They might not have actually tasted any of the pies Rodney Henry made during this season of "Food Network Star," but fans of the show sure got a taste of his Baltimore grit — despite the judges' best efforts to shape him into a Food Network-style personality.
"There's a lot of things they suggested to me that I wouldn't do," Henry said. "You just gotta deal with it, man. They were focused on me getting more polished. And I was focused on something else."
"I'm an entertainer. And I make pies."
Henry, owner of Dangerously Delicious Pies, persisted to become one of three finalists on the reality competition, whose winner will be revealed Sunday night. He outlasted those who had better cooking skills but were charisma-deficient. Charisma was never a problem for Henry, whose rough-and-tumble charm was noted from the start by the show's team of on-air advisers and critics, the Food Network veterans Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis.
The old pros may have liked Henry's personality, but they kept nagging, and nagging, him about his rougher edges.
"I always want to do the opposite," said Henry. "Let me do it my own way. I don't want to be a Guy Fieri clone."
Had they never met a man from Baltimore?
Henry said the pivotal moment for him came at midseason, when contestants had to charm a private Los Angeles eating club called the Gastronauts.
When Henry was supposed to be explaining his culinary point of view, he served up puns instead.
"I'm so excited to be here tonight," Henry told the roomful of foodies. "I didn't know I'd get to hang out with astronauts."
"That's the stuff that drove them crazy," said Henry, whom the judges chastised for the stunt. "But everyone was laughing hysterically. It was really off the chain. You could see."
From that episode on, Henry said, he knew he had to just be himself.
As their final challenge, the three finalists had to pitch, and then tape, a "pilot" for a proposed Food Network show starring themselves. The competition's winner, to be determined by fan voting, will get to have a show — at least one episode, anyway — produced on the Food Network.
Henry's proposed show was "Pie Style," in which he would visit restaurants and bake their signature dishes into a pie. The short pilot, as seen on the next-to-last episode, looked at least as plausible as those of his two competitors, Damaris Phillips, a Southern charmer, and Russell Jackson, a swaggering purveyor of sinful foods.
Henry wouldn't comment on the outcome of the voting but said he planned to watch Sunday night's finale at a party hosted by Angels Rock Bar at Power Plant Live.
Henry balked at frequent attempts to get him to refine his food vocabulary. He was receptive to some criticism though, such as the need to make himself clearer.
"I get the thing about enunciating. I worked on that in my off time," he said. "I took that to heart."
Henry also happily soaked up tricks of the TV food-personality trade.
From guest mentor Guy Fieri, Henry learned to talk on-camera with his mouth full. And over the course of the competition, he learned how to give viewers vivid descriptions of food they can't taste for themselves.
"You've really got to taste the food," Henry said. "You've got to really taste it."
When told that his descriptive skills had, in fact, appeared to have improved by the end of the competition, Henry laughed.
"After all that time," he said, "something was going to sink in."
The finale of "Food Network Star" will air at 9 p.m. Sunday on, natch, the Food Network.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun