Melissa Answers Your Star Questions and More

by in Food Network Star, July 21, 2011
Melissa d'Arabian, Bob Tuschman and Michael Symon
Earlier this season, Melissa relived her Star memories as a guest judge.

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.

Was that a collective sigh of relief I heard? With surprisingly little fanfare or drama, Penny was eliminated, and along with her, Chris went home. I’ll be honest: I would have been floored if either of them won. I wasn’t entirely surprised Sunday night.

So I’ll jump right into your questions. First, a few of you worried that it was unfair to compare Jeffrey and Orchid because he made it further in the competition. Fair enough. They both were the front-runners at the start, and both had judges complaining that they didn’t progress as time went on in the competition. But to be clear, I’m a fan of both Jeffrey and Orchid. They were solid contenders, and fantastic chefs (I know — I’ve eaten their food). And despite not ultimately winning, both are talented and savvy enough to create amazing opportunities.

FancyTX asked if we really cook under the time constraints given and if we have help. We really do it in the times you see, and we do it all without recipes. Which explains why sometimes you’ll see some misfires. It’s incredibly stressful but, honestly, very exciting, too. Trusting your hands and ingredients is amazing — feeling and tasting your way through a completely new recipe is an incredibly creative and satisfying endeavor. I have rarely gotten lost in my work as much as I did while cooking on Food Network Star.

Melissa d'Arabian, Season 5
A reader asked Melissa how accurate the editing was during her season, pictured here.

Wayne wondered how accurate the editing was my season. And the answer is: incredibly accurate, given the challenges of boiling down hundreds of hours of footage into a one-hour show. Yes, plenty is left out, by necessity. But I did not find that stories were “created.”

Saluki pointed out a pan-network problem with making good risotto in televised cooking competitions. I couldn’t agree more — see my post from a few weeks ago. So, let’s add risotto to potato gratin on the “do not make” list for future contestants. It’s just too time-sensitive (which is why a good risotto is so expensive at a restaurant). While we are on topic, let’s go ahead and add panna cotta and any flans or custards that need to set just right.

Ncexnyc asked if I had any lessons learned to share about balancing family life with my four daughters and my career on Food Network. First, working parents across America are doing this every day, so I’m comforted in knowing I’m in good company. Second, I’ve learned to compartmentalize: When I’m working, I shut the door (or get on a plane) and focus completely on work. When I’m with the kids, I put work on hold, close up the email and give them my complete attention. Parenting and working simultaneously makes me feel like I don’t do a good job at either. And that feels awful and stressful. Third, I married a spouse who is in my corner as much as I am (and I’m in his). I may be the one you see on camera, but from where I sit, getting my show out is a team effort.

Melissa d'Arabian on Ten Dollar Dinners
Melissa on the set of Ten Dollar Dinners.

Katrinka asked about how ingredients are priced on Ten Dollar Dinners and if pantry ingredients are freebies in the calculation. I follow standard convention and count the quantity used in the recipe. For instance, if I use two cups of flour, I count the cost of those two cups; not the whole five-pound bag. So even “pantry items” costs are included. The only freebies on Ten Dollar Dinners are salt and pepper. Pantry items are money savers because you use them often, so you minimize risk of waste, but they are not free.

Diane asked if we might spend a little more money than 10 bucks on, say, a special holiday meal. Well, Diane, it’s a little soon for me to be promoting my holiday episode of Ten Dollar Dinners, but since you ask — stay tuned for a fun budget twist in December!

And finally, Shoebox wanted to know if I write these blog entries myself, or if someone else does it for me. It’s just me. And in fact, my husband is out of town this week so I don’t even have him to review my writing before submitting. So don’t blame him this time around.

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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Comments (85)

  1. Steph says:

    Thanks for answering some of the questions. It makes you more likeable.

  2. Alyssa says:

    I'd like to point out that, last season, Chef Brad made risotto not once, but twice, to rave reviews from the judges. It is possible. This season's contestants are just incompetent.

    • Steph says:

      FN was crazy not to grab Brad. He's young, talented, likeable and probably bankable.

