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. Joe G. says:

    One thing I have to say is that I am really enjoying your writing Melissa, a new (to me, anyway) side of you. I especially enjoy your assessments of what works and what doesn't, especially from a cooking standpoint, on FNS.

    • cooksforfun says:

      Me too!

      • Joe G. says:

        In fact, I'll go so far as to suggest that Melissa have a "blog" presence, because her writing is so enjoyable. I believe it will add a new dimension to her on-camera efforts. Just one man's opinion.

        • Melissa d says:

          thx...I love writing, so I appreciate your kind words.

          • Diddle says:

            Oh Melissa my perspective of you has totally changed!!! Please keep blogging!!! My faveorite blogs to read our yours!!! Relatable and it seems you are really listening to what we are saying!!! Thnx!! Keep up the good work!!!

  2. salatzke says:

    FNS is one of my two favorite shows on TV, but I have to say that this year's contestants are disappointing. I have a gift for picking talent based reality show winners, but even this late in the game, I have no strong feeling because they are all rather ho-hum. If forced to pick, I'd say Susie is doing well right now, but I wish Vic would bring more to the table, as he is a likeable guy. I'm just really glad Penny is finally gone. Her food may have been great, but I just could not watch a person like that.

  3. LindaSta says:

    I am really looking forward to this week's episonde of FNS. I'm rather fond of Rachel Ray and a big fan of your show and Ina Garten's show. Whatever others think of them, I find the recipes reliable. The demos easy to follow and duplicate. So Ina and Rachel's evaluation of the candidates and their advice to them should be worth hearing.They make it look easy. i know it isn't but they make it seem so.
    I honestly think that if the contestants had coaching sessions with Ina, Rachel and Melissa as the show progressed, the judges would have a very difficult time eliminating anyone. At least if the contestants paid attention

    • Diddle says:

      I agree about Rachel, I always enjoy her tips about how you can make a recipe fit to your specific tastes better!!

  4. Guest says:

    I don't care about Melissa's comments. FN only put her on the show to hawk Kellogg's products as they did with Sabrina Soto and Target. FN uses this show to feature many of their "personalities" such as the boring Ina Garten who is rarely seen outside the Hamptons.

    • ChrisB says:

      Ina Garten is rarely seen outside the Hamptons? If you're referring to her appearances on FN, Ina has done hour-long specials in Paris and London, and she has appeared on "Best Thing I Ever Ate" and a few of the holiday gatherings of FN personalities. Part of the reason that I enjoy "Barefoot Contessa" is that it isn't filmed on a fake studio set like many FN shows. Ina welcomes viewers into her lovely home in East Hampton and visits local merchants where she purchases her fresh ingredients, flowers, etc. She's also had chefs and restaurant owners come to her home to share their expertise with Ina and her audience. Ina's apartment in Paris has also been featured on "Barefoot Contessa" as she and her husband, Jeffrey visit there frequently. I don't picture Ina as a homebody in the Hamptons, nor do I think that Ina needs to be on the fast-track to FN stardom.

      • LindaSta says:

        No, she doesn't need to be on the fast track. She is already there.
        ANd why does she need to be seen outside the Hamptons? Where she goes or stays or visits is immaterial, She has good recipes for REALLY good food and her information is helpful/

  5. Pam says:

    Jeff Mauro MUST GO HOME! As someone that lives in the state of Illinois, I am disgusted that he pronounces the "S" at the end of the word. For crying out loud, the "S" is SILENT.

    I don't want someone who can't pronounce the name of his own state, representing us!

    Get a clue!

    • Alyssa says:

      Take a chill pill, Pam.

      I'm from Chicago, so hearing Jeff's "OH MY GAD" every week makes me happy. He's hilarious. Learn to appreciate it and root for the hometown hero.

  6. diane says:

    Melissa, Thank you for answering viewer/reader questions. I guess the cats out of the bag for December (ecstatic to hear) I'm a HUGE foodie and can't get enough FNS and other cooking shows alike. Just wish all that valuable/informative footage wasn't left on the cutting room floor. I think viewers would benefit more from say a 90 min 2hr show to help relate to contestants,judges/guest judges,etc. ie,who can get enough of Paula Dean especially when she's on a roll. All in all the show does get it's point across, but for me, in my opinion on Sundays you guys OWN IT! So why not?
    Interesting note; yesterday decided to give the kitchen a break and went out for topas low and behold when we arrived the Food Network crew was filming a upcoming show for October? they had asked us to sign a camera release, Freaky or coincidence? Don't know.
    Anyway looking foward to opening early gifts in December from you.

  7. Gerard Donahue says:

    Qu: I was wondering if you could do a FNS episode dealing with allergies. Specifically I am talking about Celiac Disease. My sister has this and she can not have anything with gluten in it. I think it would be great to tap the audience which is limited or has to have certain foods or the bad results kick in.

  8. Sam says:

    One thing that has bugged me a lot about this season's challenges is that they're rip offs from previous seasons. Seriously, Food Network and CBS? You couldn't think of original and more exciting challenges for the contestants? They did Food Trucks (at a better scenery), the Kellogg's challenge, and the Wolfgang Puck challenge frickin last season. On top of that, is the Food Network really lacking so much money that they make a stupid challenge called that "limited pantry challenge"??? What the hell. Even if the contestants and the judges suck this season, at least make the challenges memorable. The challenges for this show seriously pale horrendously in comparison to shows like Top Chef (especially Top Chef All Stars!).

    • Diddle says:

      I agree with you except for about the limited pantry challenge because a lot of times i just make meals and desserts from what we have in our pantry instead of driving 20-30 mins to the store. and Susie had such a good substitution(well according to the judges)!

  9. williams says:

    Hmmm. I didnt know you had a show on FN. Your guest spot was DEFINITELY BORING!!!! I would never watch you.

  10. debbie vaughn says:

    i watch this show every yr! the yr melissa won i thought she was going to be great.. BUT SHE IS NOT!!!!! when she came on the show this yr she acted like she was the only one that could cook.. PLEASE SEND HER HOME, AND GIVE SOMEONE ELSE HER SPOT!!!!I have tryed to watch her and i just cant.. i have never cook any thing she talkes about..i dont know how long the winners get a spot but lord i cant watch melissa no more..please get rid of her...thankx