As a chef, Johnstown native Craig Jones prides himself on his ability to think fast and overcome any obstacle that he encounters while working in a hectic environment.
That grace under fire might be the reason why Food Network keeps his number available.
Jones will appear on a Season 3 episode of Food Network’s “Supermarket Stakeout” that will premiere at 10 p.m. Feb. 23.
The 2003 Greater Johnstown High School graduate will also be in town as his appearance is broadcast, hosting a watch party at 814 Lanes and Games in Richland Township.
Appearing on Food Network’s line of competition-based cooking shows is nothing new for Jones, who has also taken home victories in “Food Court Wars” and “Cutthroat Kitchen.” As Jones explained, each show that he’s been on has come with a different flavor.
“They’re all competition-based, but the first one (’Food Court Wars’) was the one where I actually won a full restaurant,” Jones said. “We were out doing battles all through the city of Midland, and we did stuff at a baseball game to show the marketing side of the business. It really did the overall full business model.”
That victory led to Jones’ restaurant, Chip-n-Wich, coming to fruition in Midland, Michigan. The restaurant specialized in gourmet sandwiches served with homemade chips on the inside.
“Then you step into ‘Cutthroat Kitchen’ – completely different,” Jones continued. “That was possibly the hardest show of all time. Everything else is on a lower totem than ‘Cutthroat Kitchen.’ The way that the show is laid out is that people will bid on these items to sabotage the person from making the dish they’re asked for. Something comes up, and you’ve got to bid on that item to give to that person. That show, I went out and got every single sabotage. Every person gave it all to me, and I just kept getting the whole time and kept winning.”
On “Supermarket Stakeout,” hosted by Alex Guarnaschelli, staying cool under pressure is also vital as four competing chefs are tasked with creating dishes that fit the episode’s theme.
The twist: Chefs must buy the ingredients from customers as they’re departing the supermarket.
“The first round, you’re going blind,” Jones said. “You don’t know what’s in that basket. They tell you what kind of dish to make, and you have to hope that person has the ingredients in that theme.
"Each round is a little different. In the second round, you’re allowed to look in the bag. You’re just running around like a maniac, cooking.”
While the frantic pacing may be jarring to most when working in the kitchen, Jones is right at home when the heat is on – proverbially and literally.
“That’s the way my mind thinks,” Jones said. “You gotta be able to think really fast. Come up with that recipe really fast. That’s always been how I’ve worked. I’ve been really good at that. I think it’s really exciting when you have all that pressure and you’re under the wire and you’ve got to come up with something good. That’s the part I like the most.”
The strength to roll with anything thrown at him led to Jones inspiring a viewer in an unexpected way, he said.
“I had a younger girl and her daughter reach out to me a while back,” Jones said. “They were so blown away by my determination to win and how I got all the sabotages. She had basically said that her and her daughter turned that into their real-life experiences and made it relatable because they were going through a tough time. It was kind of cool to get that kind of response … To hit them on a different mark, and they made it relatable to their life experience. That kind of blew me away a little bit.”
While his career has taken him away from Johnstown, Jones has kept his name active in the region with Jones’en Barbecue’s espresso barbecue sauce, a sweet and smoky blend with a touch of espresso.
“It actually started off as a project when I was in culinary school,” Jones explained. “Basically, they group you with different people in different majors and you have to come up with a product. Each person uses their strong suit. I was coming up with something unique. I was like: ‘There’s not many coffee barbecue sauces.’ That’s kind of how it started.
“Then everybody was like: ‘This is good, man. You want to sell some?’ For a while, I was making it out of my house and jarring it up. People really liked it. I ended up finding a co-packer. I got it all bottled up professionally.”
While Jones said that the COVID-19 pandemic slowed production of the sauce, he added that the product will return to shelves soon.