Melissa’s Insight: Listen to Those Judges!

by in Food Network Star, August 4, 2011
Jeff Mauro
Jeff did well in one of Melissa's favorite challenges: The Best Thing I Ever Ate.

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.

This week, I’m extra excited for the episode: It’s a Best Thing I Ever Ate (love that show!) challenge and then a finalist roast with top comedians. Before I move onto the episode, I thought I would share a couple of (random) fun facts, since I’m feeling like we are now friends.

1. Whenever I see The Best Thing I Ever Ate, I think of the time my husband and I ate what seemed like a gazillion spoonfuls of spicy aioli on camera at 7 a.m. in order to illustrate how delish the sauce was in a fried calamari dish for the appetizer Best Thing episode. Nothing says “good morning” like a belly full of mayonnaise and fried seafood.

2. Speaking of roasts, little-known fact about me: Years ago, before kids, I was a full-fledged member of the Friars Club. And you thought I could just make a mean potato-bacon torte!

Back to FNS: A few weeks ago on my blog I imagined sitting down with each of the finalists to give them some been-there-done-that advice. Today, I’m going to highlight some advice or words from the judges that jumped out at me as being the important gems of the episode. (You are all welcome to agree, disagree, discuss, right here in the comments.)

Susie Jimenez

Susie: I couldn’t agree more with the judges that Susie has that raw talent, a certain X factor. Bob spoke one of the truest lines of the night when he told Susie that while you can train people to do a lot of things, you “can’t give people personality.” Susie, though, has it. In spades.

Vic: The judges and comedians encourage Vic to get rid of the “Vegas” and embrace a more genuine point of view. And with all the buildup of Kramer calling himself Cosmo, Vic Vegas announces his real last name. I’m a little thrown. I mean, I realized that he wasn’t born Vegas, but guess I hadn’t fully appreciated that the “Vegas” thing was more a point of view than a nickname. I assumed Vic Vegas was Vic Vegas long before signed up for FNS. Hey, it works for my cousin Bunny. She’s my age and I still think half my family doesn’t even know her name is really Sherri. So I thought it was like that. I hope I’m right. I’d be pretty bummed to find out that this was a pseudonym born out of marketing calculations (or worse, POV creation).

Jeff: The judges told Jeff that “the room just relaxed and opened up” to him. It’s simple: Make people feel good about themselves and suddenly they will like you more. It’s as if all those good feelings about yourself translate into goodwill toward you. Don’t worry about people liking you — make them like themselves.

Whitney Chen

Whitney: Whitney is smart, pretty and a fantastic chef. But Susie Fogelson wonders if perhaps she “doesn’t know about herself and food” enough for the job. What insight! The difference between being a great cook versus knowing with your soul how food fits into who you are and why you are the one to deliver that food is subtle, but critical. Why? Because you can never be the best chef in the whole world. But you can be the best person to exemplify your unique relationship with food. That’s what this competition is all about.

Mary Beth: If you’ve been reading my blog every Thursday, you know I like Mary Beth and wish she could tame her scrunchy-faced, oh-so-serious side a little more. The judges give her great advice when they point out that people “want information in an entertaining package.” Even then, Mary Beth looks so serious and concerned, saying that she prides herself on making her information “accessible.” Now, in all fairness, perhaps editing had a role here, but just in case, I must point out that accessible is not the same as entertaining. In any case, the real problem is the sizzle missing from the steak.

Lastly, while it certainly wasn’t the most important thing said all evening, Bob Tuschman’s comment that he had driven Korean cars that weighed more than Vic’s prime rib deserves an honorable mention, because it was my biggest laugh of an episode filled with major comic talent. (BTW, Bob is also very clever and funny in real life.)

Whitney goes home, which seems fair. We’re nearing the end here, and I’ll be honest — I just don’t think we’ve seen enough from her. Yes, being in front of a camera can be daunting, and there are many new skills to master in a very short time. But after a month and a half, it shouldn’t be this difficult to let a charming, genuine personality shine through at least most of the time. Remember Bob’s words to Susie? You can’t teach personality.

