After 10 episodes and a multi-stage final challenge, America’s Test Kitchen: The Next Generation found its winner, and America’s Text Kitchen has its newest member: Antoinette Johnson.
Antoinette beat Robbie Guevarra and Garrett Schlicte, winning $100,000, a cookbook, and a role on the PBS cooking show.
From start to finish, the Freevee reality competition was an entertaining and refreshing competition, a return to early Food Network Star days, but also clearly adopting the tone and warmth of America’s Test Kitchen, even in the midst of a competition.
When I interviewed Antoinette two weeks ago, she was in Boston, having shot the cover of her upcoming cookbook, and also filming for America’s Test Kitchen. She’ll make her debut in its next season, and the cookbook will be out sometime this year.
During the season, Antoinette found herself on the top and the bottom. “While I was experiencing it,” she told me, “it was pretty stressful, but with hindsight, and with the outcome, it made me realize that things can happen in life where you’re at the bottom, but then you can also be at the top. It was a full-circle life moment.”
Antoinette’s success in the competition is even more impressive considering that she kept doing her full-time job from the hotel at night after production concluded for the day.
During the final episode, Antoinette, Robbie, and Garrett had to prepare two dishes, produce a photo shoot of that food, serve it to the judges, and then do an on-camera demo. I asked Antoinette if she had any sense of how she was doing compared to her competitors during that time.
“Honestly, no, because I didn’t taste what they made,” she said. “I could kind of see and look, but I really wasn’t sure what they made, and I didn’t get to see their demo.”
“I was like, I can’t worry about that,” she added. “I have to stay focused on what I can control, and what I do know, and that’s how I can perform. So, it was nerve-wracking, because I just didn’t know.” Honestly, watching it, I didn’t know either, because they all had distinct strengths, and certainly none of them failed miserably.
The real challenge, she said, was not in the head-to-head-competition, but the, well, headspace competition.
“Everybody can cook, so it’s not necessarily you competing against what somebody else’s dish is, it’s more so you competing with yourself and what you can do, if you can be consistent, if you can make it right this time,” Antoinette told me.
“So I think that was the hardest part of just really having to focus and think, Okay, the technique, is it there? Am I doing this correctly? Am I presenting in a way that I’m not getting ahead of myself or overthinking things? It really was more of a mind game, and I think that was the hardest part at the end—not getting in your head and really being confident in doing this as if you already have the job.”
Antoinette’s on-camera test was interrupted by a loud beeping, which turned out to be from a camera, though she handled it well. I asked what exactly that was, since the episode didn’t explain the beep’s origins, and she said “one of the batteries in the camera was dying, and had an alarm on it.” The crew changed the battery and the demo continued.
In the finale, after Antoinette won, America’s Test Kitchen star Elle Simone Scott, the first Black woman on America’s Test Kitchen, told Antoinette, “I’m excited to share this new experience with you—it’s everything, it’s everything.”
I asked Antoinette about that moment. “Oh my goodness, I don’t want to get emotional and cry. But it was really—it was a really good moment. I have worked in digital marketing and in the corporate space, and I’ve never worked with any other Black women. So, I’ve never been able to have that connection ever, to have that kind of mentorship before. To have that here, and to be in a space that’s in an industry that I’m passionate about, cooking, it was a really good feeling.”
Antoinette hopes that her presence on America’s Test Kitchen will have an impact on others.
“I want to show me as a Black woman, I want to show that we are multifaceted, we are not a monolith, and we are all different,” she siad. “So if I can connect to another woman who looks like me, great. If I can show somebody who hasn’t seen woman like me before—expose them to this greatness—than that would be cool too. It is pressure, you know, I’m not going to lie about that aspect. But it is an honored position to be here.”