Photo credit: Food Network
Eric Howard works with turkey jerky during the final challenge

Get excited for Thanksgiving as a Food Network holiday competition returns chock full of juicy turkey, savory sides and desserts.

Whitestone resident, firefighter and Grammercy Ale House co-owner Eric Howard will be one of six chefs to compete for the $25,000 grand prize on the Food Network’s “Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge.”

The competition, hosted by Giada De Laurentiis, will task the chefs with cooking the ultimate Thanksgiving dishes for judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Carla Hall and Christian Petroni.

The four-episode Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge premieres on Sunday, Nov. 3, at 9 p.m. on the Food Network. Judges will choose the winner during the show’s finale on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 9 p.m.

Howard first saw a casting flyer for the show online and decided to apply for an audition. Following the application, the network interviewed him and then flew him to Los Angeles to start filming.

“I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. It’s a time for family coming together and I love Thanksgiving food,” Howard said. “I didn’t go to culinary school and I wasn’t classically trained. But I grew up watching Food Network and we always cook at the firehouse,” he said, adding that he and his dad — who was also a firefighter — spent a lot of time in the kitchen honing his skills.

This is not the first time Howard has participated in a food competition. In 2016, he appeared on Season 7 of the American version of MasterChef, an experience he said made him take his cooking to another level. MasterChef led to Howard becoming the co-owner of Grammercy Ale House and to cook in several food festivals.

Eric Howard on the second season of “Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge.”

The Whitestone resident shared that they filmed the show about two months ago, a few weeks before his wedding. He recalled that it was “difficult to keep a secret like that” from family and friends but they were supportive when he broke the news.

“Everyone was very excited. My family and friends are big fans of my cooking and the Food Network. It’s an honor to cook for the judges and compete with other amazing chefs from across the country,” Howard said.

His take on Thanksgiving food is “non-traditional” and he’ll often opt to deep fry a turkey or make something like roast duck. As a New York City resident with “expensive taste,” he also enjoys incorporating elements like shitake mushrooms, shaved truffles and foie gras in his dishes. His Thanksgiving table even has Italian elements like lasagna in honor of his heritage.

As an avid Food Network fan, Howard said that cooking for the judges he’s seen on television was a surreal experience.

“Getting to cook for them was definitely and honor. Showing them my skills, my take on [Thanksgiving dishes] and getting their feedback is always something incredible,” he said.

Howard advanced to the second week of competition along with four other chefs. The Whitestone chef will be back next week to create “untraditional” Thanksgiving dishes and cook holiday meals using the flavors of a randomly assigned country.

Visit the Food Network website for more information on the “Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge.”

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