Whitefish Chef Dishes Details on His Chance to ‘Beat Bobby Flay’

Although Earl Reynolds can't disclose the results of his televised challenge to take on the celebrity chef, which airs tonight, he teases that he "gave Bobby hell"

By Mike Kordenbrock
Contender Earl James Reynolds poses at his station, as seen on "Beat Bobby Flay," Season 35. Photo Courtesy Food Network

Chef Earl Reynolds says that he enjoys the pressure of working at Herb & Omni in his hometown of Whitefish, where he’s been the executive chef since December 2023. He even goes so far as to say he feeds off the hum of the dining room, and the intensity of the kitchen.

“High-paced, high-pressure situations, I’ve always thrived in that,” Reynolds said. “But when there’s six cameras on you, it’s a lot different.”

Six cameras? When cameras come into the conversation, Reynolds isn’t talking about his day job anymore; rather, he’s referring to the time he tried to beat Bobby Flay.

This Thursday, Reynolds will have his television debut on the iconic Food Network show “Beat Bobby Flay,” in which contestants seek to triumph over the celebrity chef in a cooking competition. It’s something that Reynolds has had to keep quiet about for the better part of a year. And while he still can’t talk about the results, Reynolds said, simply, “I gave Bobby hell.”

Reynolds’ pathway to television started sometime in February 2023, when a scout for the show, who was cross referencing a James Beard nomination list (Reynolds and new FVCC Executive Chef Andy Blanton were both semifinalists for the award’s Northwest Region in 2023) with chef’s social media pages, reached out to him on his Instagram to see if he’d be interested, and set up an interview.

Years ago, before he was even interested in cooking professionally, Reynolds was watching Bobby Flay on “Iron Chef.” As he has progressed through his own career, he said he’s developed a deeper appreciation for Flay’s ability to build an empire not only through his TV work, but also through restaurants.

“I’ve always admired him as a chef,” Reynolds said.

But he hadn’t seen much of the “Beat Bobby Flay” show, at least up until a couple weeks before the Food Network scout first reached out. In a strange turn of events, Reynolds said that before he had any inkling that there was interest in bringing him on the show, he spent half a day stuck at a Toyota dealership, where the TV was playing a continuous stream of “Beat Bobby Flay” episodes, which he watched closely.

When it came time for video interviews as part of a contestant screening process, Reynolds said he drank a couple of espressos beforehand so he could crank it into fifth gear to showcase his most bubbly, entertaining side. It seemed to work, because the network expressed real interest in bringing him on.

Reynolds was also asked to submit a few signature dish recipes, which gave him some pause, because he doesn’t feel like signature dishes are as much of a feature of the work of a contemporary chef. But he’s long been drawn to Japanese cuisine, and figured that specialty might give him an edge against Flay by going a little outside the famed chef’s wheelhouse. So, he crafted his signature dishes with that in mind.

Between the time Reynolds got the dishes approved and appeared on the show, he underwent a rigorous, improvised training regimen so that he could feel comfortable cooking in an unconventional, challenging environment. For the first time since culinary school, he busted out flash cards to memorize the recipes he might turn to during the show, and even started stashing ingredients at opposite ends of his house before cooking.

“I wanted to be unstoppable,” Reynolds said. “I think my anxiety really helps me try to strengthen any weak point in my game plan.”

In April 2023, he flew out to New York for filming. He landed in New York City in the afternoon, and remembers having a bowl of ramen and a cocktail on that first day. He had to be at the studio the next morning at 5:30 a.m., but he kept thinking about the mystery ingredient Flay would present, which ratcheted his nerves up so high he spent the entire night awake.

At the studio, where a live audience was assembled, he started drinking Red Bull to jumpstart his system. There was a studio tour, including a look at the pantry, and then they started pumping in smoke to dramatize the guest chef entrances.

“And they’re like alright, go,” Reynolds said. “It was terrifying. I kind of knew that I would either kind of shut down and really mechanically cook, or I would ham it up in front of the cameras, and I feel like I did the latter.”

On the experience of meeting Bobby Flay, he said the celebrity chef was nice and very professional.

“I was starstruck to be able to meet with him and everything, it was kind of a dream come true,” Reynolds said.

The episode, called “Say What?!” is first airing this Thursday, June 27, at 7 p.m. MST on Food Network. The official episode description is as follows: “Bobby Flay is served a signature dish that’s way out of his comfort zone as Chopped host Ted Allen and Chef Tiffani Faison root for chefs Jim Armstrong and Earl James Reynolds to take him down.”

Although the episode is first airing this Thursday night, Explore Whitefish is partnering with Herb & Omni to host a watch party next Tuesday, July 2 at Second Story at 101 Central in Whitefish. The watch party is open to the public, and will go from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

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