In any case, clearly I can’t call this, so I won’t even try. I’ll tune in with you all next Sunday. And by Sunday, I mean Sunday morning on Ten Dollar Dinners (Zucchini Carpaccio!) and Sunday night for Food Network Star. Anyone else wondering who indeed does charm Alton Brown, as the preview teases? Any guesses?

See what Melissa’s cooking up on Ten Dollar Dinners, check out her Facebook Fan Page and follow her on Twitter (@melissadarabian).

More posts from .

Similar Posts

A Letter to Lenny, from the Rebel

Dear Lenny, Out of all the seasons of Food Network Star, I can think of only one other winner who has a personality as big as yours. Congratulations a...

Comments (164)

  1. Paul says:

    I think Melissa has great comments here. Certainly the contestants should listen to the judges.

    To that, I add "Judges, listen to the fans!"

    Orchid is #2 in the fan poll and she's been out of the competition for nearly a month now.

    • Sue S. says:

      But doesn't Melissa know yet who really did win? Don't the stars of FN get any inside information on who won (probably at least a month ago?) I am pulling for Jeff. I mean, of course, I'd be happy if Susie won because she is extremely talented and tugs your heartstrings. I'd like to see Jeff in a format similar to 'Emeril Live' with an audience. Let a few people come up at the end of the show to taste his sandwich meal. He could be a huge hit for him. And, let's face it, they're going to give the runner up a show eventually too. At least I'm counting on it! :-)
      PS - I do love Vic too!

      • Bob Toren says:

        As soon as I read your comment on Jeff having a show with a format similar to Emeril Live I thought, wow, that's a perfect fit for Jeff!

      • vert2013 says:

        I'm sure Melissa knows already and I think she hints at that a little toward the end of her blog. As for Paul saying that judges need to listen to the fans...this was taped months ago, they can't listen to us. Generally though, fan favorites get a show of their own, especially with the addition of The Cooking Channel.

    • Elaine says:

      I find Mary Beth unbelievable. There is something missing. Dry, dull and too mechanical... I can see her as a lawyer and a writer but I don't think her passion is Food. Sometimes, I feel like she is talking down to me and those faces she makes- clearly shows how uncomfortable she is. I am sure how she got this far in the contest.

      • Lisa says:

        I like Mary Beth best of all. I find her charming, personable, gracious, and food-smart. She is funny and very relaxed and engaging around people. I definitely think her passion is food -- she just experiences it on a more intellectual level than the other contestants. I would watch her show in a heartbeat, knowing I would learn things in a warm, congenial, funny setting. I think some viewers possibly hear "lawyer" and "writer" and immediately feel defensive and inferior. I would suggest that the problem is with their perception of themselves, bottom line, rather then the reality of Mary Beth.

        • Dishy says:

          I like Mary Beth too, but she is not my favorite. I met her in person (also met Alicia, Susie, Chris, Jeff and Whitney), and she was sweet and personable, but it seemed a little forced. It was as if she knew she HAD to be nice to everyone she met. On the other hand, Susie was genuinely friendly and outgoing. Just saying that this was my impression of her.

  2. tanyadeiss says:

    Love Melissa's insights more than her show! What a beautiful way to put, 'make people like themselves and don't worry about they liking you'!!! Makes great sense in a larger context not just FNS.. oh I so wish and hope that you did share these with them when were actually in the process of the competition... Its so inspiring to see people like Melissa who are so multifaceted and so good at it! Blog writer, mom, food network star.. way to go! Coming back to FNS, its all the same to me who ever wins, I am not a particular fan of anyone this season anymore. But I love Iron chef so am eagerly awaiting next episode and somebody impressed Alton Brown, my guess is Jeff...Let's see what's in store..

  3. anotherPaul says:

    True Paul. But the show is already judged, filmed and in the can before those polls even begin. So they can't really influence the outcome of the show. The only thing the polls can do is give some insight into how fans feel in general so the judges can take this with them to future seasons of the show.

