“I didn’t like the fact that they were having all of these great parties, and I was being left out. So I started throwing my own parties and inviting everybody,” said Duncan, a Birmingham-based entertaining expert who is competing on the new season of the reality cooking show.
Duncan is the only member of the cast who has never gone to culinary school or worked in the food industry.
However, she spent years learning from some of the best in the wedding business. At her blog, Martie Knows Parties, Duncan shares recipes and other ideas for entertaining that she picked up from those experts and then made more affordable.
Duncan said she is trying to reach anyone who is afraid to have people over because the get-together wouldn’t meet Martha Stewart’s standards.
“Every family has that one person who always does everything. I’m here to help the other 99 percent who are thinking, ‘Oh, my God. I have to have Thanksgiving at my house this year. I don’t know what to do,’” Duncan said.
Duncan has long dreamed of bringing her message to the masses through her own TV show. She received some encouragement several years ago from celebrity chef Guy Fieri.
Martie Knows Parties had just launched and Duncan was asked to be the back-up talent for Food Network stars such as Fieri at an Atlanta food show.
Duncan, who had to pay her own expenses for the trip, initially booked the cheapest hotel she could find but took a last-minute leap of faith and had her assistant make reservations at the hotel that adjoined the event facility.
Ten minutes after checking in, Duncan was waiting for the valet to bring her keys when someone tapped her on the shoulder and asked for directions. Duncan turned around in the middle of a sarcastic comment and realized that the person standing behind her was Fieri.
After hearing about Martie Knows Parties, Fieri asked Duncan why she didn’t have a show on Food Network.
“He said, ‘Whatever you have to do, I think you should do it. Just try.’ But I didn’t know how to try. I had no idea how to go about it,” Duncan said.
Last year Duncan was browsing the Food Network website when she came across information about auditions for the eighth season of “Food Network Star.”
At the casting call in Chicago, Duncan wowed the judges with a shrimp boil she prepared in a local fire station because it was the only kitchen available to her. At the next round in Atlanta, she impressed food expert and “Iron Chef’ commentator Alton Brown, and he asked her to be on his team.
Duncan described Brown as “the smartest guy in cooking” and “remarkably interesting on every level.” She respectfully referred to her mentor as “Sir” — short for “Sir Snarks A lot” because of his razor-sharp wit.
This year’s season of “Food Network Star” divides the finalists into three teams that are led by Brown, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis.
During the premiere last Sunday, the competitors were challenged to open a restaurant in 24 hours and serve 150 people.
Brown’s team chose the name “Do South” for their venue, and Duncan prepared three kinds of deviled eggs. The various toppings required her to use at least 11 recipes.
Although the judge’s on-screen comments were less than kind, Duncan escaped elimination.
Duncan said she was aware going into the competition that she was at a disadvantage because of her lack of culinary training.
However, her past experience as a party planner and police officer helped her stay calm under pressure.
Duncan said each challenge that came her way on “Food Network Star” also revealed something new about herself.
“This is an exploration of your heart, your soul, your tenacity, where you come from, the roadblocks that you may have put up,” Duncan said. “I was holding onto some things that I think were prohibiting me from moving forward. This was something that I wasn’t really aware of until it was pointed out to me. Every episode was a journey.”
Duncan added that she is honored to represent the people of Birmingham, the state of Alabama and home cooks everywhere on national television.
“We’re real people. We go to our jobs everyday and do what we have to do. I just feel like I get to stand up for everybody. It’s me on TV, but I’m there for a lot of people,” Duncan said.
A new episode of “Food Network Star” airs tonight at 8 p.m. One competitor will be sent home each week until a finale in July.
The winner will get his or her own show and will be decided by America’s vote for the first time in the show’s history.
Viewers can vote for their favorite contestant now on the Food Network website. Although those votes do not yet affect the outcome of the competition, Duncan said network officials are looking at the results to determine how much fan support each competitor has.