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Amy Finley on Food and Passion
by Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

“Food has always been central when I think of having a good time with people I love,” says Amy Finley, who was voted “The Next Food Network Star” in the competition’s third season. Her six-episode show, “The Gourmet Next Door,” premiered in October 2007.

Finley is one of seven siblings and was born and raised in San Diego. Her fondest memories are of time in the kitchen. “We like to eat; it’s part of how we nurture each other,” Finley says. “And my mother will throw a party at the drop of a hat.”

There were parties for good grades, for Charger games, or because someone was visiting from out of town. Finley’s stepfather is one of 12 siblings, all of whom are also in San Diego, so it was not uncommon to have 40-50 people over on any given weekend. By the time Finley was 11, she was in charge of baking all the Thanksgiving pies.

Aside from Finley’s earliest education in cooking, her family also provided unconditional support, cheering her on in pursuit of her dreams. She went to culinary school in Paris at Gregoire-Ferrandi. “I feel like I’m just beginning to climb the mountain of all the different things I dream of,” Finley says. “Life is long and you sort of adapt to what your capabilities are. I never want to compromise my dedication to my family. I’m looking forward to doing cookbooks and eventually when life settles down more I’d love to open up a French-style pastry shop or bakery, or a little café.”

Like everyone, Finley’s confidence wavers at times. “I have a fierce inner critic saying, ‘You’re going to fail. This is never going to work; you’re crazy to think you can do this,’” Finley says. “I spent most of this past weekend holding my breath, terrified to watch the show. Was it going to be a good thing or was I going to make a fool of myself?”

But Finley’s passion is stronger than her doubts. “Everybody is afraid; it’s whether or not you let fear be the thing that keeps you from trying. If you’ve got passion, that’s how you engage in your community and start building a place where you want to live.”

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