All television screens inside Champps restaurant were not tuned to White Sox games on Sunday night. In a slight twist of the norm, eyes were focused on the Food Network channel to see Orchid Paulmeier, a finalist in this season’s Next Food Network Star reality series. Paulmeier, an Orland Park native and Sandburg grad, visited the bar for a viewing party before making an appearance in Chicago.
The viewing party, organized by her sister Michelle Armstrong and long-time friend, Suzanne Condon, was a given. Word of mouth, with help from Facebook, gathered close to 100 family and friends to the to watch the show, partake in food and drink, but also to cheer on their favorite contestant—now known as “the Orchid-nator."
“It’s been crazy, but lots of fun,” said Paulmeier.
She and her family drove through the night, straight from working at their Bluffton, S.C.-based restaurant, One Hot Mama's. They arrived in Orland Park merely hours ahead of the show’s 8 pm start. In town for a promotional appearance at the Taste of Chicago, Orchid had a couple of days to relax and visit with family and friends. She conducted an afternoon cooking demonstration Wednesday at Dominick’s Cooking Corner as part of the Taste of Chicago.
On the menu? “Colcannon—a traditional Celtic dish made with mashed potatoes. But I did it low country style and add lots of shrimp, sausage and spice.” she said. Well executed Southern-style cooking made her restaurant known, which is an interesting feat for a native Illinoisan without formal culinary training.
When a discerning judge of southern cooking, Food Network veteran Paula Deen, praised Orchid’s take on collard greens during Sunday's episode, the crowd inside Champps exploded with cheers and applause.
One of the loudest fans was Orchid’s father, Paul Rabe.
“We’re so excited for her," said the Orland Park resident. “She’s always been interested in cooking. We’re so happy Orchid is fulfilling her dreams.”
How far does Orchid go in the contest? Mum’s the word, per confidentiality agreement with the Food Network. However, if the excitement level at Champps was any indication, it’s a safe bet this One Hot Mama makes it pretty darn far.
There’s also a cooking web show at stake. Help Orchid win by voting for her at the Food Network website--up to 10 votes are allowed daily.