Justin Warner is a chef that defies definition. He self-identifies as being "out of the box," and that approach to life also characterizes the cuisine at his Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurant, Do or Dine, which made a name for itself by selling foie gras-filled donuts. It’s been a full eight months since it was announced that he had won season eight of Food Network Star after being taken under the wing of co-host Alton Brown, and whereas in previous seasons the winner’s show premiered just a few days after the finale, in this case they waited until after the finale to even begin strategizing. The end result, a one-time special called Rebel Eats, will be broadcast Saturday, March 30, at 10 p.m., with the potential for it to be turned into a series if it performs well.
"It’s a mashup of all the things that are great about food and life and rebellion," Warner told us in an interview. "We travel to Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and meet some incredible characters who are doing some really crazy cooking. But they don’t think that it’s crazy; to them it’s just another day of slow-cooking an entire giant animal."
While traveling the South’s back roads in a beat-up car with little cash in his pocket, Warner meets folks who are similar to him: in a word, rebels.
It wasn’t an easy road for Warner and the Food Network brass to get to this point. "I’m an outlier from the standard Food Network stuff, and I like to cook different things from what they usually air," he said. "TV is very 'boxed-in,' and we took a lot of time to figure out how to 'box the unboxable.' It was tough to figure out exactly where I fit in. We knew that we didn’t just want to go the 'stand and stir' route, and realized that primetime would work best. From there everything else just fell into place."
He’s confident that all the waiting has paid off, however. "It was an incredible experience, and the show is really good. It’s both exciting and educational," he said.
"Well, not too educational," he added. "Educational in a good way."