Persistence pays off for Dallas chef in a big way with appearance on ‘Food Network Star’

Caodan Tran is a contestant on the current season of “Food Network Star.”
Caodan Tran is a contestant on the current season of “Food Network Star.” Food Network

Caodan Tran is ready for her closeup.

The 29-year-old Dallas chef has wanted to be on television for quite some time.

Tran tried out for “The Amazing Race” once, but she didn’t make the cut.

She got her hopes up about competing in a sci-fi/fantasy reality show. “It was like ‘Amazing Race’ but set in Middle Earth,” she says. Not surprisingly, the strange-sounding series never aired.

She auditioned for Season 12 of “Food Network Star” but wasn’t one of the 12 selected.

Ultimately, though, Tran’s persistence paid off.

Producers of “Food Network Star” remembered liking her and invited her back to compete in Season 13, which premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday on the Food Network.

“I jumped at the opportunity, because it’s what I’ve wanted,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to be in front of the camera and to have my own cooking show.

“I think this is a great way to get my feet wet in this world.”

Totally telegenic

Tran will have to be ready for anything is she hopes to win this life-changing culinary competition.

“Food Network Star” differs from most of the competition shows on the network in that it’s not just about preparing a great meal. The food on the plate is important, yes, but the winner also must be bursting with telegenic charm.

The prize, after all, is the chance to star in one’s very own show on the network. And what viewer wants to endure a cooking show with a host who lacks charisma?

Tran, the first North Texan to compete in “Food Network Star” in nearly a decade, seems to have what it takes. She’s personable, high-energy and completely comfortable in front of a television camera.

“It’s something that I’ve found comes with practice,” she says. “I started doing acting classes last April. But at the end of the day, the key is just to be myself, to be true and authentic.”

Cheeseburgers and spring rolls

It doesn’t hurt her cause any that the self-taught chef also knows her way around the kitchen. Her specialty is modern Vietnamese cuisine.

“I’m first-generation Vietnamese-American and that has a lot to do with my style,” she says. “It’s something that is very familiar to me and something I’m very proud of and that I enjoy making.”

Her spring rolls are especially popular.

“I’ve found a number of ways to modernize the spring roll,” she says. “But I still make it traditionally as well.”

Tran currently runs a personal chef service, doing everything from pop-up dinners to private parties. She’s known for bringing fresh, clean, simple flavors to Vietnamese cuisine.

That said, Tran’s favorite comfort food is an all-American staple.

“I have a weird obsession with cheeseburgers,” she says. “At my wedding, I had a tower of cheeseburgers. And when I make them, it sometimes takes people by surprise.

“The cheeseburger doesn’t always tie in with Vietnamese cuisine. It’s kind of a curveball.”

Following in Fieri’s footsteps

Tran wouldn’t mind following in the footsteps of the last North Texan to compete on “Food Network Star.” Melissa d’Arabian won the Season 5 title in 2009 and watched her life change, transforming from stay-at-home mom to in-demand TV personality and cookbook author.

The most famous winner, of course, is Guy Fieri, who parlayed his Season 2 victory in 2006 into hosting gigs pn a variety of food, travel and game shows.

Tran — a North Texas resident since age 11, when her parents moved the family of five from California to the Dallas suburbs — believes she’ll have something to offer if she’s lucky enough to get a show of her own.

“I hope I get to have a voice in the world of food,” she says. “I also feel like I want on some level to inspire people. I think my story of essentially being self-taught, not coming from a lot but just really wanting something and then achieving it, can be of value to people.

“I’ve never followed the rules. I want to show other people that you can be a little different, a little wild, and it will end up OK.”

Food Network Star

  • 8 p.m. Sunday
  • Food Network