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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.
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).
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.
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.