Orchid's star sparkles after Food Network appearance

August 24, 2011 

Orchid Paulmeier recently walked into the Walmart in Beaufort and got noticed.

It was early morning, and she wasn't made up like she was a contestant on "Food Network Star" or in the new commercials for her restaurant, One Hot Mama's on Hilton Head Island. But despite the demure appearance, a fan approached her.

"You look like that girl on TV," the woman said.

Orchid stopped and chatted for a bit. She's still getting used to the fame. Just not before she's ready to start her day.

"I sort of wish I could have said, 'Yeah I get that a lot,'" she said with a laugh.

Orchid will not be the next Food Network star. She was cut in Episode 6 of Food Network's reality series that grants the winner his or her own show. But the national profile has made her star shine brighter on the island.

The vast majority of the people who walk into her restaurant recognize her, she said. Some come on a Food Network swing of the Lowcountry, also stopping by "Dinner: Impossible" host Robert Irvine's eat! on Hilton Head and Paula Deen's Lady and Sons in Savannah. Business has been so good that she had to hire 18 staffers.

"It's wild," she said. "Some people don't even know we serve barbecue. They just know it's associated with the Food Network."

She's also becoming a partner with The Lodge bar and restaurant next door to One Hot Mama's on the island's south end. She'll be helping develop dinner options to go with The Lodge's extensive beer selection.

"She picked up on a lot of ideas from being on the show. I think it'll make her a better restaurateur, and it will make us better as a whole, as well," said Steve Carb, president of SERG group that owns One Hot Mama's, The Lodge and five other local establishments.

She looks back at her time on the show fondly, despite getting canned under rather inglorious circumstances. She started as a frontrunner but tumbled from the top.

Contestants had to perform on-camera cooking challenges, and while Orchid got props for her bubbly personality and delicious dishes, judges felt she was getting overshadowed by stronger personalities.

"They thought I was too nice," she said. "But if I had to go, I think that getting cut because I was too nice isn't all that bad."

She spent 10 weeks filming from January to mid-March, then had to keep the outcome a secret while the show aired ("Sandwich King" Jeff Mauro was picked to win during the finale Aug. 14).

"I'd get nervous," she said. "I know what would happen, but I couldn't say anything about it. I'd think 'Oh, no, this is the show when this happens.'"

She got to meet some of the biggest Food Network names -- Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Alton Brown -- but they were forbidden from any interaction off camera. The show didn't want to make it seem any of the contestants were buddying up to any of the guests. However, that didn't keep former Food Network Star winner Guy Fieri from trying to talk them up, resulting in producers scolding both parties.

"We were like, 'What do you want us to do? It's Guy Fieri,'" she said.

The most unexpected part of filming for Orchid was the waiting. Filming became very time-intensive, especially in the early part of the season when each of the 15 contestants had to be interviewed separately to break down the day. To make it worse, the contestants often couldn't talk to each other, what producers called being put on "hard ice." All interaction for the cooking challenges had to come on air. One time, she sat for close to four hours in silence waiting for her time to film. They'd juggle oranges, invent games and do anything to pass the time.

"You'd just be sitting around staring at each other," she said. "It was crazy."

Now that it's done with, Orchid's not giving up on her Food Network dream. She's in the running to host a Web series based on online fan voting and continues to stay in touch with her network contacts.

The exposure has led to other opportunities. She's joining a contingent with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce in New York City where they'll be meeting with representatives from Conde Nast publications this week to talk up the island. Orchid is cooking shrimp and grits, a chance to impress the people who put out Bon Appetit, Vanity Fair and other upscale publications.

Her plan now is to cash in on that fame while she can.

"If I don't keep up with it, my moment may pass," she said.

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