  4. vert2013 says:

    Contestants listen to the judges? It seems that everytime someone does what the judges tell them they get bashed for it. Whitney was told to show personality, she did, and they didn't like it. The judges have been so up and down this season, how are the contestants supposed to know what they want each week?

  5. Right now it would be my guess that Jeff wins it and gets a show on Sunday morning. Susie comes in 2nd place and gets a show on the Cooking Channel in primetime on Tuesday nights. Vic comes in 3rd and gets several shows on the FN during the week at all hours. And Mary Beth is given a job working for the FN writing scripts for shows and developing recipes in their test kitchen.

    • Mel says:

      Now that sounds like a plan....

    • Edwin says:

      Mary Beth should be given a job. If they really are that much in awe of her ability to talk about food, she should have a show discussing food. Something like Diners, etc., but more upscale -- or possibly a show about the nuances in food, like what makes food in Maine (or wherever) unique...

    • Wendy says:

      Great idea. I hope that happens.

  6. averageviewer says:

    Here is how one average member of the TV viewing audience sees the contestants from this episode:

    Susie: I know the judges keep raving about her personality, but honestly, the series was half over before I could even remember who Susie was! She seems like a great person and can obviously cook well, but maybe we just aren't seeing everything that the judges do, because she seems a little underwhelming to me most of the time.

    Vic: Vic confuses me. I thought I got the whole "Vegas" idea, bringing a little extra excitement to already excellent food, and then he decided to become "Mama's Boy". The judges liked the change, but it seems that every time Vic cooks "Mama's Boy" food it is disappointing, and when he cooks "Vegas" food the judges love it. Again, a nice person, but loses his charm in front of the camera. And he is another one who does the face scrunching off-camera when listening to advice.

    Jeff: Of course Jeff was relaxed in front of a room full of comedians -- he is/was a comedian himself! If anyone would know what to expect from that crowd, it would be Jeff, unlike the rest of the contestants, who never claimed to be comedians. Was this episode a set-up to make Jeff stand out? After all, as you say, a panel of comedians has never been done before. I do like his personality now that he has toned it down, but I live in fear that the "Balls on a Roll" persona will reappear, and am not convinced that a sandwich show is worth watching.

    Mary Beth: I really don't mind a little seriousness on a cooking show -- we are talking about a cooking show, right, and not just mindless entertainment? I would like to learn something when I watch a show about cooking, and hopefully it will be something that I can apply in my own kitchen. Mary Beth's food has not been consistent, but when it is good it is something I would want to make. I only notice the face scrunching when she is off-camera listening to advice, not when she is actually presenting. I think that if she can cook consistently good food I would watch her show.

    Whitney: Again, I do not mind seriousness on a cooking show if I am actually going to learn something useful, and I always felt Whitney had the ability to teach something useful about cooking. She reminds me a little of Sara Moulton, or Rachael Ray in her early, more serious days on "30 Minute Meals". Why do the judges insist that their viewing audience wants entertainment first, cooking skills second on a cooking show? Whitney has a pleasant, reassuring demeanor in the kitchen, and makes gourmet food seem accessible rather than intimidating. She did need to open up a bit more, but as with so many others on Food Network, this would no doubt have happened over time -- think Giada, Bobby, and Emeril, to name a few. Even Paula Deen did not open up about her personal life until she had been around for a while. So while I agree that you cannot give people a personality, people do naturally open up more once they are comfortable, something that they definitely are not on FNS!

    I was sorry to see Whitney go, but have no problem with the remaining contestants. It's just that for me at this point in time there really is no one who stands out. Maybe Sunday's episode will change that.

    • tanyadeiss says:

      With you on Susie...I couldn't understand why judges keeps talking about her personality.. I mean I understand american dream and can totally relate to her but thats the only thing she talks about.. nothing about her personality pops for me.. she is as good as anyone else on the show, except probably has good culinary skills as comapred to how Mary Beth is portrayed in the show.. everyone is the same to me..

