Lafayette native brings on the sugar in Food Network competition

Loreal Gavin credits a lot to the grandmother who raised her, including her expertise in the kitchen.

Given the first opportunity as a finalist on “Food Network Star,” the Lafayette native showed judges just what she meant, pulling off a jacked-up version of Grandma’s sour cream pound cake, topped with cayenne caramel, bourbon ganache, candied pralines and bacon. The judges — including Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Giada de Laurentis — raved about her confection.

Gavin, who now lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, may have the advantage in the desserts department, having worked as a restaurant dessert designer at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky. The multi-talented culinary arts school graduate has also worked in several restaurants as well as a personal chef, and for the last three years, as a butcher.

“I had a friend who had been working there (at the meat market) for five years. They needed help, and I was like, ‘Well, I’ve done pastry, I’m going to learn about butchering, since it is a lost art.’

“It feels good to have customers come back and say, ‘The recipes you wrote down for me were absolutely amazing.’”

Her love of beef goes back to her childhood, she said, when she referred to it as “the meat with the (grilling) lines in it.”

In a preview clip for the show, Gavin is seen holding up a ribeye.

“I laid in bed last night thinking about this!” she exclaims.

“I’ve always loved beef,” she said. “Why would you eat anything else but a ribeye if you were going to get down?”

Gavin’s larger-than-life personality caught the judges’ attention in the first episode, so when the motorcycle-riding, guitar-playing chef who loves tattoos toned things down in the second episode, they were caught off-guard.

“During your demo, you basically lulled us to sleep and I don’t know why,” Flay critiqued. “You seem like a very natural person, and we want to see that.”

Gavin attributed her mellowed-out moment to nerves, and fortunately, the brunch salad she created was a hit.

She’ll be back in the kitchen for the show’s third episode Sunday night, hopefully with her A-game.

Also with Louisiana ties and still in the competition are Chris Lynch, executive chef at New Orleans’ Uptown restaurant Atchafalaya, and Nicole Gaffney, Atlantic City, New Jersey, who graduated from LSU in 2007.

One chef is eliminated each week, and the winner will get his or her own show on the Food Network. “At the end of the day it’s all about doing what you love and letting that passion shine through,” Gavin said.