Hagerstown native Justin Warner adds star power to local cooking show
The Maryland Theatre and Herald-Mail Media have joined forces to create a new health and wellness event, and they have tapped one of Hagerstown’s native sons as the host.
“The Health & Wellness Summit, What’s NXT Cooking Show, plus Dinner with the Chefs” will be held Saturday, Jan. 11, at the theater. The event will be hosted by celebrity chef Justin Warner.
“We wanted to have somebody that can help take our cooking show to another level. We thought of him, and being a local boy made good, that’ll bring excitement to the community,” says Herald-Mail Media Event Coordinator Kim Tagg.
Warner is known for his many appearances on several Food Network television shows, including winning season eight of the network’s competition show “Food Network Star” in 2012.
He was born at Washington County Hospital in 1984. He lived the majority of his childhood on Prospect Street in Hagerstown and graduated from South Hagerstown High School in 2002. Warner says his culinary career started around that time.
“I guess you could say it began with slinging bagel sandwiches at Bentley’s in the early 2000s. I was a waiter for most of my life, then moved to ‘the back of the house’ once I was cast for a TV show that required cooking,” he says.
In addition to Bentley’s Bagels, he worked at other local restaurants, including Oliver’s Pub, Roccoco, Al Pomodoro, and briefly at Bob Evans.
While often referred to as “self-taught,” Warner says he had numerous great mentors, even though he has no formal training.
As for foods Warner enjoys eating, he says context is the ultimate seasoning.
“I just ate a bowl of miso ramen in an alley in Sapporo (Japan) during the first few cool days of fall. Contextually, it doesn’t get a whole lot better, but I have probably had dishes that, context aside, were better,” he says.
Worlds of accomplishments
The celebrity chef, who was in Japan at the time of the interview, says he travels a lot for work, but has set up a base of operations in Rapid City, S.D.
“Previously, I had been touring the country in an RV following a 10-year stint in New York City,” Warner says.
In the seven years since winning “Food Network Star,” Warner has accomplished quite a bit. He is the author of “The Laws of Cooking: And How to Break Them” (Flatiron Books, 2015). He also served as chef/co-owner of Michelin-rated restaurant Do or Dine in Brooklyn, N.Y., which closed in 2015. Warner says that was his first restaurant and he is proud that, “with plenty of help and teamwork,” it was written about in “The New York Times.”
Warner is a frequent guest on Food Network, including on “Guy’s Grocery Games,” on which he has been a judge and a competitor.
“Throughout all of this, I’ve maintained a healthy relationship with my wife and dog. (I’m) very proud of all of that,” he says.
Currently, Warner is the chef host of “Eat the Universe” on marvel.com, where he makes meals inspired by characters of the Marvel Universe.
“I work for Marvel Comics! Sometimes, I can’t believe that,” Warner says.
He also has a new cookbook coming out, “The Ultimate Ninja Foodi Cookbook.” He says it was created for a device he helped develop called the Ninja Foodi.
“It’s an electric pressure cooker with a secondary lid that crisps. It’s pretty rad, and I think the book will be a fun companion,” Warner says.
His mother, Jan Warner, still lives in this area, and he worked on fundraisers with the Washington County Community Mediation Center a few years ago.
“There’s always something special about returning to the place of your childhood. I like seeing what’s changed and what’s stayed the same,” Warner says.
Tagg says Herald-Mail Media is excited about partnering with The Maryland Theatre for the event, which will feature chefs from various restaurants on stage, showing how to create a salad course, appetizer, main entrée, vegetable, dessert and a healthy snack.
Tagg says Warner is going to emcee as the chefs demonstrate their cooking skills, and she also will be there to ask questions of the participants.
“I think that’s going to add a whole new level to the program and excitement. Then, after the cooking show, the people who bought tickets can go upstairs and enjoy the meal that they watch being demonstrated,” Tagg says.
