Chefs Damaris Phillips and Levon Wallace share the karaoke stage at Big Bar
Chefs Damaris Phillips and Levon Wallace share the karaoke stage at Big Bar. (Photo by Christine Vaughan.)

When “The Next Food Network Star” announced our hometown girl as the winner, the cheer that went up from the crowd of hundreds who’d gathered on Molly Malone’s deck to watch left my ears ringing for hours.

A friend dining inside at Flanigan’s heard it clear as day.

Truly, I have never heard a cheer that loud. Not even for Cards basketball tournament wins in this basketball-crazy town.

Foodies just may be crazier.

But based on the number of people wiping away tears, some openly sobbing, after Chef Damaris Phillips’s win, it’s not just food that Louisville loves.

Louisville loves her.

“I wish everyone could have this experience once in their lives. I wish everyone could have someone tell them they can do it. And I don’t think that happens much. So thank you,” Chef Phillips said last night to the crowd of hundreds who had gathered to watch the finale of “Next Food Network Star.”

Phillips kept her speech very short, choked back tears and thanked all of Louisville for giving her so much support. The show taped earlier last week, and Phillips maintained her poker face throughout the evening.

The deck at Molly's, already full with 45 minutes til show time
The deck at Molly’s, already full with 45 minutes til show time photo by Melissa Chipman

Molly’s deck was standing-room only, uncomfortable standing room at that. According to friends who arrived at 7 p.m. for the 9 p.m. show, every seat was taken by 7:15 p.m. Fans brought their families.

The most popular “small talk with strangers” question of the night was: “Do you know her, know her? Or do you just know her from tv?”

Of the hundreds of people who gathered to watch her win were some of Louisville’s top chefs, including Liz and Jesse Huot of Grind, Levon Wallace of Proof on Main and Coby Lee Ming of Harvest.

Phillips was one of Jesse Huot’s instructors at JCTC, and he speaks very highly of her.

Phillips has been a staple on Louisville’s restaurant scene for years. If you don’t remember her as a barista at Highland Coffee, you might have seen her at Harvest, Wiltshire Pantry or the now-defunct Lynn’s Paradise Cafe.

After the Molly’s party wound down, Phillips ended up at the site of the other big “Next Food Network Star” watch party– the Big Bar– where the celebration went on til the wee hours.

There, she shared the karaoke stage with Chef Levon Wallace where they duetted on “Islands in the Stream.”

From a press release from JCTC:

Her Southern point of view, sense of humor, and charm were cited by her fans as reasons for their support. But many viewers said they enjoyed the fact that Phillips could actually “teach” as well as entertain.

Food Network host and “Food Network Star” judge Bobby Flay told the network, “I love that Damaris is from the South. She has that Kentucky flavor, so hopefully there will be lots of bourbon in the food.”

Host and judge Alton Brown said Phillips advantage is that she is a teacher and will be able to share that with the audience. He also said, “She’s charming. She’s lovely. She’s funny.”

It certainly didn’t hurt that Phillips’s final competitors probably split the “bro” vote– Rodney Henry and Russell Jackson are alpha male types. And food tv is positively lousy with dude chefs these days from Guy Fieri to Adam Richman to Bobby Flay.

All season long, social media has been a-buzz about Phillips being a solid contender for taking over Paula Deen’s “southern charm with a slightly naughty wink” cooking tv empire. Phillips shares all of Deen’s best qualities– the quick hearty laugh, the self-deprecating humor, the warm welcoming charm and the patience of an instructor– and hopefully none of the bad, which we don’t need to enumerate here.

Damaris Phillips Buffet at Horseshoe Casino? We’ll see.

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