Melissa’s Insight: Old and New Faves

by in Food Network Star, July 28, 2011

Jyll Everman

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.

Jyll, one of my early faves, left this week. As much as I loved her, I understand the judges’ decision. Instead of letting her increasing time in front of the camera translate into a genuine, relaxed presentation, Jyll’s personality started feeling a little superficial or slick, as if only half her mind were actually in front of the camera, while the other half were trying to direct her own performance. The result felt a bit detached and disingenuous, despite her sincere intentions. It’s a shame.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Six remaining finalists head to NYC and into the Food Network kitchens. The first time I ever walked in, I felt starstruck, eyeing the gleaming commercial-grade appliances, and flashing back to the many times I’d seen Bobby Flay and Miriam and Stephanie (his assistants) develop recipes for Throwdown. It took me down memory lane to watch the finalists share that moment of awe too. I cooked for Ina during my season also, and I loved the Cupcake Challenge this season. I was pleasantly surprised that no one had cupcake recipe issues (where has this baking know-how been all season?). Except for Jeff, who seems as if he didn’t really even attempt a true cupcake (to his detriment).

Finalists on Rachael Ray show

I remember my own Rachael Ray show challenge like it was yesterday, from the big cage-like freight elevator arrival to getting a contact high from the upbeat backstage crew. I did my demo with fellow finalist Michael my season (who coincentally just emailed me today and I'm reminded of how much I adored shooting FNS with him...did you see him on Chopped All-Stars?  Those glass carrots were genius!). We were high-fiving each other like crazy as we floated off the stage, elated more by the electric energy of the show and its audience than anything else.

Here in season 7, there is a game-changing twist: The finalists had to do their Rachael Ray show demo while fielding questions from the audience. Perhaps that sounds like no big deal. Let me tell you, it is huge. Random audience member questions are a tremendous unknown — you’d be amazed how something as small as a poorly worded question or a low-energy asker can hijack a great presentation and bring it down. Giving away that power is a little like a jetliner pilot coming on the PA and asking if whoever is seated in 14B wouldn’t like to come up to the cockpit and have a minute or two at the wheel.

Jeff and Rachael

But engaging in the audience, multitasking and recovering gracefully from being knocked off a flight path are critical parts of being a Food Network star, so this task is keenly crafted. Here, no one will be successful on luck alone. This year’s new challenge, in my opinion, predicts the potential of a Food Network star more than any other yet this season. Whitney and Jeff both excelled. In fact, Jeff knocked his demo out of the park, and made me laugh aloud three times. I’m starting to put him at the top of my list. Let’s see what happens next week.

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 (66)

  1. Paul B. says:

    Jyll was another casualty of bad judging and creative editing. Imagine winning a food challenge in the first part of the show (which was cut from the show so viewers didn't know who won or if there was even a winner) and getting eliminated in the second, when you had clearly out-perfomed at least two of the other contestants. Justin D. was so confused trying to follow the judge's advice he didn't know whether he was coming or going.

    • ncexnyc says:

      Would you like some Kleenex? You keep crying about Jyll getting sent home at every opportunity possible, but while I loved the way Jyll led her team during the Duff/Irvine segment and the way she handled getting Pucked last week, it was obvious she justed didn't have the cooking chops to be the winner. Please stop calling it, "creative editing", it's editing plain and simple and as for your comments about Jyll clearly outperfoming at least two contestants, were you concerned about that last week when Penny outcooked Jyll and Mary Beth?

    • tanyadeiss says:

      I am sorry but I have to disagree with you on Jyll. IMHO, she had absolutely no star power, talked super fast and really didn;t find her gripping.. but your comment on Justin D made me break in to peels of laughter! 'coming or going'!!!! :) Guess, either way he was not staying! :)

  2. Marsha says:

    I have to agree with you Paul. The judging is completely derailing this show. I wouldn't trust Flay's judgement after the America's Next Great Restaurant fiasco.
    And, why do the judges insist on a personal story with each dish? There may not be one. And I, for one, don't respond to made up schmaltz. Just be engaging and cook something interesting. That will make me watch.

    • subdjoe says:

      I agree. Stories will come out as they come out, no need to force them.

