Melissa’s Finalist Pep Talks

by in Food Network Star, June 30, 2011
Melissa d’Arabian, Michael Symon, Bob Tuschman
Melissa judged this week’s Kellogg’s challenge with Iron Chef Michael Symon and Bob Tuschman.

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 this Sunday, July 3. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

I’d love to sit down with each finalist and chat.

Orchid — I adore you. Code blue: brilliant. I’m going to try it on my four little daughters. Regarding the episode, I understand being starstruck. I felt that way many times during my season, and I have some wise words to share: Get over it. I’m (kind of) kidding. I still pinch myself when I look at the names on my phone’s speed dial.

Jyll — Your crab cakes were seriously delish, but I’m disappointed that you served something cliché to vegetarians: a salad. You missed an opportunity to serve something surprising or original. I had a similar missed opportunity during my season (Miami Beach Challenge), and to this day, I can still tell you what I would have made (spicy pecans) instead of what I did serve (awful chicken skewers). Mark Twain is right about regretting the things we didn’t do.

Justin D. — I thought the black bean with jalapeno was pretty tasty. I will not lie to you — I was alone. But I thought you should know. Oh, and can we call you just Justin without the D. now? I’ve confused that D and B more times than my 4-year-old daughter learning to read.

Chris — Let’s start off by bringing up the obvious question: Did you really say something was “whack” on national TV? Regarding your menu choice: Lamb shank that you usually spend 24 hours making in only 3 hours? Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Don’t choose recipes that have an 80 percent chance of failure before you even begin. Unless you happen to be …

Jeff Mauro
Jeff’s bran joke didn’t go over so well, but his tofu was a hit.

Jeff — Sometimes you get lucky and your culinary skills get to shine through despite the odds. Congrats on serving tofu successfully to Paula Deen! (Someday remind me and I’ll tell you my tofu pudding story.) Also, it’s OK to be funny, but please don’t ever let anyone catch you trying to do it. Bridesmaids was funny; Hangover 2, not so much. See the difference?

Whitney — I’ve said this before but I think this competition could be yours to lose. (In all fairness, I said that about Justin B. and look how well that turned out.) You have it all: looks (effortless, natural, gorgeous), cooking skills (forgetting the Mediterranean platter for a moment), and you convey information on camera as if you have been doing it all your life. So how do you get in touch with the X factor that the judges say is missing? I think the strategy is finding a bridge between the (perfect) TV you and the (imperfect) bunch of us at home watching from our couches in jammies. Bring in some imperfection, but with care (see my advice to Howie in week one about wise imperfection-sharing).

Susie — I’m loving you lately. Your food looked and sounded delicious, and your personality is inviting and warm. I think your recipes are the ones that I would most likely download and make. Oh, and how much was I flipping when you kept saying “ten” and Justin D. kept saying “two” boxes of quinoa? Nice recovery.

Mary Beth Albright
Melissa’s advice for Mary Beth: let loose.

Mary Beth — I love it when you let loose and are just yourself. As someone cut from similar cloth, I will share a thought: Leave the lawyer at the door and stop trying to intellectualize everything. It’s stressful to watch. I struggle with this too. It’s hard to stop using the skills that served us well in grad school and in our (previous) careers.

Penny — Tough break about the mac and cheese; sucks to burn cheese. Even great cooks have off days in the kitchen. But is it worth considering that your fellow finalists actually gave you clues (perhaps inadvertently) that could have prevented this disaster, and that you were so adamant about being your own island that you chose to block everyone else out completely, to your own detriment? I know this is a tough competition, but please don’t lose your humanity over it.

Vic — I don’t know when it happened, but I think it was around the time when you talked about your dad being a hairdresser and you said vegetarians get robbed, but this week I am suddenly a Vic fan.

Can’t wait for next Sunday! And while you’re DVRing your favorite Food Network shows, check out my premiere episode of Season 5 of Ten Dollar Dinners at its NEW time, Sunday July 3, 9ET/8CT.

See what Melissa’s cooking up on Ten Dollar Dinners, check out her Facebook Fan Page and follow her on Twitter (@melissadarabian).

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