      • Alyssa says:

        You speak the truth. I was on the Brad Wagon the entire season... Actually, even before the season started and the promos were on, I was rooting for "the guy in the hat". I miss having likable contestants on the show. Last season, I truly liked most of them... This season, I wish I could have sent most of them home the first week. I like Jeff, but that's about it.

        • Grandma Joyce says:

          Wonder where he is and how he is doing. He was on a special Chopped edition and it was nice to see him.

          • LindaSta says:

            I am trying to remember what was posted about him at that time. I think he owns and is exec chef in a successful restauant. His young son has Kawasaki's syndrome and he wanted to win the money for the charity that researches and provides help for patients and families who are victims. As I recall, Brad said his son is now doing well.

          • Diddle says:

            I think that was a different guy because there was 2 Brads in that competition

          • Alyssa says:

            That was Nate Appleman... Not Brad. Brad was knocked out in the dessert round of the first episode where he lost to Michael Prioletti. :(

          • LindaSta says:

            Alyssa and Diddle You are right. It was Nate Appelman, not Brad Sorenson. I have no idea why, but I keep mixing up the two and they are not the least bit aline, other than the fact that they really are excellent chefs. And Brad (the 'kid' with the hat" is a chef
            The Brad who was on Chopped was Brad Sorenson, thouigh. The other Brad didn't make it as far and Brad Sorenson who wast the last one eliminated before the finale.

      • English says:

        Totally agree, Steph. I watched FN challenge last season for the first time because I had heard Brad would be a contestant. I had eaten in one of his restaurants several times, and he was in the kitchen, which doesn't happen that often with chef/owners. The food was delicious (worn out adjective, I know), and his interaction with the diners was always relaxed but professional. I never understood his elimination except Susie F and Bob T didn't like him because he correctly referred to himself as Chef.

    • sunniemom says:

      Brad is last season's Kelsey- the one that got away.

    • 666 says:

      I'd watch Brad for hours before tuning into any of the contestants this year for 30 minutes. He was a bright chef and seemed genuine, likable, and completely marketable.

  3. Connie says:

    I agree Jeff truly is the front runner, but I'm also rooting for Vic( and even Jyll). Gosh I'd even root for Mary Beth so long as Whitney didn't win....I want some one with talent , to cook and entertain not someone who is going to talk about a sorority as her warmest story.

    • English says:

      Connie, Whitney is trying to play the game with Susie F. Look at the number of times Whitney has received contradictory advice--as it has been pointed out by a few posters. Notice that Susie F loved the sorority story.

      • Disney fan says:

        Not sure why that sorority story bothered people so much. Whitney's not my favorite but that seems to be the type of thing the judges like.

        • Marsha says:

          I think it's because it's the same old thing all the time from the judges. "Tell us a story, make it personal." It doesn't seem to matter if it's true or not, just as long as they tell a story. I personally, don't watch cooking shows for the background story.
          It just seems phony to me.

          • Diddle says:

            I really like Whitney and I think she has progressed MUCH more than a lot of the other contestants.

  4. Food Lover says:

    Ah Melissa, I thought that your personality transformed amazingly in Season 5, and even though I was rooting for Jeffrey, I beleive that the Judges made the right choice. You went from wimp to being a strong confident women. It was great to watch - and dear FN, that makes for great TV!. Congratulations for getting your own show plus answering the above questions. And thanks for explaining the not-a-freebie-pantry issue, as I wasn't sure if that was included.

  5. Wayne says:

    Awesome that one of my questions was answered. One thing I always wondered about was an event near the end of Melissa's season, maybe even the finale. Eliminated contestants were brought back to help the finalists and Jamika ended up with Melissa. One of Melissa's dishes was over-seasoned, maybe too much salt. I suspected then that Jamika tried to sabotage Melissa. Anyone else remember this?

  6. Food Lover says:

    (continued from above)

    By the way, I found Jeffrey over on the Cooking Channel. He does a show similar to Triple D, but each show focuses on one kind of food. For example, a couple of nights ago, it was all about pancakes. Jeffrey is very likable too. Check it out when you can.

    I do have a question for you but you can't answer on this forum, that OK. For some reason this season the judging seems to be all over the place. Things like trying to make contestants cry at inappropriate times, and treating one contestant different from another giving the appearance of favoratism (and thus are not objective). Also, I am not so sure that we should have cooks/chefs on the panel that were given their own shows and did not have to past through any sort of gaunlet (especially Giada). Anyway, my question is - do you beleive that the right people are sitting in the judges seats or that maybe we should change the evaluation component to include past contestants on the panel?

