As Food Network show hosts go,
has the most intriguing resume yet.
Born in the U.K. to an English mother and a food-loving Persian dad, Mokhtari has lived on four continents, earned a degree in medical physics, worked in finance, guest starred on
"The Young and the Restless,"
and combined his love of performing and travel by hosting adventure-based series around the globe.
So when the network approached him to audition for its first extreme cooking show, "Extreme Chef," now airing its second season on Thursday nights, Mokhtari knew he'd found his next TV home.
"They said, 'We want someone that can handle a chef -- and chefs are not the easiest people to get along with," Mokhtari tells
of the tryout, in which he discovered a natural affinity for the flinty personalities who sign on to have their physical, mental and culinary mettle tested in grueling challenges for a hefty cash prize. "I'm more of a mentor than a provocateur. I'm trying to help them, but at the same time I don't let them get away with whining in the kitchen."
Still, with tests that this season will include creating gourmet meals in desert wastelands, a floating dock in the middle of the sea and the jungles of Thailand, Mokhtari says he'll occasionally turn the other cheek for the sake of supreme creativity.
"On one episode, with a particular ingredient -- and I'm not going to tell what ingredient or which chef -- the chef needed a cheesecloth and didn't have one, so they grabbed a knife, cut their own shirt, put the ingredient in the shirt and squeezed. I didn't say too much about the sweat impregnated in the food -- but what an ingenious thought process!"
With the new season wrapped, the happily married dad of two daughters has embarked on his own new adventure -- one designed to both hone his craft and soothe another crop of mercurial chefs. "It's called
Upright Citizens Brigade --
Amy Poehler and her brigade -- and I'm doing a two-week improv class. Like I said, being in the moment with the chefs, you have to be on your toes to be able to whip them into shape. And maybe get a giggle out of them. Or tears. Tears are OK, too."