Hernando County chef, online show host, meets Food Network star who inspired him

A Brooksville realtor is making his mark in the culinary world. He just appeared on a national cooking show and his road to culinary success is what's right with Tampa Bay.

You could say Ross Hardy is Hernando County's resident Guy Fieri. 

"My release for the end of a hard days work is getting into the kitchen and messing around with some creations to see what I can come up with for dinner," he said. "[I try] to find the off-track, get off the beaten path restaurants and just bring some light to them. So, definitely I love what Guy does and trying to bring a little bit of that to Spring Hill and Brooksville."

For 12 years, Ross and his camera crew have been going to mom-and-pop restaurants in the area to shine a spotlight on local cuisine. He calls it "Hungry in Hernando" and people took notice. 

"Back in December, somebody actually reached out to me," said Hardy. "They were a casting director from Guy's grocery games on the Food Network and said that they had seen the article on Fox News and [asked], was I interested in auditioning for a one-off fans episode of Guy's grocery games?" 

Hardy says he was hesitant to do the show. 

"It was super nerve-racking. I actually didn't want to do it at first. Then my wife had to talk me into auditioning and told me it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So, I did the auditions, managed to make it onto the show, and yeah, the rest, as they say, is history," he explained. 

Hardy said Guy Fieri has been one of his biggest influences, so meeting him was the major highlight. But that wasn't the biggest distraction. 

"There's no way you can anticipate the pressure of having to shop and cook and play in 30 minutes. It seems easy when you watch it on TV. It's an unbelievable experience when you're under the lights and in front of the heat of the kitchen," he said. 

It's a pressure he truly enjoyed. 

"It was awesome to not only meet him and the chefs, but also the other contestants who I'm still in touch with to this day. It's just, all around, truly a dream come true." 

The segment aired last week. Ross had a watch party for family and friends. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hernandofood.