    • LindaSta says:

      I liked Jeffry, although Meilissa was my personal favorite. I would have liked him in some kind of cooking show, but i am tired of the DDD type shows. So i don't generally bother with that one. I can't figure out why they don't offer him a show of the sort Kelsey does. His knowlege of spices is exceptional and it would be nice to share in that.

      • wheresthespice? says:

        Anyone remember FN's show "Spice & Easy" from last year? Hah, didn't think so! The Cooking Channel has "The Spice Goddess" and Roger Mooking's "Everyday Exotic" which features a lot of spices (and is much better than "Heat Seekers") -- I would love to have the latter's wall of spices. FN, please bring Jeffrey back to host his own cooking show featuring a creative use of spices!

  7. ostrich says:

    You do know Giada went to cooking school in France and had her own catering business before Food Network, right? Listen to her judges' recap. And no, not crazy about her clevage in my face all of the time, but seems like she has toned it downed in the last few years.

    • JimH says:

      Giada herself has talked about how bad she was at the beginning and FN has showed some her very early takes. It was really bad. It seems like Giada has forgotten that hse was where some of these people are now. Bobby Flay may need to go back and review the old tape of him with a blender and the problems that caused him in his early days.

    • LindaSta says:

      LOL!!! about the cleavage. The problem is that unless she wears crewneck or Peter Pan Collars or turtleneck tops, she is going ot show cleavagel I wear lower necklines than she does and there is barely a hint of cleavage (excuse me while I pout). So can't we please leave that issue on the back burner? it;s not worth getting all worked up about

    • Diddle says:

      I usually try to keep an open mind about FN chefs and contestants but I HATE Giada!!!

  8. ChrisB says:

    Even though I'm in my early 60s and have been baking/cooking for many years, I still look to the chefs/cooks on FN for advice on how to improve my kitchen acumen. When Ms. D'Arabian was on TNFNS, I admired her knowledge about foods from all over the world and hoped that this would permeate her eventual FN show. For me, "Ten Dollar Dinners" has been a big disappointment, but I'm glad that Melissa has a fan base who appreciate the budget-wise approach to world cuisine.

    The educational potential of this year's NFNS contestants is sorely lacking. No one has impressed me as of yet with an interesting or out-of-the-ordinary POV, nor has anyone demonstrated cooking expertise that they can impart to viewers. Doesn't mean that they're not capable, and maybe now that the backstage drama is no longer the show's focus, we will see what the remaining finalists can bring to the table and our TV screens.

    • sunniemom says:

      I agree that the education potential seems a bit lacking. Although- Susie's POV has been simmering all along, and I think maybe this week it got it's name when Susie Fogelson called it Mexican soul food. I think Vic has some great potential, and even tho it seems at times that his 'Vegas' POV echos Guy Fieri a bit, but he could still come out with a very individualistic show.

      But Jeff has made what- 1 sandwich? Even tho I love Whitney, Mary Beth, and Jyll, what are they going to bring to FN that it doesn't already have 4 or 5 of already?

    • Bethany says:

      Rats, I clicked thumbs-up before I saw that you said $10 was a huge disappointment. :'(

      I've gotten more tips and easy/cheap/good recipes out of that show than any other since I used to watch Julia Child as a child on PBS! Disappointment, how? (If you don't mind my asking.)

      • MissyB says:

        Me. too.

      • Disney fan says:

        I agree. Ten Dollar Dinners food doesn't taste like $10 and I learn something every week. love, love, love her show and my family and friends love her food!

      • ChrisB says:

        I'm 61 years old and don't need to cook on a budget. At this time in our lives, DH and I enjoy good food, fine wine, dine out frequently, travel, and can afford to buy the best ingredients for home cooking. I'm sure that Melissa D'Arabian's show appeals to young mothers who do have to stretch their cooking budgets, and there was probably a time in my early married life when I would have appreciated the same. FN has done a good job of featuring a variety of cooking shows that satisfy the needs of their viewers. Melissa D'Arabian most likely appeals to a younger demographic while folks like me prefer Ina Garten.

