Chef Kara Sigle sums up her stint on 'Food Network Star'

Kathryn Rem

It’s not easy being a contestant on a reality TV cooking show, but Kara Sigle says her stint on the recently concluded Season 8 of “Food Network Star” was a rewarding experience.

“Every hour you see on TV takes three to four days to shoot,” said Sigle, 31, of Chatham, Ill. She was one of 15 contestants on the Food Network elimination show.

“You’re basically sequestered, miked 20 hours a day with no Internet, no phone, no TV. You’re not eating a lot, not sleeping a lot. They film you when you get up, when you’re eating. You’re constantly surrounded by camera and voice crews. It’s grueling,” said the owner of Nostalgic Catering in Chicago.

Season 8 was shot in New York from July through November last year, and the 11 hour-long episodes aired on Sunday evenings this year from May 13 through July 22. Sigle –– eliminated the second week –– demonstrated chicken and waffles, twice-baked potatoes and Caramelito Cookies –– bar cookies topped with caramel, chocolate and pecans.

Although she added whipped cream and candied nuts for the TV show, the basic cookie recipe came from her mother, Kathy Sigle, of Chatham.

“She knows how to make them perfectly. I had these a lot growing up. They are a favorite of both my mom and dad (John Sigle),” said Kara, a graduate of Kendall College of Culinary Arts in Chicago.

Contestants this season each were assigned to a team headed by one of the show’s three hosts: Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Alton Brown. Kara was on Flay’s team. Her quick take on each:

Flay: “An incredible person. He’s all business. He’s all about cooking and being the best cook you can be. The camera is secondary to good food.”

De Laurentiis: “Very energetic. She’s a very lively woman who takes pride in her family history and has a very strong presence.”

Brown: “You can tell he has a theatrical background. He likes the scientific aspects of food. He has an air of confidence about him that can be intimidating.”

When Season 8 started filming, unfortunately, Kara was sick with an upper respiratory infection.

“I lost 6 pounds the first four days of the show. I was sick as a dog, and pretty much out of it,” she said. After elimination, contestants are required to stay sequestered in New York, so that gawkers can’t determine the outcome of the challenge.

“I slept for three days straight,” she said about the time after she left the show.

Justin Warner, a 27-year-old Brooklyn restaurant owner who called his pilot episode “Rebel With a Culinary Cause,” eventually was named the “Food Network Star.” But Kara was rooting for Michele Ragussis, a chef who focused on the foods of New England.

“My favorite was Michele. She worked her way from the ground up. She was the best cook,” said Kara, a former San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush cheerleader.

Kara’s future projects include renovating a church building that she plans to cook out of and getting her Caramelito Cookies into a regional or national market. She’d also like to write a cookbook with her parents.

Her advice to others interested in competing on a reality TV cooking show?

“Stay true to your culinary perspective. The show was difficult,” she said, “but worth it.”

Find Kara’s recipes for both the Caramelito Cookies and twice-baked potatoes in the Trading Post column here. Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached at 788-1520 or Follow her via