River Forest resident Emily Paster stands for a photo on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, in her kitchen at home in River Forest, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Guy Fieri, Food Network celebrity chef, is exactly what he seems to be according to Emily Paster, River Forest resident, cookbook author and contestant on a recently aired episode of Guy’s Grocery Games. The shopping meets cooking game show has aired for 30 seasons and pits home cooks against each other in speed rounds designed to test their creativity and cooking prowess for a panel of judges.

“There is nothing fake about Guy Fieri,” said Paster of the Food Network star who also hosts Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. “I really appreciate how he supports small businesses through his work and admire that he is self-made.”

Known for writing books that embrace global Jewish cuisine, Paster found her way to Guy’s Grocery Games through a casting company that had been considering her for another cooking show on the Food Network years prior.

“I think they plucked me from a file they had on hand,” said Paster. “The application was extensive, and I went through several interviews before they made the decision to bring me out to tape the episode. I didn’t believe it was really going to happen until I had a plane ticket.”

Guy’s Grocery Games is a relentlessly positive show and contestants, even those who may struggle, are never humiliated, or berated for errors. No one is cast as a villain and Paster felt like going on a show that was rooted in fun and cooking had no downside risk, but she was still determined not to make a fool of herself. To further complicate matters every challenge is kept a complete surprise to the contestants until moments before they are unleashed into the “Flavortown Market” for a frenzied ingredient-sourcing shopping spree. They have just 30 minutes to shop for ingredients, cook and plate their dish in each round.

River Forest resident Emily Paster holds up a plate she received after competing in Guys Grocery Games on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, in her kitchen at home in River Forest, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Self-described as nervous by nature and detail oriented, Paster went “over the top” when preparing for the show. After being selected as a contestant for the episode entitled “Cooking the Books,” Paster said she became laser-focused on how she would make it through the competition without letting herself down. She applied her intellect and passion for recipe development to identify proteins that would cook quickly enough to meet the steep time constraints facing contestants and committed to pay special attention to presentation since it counted for 20% of her total score.

Paster’s episode filmed in January and aired in August. The show took 12 hours to film and pitted her against three Guy Fieri “super-fans” who were asked to put their own spin on dishes inspired by recipes in his many books. The first challenge forced Paster and her fellow contestants to deal with a redacted blistered pepper burger recipe and the second allowed them to riff on one of a small number of Fieri’s recipes. 

Paster said she was prepared for vague assignments but felt slightly intimidated by the professional cooking equipment she had at her disposal while competing. She qualifies herself as a competent home cook and had never used equipment like the deep fryer, overhead broiler, and scorching hot grill available to her during filming. Nevertheless, Paster turned out a top-rated burger in the first round and some seriously crispy fish tacos in the second. Despite being a formidable opponent, Paster missed first place honors by just one point. 

“It was so much fun to be on the show and I would absolutely do it again,” said Paster. “I am still astonished by the sheer number of people it takes to make an hour of television.”

Paster is a former Wednesday Journal freelancer and the author of four cookbooks: “Instantly Mediterranean” (Tiller Press 2021); “Epic Air Fryer” (Harvard Common Press 2019); “The Joys of Jewish Preserving” (Harvard Common Press 2017) and “Food Swap: Specialty Recipes for Bartering, Sharing & Giving” (Storey 2016). Her episode of Guy’s Grocery Games (Season 30; episode 10) is available to stream on Prime Video.