        • Paul says:

          I see what you're saying as it relates to you. But people of ALL ages can be on a budget, especially n these times, not just young folks starting out.

          • Bethany says:

            Heck, even when I don't have a budget, sometimes I like to make a game out of "what can I do and how little can I do it with?" Some of my cleverest and tastiest dishes have been made this way.

            I've also noticed that when I cook from $10 Dinners recipes, things don't lay around in the fridge as much from my making too-huge portions. I volunteer with a charitable organization that feeds low-income people and also live in a town with a very high population of homeless people, so wasting food is something I absolutely cannot stand. Keeping portions smaller (typically by giving myself a small budget on groceries for each meal) helps me avoid that and also, I'll be honest, makes dinner more interesting because we can eat so many different things so often. :)

            @ChrisB: must be nice. I used to have a lot more money and get 7 course Menu Confiance meals at French restaurants/travel to Europe every year, etc., but life happens and things are different for me now. Some people have never had that kind of lifestyle. It's part of what I hated about Jeffrey Saad's show idea about cooking with exotic, hard-to-find ingredients from all his whoopdie-doo jet-setting around. Too bourgeois/unrelatable for me and my life as it currently is.

            I like that Melissa makes great food from a variety of cultures, but does it in such a way that I don't feel like my pinky needs to be sticking out while I eat it with one hand and adjusting my monocle with the other.

          • ChrisB says:

            @Bethany: Thanks for your thoughtful response. I'm glad that you were cool with my explanation - you're a classy lady!

            I remember when Jeffrey Saad talked about Harisa that I'd never heard of and couldn't find at the international market. Surprisingly, Anne Burrell made Harisa from scratch on a recent episode of "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef". Same thing happened when Azuki beans were among the ingredients for one of the courses on "Chopped". I had never heard of this Asian bean and didn't see them in the Asian aisle of the market.

          • Bethany says:

            The harisa cropped up in a couple shows I was watching after he did his pilot. It sounds delicious; I just can't find that kind of stuff where I live.

            Just last night I made some of Melissa's $10 dinner recipes (the new ones for Sunday the 24th's episode) and she called for lemon confit in one of them. I didn't have time to make them (as given in the recipe they take 2 weeks but are super cheap) so tried to buy preserved lemons @ the store instead. Went to 3 different ones and they didn't have them. So I looked them up online (had seen them on Iron Chef once), figured out the approximate texture/flavor I needed, and just made my own. I'd have never been that creative if I could have found that ingredient, but the dishes came out GREAT! (Chicken tagine with a chilled carrot/cauliflower soup that I had to flash chill because I started late from driving to Timbuktu to find the lemons, and a couscous with peas and mint. I actually had to sub quinoa because I bought half as much couscous as I needed and didn't want peas with grainy couscous bits.) I'll probably still try to confit some lemons to see what they are really like, but I'm a last-minute prep sort of person, so will probably just make them the way I already did if it's as close as I hope it was.

            If anyone's curious, a 5-10 minute preserved lemon or lemon confit is as follows:

            slice lemon into 1/4" slices. salt & sugar liberally, pepper lightly. flip the slices over and repeat. bring small pan to medium and add 2 tbsp olive oil. lay slices in pan and cook for about 1 minute. flip and cook 1 more minute. add water to just barely cover the lemons and cook until soft. Take lemons out of liquid, cut and use in recipe (even the peels). Note: I used half as much as the recipe called for since I added that delicious, warm, supple pulp *drool* instead of just the peel/pith.

            >@Bethany: Thanks for your thoughtful response. I'm glad that you were cool with my explanation - you're a classy lady!
            I don't begrudge anyone their success. It sounds like you have a lot of fun. :)

            I do hope you'll try Melissa's recipes as even though they are budget-friendly, they really don't taste that way. Last night I felt like I went to an expensive North African restaurant for dinner, and it wasn't nearly that expensive. I even have some leftover chicken, soup, and quinoa since there are only 3 of us here, so the portions she recommends are spot on.

          • ChrisB says:

            Lemon and chicken is an awesome combination, so I will try the recipe. Ina made a lemony chicken on her show (rerun) today. I remember making the dish previously, and it was delicious.

