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The Next Food Network Star: Darrell 'DAS' Smith

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Season 6 of The Next Food Network Star premieres on Sunday June 6th on the Food Network. Shot on location here in Los Angeles, the group of 12 finalists also happens to include three competitors who call the L.A. area home; this week we'll talk to each one of them in a three-part interview series.

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Darrell "DAS" Smith (Photo courtesy Food Network)
Darrell "DAS" Smith, 28, is originally from Detroit and has been living in Los Angeles for almost 4 years. Currently he teaches in the revamped culinary program at Beverly Hills High School.Tell us about the Beverly Hills High School culinary program.
I got word they wanted to do new culinary program at the High School, and that they wanted to reinvent the program. It was a home ec classroom when I first waked in--10 stoves in a classroom with old sinks, old stoves, 1970s looking cabinets. They changed it--new tile floor, commercial stainless steel appliances. They really turned the program. [I came in and] started from scratch, ordered chef's jackets for the students, got them the CIA textbook to work from. Basically what I did was try to take what I learned in culinary school and take it into the program for them.

What's it been like working in the program?
This is the second year of the program, and it's the number one sought-after elective. We had a career fair at the school recently, and of 2000 kids, 600 were interested in the culinary arts. For me, I was in the right place at right time--school needed the program, and I took the opportunity. I'm used to working with professionals, and working at a fast pace, so this was a change of scene. I'm influencing young minds, and it's been very rewarding. I've even had a couple of kids from the program go on to culinary arts school, so this is opening their eyes to futures.

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Speaking of the future...what made you want to be The Next Food Network Star?
Who doesn't want to become the Next Food Network Star? I've wanted to do TV, you know, try some things out on TV. Got application from one of my old chefs. He called me in, said you should go try out, I went to open casting call, and the rest is history. I've always been a pretty popular guy, I like to give to people, so I feel like why not get on TV!

Who is your favorite Los Angeles-area chef?
I get inspiration from some of my chefs I used to work with, like at the Sofitel. And Michael Fiorelli at mar'sel Restaurant. Govind Armstrong, Suzanne Tracht, Wolfgang Puck--of course! I have a lot of chefs that I really admire.

If you were to take someone on a culinary tour of “your” LA where would you go?
First off I’d take them to Fairfax to Little Ethiopia, because it's full of great Ethiopian restaurants. My girlfriend is from Eretria, so those are the restaurants of her culture, that's her influence. They are the best spices in the world. Cruise the street, eat some food....it's really a social experience. You eat together, you eat with your hands--you grab the dough with your hands. There's also Street. I love Susan Feniger's concept of street food from around the world. Then I would take them to mar'sel at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes. The view from the back porch of his restaurant is completely awesome, and the food is great, it's a complete dining experience--that would be our endcap!

What's your favorite place to shop for ingredients?
The Santa Monica Farmers' Market. Hands down. It's also important to get to know your local grocer and your local butcher. Sometimes I like to go further east [from Beverly Hills or the westside] and go to the supermarket.

What's next for you?
I plan to continue to receive my blessings, and influence young minds. Right now it's all about the students. They're seeing different career options for themselves, and it's pretty awesome just to have them eat different foods. At this point may not know exactly what they want to do, so the culinary program gives them something they can do. I'm exited that some of the success I’ve had …gives them inspiration and shows them opportunities.

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Will Smith be named The Next Food Network Star? Tune in and find out. The 2 hour Season 6 premiere airs Sunday June 6th on The Food Network.