We caught up with Chef Christian Petroni who says he’s “just chillin’” as he comes down from the bumpy ride that won him his own show on Food Network. While we talked, his 1-year-old son, Beau, cooed over his shoulder. Petroni sounded mellow, happy and maybe a little bit spent.
“The hardest thing about it was eating my own food on camera,” he says. “Your mother always tells you, ‘Don’t talk with your mouth full’ but there I was, looking at cameras and trying not to smile with stuff in my teeth.”
Of all the contestants, Petroni was probably the most TV-ready walking in; he’d already done stints on “Chopped” as both contestant and judge. He’s a natural—if there’s anyone that the camera loves, it’s this guy—but reality TV contests often set up contestants to struggle, if not fail, for entertainment value. Happily, Petroni managed to dodge the producers’ trickiest snares.
“I started to really enjoy the challenges. I’d be waking up in the morning, you know, in the zone, like, ready.”
The contest took place in California over an intensive five weeks of filming in late winter/early spring—which sounds brief until you realize that Petroni left his wife, Sherry, at home with their phenomenally cute 5-month-old. Petroni, usually glib, suddenly gets serious: “Leaving them was hard. That was really hard.”
At 34, Petroni is part of the generation of chefs whose careers were influenced by food TV, yet his earliest fascination was not with Bobby, Emeril or even Mario. He cites a PBS (and, later, Discovery Channel) show, “Great Chefs of the World.” This was a bog-standard, incredibly unjazzy production with a “stand and dump” format that followed famous chefs as they prepared an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert. Petroni watched the show in the late ’80s and ’90s: “I’d be a kid, watching the appetizer and getting really into it,” he laughs. “I’d want to see what they’d do for the entrée.”
Petroni is circumspect about the ultimate show that Food Network plans for him. He explains that the show will be the result of a collaboration between him and the network and, thus far, there have been no meetings. For now, Petroni is just happy to be back with Beau and Sherry and tending the fires at his Fortina restaurants. It also sounds like he’s just happy to eat stuff without worrying about his smile.
This story was originally published to Edible Westchester in August 2018.