            Does Melissa have a cookbook yet? Haven't seen one advertised.

          • ChrisB says:

            I'm watching the episode now! Your post also inspired me to research Lemon Confit, and I found several easy recipes. I'm going to get me some Mason jars and make my own. I saw a plethora of recipes - savories and sweets - using the Lemon Confit, not to mention a great tip from a fellow-poster on this blog ;) I love lemons!

          • Bethany says:

            Yay! I actually liked the tagine so much I'm going to make it again tomorrow. :P

            I will have to look for the Ina Garten recipe for lemon-chicken. Totally agree it's a wonderful combo, and I think her recipes always look like delicious comforting food.

          • Melissa d says:

            Bethany, I'll have to try that quick version...may be a great thing in a pinch!! thx for sharing it!!

          • Bethany says:

            Yay! I hope you like it. It tasted great in the tagine. :)

          • ChrisB says:

            @Bethany: Thanks for your thoughtful response. I'm glad that you are cool with my explanation; you are one classy lady!

            I remember trying to find Harisa after Jeffrey Saad sung its praises. Couldn't find it anywhere including the two large international markets in my area. Anne Burrell made Harisa from scratch on her show just recently. I like Anne and learn a lot watching "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef".

          • ChrisB says:

            Too weird! My previous post was not showing up on the blog at all, so I posted another. Site must be overloaded today.

        • Diddle says:

          It is just a matter of opinion but I think Ina Gartner is so slow and boring and uses ingredients that are sometimes hard to find. Melissa D'Arabian turned me off on NFNS but based on the reviews here maybe I will watch........

    • Mommy1 says:

      I don't watch because of the budget wise factor! I feed more than 4! She is simply full of wonderful tips, recipe's and personality! I love Melissa! She's the only television chef that I have actually tried recipe's from. So inspiring!

  9. 666 says:


    Is Michael Symon as likable off camera as he is on TV? I don't know why you would say no, but I figured I'd ask anyway.

    When Susie said she had a crush on him in one of the NFNS episodes, I wasn't surprised because I actually do know quite a few women who are attracted to him for one reason or another.

    I think he'd be a great judge on NFNS too, if that can be taken into consideration. On the ep. that he was judging with you, he seemed fair and like he was trying to look at things from the contestants' point of view.

    • Melissa d says:

      Michael is even warmer in person! love him.

      • LindaSta says:

        I've heard a lot of kind words about Symon from friends in the food world.. I particularly appreciate his sense of humor

    • Diddle says:

      Michael Symon WOULD be a great judge!!!! You are so right!!! WOW!!! And I think he has such great personality and can be really funny and relatable!!!

      • reba says:

        I agree also and someone suggested on another blog that Mario would make a good judge and I agree with that. I think both of these chefs are very talented ,and with gentle dispositions and maybe we wouldn't see the "morphing" as with Miss Giada.

  10. mindy says:

    I don't think Orchid was the Jeffrey of this season. Orchid was the Aria of this season, I think that's a better comparison. Front runner right at the start, great camera presence but then fizzled out.

    • LindaSta says:

      Funny you should make the comparison with Aria.When Orchid won that first challenge. and the comment was made about her sparkling personality, I thought, "OH, no. Here goes Aria again."
      I hoped i was wrong because she seemed such a likable person and had a nice "presence".

    • guest says:

      The main difference was that Aria started using some questionable tactics when she realized she was in danger of being eliminated, while Orchid always played fair right up to the end. This is undoubtedly why so many on the blog still like Orchid while Aria was quickly forgotten after she left.

    • Joyce says:

      I think that you are correct. Orchid had a lovely smile and easy demeanor but she did not show a lot of range in her cooking skills. It's funny how she lost the camera presence as time went on; like she lost her confidence. I don't recall that being the case with Jeffrey. His cooking skills were excellent, not to say that he never made a mistake. He was pleasant to watch and had so much knowledge to impart. I think that his downfall was timing....FN was looking for a "Melissa" and that is what they got. If he were on this season, he would be a slam dunk to win! As for Aria, she had a Jyll like camera presence but again, I found her cooking skills limited; one note (boring). I am still disappointed that the judges picked her as the final four rather than Brad. Huge mistake on their part.