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Spokane’s Aaron Crumbaugh shares his 12 staples before premiere on ‘Food Network Star’

Aaron Crumbaugh keeps a dozen staples on hand when he’s cooking at home.

No. 1 is pasta.

“As a dad, I always have pasta,” he said.

Nos. 2 and 3 are flour and eggs, so he can make pasta from scratch for his kids: Kaiya, 7, and Cash, 4.

The Spokane chef, caterer and father can’t say what he cooks – or how far he makes it – on the 12th season of “Food Network Star,” only that he’s one of 13 chefs who will compete on the popular culinary competition show. The season premiere airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on Food Network.

Crumbaugh, 37, is the only one from the Pacific Northwest.

He and 11 other finalists – plus a surprise contestant from a previous season – will be vying for the opportunity to star in a Food Network show. The grand-prize winner will be named at the finale which, Crumbaugh said, has yet to be filmed. The rest of the show was filmed during six weeks in and around Los Angeles in January and February.

Crumbaugh, no stranger to TV, received a call from Food Network in early December asking if he might be interested in auditioning. After a couple of Skype interviews and a background check by a private investigator, he learned he made the cut. Three weeks later, he flew to Los Angeles.

“It’s nuts,” Crumbaugh said. “You’re in a new environment, and the kitchen is big. You’re just running, and everybody’s sweating.

“It’s really hard. You have no idea what you’re walking into, ever. You’ve got a timed cooking environment. You’ve got to do stuff on the fly. Stuff pops up. Here’s a catch. Here’s another catch. You have to go and stay calm and not freak out and try to deliver the best that you can in the time that they’ve given you.”

In Spokane, Crumbaugh heads the kitchen at the new Inland Pacific Catering, or IPC, located in the Washington Cracker Building downtown. IPC is owned by Spokane restaurateurs Kate and Jeremy Hansen.

Crumbaugh and chef Jeremy Hansen also are partners in Tumbled Spruce Events, which recently organized the first Chefs Week PNW.

They met when Crumbaugh, a former executive chef at a ranch in Montana and waggu beef salesman, sold wagyu beef to Hansen for his downtown Spokane restaurant Santé.

Wagyu beef is a staple – No. 4 – at Crumbaugh’s home. “I always have wagyu in my freezer,” he said. “I always have steaks.”

He also often has arugula – No. 5 – as well as tomatoes and English cucumbers – Nos. 6 and 7 – which he pairs with steak to make peppery salads.

But, at his core, he’s a meat-and-potatoes man. Crumbaugh grew up in Michigan, raising animals and selling them at fairs as a 4-H kid.

“I love Washington, but I grew up in Michigan. I’m a Midwest boy,” Crumbaugh said. “I came from a farming family. I was very much rooted in agriculture growing up.”

After college at Michigan State University, where he played volleyball and studied advertising, Crumbaugh pursued a career in acting and modeling in California, where he also went to culinary school.

He moved to Spokane from Chicago to be closer to his wife’s family. She’s from Chewelah. She’s no stranger to TV, either. In fact, Crumbaugh proposed to his wife, Hayden Kristianson, on-air during the season finale of the sixth season of the CBS reality competition show “The Amazing Race.” (They wed in Spokane two years later.)

Crumbaugh has also appeared twice on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” experiences he said helped him prepare to compete on “Food Network Star.” So did his experiences as a chef at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago, where he also had a food truck and catering company. More recently, he worked for Thompson River Ranch in northwest Montana.

But, it’s been about eight years since he’s worked in an actual restaurant kitchen. And, Crumbaugh said, he felt “a little bit rusty” heading into the competition, especially in knife skills and plating.

But maybe he’s being too hard on himself. “I get in my own head,” Crumbaugh said. “I overanalyze, and I overthink.”

His on-camera strengths include “a lot of high energy.” Plus, he said, “I’m a good-looking guy and personable.”

Going into the show, Crumbaugh knew two of the other contestants: Yaku Moton-Spruill, of San Francisco, and Tregaye Fraser, of Atlanta, both of whom he appeared with on “Cutthroat Kitchen.”

Throughout the season, special guest stars include Guy Fieri, Ali Larter, Haylie Duff and Trisha Yearwood.

And contestants face challenges that test their culinary skills as well as on-camera presence, such as delivering food reports for “Entertainment Tonight” co-hosts Nancy O’Dell and Kevin Frazier.

In the first episode, contestants film a 30-second screen test which is shown in front of a Hollywood crowd. Someone’s eliminated.

Valerie Bertinelli and Tyler Florence help decide who’s first to go home. Celebrity chefs Bobby Flay and Giada de Laurentiis serve as mentors and judges.

“You see them on television all these years and to finally meet them is a neat experience,” if not, Crumbaugh said, a bit “nerve-wracking.”

Also nerve-wracking: During filming, Crumbaugh said, there’s limited access to phones, and there’s no access to TV or Internet. Days would last from 6 a.m. to 8, 9 or 11 p.m.

“When you’re there, you’re there,” he said. “You’re sequestered. They want all the interaction to go on camera.”

After shooting a particular segment, Crumbaugh said, contestants wait in holding rooms, where they are supposed to remain quiet. But, “We’re all really big personalities,” said Crumbaugh, noting he was reminded “Aaron, stop talking” more than once.

Incidentally, one of his other on-camera weaknesses is this: “I’ll ramble,” he said.

And another couple of his cooking staples are ketchup, which is No. 8 – “I love ketchup,” he said – blue cheese, which is No. 9. “How can you be a chef and not love blue cheese?”

Also on the list, for when he needs a snack and doesn’t feel like cooking: Garden of Eatin’ Organic Blue Corn Redhot Tortilla Chips – No. 10 – and the Spicy Hummus and Cilantro and Chive Yogurt dips from Trader Joe’s, Nos. 11 and 12.

Otherwise, Crumbaugh said, he’s all about local, sustainable, farm-to-table foodstuffs. In fact, if he wins “Food Network Star,” that’s what he wants his show to spotlight.

“My show that I want to have would be knowing where your food comes from – connecting (A) the farmer to (B) the chef to (C) the consumer,” he said.

It’s sort of the same idea as “Washington Grown,” in its third season and produced by Spokane’s North by Northwest digital studio.

“I’d love to be on that show,” said Crumbaugh, noting he’s expanded the reach of his dream Food Network from Washington state to worldwide.

“Let’s go to Italy to talk olive oil and prosciutto,” he said. “Let’s go to China. I mean, the opportunities are endless.”

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