The event will begin at 10 a.m. with a Health & Wellness Summit that includes onstage interactive panel discussions. They will consist of a moderator, field expert and testimonials from those who have struggled and found success. The discussions will be emceed by Morgan Plummer, certified coach, trainer and speaker from The John Maxwell Team. Topics to be covered include “Preparing Your Will, POA and Health Directives”; “The Hard Truth About Substance Abuse: An Open Conversation”; Health at Every Size: What Does Health & Vitality Look Like for You?”; “The Many Faces of Cancer”; and “Joint Health: What Are Your Options?”
Inside The View Studio, local experts will offer educational presentations and demonstrations covering “The Flexitarian Diet”; “Sleep, Productivity and Brain Health”; “Cannabis – Pros & Cons”; “Veterans Health”; “Alternative Healing Methods”; and “Making Healthy Eating Convenient.”
The expo will offer two floors of interactive vendor displays, health screenings, physical fitness demonstrations, fitness products, healthy meal preparation tips, health care options and more.
“What’s NXT presents Nourish & Renew: Cooking for your Health with Justin Warner” will take place from 6 to 7:15 p.m. A cash bar will open at 4:30 p.m. and the auditorium doors open at 5 p.m. All attendees will receive a goodie bag and can be entered to win door prizes.
The VIP Dinner with the Chefs begins at 7:30 p.m. in The Maryland Theatre’s ballroom. Doors will open at 7:15 p.m. Attendees will partake in a sit-down dinner featuring the dishes made during the cooking show with the chefs that created them.
In addition to his emcee duties, Warner will participate in a meet-and-greet and be at the dinner.
He says he enjoys being able to participate in events like these because he lives in a filtered and edited space where the food is always pretty and lines are always delivered without stuttering.
“TV presents a focused, but highly polished, version of who I am. Sometimes, it’s fun to let your hair down,” Warner says.
Local stars taking the stage
One of the local chefs joining Warner on the stage will be Arik Mills, co-owner of and chef at Rik’s Cafe in Hagerstown. Like Warner, Mills is a self-taught chef. He began cooking at the age of 15 and learned through experience.
Mills says he participated in a similar event that Herald-Mail Media and The Maryland Theatre held a few years ago.
He will teach attendees how to make one of the meal’s side dishes. He says that once he finds out what the main course will be, he will choose a dish to complement it.
“I enjoy spreading the knowledge to people that you can make this level of food in this amount of time. As chefs, we make this level of food all the time. But they (the audience) can make food like this at home, instead of just making spaghetti or something like that. Plus, it’s a lot of fun getting in front of people. It allows them to see a behind-the-scenes look at what we do,” Mills says.
Nick’s Airport Inn in Hagerstown will present the appetizer portion of the show. Owner Tess Tiches says the restaurant specializes in steak and seafood with a French flair, thanks to Head Chef Matt Kemp.
“Everything we serve is made from scratch,” Tiches says.
Tiches and Kemp will take the stage together to teach the audience how to make the appetizer course, which Tiches says is her favorite part of a menu.
“I think you can be really creative with them,” Tiches says.
The entrée course will be presented by Eliz Restaurant and Lounge Executive Head Chef Ronald Cleveland. The Hagerstown restaurant specializes in African food, out of West Africa, and American comfort food.
Each edible item created by the chefs will be paired with a beer from Dan’s Restaurant and Tap House in Boonsboro. Owner Dan Aufdem-Brinke says drinking the right beer with certain foods can add to the overall enjoyment of a meal.
“To me, it’s supposed to complement it and add to the flavor, instead of sometimes, if you have the wrong beer with a dish, it can take away from the flavor of the meal,” Aufdem-Brinke says.
Aufdem-Brinke recommends pairing chicken and pasta with a lighter flavored beer and steak with a heavier beer like a stout.
Tickets can be purchased at the theater‘s box office and online at www.mdtheatre.org.
- The “Eat-ertainment” package costs $72 and includes the summit, Cooking for your Health and Dinner with the Chefs.
- The “Fit & Fabulous” package is $47 and includes the summit and Cooking for your Health.
- The $35 “Focus on Food” ticket is good for Cooking for your Health only.
- The $22 “Health Nut” ticket provides admission to the Health & Wellness Summit only.
For more information about the event, call The Maryland Theatre at 301-790-2000 or click here.