      And get rid of that idiotic Culinary Point of View requirement. All it is is an artificial construct by FN to give the judges something else to hammer the contestants with. How often have we seen someone who ties to stick to their CPOV get hammered as being unimaginative and one note? Then, a week or two later get hammered as not being true to their CPOV for taking that to heart, changing things up.

      What is my CPOV? Who knows? In fact, that might be it - who knows. What day is it? What am I in the mood for? What all do I have on hand? What isn't my wife tired of? Or maybe "explore" or "experiment" or "have fun" would cover my CPOV.

    • Kevin W. says:

      Speaking of the Next Great Restaurant show, I still haven't heard the whole story. All I know is the winning restaurant was open for two months then closed. They kept one open so the winner could take business classes, but they ended up closing that restaurant to. Is there more to the story? Will Soul Daddy re-open?

      • JimH says:

        Competitions like this only give people opportunities. There are no guarantees with it. What they do with the opportunity is up to them.

      • Steph says:

        Help a girl out here. I honestly have never heard of this show or the back story. Was this on FN?

  3. JimH says:

    Certainly the judging this year has been a major issue. It has been inconsistent and just completely confusing. I have wondered if they were making it up as they went along. The worst part is that they have done in my mind two things which have completely derailed this show. One has been their reliance on creating situations which invited the drama to take center stage and overshadow what they are really there for. Its the stuff that some contestants who act like rejects from Survivor thrive on. Second, the judges and the producers of this show have allowed it to go on virtually unchecked like an arsonist with a pack of matches who goes off to set fires then sits back and watches the chaos that ensues with glee. "Isn't this great we have drama now." In the meantime the drama queens and kings (aka Penny and Chris) go on a feeding frenzy of chaos and confusion and the innocent bystanders like Orchid get burned. Way to go Bobby, Suzie, Giada, and happy now that you have the drama?

    • ncexnyc says:

      Sorry, but as much as I liked Orchid as a contestant she did herself in with the canned oysters, the 2hr brisket and finally the average tasting pork adobo meal, which for a Filipina is a cardinal sin.

      • JimH says:

        You are correct about that and some of these contestants seem to like to shoot themselves in the foot with stupid decisions.

      • mlp says:

        I was going to say exactly the same thing plus add that she froze during the Cougar Town challenge and, when "interviewing" the guy at Mel's Diner, she never let him get a word in. I liked her very much as it seems everyone did but she made too many mistakes.

  4. terichef says:

    Getting back on track; in a few short weeks there will be a new star-who is up for it? With the previews, I believe either Vegas, Whitney, or Jeff is let go-nothing on Susie and looks really good for Mary Beth. Any ideas? I'm out of tv range on Sunday night, so am interested in any preview ideas out in blog world.

    • Paul B. says:

      I think Mary Beth or Vic will be the next go. I like both of them, but they have been weak during the camera challenges and their food has been hit or miss.

    • Joyce says:

      It's hard to believe that because Jeff has been the favorite from Day 1. Vegas has become a close second. Whitney is getting by with her cooking! Anytime the clips suggest one thing, you can almost bet that is not the case.
      I am disappointed in how Jyll was treated. She won several challenges but never seemed to get the credit. There was always something wrong with her. I did not find her plastic as suggested by Susie and Giada. By the last show, her confidence had been stripped to nothing and yet she still won a challenge. Interesting isn't it?
      So to answer your comments, I'm not sure who will pull through except that Jeff will definitely NOT being going home...

    • KimbaLion says:

      I think that Whitney and Jeff are the easy choices. Whitney is polished but uninspiring IMO. Jeff, well, life is not all sandwiches. Vic Vegas has the most star-power, takes all kinds of (sometimes kooky) risks, has a delightful combination of energy, relatability, vulnerability and presence, and would make me want to watch. He also makes me smile, which is certainly one great reason to watch him on FN.

  5. Ellie says:

    I have a feeling susie will win... currently she is my favorite. I also like vic vegas but i am having some doubts that he will win.

    • guest says:

      GO SUSIE <3

    • Russ says:

      Susie has great potential, and she is my favorite. However, this season I'm not feeling "it" with any of them, including Susie. Whoever wins might end up with a one-season show unless something changes in a big way.