    • joyceputnam says:

      "Mary Beth's food has not been consistent, but when it is good it is something I would want to make. I only notice the face scrunching when she is off-camera listening to advice, not when she is actually presenting. I think that if she can cook consistently good food I would watch her show. "

      I agree with your statement except for the first part....Mary Beth's food has not been are repeating what the judges have said. She missed the mark on 2 dishes......all of these contestants that are left have missed the mark on at least 2 dishes but they have not been called "inconsistent". It has been amazing to me how that one little statement has stuck to Mary Beth and no matter what she does, it does not go away.

      • averageviewer says:

        It has more to do with the dishes she failed at than the number of failures for me. If you are going to make spaghetti and meatballs, something that just about everyone knows and loves, it had better be superb or you deserve to get into trouble. And then to make a disappointing chicken dish -- since chicken is such a staple for most home cooks a poorly made chicken dish makes a big negative impression. However, she has also made some great food (I intend to make those strawberry cupcakes when the weather cools off a little!) and as you say the others have made mistakes as well, so I think she is just as viable as any of the other contestants at this point.

        • joyce says:

          But think back, when Penny burned mac & cheese.....she was never labeled as "inconsistent.". She was always lauded as such a great cook but she burned mac & cheese! I just dislike some of the labels that the judges have placed on contestants and they can never lose them. Look at Vic...he has screwed up many dishes but because he is Mama's boy or Vegas infusion or whatever he is today, he has never been labeled like Mary Beth has been. I do not think that Mary Beth will be the final winner but I just dislike the labels that she has had to deal with. Also, I realize that this has been taped months ago so it really does not matter what I think or say, the winner has been determined! I suspect that will be Jeff and I really have no idea why...

    • Steph says:

      Good Comments.
      I really liked Whitney and thought I could learn lots from her if she had a cooking show!! Really sad to see her go.
      Mary Beth just bugs me for some reason and I don't see myself watching a show with her.
      I think Jeff would do really good on a show,
      Vic I'm unsure of and
      And Susie is okay.

    • FNS fan-tastic! says:

      You are wrong and I don't agree with you about Susie, she IS a great person, she is funny, intelligent, and a great cook. She DOES have great personality and outstanding demeanor and I hope that she is the Next Food Network Star because she truly is the one with a lot of potential and personality to handle an amazing cooking show and to teach. It is my opinion's response to yours. ;-D
      I do, however, like Jeff a lot, but he does not have the personality that Susie has, not even close!

  7. diane says:


    After all aren't we the target!
    I think Whitney was on the short end of the editing bus that was drive to make us believe something different. In earlyer episodes she jumped out as someone that had something meaningful to show us all, no wavering of POV like some, just flair. and as flair goes, yes, Vics rib is exactly "How we do it in Vegas". I was impressed, PR is a huge staple in Vegas, and not easily perfected. It can make or break you, so you better get it right. MB did exactly what you should have done as far as the duck goes. If any of us were to cook something for the first time, would we do it blind and make our guests "guinea pigs"? Although to some it did look like her repertoire had seemed a little short, but hey, have we all cooked everything under the sun. Susie I can't figure out why the judges are so hyped on her. I like her, yes, but not head over heals like the judges portray. There are many shows on now of this nature, some of which I haved watched until they became too monotonous, besides is there anyone that can depict Mex. cuisine better than Rick Bayless?

    • vert2013 says:

      It was filmed months ago they can't really listen to us now. Generally fan favorites are given a show of their own though.

      • diane says:

        Exactly, In the future you wouldn't want this to occur again?
        They have stepped away from a format, WHY?
        A few bloggers note: Food first who cares who is delivering it.
        In the past I was Ok with whomever won, still am, fav or not , it proturbs me that the emphasis is not on the cooking more on persona, sort of a sell-out, if you will,especially from guest/chef/judges all of whom that should know better. It comes across as if I'm being played not the real deal.
        The way it reads is; lets get the winner of America's got talent, to cook something on TV (at least they get to vote)

    • MsJS says:

      While I think Rick Bayless is awesome and visit his restaurants when I can, there's plenty of space in the Mexican cuisine arena for multiple chefs who focus on Mexican flavors and cooking techniques.

      Like you, diane, I'm not as hyped about Susie as the judges seem to be, though.

