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'Food Network Star' heats up

The culinary competition series returns June 5 for another season of dicing, drama, and squirm-worthy camera challenges

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Some say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and for the newest crop of contestants on Food Network Star, important is an understatement. On the June 5 season premiere, 15 hopefuls must cook up a morning meal for judges Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network SVP Susie Fogelson, and general manager Bob Tuschman that’s tasty, impressive, and representative of their personalities. ”[Breakfast] is a very good definition of the kind of person that you are,” says De Laurentiis, who officially joins the panel after serving as a mentor in season 6. ”Are you a cereal person? Are you an egg person? How creative can you be with some standard ingredients?”

The challenge kicks off the seventh season of the hit Food Network series, which pits chefs against one another in the kitchen — and on camera. Since the prize is their own show on the network, they have to prove they can cook and give off that affable, chatty charm. ”The prize is immense,” says Flay. ”There’s no dollar figure on it. It’s so intangible. You’re actually giving somebody a career.”

That same episode, the contestants must also prepare dishes using ingredients from the local farmers’ market, as well as create a promo reel for the judges and special guests, including Extra‘s Mario Lopez, InStyle‘s Hal Rubenstein, and EW’s editor, Jess Cagle. These are just the first tests in a season full of inventive challenges — everything from a food-truck competition to an Iron Chef-inspired battle to a cook-off on the set of Cougar Town. ”It was funny to see how many of them are foodies,” says De Laurentiis of the cast of the ABC series. ”Busy Philipps [is] unbelievable. She’s hilarious and has real insight into cooking. At the end of the show, one of the executive producers was like, ‘Do you want your own cooking show?”’ If only it were that easy for the contestants.