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Profile: Stacey Poon-Kinney

May 30, 2013 6:49 a.m.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando profiles Stacey Poon-Kinney, owner of The Trails Eatery and finalist on the new season of Food Network Star.

Related Story: San Diego's Food Network Star Stacey Poon-Kinney


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: Running The Trails Eatery on Jackson Drive is tough work but being a finalist in a Food Network reality TV show can be even more challenging. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando serves up this profile of Stacey Poon-Kinney as she prepares for her debut this Sunday as one of 12 finalists for the 9th season Food Network Star.

In the promo for the new season of the Food Network Star, you might notice an attractive woman losing her footing as she walks down some stairs…

PROMO: And some will fail…

STACEY POON: …and some will fail, or some will fall. And I fall and oh my god.

That’s Stacey Poon-Kinney, the young woman taking a very public fall in front of millions of viewers.

STACEY POON: You know what? It happened, it was real, I don’t mind reliving one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, over and over again.

That’s one of the risks you take when you decide to be on a reality TV show. Poon-Kinney is the owner of The Trails Eatery in San Diego, and now she’s one of 12 finalists in the Food Network’s popular reality TV show. But this isn’t her first experience with reality TV or the Food Network.

STACEY POON: My first experience with food network was on Restaurant Impossible. Our restaurant wasn’t doing very well and we reached out to Robert Irvine and he and his whole team came and changed our life.

That was in 2011. The premise of the show is that host Robert Irvine comes into a troubled restaurant and evaluates what needs to be done to turn it around. In the case of The Trails Eatery, that meant a $10,000 remodel that made the restaurant more cozy and inviting. But Poon-Kinney says it was more than just a makeover.

STACEY POON: Restaurant Impossible gave us more marketing than we could have ever hoped for, it was the best PR possible. We had people in here 2 weekends ago from Czechoslovakia that had seen the show, I didn’t even know it aired in Czechoslovakia. So we have had people come from all over and our sales have more than doubled.

That allowed Poon-Kinney to address the restaurant’s more than a half million dollars of debt. It also meant she could once again derive pleasure from doing what she loves to do, which is feed people.

STACEY POON: I like to feed people things that are healthy and that are exciting and sometimes I like to feed them things that are fun or bad for them that they would never do otherwise like my maple bacon cheesecake. Like who would make that at home? You can change someone’s whole day with a plate.

Poon-Kinney came to her love of cooking from her family.

STACEY POON: I grew up being that kid that you couldn’t kid out of the kitchen. It’s nice to know that it’s passed through generations, really it started with my great grandparents who were both chefs. My great grandfather was a chef for Jack’s on the beach and cooked for the Rat Pack.

Her mother taught her that a recipe is just a springboard, which may be why her style of cooking mixes vintage with modern, it’s a way of honoring the past but taking it in new directions. You could call the food at her Trails Eatery healthy comfort food. She serves up huge cinnamon roll pancakes as well as biscuits and gravy but it all manages to taste light and refreshing. She even has a gluten free menu. Her desire to share her views on cooking led her back to the Food Network.

STACEY POON: I signed up to do Food Network Star because I had the same belief that all 12 contestants have which is we all want our own show on Food Network.

Stacey Poon-Kinney has mastered the art of running her restaurant with its particular challenges.

STACEY POON: It’s like ballet because you’re just, you’re moving based on muscle memory because everything’s in the same place every time.

But a reality TV show that pits chefs against each other in high pressure situations presents a whole new set of challenges.

STACY POON: When you are in this new environment you don’t know where anything’s at, you kind of don’t really know what you are gonna cook but you are figuring it out along the way and then on top of that you have cameras in your face, and your sound pack is falling out, and all of these different things are happening, so it’s just challenging on so many different fronts so all that drama around the cooking and around the different events that you see in the promos, it’s real, like that stuff is happening.

When the show debuts on Sunday Poon-Kinney plans to be watching at the Trails Eatery with family and friends.

STACEY POON: I really just want to celebrate and be able to be in a climate where I can laugh at myself and just feel the love and the support that’s around me and show everybody else my gratitude so I planning on feeding everybody, of course.

But she won’t find out until August if she can actually claim the title of the next food network star.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

TAG: The new season of Food Network Star debuts on June 2. Go to KPBS-dot-org to watch a video Stacey Poon-Kinney cooking.