Melissa’s Insight: Four Rules for Finalists

by in Food Network Star, Recap, June 23, 2011
Vic Vegas
Melissa's advice: Take a cue from Vic and sell the heck out of your food.

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. Her show, Ten Dollar Dinners, premieres its fifth season on July 3. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

Next week, Melissa is live-chatting on Facebook on Monday afternoon! Join in at 1pm EST with your questions and comments.

Week three: I’m getting to know the finalists, and I’m emotionally invested. I crack up when Jeff talks about his mojo-in-sweat theory; I cringe at Chris “making the ice cream … oh yeahhhhhhhhhhhhh”; I brace for impact when Alicia announces that the “only thing” she is worried about is her cupcake recipe (uh oh); and I want to hang out with Susie over coffee and tell her how much I love her sleek hairdo. I have some early favorites: Jyll and Orchid. And I am dying to jump through the screen and tell Whitney and Justin B. to get out of their own way; this competition might be theirs to lose if they could only find a way to bring their genuine selves, however imperfect, to the audience.

This week’s BTDT insights for the finalists:

You eat with your ears first, not your eyes.
Make it sound good. What you name your dish counts, and how you talk about your food matters since your audience cannot taste it. A corollary: Don’t be a walking apology for a dish. Serve it and own it completely. Or leave it in the kitchen — there is no in-between. And a tip: Never, ever use the word “just” to describe food to Bobby Flay. It will drive him bananas, trust me. Justin B. starts off calling the orange fennel ice cream “just an anglaise base,” and Whitney is similarly tepid in her description of a brownie (although in all fairness, she was right — it was indeed “just” a brownie, which is not a good thing at all). Take a cue from Vic: He sells the heck out of his tequila lime cream puff with his culinary authority, no pitch needed.

Alicia Sanchez

Have a few dessert recipes up your sleeve.
You are joining a cooking competition, folks, so please, please do not show up without a few baking recipes in your repertoire. You will likely have to memorize them, I realize. How Alicia, a professional baker, ended up not having a few solid cake recipes etched effortlessly in her brain is a mystery. She was really likeable, so I felt awful that instead of shining this week, she tanked. I take some comfort, however, in knowing that anyone who, in her own words, was “FUH-reaking out” in the kitchen, probably had her days numbered in the competition anyway.

There is no substitute for leadership.
Susie Fogelson
is on target when she says, “I don’t believe you can have a team of six people without a leader.” Don’t confuse other (sometimes very desirable) traits with leadership skills. The laughs and friendship over on the girls team left a gaping hole where a leader should have been. Jyll’s desire to put “love on a plate,” however sincere, simply didn’t translate into results. As Duff said, “They just forgot to put out good food,” which is a little like the bus driver forgetting to pick up his passengers because he was running late. On the other team, Chris’s goofiness and good intentions left his ship without a captain. Leadership skills are critical in a restaurant kitchen, and will absolutely be useful for the FNS winner, as he or she helms a career and brand that involves many players.

Alicia and Whitney

Passion is not enough.
You may not like what I have to say here, but your passion means very little to anyone but you and your family — unless it is driving you into action that makes others’ lives better. The judges struggle with knowing what Alicia’s skill set is “beyond being passionate about this.” Use your passion to drive excellence in action. I love competitive reality TV shows where the winner gets to realize a lifelong dream. And I’m always dismayed when I see the two remaining contestants given the chance to plead their case for winning and invariably someone focuses on their passion and how much they want to win. Here’s my BTDT tip for the FNS finalists who find themselves in this exact position for the finale: Save the “I found my life’s purpose” speech for Grandma, and make a compelling case for what you bring to the table if hired. Make your passion matter to others by delivering results that interest them, not you.

See what Melissa’s cooking up on Ten Dollar Dinners, check out her Facebook Fan Page and follow her on Twitter (@melissadarabian). And don't forget to join in on Monday, July 27 at 1pm EST to chat live with Melissa on Facebook.

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Comments (132)

  1. Chris says:

    Once again, Melissa, you make clear and precise comments that make sense, and should be well worth to write down for people who wish to audition to become contestants in future seasons.

    I especially agree with you in regards of always having recipes for dessert at hand. Not only on this show, but in so many cooking shows. Like in Top Chef (not much of a fan of that one, except for the lovable Carla Hall), you see that what most of the contestants dread the most is making desserts, and many usually tank and even get eliminated based on those. So your advice is simple but very important, and in a competition like this, having even a simple cake or cupcake recipe that you can use as a canvas to add in flavors, it can be a huge lifesaver.

    That being said, while I do agree that leadership is indeed needed, I was happy to see Jyll, my new favorite now that Alicia has left, stand up for herself. I was kind of peeved that everyone kept expecting leadership from her and didn't try to take leadership themselves. But that's just my opinion.

    And I also wish to say, congratulations on your show's fifth season, Melissa! I quite enjoy your show and hope you have many more seasons to come.

