Food Network finale
Former Marine cook admits lies, quits competition
By C. Mark Brinkley -
Posted : July 30, 2007

Josh A. Garcia won’t be “The Next Food Network Star.”

The former Marine cook — who goes by the nickname “JAG” on Food Network’s reality cooking show — had another stellar performance July 15, again surviving elimination to become one of the final two contestants. But once the judging was over, the network added a twist.

The picture faded to black and the network made an announcement.

“Several months after this episode was taped, Food Network learned that JAG had misrepresented facts about his military service and his culinary training,” an on-screen message stated. “He said he had served in Afghanistan and that he had graduated from cooking school, neither of which is true. When given the opportunity during a press interview, JAG did not set the record straight. Food Network asked JAG to come to New York to discuss the situation.”

The press interview came in June with the Military Times newspapers, when Garcia was confronted about his lies. In addition to never deploying to Afghanistan or graduating from the New York Restaurant School, Military Times learned that Garcia left the Corps not as a corporal at the end of a four-year enlistment — which he also claimed — but as a private eight months early.

Since then, food and television blogs have been buzzing over how Food Network would handle the situation once it was time for America to vote on the winner.

Garcia, 26, made it easy, voluntarily stepping down from the competition. He explained why in a prerecorded discussion with network executives.

“It’s very hard for me to do this, because this is something I’ve dreamed of my whole life,” Garcia said. “I’m not taking credit for something that I haven’t done. I told you folks that I graduated from culinary school, but the truth is I never graduated. And — this is hard to talk about, you know, it really is — I told you guys that I deployed to Afghanistan, and I didn’t, I didn’t,” he said. “I was a United States Marine. I served my country, honorably, and I’ve been a whole lot of places. But Afghanistan wasn’t one of them.

“I’m not here to take any glory from my brothers that are out there now doing their thing. I love the Corps. I love my Marines. I just want to do things the right way. I’m taking myself out of this competition,” Garcia added. “I can’t in good conscience continue, knowing, you know, what you guys demand of a Food Network star. I can’t continue knowing that I’m not mature enough yet to meet those requirements. And I’m sorry.”

The gesture brought closure to a situation that began after Garcia admitted to Military Times that he allowed Food Network producers to “believe what they wanted to believe” about his military career to secure a spot on the show. In multiple interviews, Garcia was repeatedly encouraged to tell the whole truth about his military past, and it was only when confronted with the facts that he began to come clean.

In a bid to preserve his shot at a six-episode Food Network series deal, Garcia revealed in those interviews that he was one of the final two contestants. Military Times did not include this claim in previous stories in order to protect the integrity of the show, and because it was not clear whether this was another lie. Garcia even offered to trade the name of the other finalist — a big reality television no-no — in exchange for keeping his background a secret.

“I’ll tell you if you help me out with this,” he said in June.

As a result, it’s hard to know whether Garcia was being honest in the July 15 episode. Even the popular blog “TV Food Fan” was unsure what to make of Garcia’s announcement.

“There’s no telling how ‘voluntary’ JAG’s resignation was, but the fact that it played out the way it did in front of the cameras and [with the] judges not hesitating to accept the resignation, it was clear that if a resignation wasn’t forthcoming, it very well may have been mandated,” read one entry posted after the July 15 episode. “You have to hope that it was voluntary. JAG spoke about being honorable, a value that is prized among all veterans and particularly among members of the Marine Corps.”

It’s ironic that the episode, titled “Meet the Press,” was designed to test the contestants’ ability to handle interaction with the media. Among the challenges: a live radio interview, a session with reporters and photographers from Star magazine and a spot on “The Rachael Ray Show.”

Garcia performed well, but it was clear even then that he was trying to hide his past from reporters.

“I’m not going to give him the opportunity to dig so deep into my life, you know, that I have to reveal a whole bunch of crazy things to him,” Garcia said of the Star magazine interview. “So I’m just trying to keep it, you know, professional.”

Food Network brought back the other semifinalist, Amy Finley, to compete with Rory Schepisi.

Garcia said he hopes to continue pursuing his culinary dreams.

“There’s always going to be that ‘what if?’ thing,” Garcia said on the show. “But, I ultimately believe that I made the right decision, and we’ll see where it takes me in the future. I’m going to go right back into the kitchen and [to] keep on cooking.

“That’s what I’ve been doing,” he said. “That’s my love. You can overcome anything in time. That’s what I need, a little time.”