Melissa’s Insight: Keeping It Real by Melissa d’Arabian in Food Network Star, July 7, 2011
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Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. You can catch new episodes of her show, Ten Dollar Dinners on Sunday mornings at 9am/8c. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.
Week five and Guy Fieri: First, live demos for the finalists are on the agenda, and this is a biggie, because they are much, much harder than they look. And, interestingly, a theme of the week emerges: authenticity. Some finalists rise to the occasion and share themselves organically: witty Whitney (who knew? hooray!), off-the-cuff Mary Beth (“I’m here all week … maybe not!”), charming Susie (thumb story a true gem), hilarious Jeff (despite my initial silent “ugh”), and tender Vic, who somehow managed to use that wig as a meaningful prop.
Some fall a little flatter. Penny tries too hard to pull off a crowd maneuver best left only to the Julie McCoys of this world, Jyll comes off as “eternally perky” according to Susie Fogelson, and Chris makes me squirm with Guy-isms. (I love Guy, but we have Guy.)
Being authentic and live demos: Let’s dive in.
Simple, but not easy. Justin, Orchid, Jyll and Penny struggle this week. But don’t we all, at some point in our lives? How do you bring your true self to an audience (or any place) organically? I will tell you my own five-step approach to “keeping it real” during my season of FNS. Of course, there are millions of ways to skin a cat, and this is only my own personal experience, but before you brush off my steps as being too touchy-feely, I should tell you that I credit these steps with my beating out some amazing chefs my season.
1. Know your life mission: Be clear on what you want to accomplish on this earth before you leave it, and state that in a sentence. Don’t overthink this one. Take two minutes (seriously!) and imagine yourself at your 80th birthday saying to yourself “my life was successful because I _________.”
2. Try your life mission on for size for a few days and tweak as necessary. Live in it, and use it to make choices about how you spend your time and energy.
3. Take a look at your culinary POV (yes, back to earth and the competition), and see how that POV advances your personal life mission. Connect the two, or change one of them if they are not in harmony.
4. Start a victory file and review it nightly. Keep a list of life’s small victories, which will do two things: remind you what makes you feel good and valued in this world, and remind you that you are actually pretty fabulous just the way you are. While taping my season, I went back to the house after evaluations and wrote down every single positive thing that I could remember the judges saying about me. This made it much easier for me to …
5. Acknowledge the things that didn’t go well, and come up with an unemotional, strategic approach to minimizing, addressing or overcoming this shortcoming. Don’t take it all personally and don’t let the negatives blow up into broad statements of your value. Hear it as feedback for adjustment, not judgment.
I’ll give you some advice that was given to me right after I won Food Network Star: In a live demo, think of the food as a prop, not the star. I have found this tremendously helpful. Yes, the food has to be delicious, the recipes well-conceived, and you have to convey the information. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: Making great food is the price of admission, not the ace up your sleeve.
In a demo, the food is the vehicle for bringing an overall entertainment experience to the audience. As such, you’ll want to keep the culinary side a bit simpler than you are inclined so your food information and logistics don’t ruin the experience. This is precisely what happened to Orchid, for instance. Sitting here, I actually cannot recall what Vic made during his demo (and I call myself a blogger with the shoddy notes I took?!), but I can tell you that I became the captain of Team Vic after his demo. So there you have it. Using the food as a means to connect with the audience via stories and humor is an excellent live demo strategy, which is why Susie, Vic, Mary Beth and Jeff sailed.
A final word to Justin: I’m sad to see you go. I saw a quirky, interesting personality and POV somewhere in you, and I believe another time, another day, you might have been able to deliver your authentic, charming self. I loved what we almost saw.