the future?

BF: I certainly hope that my Food Network appearance isn’t a one-time thing. I truly enjoyed the entire process from start to finish and would love the opportunity to do it again. In the meantime, however, I plan to compete in more off-camera cooking competitions. 

After filming for the show, I knew I was addicted to competitive cooking, so I entered the Taste of America Challenge, where I had to incorporate a designated West Virginia ingredient into my submission. I worked really hard to come up with my version of a winning dish and finished first place in the West Virginia competition, which has granted me entry into the 2017 World Food Championship. This November, I will head to Orange Beach, Alabama, where I will compete against chefs from all over the world in the recipe category for the grand prize of $100,000. I am really looking forward to representing the state and hopefully bringing home another win!