Five minutes was all that could have moved Aiken resident Lee Cheeks from the first to second round of Travel Channel’s grilling competition show “American Grilled.”
Cheeks was cut after the episode’s first round, which aired nationally on TV on Wednesday.
The episode was filmed on River Street in Savannah, Georgia, and Cheeks was one of four contestants hoping to win the $10,000 prize.
The show films in 13 locations across the nation, and each episode highlights that region’s ingredients and foods.
Because of the show’s location, the first round’s ingredients included quail and green tomatoes.
Cheeks succeeded at his quail, but according to the judges, his green tomatoes tasted too much of garlic.
What viewers didn’t get to witness, Cheeks said, was the five minutes he lost because of his quail’s original state.
“The judges told us if we had a little time, we could do a flip on our meat and then do vegetables on the other side,” Cheeks said. “My quail was bloody, and so I ended up doing a complete wash down of my station ... I did plan on roasting my garlic, which wouldn’t have made it so strong.”
This was the first on-air competition for Cheeks – he works with his father at Southeastern Tool and is also the owner of Lee’s Southern Seasonings.
Cheeks found the opportunity to be one of four contestants after he responded to a Facebook post created by a scouting agency asking “Are you a grill master?”
He then went through a series of tests and interviews assessing his cooking skills and styles before being chosen.
Cheeks admits he was the “dark horse” of the competition.
His competitors had stiff grilling resumes, one having already won a “BBQ Pitmasters” challenge.
“I would still jump at the opportunity again,” Cheeks said. “If I don’t get an opportunity to do this, I’d like to thank everyone from Travel Channel because they were so welcoming and so was everyone I competed against ... I love working in the family business, but cooking is my passion.”
Despite his loss, Cheeks said he’s experienced overwhelming support from friends and family.
“I’m a local; born and raised right here in Aiken, and my Facebook page has just exploded with supportive comments and great messages from my friends and family,” Cheeks said. “It’s been very humbling ... I’m really proud to be able to represent Aiken.”
For more information about Lee’s Southern Seasonings, visit his Facebook page or visit www.leesrubs.com.
Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.