  6. Anonymous says:


    • Anonymous says:


      • Middle Eastern MAMA says:

        At least if nothing else the show was fun to watch! Keep watching you never know what will happen next

      • subdjoe says:

        Maybe she will get a show on Cooking Channel. They would be really stupid to let her talent go.

        • JimH says:

          I've had the feeling that after a cooling off perion, some time to help people forget what happened with FNS she might be back in that capacity. Makes no difference to me because I won't watch.

      • JimH says:

        Turm off your caps lock and you might get a few thumbs up or at least people might respect what you say.

  7. Patricia says:

    Remember, TV shows are not put on for altruist, idealistic reasons. This show, as well as the show that the winner of this show will host, is all about ratings. The bottom line is always money. Get as many people to watch as possible, to attract the best paying advertisers. That being said, I agree with everyone here regarding all this need for an emotional, dramatic story related to every dish they prepare. I think the Judges are too wrapped up in making the new show "family"oriented, they are forgetting that maybe people just want to watch a cooking show for some great food recipes. I thnk they covertly encourage psychodrama because it must improve the ratings. The Judges will change only if he ratings start to fall. I'm beginning to enjoy the Gordon Ramsey shows on FOX so much more.

    • Dom says:

      and ramsey judges fairly

    • MoHub says:

      Do you get BBC America? Ramsay's UK shows—including the original Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, The F Word, and Ramsay's Great Escapes—present a much more relatable, human Gordon. In fact it's the real Ramsay, and the one Fox doesn't want America to know about.

  8. Christine says:

    I agree with Patricia...I,too, am thoroughly enjoying the Gordon Ramsey shows because the drama is related solely to a person's ability to cook or not...that in and of itself, is drama created by arrogant, self-centered people needs to go...

    Interestingly, I believe that Jyll was let go because she is too, too similiar to Melissa D'Arabian (whom I adore)...they don't need another blonde, homecook, with a megawatt smile and great teaching tips...I find it curious that Giada was so hard on Jyll, when if you have ever seen Giada when she first started on the FN, she was wooden, fake and like an automaton when delivering information.

    I think it will come down to Susie, Vic and Jeff...MaryBeth needs to go~she is boring, uninteresting and her food is inconsistent...I don't see confidence or star power from her...I am not sure what her viewpoint is, either.

    This has been an interesting season because no one really jumped out for me...I liked Justin B; but he was let go early on, too early, in my opinion...he was easy on the eye, a strong leader, a team player, cooked fantastic food; he just needed to let go a bit...

    • Russ says:

      I am in complete agreement with your assessment of Justin B. He had an "it" factor that no one else has. Everything about him was interesting. I wish they had kept him a while longer.

    • Sandy says:

      I think he was let go because the judges felt he was not coachable, and perhaps not "directable" -- a lot of talent, but no one is above taking direction and input. I got the sense they loved his cooking, but not his attitude. I am guessing there was much on the cutting room floor of the show that influenced this decision.

  9. Johnny F says:

    Vic is nothing more than a freak show. He won't win.

    • Alexandria says:

      I don't know if I would go as far as to call him a freak show. i definately don't think he is ready for his own show though. He still seems to uncomfortable in front of the camera. Shame though I have been in his corner until 'la changa" but hey I guess we all have an off day....

  10. Andagain says:

    Jeff's sense of humor makes me cringe. I don't think he's funny and I don't like watching him. Maybe he makes a good sandwich, but how far does that go for a show? I wish Vic wasn't so "pumped up" all the time. Can he put his arms down straight?! He looks like he's posing for a muscle magazine. I think he can really cook, tho, and he's a teddy bear. The contestant whose food I'd really like to try cooking and eating is Susie.

    • subdjoe says:

      Jeff's sense of humor should fit right in with the panel of unfunny, abusive, foul-mouthed comedians on Sunday.

      • LindaSta says:

        Joe, it's not polite to reach in and take the words right out of a person's mouth!!! As far as i could see, the 'comedians' on that panel are not very nice people and their 'humor' leaves me cold.

    • Stoutboy says:

      he's better than Adam Gertler, tho neither are at all funny. Speaking of which, I just know Bob Tuschman will find a way to get that bozo Gertler in the show somehow, since it is 'comedy'-themed, and the Toosh Man has such a man-crush on Gertler.