    • Diane says:

      Who cares what Melissa thinks - I sure don't! Can't stand her - never have from the beginning!

      • Chris says:

        Well, some of us just do.

        • Jon says:

          Blogging post show is different from being where the action is....Melissa has time to do check spell and get her sentences in order - contestants don't as they work "off the cuff." She did win,indeed and I think she did a good job on "that" show - but as for her follow up meals, I'm pretty darn bored... and pasta is a done deal - and I'm sick of all the FN "stars" making commercials to sell products - sure the money is grand, but really - do you want to put your name on some of that crap? So, trust your own judgement when watching the show - personalities and all-- and remember, some of the judges really don't have a clue about food as much as you might think they do !! I know, believe me.....long story :)

      • Karen says:

        I love Melissa and her tips are spot on. If you don't like her, why are you reading her post?

      • Misty says:

        If you don't care why did you read it? Or did you just skip over everything she said so you could leave a rude comment?

      • Melanie says:

        Why bother reading this then? That's the point of the internet...a zillion different views and you can pick and choose!

      • Katie says:


      • S. Henderson says:

        I wholeheartedly agree with you. I cannot stand Melissa or her bull crap show about Ten Dollar Dinners.. They are only ten dollar dinners if your pantry is already filled with all the "extras" that at my local grocery store I still have to pay for.

        • LindaSta says:

          The cost of each recipe and menu is figured on the cost of amounts of the ingredients used in each one You don't factor in the whole bag of flour or the whole jar of cinnamon. Or the whole jar of mayo. Those are items that are used often in most kitchens and are included in other recipes she features. You buy those items as staples.
          If you figure the cost of a recipe based on the amount of each ingredient, her recipes do indeed come out to be $10 +/- less than $.50 variance.

          • Katrinka says:

            Except when it includes Gruyere cheese, like in her Gruyere tart from another season. At my local discount grocery store, a small wedge of Gruyere is over $10. If we're only doing a shaving of cheese, guess it would be a $10 dinner.

          • LindaSta says:

            Katrinka, I am a dedicated cheese fan. I generally buy the the premium cheeses from the 'bit basket' and get them aound half price or even less sometimes. Other times I get the cheese when it's on sale.
            I know gruyere is expensive So sometimes I sub 1/2 of a good swiss (gruyere is similar to it) if I need a lot of the cheese.
            I've forgotten what else was on that menu, I think it was fairly inexpensive, though. She sometimes will feature one item that is a bit luxurious and surrround it with a couple of other items that are inexpensive. That cheese tart is so good it's a cardinal sin to eat it. <GGG>

      • Guest says:

        I TOTALLY agree with you, Diane. She was a bug eyes soccer mom who should have stayed home and raised her kids.

    • Franci Clarke says:

      Well said Melissa

  2. Guest says:

    Spot ON, Melissa! And thanks for not mentioning Penny.

    • Guest says:

      I actually wish she would have mentioned Penny. I can't stand her, so I thought she would have said SOMETHING about such a "strong personality" as they like to call her on the show. I REALLY hope she does not win this thing...I will NOT watch her show if she does...whether she is Stilettos in the Kitchen or a Mediterranean Mom, I simply can not stand that woman!

      • S.H. says:

        I will not watch her either, but it was definately a tactical error not to pick her because her cuisine is so unique and exactly what they rave about, so from a team standpoint I would have chosen her.

        • LindaSta says:

          The problem with choosing her is that she doesn't like her female fellow contestants and would likely do something to sabotage them. I wish the judges would watch the kitchen action like the judges on Chopped do.. I think it would give them a whole new perspective and make the bad Pennies show their colors a lot earlier.

      • luvcookin says:

        She's not a Mediterranean mom. She's a Middle Eastern Mom. You know countries like Iran, Iraq, where we are fighting wars now.

        And I will not watch her either.

      • Pennyhater says:

        I know what you mean. I watch TV to get away from the biotches in the world. She is unlikeable and mean. She seems to go out of her way to taunt others or point out others' shortcomings. Frankly, she does not seem like someone that the general public would want to watch in the future. I would change the channel if Penny were on since she seems like a negative energy. Plain nasty! Watching Penny would give me a stomach ache just from her personality!

    • Mark says:

      Thank Goddess I am not the only one who cannot stand Penny. She is untrustworthy, mean spirited and a lousy cook. Tonite, on episode 4, I don't know why she did not go home. Burned the cheese for her mac and cheese, then when it was pointed our, whined about being thrown under the bus because another competitor was "intimidated" Please, she cant' cook and I would never watch a show with her in it.

  3. Daniel says:

    I found this episode very uncomfortable to watch. Alicia's floundering and hysterics suggested to me that she is struggling with mental illness, not just a bad case of the nerves. Penny's pervasively negative attitude cast a pall over the competitions. She may be a great cook. But, I watch the Food Network to forget the Pennies of the world. Positive? Uplifting? Food Network caliber? I think not.

