Food Network hopeful returns re-invigorated
Jamie Santoro, executive chef at That Italian Place near 40th Street and Chandler Boulevard, has a renewed passion for cooking after making it to the semifinal round of The Next Food Network Star Season Six.

Although she barely missed being cast on The Next Food Network Star Season Six, Jamie Santoro, executive chef of That Italian Place said the auditions alone were a wonderful experience.

Out of more than 6,000 hopefuls, Santoro was among a select few to make it to the semifinal round. Food Network flew her on Oct. 1, 2009, to its headquarters in New York City, where she cooked in the same kitchens where many of her culinary role models had cooked. She got a “market basket” with five ingredients and had to prepare a meal in 22 minutes on camera.

Santoro said the whole experience lit a little bit of a fire underneath her.

“If that’s all I got out of the whole experience, that was enough,” she said, “just the ability to re-excite myself about what I do.”

Santoro also said the excitement was contagious. All of a sudden she said the chefs she worked with had all these recipes she never knew they had and they started doing things she never knew they could do.

Owner Larry Hughes said he wasn’t really looking forward to the prospect of having his star chef become a star away from his restaurant, but he would’ve done it.

“I’ve always felt like regardless what maybe the impact on your business is, the last thing you want to do is ever hold anybody back.” Hughes said.

Each Food Network star has a little something different that defines them, and Santoro said she was encouraged to really define herself in the auditions.

“I think I’m quite traditional when it comes to cooking,” she said. “I like to stick to my basics, stick to what I’ve eaten my whole childhood and flare it up a bit. I think that’s what we do here.”

Santoro said at That Italian Place, located at 3941 E. Chandler Blvd., they play off tradition, taking something that your grandmother made and stepping it up a notch.

For the week of Valentine’s Day, for example, That Italian Place is trying new “Amore” to-go dinner packages. Couples can choose from chicken picatta, rigatoni bolognase or veal parmesan. Each package contains two entrees, an Italian antipasto to share, dessert and a half-bottle of sparkling wine for $75.

Valentine’s Day dinner in the restaurant is also available from 4 to 6 p.m., featuring the restaurant’s regular menu with some Cupid-inspired specials. A fixed menu is offered from 7 to 10 p.m. accompanied by light music from the Hunybrown Divas. Cost is $50 per person for the fixed menu and reservations are required.

Santoro said she doesn’t plan on trying to get on TV again in the future, and just hopes the experience takes her day by day.

“I just see myself growing within the industry,” she said. “Just being creative and building this restaurant into something special, a place where the community can go and feel like they’re never leaving their kitchen table.”

For more information, call (480) 759-4459 or visit www.thatitalianplace.com.

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