'Rebel' hits the road: Justin Warner's new show premieres Saturday, March 30
Host Justin Warner poses for a photo after chopping wood at Short Mountain Distillery, as seen on Food Network's Rebel Eats Special. (Donn Jones / / January 14, 2013)
Even the title of his new show, "Rebel Eats," which premieres Saturday, March 30, is a wink to the mascot of his alma mater, South Hagerstown High School.
It's also pretty fitting, too, that one of his best friends, David Gysberts, just so happens to be the mayor.
But it'll be awhile before he's back in his hometown. "Rebel Eats" takes Warner on a culinary quest in the South.
"The premise is pretty simple. I'm going to try to find the most rebellious people and cuisine I can. And I wanted to do it in a way that was kind of tangible," he said during a telephone interview from New York.
One thing was that he wasn't going to be driving is a hot rod. Instead, Warner insisted that because he's just a newbie, he deserved an entry-level type of car.
"I'm not going to ruin any secrets about what I'm driving, but it's not the flyest whip I've ever seen," he said.
Armed with $300 and driving his jalopy, he'll be out meeting everyday people and chatting about what they do.
"When we were designing the concept of this show, I said, 'Let's make this a little a bit of a struggle. I'm a young person I should be able to handle it," said the 29-year-old. "So they can see what it's like to be on the road. And meet people and just hang out with people. Experience the general pleasantry that people extend to you when you're interested in what they do."
He said he could walk into any kitchen in America and say "I'm interested in what you do and I'm going to work for free for you for a day."
Warner said "Rebel Eats" is focused on Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.
"There's much more to the South than those three states. And there's much more to the United States than those three states," he said. "But I wanted to present something that we could look at a region, look at an idea, look at a swath of America and say 'This is interesting. And you're not going to believe this is going on here because I sure of a heck can't because I'm from Brooklyn, (N.Y.).'"
A Hagerstown native, Warner is based in Brooklyn where he runs his restaurant, Do or Dine. The self-taught chef was named "Next Food Network Star" in July 2012. As part of his win, his show's pilot will be aired by Food Network.
As for developing the show, Warner said he was most surprised about how much he was included in the process.
"I thought, and I guess a lot of people thought, 'There's Justin, signing up for big TV. There he goes and that's the last we'll see of him,'" he said. "But in reality when I roll into the Food Network office, it's like, 'Hey, Jay, whats up?' It's not like I'm in a green room somewhere or they keep me in a cage."
He said he's been able to contribute a lot to his show.
"There are four or five little twists that you'll see are straight outta my brain. That's weird to me. I really didn't think it would happen. That's like Mark Hamill saying to George Lucas, 'Hey, can we do it this way?'"
Warner said "bittersweetly" he wasn't able to work with his "Star" mentor Alton Brown as producer. The reason, he said, is because the concept changed from doing a Saturday or Sunday morning show in the kitchen to moving it to prime time and on the road.
"When we batted around something prime time, we're talking about instead of doing six episodes in six days, we're talking about one hour of TV in 12 days, on the road, in a van," he said. "Alton Brown is a rock star, but he doesn't need to live this van lifestyle. He has a family. He has nice suits. Myself, on the other hand, (I say) let's pile in the van, eat pistachios and drink energy drinks. This, to me, is still a definition of a good time."
And Warner should be bracing for even more fans when "Rebel Eats" airs. He said he didn't think he was "made for this" when it came to the instant fame that came with his TV exposure. But his love for food has always been a constant.
"Hanging out with people and getting people jazzed about food is totally there," he said. "When I was at South I had the choice to pick between Class Clown and Most Spirit. I picked spirit. To me, spirit is energy. It's getting people amped and getting people jazzed about life. If you can eat that, I can eat that. If you can cook that, I can cook that. If you graduated from South High and came from Hagerstown, then I can go anywhere I want to. And that to me is what it's about."
That is exactly the concept of his show. Warner said he can't give away too many secrets, but he hopes that he can teach others to love food, and, maybe embrace their own uniqueness.
"There are so many things I want them to get," he said. "I think the idea being different is awesome. That's not a new concept, but doing things differently is something that makes great products, that's innovation. And sometimes you get flak for it, or it sounds weird, but there's a reason."
He referenced one episode where he hung out with a guy who fishes for jellyfish and sells them to China.
"It's a $2 million industry in a town with no red light," he said. "Imagine if everybody thought that way, it would be an entirely different world. I'm just saying anything is possible but through food."
But if "Rebel Eats" eventually takes him all over the world, Warner knows that Hagerstown still loves its native son. He said his Facebook fan page analysis tells him that's where his fans are located.
"I have fans all over the world, literally people from Singapore, from Dubai, but the No. 1 town on my fan page is Hagerstown," he said. "I thought maybe it might be Brooklyn because it has something like 15 times the population. But, naw, little old Hagerstown. I love it."
If you watch ...
"Rebel Eats" premieres 10 p.m. Saturday, March 30, on the Food Network.