By Emily Cook
Hailing from Woodbridge, 37 year-old Will Spencer battles five professional chefs on NBC’s “Food Fighters,” airing tonight. Facing one chef at a time, this health club manager and married father of four stands to win $100,000 in his first-ever televised cooking competition. Here’s Spencer on his dedication to his cast-iron skillet, cooking his first Thanksgiving dinner and what’d he do with the prize money.
When did you start cooking?
I started cooking when I was 14 years old. I have a much younger sister who is 22, and my mom had a very difficult pregnancy—she was on bed rest for a majority of it—and it came to me to cook for the family.
Do you run the kitchen in your house?
I do the vast majority of the cooking. My children—my son Max in particular—helps a lot. He’s like my sous chef. He’s autistic, and cooking with him is one of the ways he and I bond.
Describe your most challenging cooking experience.
The most challenging meal was the very first Thanksgiving that I was in charge of for my family. We had people come to town—my aunt, my cousins and the like—and my mom had been ranting and raving about how [I] was this amazing cook, and I felt the pressure because I was like, “Mom’s gonna love me regardless, but these cousins are going to treat me bad if this doesn’t come out right.”
It was very nerve-wracking, but it actually worked out really really well, and everybody was very pleased. It gave me some validation that it was more than just my mom and my siblings who thought I could really cook.
What is your favorite ingredient?
I love working with protein. I’m into fitness, and protein is a big part of that. I would say that chicken is probably my favorite blank canvas because you can do so much with it.
What is the most essential item in your kitchen?
My cast-iron skillet. I live by my cast iron. It’s a family heirloom, actually. It’s older than I am, and I use that cast iron for everything. I’m going to be buried with that cast-iron skillet.
How has your role as a health club manager influenced your recipes?
People may say that there’s a replacement for oil and fat in food but I believe in moderation. I believe that you can still have quality ingredients and make really good recipes, and as long as you do it in moderation and incorporate exercise in your lifestyle then you can do that. I’m very much aware of the food I present to people, how healthy it is, and try to make sure I incorporate vegetables, lean proteins, grains into the food that I serve to make sure people know that healthy food can be delicious too.
How did you enter this competition? What was the selection process like?
I was actually doing a Play 60 event for the Washington Redskins at NBC for the Health & Fitness Expo at the D.C. Convention Center, and they had an open casting call for the cooking show. I didn’t know anything about it; I was still dressed in fitness gear. I walked over, and there were all these people in line that had their food. They were signing up to have the judge test their food—I didn’t have any, but I signed up anyway. I waited in line, and when I got toward the front and realized, “I’m going to be standing up here without any food” and kind of felt embarrassed.
The lady next to me—she was so sweet—said, “Baby here, take a plate. Don’t stand up there with nothing,” so I took the plate. The guy in front of me did a brisket and had a squeeze bottle of mustard, so I took the mustard and wrote “I Can Cook” on the plate. When the judge came around, she said: “Oh you can cook? How do I know you can cook if you didn’t bring any food?” I said: “Well how do you know they can cook? They brought food. Their mom’s could have made this food. They could have brought this food from Wegman’s.”
She thought it was kind of funny. I was just very lucky I actually had a YouTube page that showed some of my cooking videos, so I was able to show her I did have the culinary chops to compete.
What was the most challenging part of cooking on television?
The lights. I believe I probably sweat through the entire episode. You’re going against really really professional chefs and people who really want to win. I don’t think there’s any professional chef who wants to say, “I’m on national television, and I lost to some gym guy.” Nobody wants to say that, so they brought their A-game.
What would you do with the $100,000?
I’ve always had a dream of opening up my own food truck. I have a concept and a name. I would use the $100,000 to open up a food truck business.
If you could star on any other television series, which would it be?
I would love to be a host on SportsCenter, but the coolest thing for me would be to be invited back to “Food Fighters” as a celebrity chef. If things work out for me and I’m really able to make a career in the culinary world, I’d like to be able to come back to “Food Fighters” where I got my start and compete again, but this time against a home cook. That would be dope.