Food & Drink

Orchid: The next Food Network single-name celebrity?

Paula, Ina, Guy ... Orchid?

Culinary celebrities are at the point now where they're known by single names. Like Paula (Deen), Ina (Garten) and Guy (Fieri), the name Orchid has a special ring to it, an inherent uniqueness that's instantly recognizable and easy to roll off the tongue.

Orchid Paulmeier has the name to be the next Food Network star. But does the owner of One Hot Mama's have the skills, poise, charisma and everything else it takes to make it on TV?

Viewers will be on their way to finding out Sunday, when the new season of "Food Network Star" premieres.

The Food Network series takes 15 chefs and restaurant owners and pits them in a reality TV showdown. Contestants are whittled down "Apprentice"-style until one remains. He or she gets a Food Network show. It's already worked wonders for the likes of Fieri, who won season two and went on to host multiple Food Network shows, including "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," showcasing good food in unlikely places. He's now on NBC as the host of "Minute to Win It."

This season's series taped January through mid-March, so Orchid already knows her fate but can't reveal it. Contestants were whisked coast-to-coast for cooking challenges in front of hosts such as Alton Brown and Tyler Florence. No matter what happens, just getting on the show was enough of an accomplishment for Orchid. She had tried out two times before, but couldn't get past the initial audition phase.

When she auditioned in August, she went to the Atlanta studio knowing she had to be more memorable. She only had 30 seconds. She went in and said, "I want to be a single-name celebrity -- Orchid."

It worked.

"It's not so much the fame," she said, "I just love entertaining; I love cooking; I love throwing parties."

Orchid grew up in a Filipino family in Chicago. Her family prepared the cuisine of their native country, but it wasn't so much cooking at home that stoked her passion for food. She started working as an ice cream scooper in high school and moved into restaurants. She worked at Ruby Tuesday, seeing both how things work in the kitchen and the dining room. For her it wasn't just about summer jobs -- it was about a career. She knew she wanted her own restaurant at age 30.

She recieved a degree in hotel and restaurant management from the University of Illinois. She got an internship at the Hilton resort on Hilton Head Island in 1994. She fell in love with sunny days and sandy beaches and returned for good, settling with her high school sweetheart, Mike, to raise a family.

Eventually, she became a corporate trainer for LongHorn Steakhouse and was in management when former island restaurant Dosidos opened. She had experience running restaurants -- she knew front of house and back of house. She was ready to open one of her own. She opened One Hot Mama's in Bluffton's Sheridan Park about eight days before her 30th birthday.

She thought the barbecue could catch on, but it also started to draw late-night crowds in a nightlife-starved area at the time. The restaurant was a hit. She opened a second One Hot Mama's in 2007, joining The Lodge, Hilton Head Brewing Company, Reilley's and Jump and Phil's as part of the nightlife hot spot called The Triangle near Park Plaza on Hilton Head.

She decided to focus on that location, selling the Bluffton spot in 2008 before the economy tanked. The restaurant now undergoes a transformation -- easygoing barbecue joint by day, makeshift dance club at night.

One Hot Mama's is part of the SERG restaurant group, which runs other successful ventures such as WiseGuys and Skull Creek Boathouse. Orchid quickly fit in the group, hosting the annual Christmas parties at her restaurant.

To her, competing for the gig on Food Network is similar to opening the restaurant. She set her mind on something and did it. No matter what happens on the show -- if she's known as a single-name celebrity nationwide or just Lowcountrywide -- she'll always be able to say that she did what she could to make it big.

"If you want to do something, just go for it," she said. "Don't look back with regrets."