  4. Charlotte says:

    Melissa is repeating everything the judges already said! There is no new input from her at all.
    In my mind she needs some lessons in tv presentation, her tips are a disgrace in my few. I had high hopes for her show but after 1 season I can not watch it anymore. Tips such as "buy ice cream in bulk cause it freezes really well" and "put leftover orange rind in the freezer so you can use it next time" are a disgrace to the food network and to the people behind the camera's who actually let her say it. Does no one know that the essential oils die when you freeze them? I think her idea's are good but her presentations are so painful to watch. So I am done watching her.

  5. Kay says:

    Wow...I havent been watching Food netowrk for but a couple yrs and I dont know who you are Melissa..sooo. And Alisha looked nuts, Penny is too hard to be the star, we shall see what happens. I couldnt even believe they would let Alisha continue from day one, it was disturbing, Id decided to not watch if I had to hear her strange voice or see her on the verge of mental demise one more week. Arte won the last one, but although shes very cheery and pleasnt she isnt interesting, Ive watched Toms Outrageous Food show and never Arte' party. Youve had a few winners on this show but some of the judges picks are unmemorable.

    • finewine99 says:

      Glad I found this blog today and even happier to find someone who agrees with me about Arte. I was very disappointed in last season's ending. I have yet to watch any of her shows and most likely never will. Hopefully we won't have to watch Penny and Chris much longer. The rest of the group is interesting and enjoyable to watch.

  6. PatriciaSixsmith says:

    I really enjoy the Show !!!! I Love Some of the Contestants, can't wait to see who wins and who screws up !!!!!

  7. Sandi says:

    Check out and read Alicia's side of the story...very interesting!

    • Marg says:

      Sandi, what is the actual web address? i've searched for dishthelish and can't find anything pertinant to the show

        • LoriK says:

          Her side of the story seems like whiney excuses. She points out that another contestant used storebought icecream in an effort to say they were extra hard on her. When you make a cake people are spitting out, I think you should just admit you messed up and deserved to go. Even if her cake had been fantastic, she was lucky to have stayed so long. She was lucky to have been on in the first place. She was so uncomfortable on camera that she made me nervous when I watched her...not a trait you want in a food show host. She also said that she didn't cry as much as they made it seem. Huh? It didn't look like they were reusing footage of her crying again and again.

          • MoHub says:

            Agreed. I liked Alicia, but her interview was rife with sour grapes. I think she and many other FNS contestants fail to realize that they are not on Top Chef, and the ability to be a TV personality is every bit as important as being able to cook. If you freeze up or become tongue-tied in front of a camera, and if you're unable to adapt when things don't go smoothly, you are in the wrong competition.

  8. tree says:

    I love the show but from the begining of this year I wondered out of the hundreds tring to get on how Alicia and the first guy that got takin off got on in the first place. Unless it to add drama to the show.

    • Tanya says:

      Totally agree with tree! It seems to me that the standards of FNS competitors are falling season after season! I didn't find anyone having any star quality in this season from the beginning and not sure why they picked that radio guy if he himself admitted that cooking is not his strong fortay! I am rooting for Orchid.. and seriously can't stand penny .. i just hope Penny doesn't win!!

  9. Caitlin says:

    I agree with everything Melissa said!! Thanks for being a straight-shooter, Melissa. :-)

    I love Orchid and Jyll, too!!

    • Sheri Scott says:

      I liked Orchid, but I find Jyll to be insincere and self-serving. First she blamed Howie for her shortcomings. Then, when accused of being less than competitive, she backstabbed Chris and Penny. When Mary Beth asked her if the butternut squash was too spicy ( which the judges found extremely spicy), Jyll said, "No, not at all." She is phony, and, even though I watch FN about threee to four hours at night, I would NEVER watch a show hosted by Jyll.

  10. Brenda says:

    I hate Melissa. I wanted Geoffrey to win, back in their season....he had better ideas and was so much better than her...When her show comes on I turn the food channel off. Just can not stand her.

    • Bethany says:

      Agree with Disney fan that that sounds personal.

      Jeffrey Saad made my TV ooze grease like a TV in the movie Ghostbusters might ooze ectoplasm. He was so smarmy I could barely stand to watch him long enough to root (very loudly) for Melissa, who was my clear favorite from the first episode. When it got to the end, and it was him or Melissa, I had one of those hyperbolic "If he wins, I will quit watching anything on Food Network" moments because I found him so grating. Whether or not I would have remains to be seen, thankfully, but ugh. I couldn't believe there were people that wanted him to win. What were they thinking?

      (Aarti was also my clear favorite from the next season for the same reason as Melissa: sweet personality, good information, and someone I could see myself being friends with...I wonder if my one of my favorites from this season will win as well? Am pinning my hopes on the Sandwich King—he's already got a nickname!—or MaryBeth, who is an absolute delight to watch, makes food I like that I think I could replicate in my own kitchen, and most importantly, with my own budget.)