Imagine you are standing in front of a stove in a television studio. The lights are trained on you. The camera turns your way. You need to cook something special, and whether your meal comes out delicious or deplorable, millions of people will see it happen. Feeling stressed?
Orchid Paulmeier, one of the 15 finalists in Season 7 of the Next Food Network Star, never did. Cooking relaxes her, and the show’s audience quickly responded to her unique, bubbly kind of grace.
“I was named the frontrunner, the one to beat,” says Orchid. “At first I did great, then somewhere in the middle I found myself in the bottom three, and then suddenly I was eliminated.”
The best reality television has plenty of twists and turns, and Orchid’s elimination was certainly a surprise for her growing fan base. Yet her Hilton Head restaurant, One Hot Mama’s, remains a frontrunner when it comes to barbecue and Low Country favorites.
Orchid’s approach to southern food developed in an unusual way. While most Southern chefs have fond memories of being raised on homemade Southern meals, Orchid had no taste of it during her childhood.
“I was raised in Chicago,” says Orchid, who is Filipino. “Growing up, it was all Filipino food—everything.”
The Filipino style of cooking did share one thing with the Southern style—a focus on family and celebration.
“Family gatherings were always based around good food, always,” Orchid says. “Our parties were all-day eating events.”
In college, Orchid majored in Hospitality Management and an internship brought her to Hilton Head, SC. After finishing school, Orchid headed back to Chicago and snagged a big-city hotel job.
“I lasted about three months before I said, ‘I can’t do this city thing anymore, I want to go back to the island,’” Orchid recalls.
She got married, found a house, and discovered a completely new kind of food.
“Being so different from what I grew up in, I really took to the Southern style of food,” Orchid says. “I just loved it.”
Orchid was also in love with idea of opening her own restaurant. She wanted to do it by the time she was 30, and she did just that with her first restaurant in Bluffton, SC. Today, Orchid still lives in Bluffton but her restaurant, One Hot Mama’s, is located in Hilton Head near the Sea Pines Resort.
When the opportunity to enter the Food Network Star competition arose, Orchid was one of between 4,000 to 5,000 people vying for a place among 15 finalists. Not only did she make it on the show, she also became an early favorite. Fans were upset at her elimination, but the traits that endeared her to the audience were not necessarily the ones the judges were looking for.
“They said I was too nice,” Orchid says with a laugh. “But there’s definitely some debate about that.”
Orchid left the show with a gracious smile.
“You know, everyone has a storyline in a show like this, and I guess my storyline was as the frontrunner who ends up getting eliminated for whatever reason,” Orchid says.
Despite being filmed for a show that would air across the country, Orchid says cooking on camera was not a problem.
“Cooking is something that actually calms me, so for that aspect of the show, I wasn’t really stressed,” Orchid says. “I love to cook. Sometimes I wonder if my husband gets into arguments with me because he knows I will cook to calm down.”
The real stressor for Orchid was the restriction of family contact and having no phone, computer, or television to connect with the outside world.
“I have a big family and a lot of employees and friends that I’m around on a daily basis, so not having that was really stressful,” Orchid says. “The other stress came from the judges—waiting to hear what they would say about your food or how you came across.”
Even though she could have easily whipped up some comfort food after a long day of shooting, Orchid stuck to the methods she uses at home when making her own meals.
“I definitely try to cook on the lighter side at home,” Orchid says. “I’ve actually turned my kids on to quinoa, which is similar to couscous. I discovered it while I was filming at the Food Network.”
Local fans of Orchid’s Southern food won’t have to worry about her lightening things up at One Hot Mama’s.
“At the restaurant we’ve got barbecue, hickory smoked fried chicken, dishes like that,” Orchid says. “We’ve got a lighter side too, but we’re really known for our barbecue. And I’m definitely a savory person.”