Report: 'Next Food Network Star' finalist lied about military, schooling
By Christopher Rocchio, 07/09/2007
Food Network billed Josh "JAG" Garcia as a Marine Corps "grunt-turned-cook" when he was revealed as one of the 11 finalists on The Next Food Network Star's currently airing third season, a resume that would presumably mean the 25-year-old chef de cuisine from Havelock, NC was well-equipped to win the competition. However, according to a military newspaper, there are some significant embellishments in his story.
"Touted as a graduate of the New York Restaurant School, a former corporal and a grunt-turned-cook who served in Afghanistan, Garcia's record is actually much less stellar," The Army Times reported late last month after an earlier interview with Garcia caused the newspaper to investigate his military background.
"He didn't spend nearly two years in the infantry, he didn't deploy to any war zone, and while it's unclear whether he was ever a corporal, what is clear is that the Corps showed him to the door nearly eight months early, as a private. Oh yeah, and he never finished culinary school in New York," continued The Times.
Garcia enlisted in the Marines in August 1999, according to The Times, which added his four-year tour should have ended in 2003 but was actually cut short for reasons the Corps declined to discuss, citing privacy laws. Garcia also told The Times he was a "former corporal," and it was only after the military newspaper asked for clarification in a subsequent interview that he admitted to non-judicial punishments that saw him be demoted to private due to a "hazing scandal" at his former unit.
"I was just afraid of what they would say. I'm not dishonorable, dude. The unit was trying to cover up hazing, a big hazing scandal," Garcia told The Times on June 11 as to why he initially didn't clarify his standing in the Marines.
Needless to say the Corps also has no record of Garcia being deployed to Afghanistan, according to The Times -- meaning The Next Food Network Star 3 finalist was not a member of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment -- the infantry unit Garcia said he accompanied to the war zone in 2002. That unit did not even deploy to Afghanistan that year, The Times reported.
Garcia eventually admitted to The Times that he didn't specifically tell Food Network he went to Afghanistan, but instead decided to let the show's producers "believe what they wanted to believe."
"Everything I've worked so hard for will come crashing down," he told The Times. "Everybody there [in my military unit] told me I'd never amount to nothing. The worst thing I did was let the Food Network believe something that wasn't true... That's my fault. I let them believe it... that's my fault."
Despite taking ownership for the fib to Food Network, Garcia's fraudulent story isn't sitting too well with other members of the military.
"Pretending to be a combat veteran for any reason should not be taken lightly," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of the non-profit group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, according to the blog TVFoodFan. "That's absolutely unacceptable. It's an insult to the 1.6 million Americans who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan."
Garcia attended the New York Restaurant School -- now known as the Art Institute of New York City -- following his exit from the Marines, and he told Food Network he was a graduate. Once again, the information he provided proved to be false. Midge Elias, director of public relations at the school, told The Times Garcia never graduated but could not divulge why due to privacy laws.
"Food Network remains committed to fully investigating Josh Garcia's background," Cara Brugnoli, a Food Network spokeswoman, told The Times on June 26. "We are working with the military and others to conduct our research and we will release any relevant details when appropriate."
Brugnoli did not immediately respond to Reality TV World messages seeking an updated status on the network's investigation. Garcia's Food Network profile has since been updated to say he only attended the New York Restaurant School, with references to his Afghanistan deployment also no longer present.
Last night's The Next Food Network Star 3 broadcast eliminated the pre-taped competition's eighth finalist, leaving Garcia; Amy Finley, a 32-year-old caterer and freelance writer from La Mesa, CA; and Rory Schepisi, a 30-year-old restaurant owner from Vega, TX as the show's three remaining finalists.
Following next week's elimination, The Next Food Network Star's home viewers will vote online and via text messaging to determine which of the final two remaining finalists will be crowned the competition's winner and receive their own six-episode Food Network television show.