Chef Virginia Willis on Alex vs America

Alex vs America and Sauce Diable

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Chef Virginia Willis on set of Alex vs America

SPOILER ALERT! What a week! Thanks so much to everyone for their encouragement and support for my appearance on the Season Premier of Alex vs America on Food Network. Read more to find out about how the “now me” (I prefer “now me” over “new me” – it feels more accurate!) approached the daunting competition, how storytelling played a part, and my take on one of my recipes, Sauce Diable.

Chefs Jonathan Sawyer, Virginia Willis, and Nate Appleman on the set of Alex vs America

First up, to answer your questions — it really is 30 minutes (or whatever time is agreed to.) Nope, the chefs really do not know the ingredients ahead of time. It’s all so fast! There’s ZERO time to think. So, once I agreed to compete, I knew that I needed a plan. The last time I competed in a culinary competition was on Chopped and that was over 10 years ago! (LAWD. Lamb balls… and I do not mean ground lamb.)

I knew that I needed to be prepared. In this instance, I felt the best way to prepare would be to have in my head a cache of go-to recipes. And, I am a storyteller. I wanted to pay homage to James Beard, also not a restaurant chef, but a cookbook author, recipe developer, and teacher. In today’s lingo, he’d be a “content creator.”  Once I agreed to compete, I started researching his recipes – and one of his favorites was Sauce Diable. I added that to my “back pocket” of recipes.

Chef Virginia Willis on Alex vs America

Sauce Diable

The French chef Carême evolved an intricate methodology by which hundreds of sauces were classified under one of five “mother sauces”: Béchamel, Velouté, Brown; Hollandaise, and Tomate. Sauce Diable aka Devil’s Sauce is one of many sauces that can be made from Brown Sauce. As its name implies, it’s spicy and piquant. According to the Beard Foundation, James Beard famously served it with his Deviled Beef Bones, but it is equally delicious with broiled flank steak or broiled chicken. I thought it would pair wonderfully with the rich wagyu beef and buttery puff pastry.

What is Beef Wellington?

Beef Wellington is a classic roast beef recipe of English origin, made out of beef tenderloin filet coated with pâté and mushroom duxelles, wrapped in puff pastry, then baked. Wellington was not part of my game plan, but once I saw that wagyu beef it felt right to go down a retro road and serve it with Sauce Diable.

The origins of Beef Wellington, as per usual with food lore is confusing and vague. Some say it was developed in the early 1800s to laud the victory of the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo. What we do know is that it became a popular dish in the 1950s and ’60s, thanks to Julia Child including a recipe in her best-selling book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961. Julia and James were friends and colleagues.

I didn’t have time to make it the classic but knew I could execute a deconstructed version. One of my plans was to bake! NO one ever bakes on these shows and I am a baker. Truth is I really wanted to make biscuits, but I thought they would be perceived as too “paper napkin” and not “white linen” as the challenge dictated.

Winning on Alex vs America

If you saw the show, you know that I was eliminated. BELIEVE me, I have picked apart EVERY single part of that plate. Nope, I did not mean that to be a sandwich. I have also listed out on paper every single thing I did wrong or wish I had done differently. That’s how we learn.

And, yes, of course, I was disappointed, but I am 10K% ok, better than ok! I think this IG video pretty much says it all.

Self Care and Wellness

I baked puff pastry, made a proper sauce I could be proud of, and didn’t cut myself. That’s enough! I was up against some seriously intense talent! Holy moley! It’s also the 1st episode ever that Alex came in 3rd! It’s her SHOW! Good grief, that’s intense.

I made a plan, I stuck to my plan, and I executed it to the best of my ability. That’s all we can do. That’s all we can ever do. Do the best you can with what you’ve got.

And, afterward? I laced up my sneakers and took a nice long walk. Instead of numbing my sadness with burgers and bourbon, I enjoyed a healthy salad with grilled fish and an Aqua Fresca. Then, I took my Alex vs America per diem and bought myself a brand-new REI daypack! It will be SO much better for my herniated disk and back than my heavy over-the-shoulder tote. Win! Win! Win!

Every time I pick up my new pack, I can remember not what I lost, but what I won. That’s the story I want to tell.  Thanks so much for reading.

Bon Appetit, Y’all!


Chef Virginia Willis Wellington on Alex vs America

Sauce Diable

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, French
Keyword: james beard sauce, mother sauces, sauce recipe, steak sauce


  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups beef stock warmed
  • 1/2 cup tarragon vinegar
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 shallot finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped tarragon
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat until melted. Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, until foaming. Add the beef stock and stir to combine. Reduce heat and let simmer until thick enough to coat a spoon. You should have about 1 1/2 cups.
  • In a second saucepan combine the tarragon vinegar, white wine, shallot, and tarragon until reduced by half.
  • Add to the simmering gravy and stir to combine. Add cayenne pepper and dry mustard. Simmer until thick enough to coat a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper and keep warm.


Let’s cook something up! If you are interested in hosting me for a speaking engagement, event, cooking class, or book signing, let me know! Send an email to and we’ll be back in touch as soon as possible.

I am not a doctor, RD, health professional, or WW representative. I am simply sharing what works for me. My blog is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals.

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Virginia Willis cookbooks


Please note that this post may contain affiliate links.

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Love you. Always have listened and watched your wisdom. Can’t imagine actually participating in something like this, I was a wreck watching you!

  2. What a wonderful post this is! I loved seeing Virginia on the show and the excitement and high-quality cooking of all. Love Virginia’s story here about the show and making the sauce in honor of James Beard. Thank you!

  3. Lori McLain

    You are amazing and we love to watch you! We judged yours the best! Genius!❤️🤗

  4. Kim Roden

    Congrats on your appearance and efforts! Dont know what the other guy made, but sure yours was delicious!

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