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2 area caterers compete on overhauled ‘Food Network Star’

AltBrown (left) checks contestant JudsAllen Oak Park new seas“Food Network Star.”

Alton Brown (left) checks in on contestant Judson Allen of Oak Park on the new season of “Food Network Star.”

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Casting special at 8 p.m. Saturday, followed by two-hour premiere at 8 p.m. Sunday on Food Network

Updated: June 11, 2012 8:23AM

Fans of “Food Network Star” will see a few new twists — and a couple of Chicago-area chefs — when the culinary competition returns for its eighth season Sunday.

Food Network personalities Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis are vacating their spots at the judges’ table to square off with Alton Brown in a three-way team competition to find the network’s next star.

Each hand-picked a team of five hopefuls to coach as the 15 contestants vie for their own show on the cable net. Flay opted for Kara Sigle, a former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader who runs her own catering business in Lincoln Park. Oak Park caterer Judson Allen, who grew up in Chatham, landed on Brown’s team.

“I auditioned in 2009 and every year after that until I made it,” said Allen, who has a degree in food science from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

He started his catering company, Healthy Infused Cuisine, in 2007. Allen’s personal struggle with his weight — he once got up to 350 pounds — has shaped the way he cooks. He’s now down to 218 pounds.

“There are two things I love in life: food and entertaining people,” Allen said. “If I can make a career out of doing both of my passions, that would be a win-win for me.”

If Allen wins, it will be the second year in a row a local has been crowned the next Food Network star. “Sandwich King” Jeff Mauro of Chicago took the title last year.

In this season’s two-hour premiere, teams must create their own pop-up restaurant with a scant budget and little time. Each episode will feature a “producer’s challenge,” where contestants up for elimination shoot a segment with their mentor that gets presented to the judges.

Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson, along with a roster of guest judges, decide who goes home. Viewers vote online before the July 22 finale to determine the winner, whose TV show will be produced by his or her mentor.

Sigle, who teaches a slew of fitness classes in addition to running Nostalgic Catering, said starring in her own television program would be great, but it’s not her main motivation for going on the show.

“I’m really hoping to get some recognition, so I can look for investors for a cafe here in Chicago,” Sigle said. She wants to open a gourmet breakfast and lunch spot in the city. “That’s been my dream for so many years.”

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