      • diane says:

        Yes, I agree, perhaps those statments were a little closed minded. (my apologies)
        I guess it's a case of monkey see monkey do.
        I am just appalled on how the judging has gone, it's as if they were wearing horse blinders. One direction, like they sat at a board meeting and said what do we need?, and let it play out to see who stood out personality wise and then teach them some recipes. It matters not what they create on a dish, but in front of the camera ONLY. They could put dirt between two buns (aka salami cupcakes) and win. (sell-out!) I just though as viewers we deserved better, because bottom line we have always tuned in for the FOOD. AFTER ALL it is THE FOOD NETWORK.

        • Agreed. Judging is awful this year. A lot of bias and no consistancy. And where do we go from here?

          • diane says:

            I happen to think alot of G. Ramsey, not so much show wise but respect, He is the way he is for the respect of food, and how he regards it. He demands the most from people when it comes to food. Consistency it has to be consistent, lets face it you wouldn't go to a restaurant if the food was not consistently good, or you would only order items on the menu that you knew they made cosistently well, or you would make it a point to constantly avoid going to that restaurant. Just a thought. Maybe we all learned something this season.

  8. diane says:


    Jeff, I concur that he has a certain flair for the spotlight, how long he can hold that light is yet to be seen. I to have a flair for sandwiches, but it is a very sujective taste category. Just about anyone can make a "sammie" from 5-90, in fact it was my first cooking venture, I was 5, it was grilled cheese. Maybe I didn't know it then but it became a passion of mine and still is, However, I would not invite guests for a "Dinner Party" and serve sandwiches as the main course no matter how funny that might seem to be.

    • MsJS says:

      I hear you about the sandwich theme. I don't see myself spending that much time in the kitchen on a sandwich.

      • diane says:

        Sandwiches can be a work of art, in fact it take a certian artistry to create a good one, However it is of personal preference what one likes on his or hers, hence the build your own sandwich shops. I would never force a sandwich on anyone. I don't think anyone seeing me create one would say I have to try doing that. No they would just make it the way they like it or go buy one. But I do make a pretty mean sandwich!

          • diane says:

            Well, all kinds, I take a great deal of pride in my sandwich artistry. One in perticular comes to mind, It was said on numerous occasions that my Italian hot sausage and peppers were unmatched anywhere,( just can't find anything that comes close) there was even a time when I would have thrown down with Bobby, still crosses my mind. (thats not just a pat on the back) (It is perfected) Judging from your tag I'll take it you are serious about food as well, (kudos) Do you ever find it to be somewhat of a curse?,don't get me wrong, I love food and everything it stands for, but try eating out sometimes,and find yourself saying why did I bother or what were they thinking. (well alot of the time) Didn't mean to turn this into a chat room but I think I'm done blogging about FNS, They don't get it, I guess I should have known that when they tried Chopped Champions the first go-round.(at least the food there has some sort of merit as crazy as the dishes may be)

        • cooksforfun says:

          I agree....... the possibilities are endless.... from simple to sublime!

    • FNS fan-tastic says:

      You are so correct! I personally make great sandwiches too! Jeff is a nice man, but watch the show "king of sandwiches" it's jsut not a show I would be that excited to watch. Good for lunch, possibly breakfast, but for dinners...fancy or not...I don't think so! Sorry Jeff!

  9. jay says:

    looks like melissa is continuing with the fn party line, whitney doesn't know herself.......
    well, as i said before, fnstar lost a fan and viewer by sending whitney home. especially since they all concur that mary beth's food isn't all that great.

    i'm looking for good food, not sandwiches or anyother gimmick.
    i also wish fn would put cooking shows on in the evening. hello, anyone reading these comments?

    • I don't want to, but I have to agree. I have total respect for Melissa, lived in Europe, was(is) an attorney, has 4 girls (wow!), and has developed her home cooking skills enough to get her own show. Not one career but 3. Just amazing and I am quite proud of your intelligence and skills. However, it does sounds like you are towing the line. Melissa, please give us your real self, don't need the salesperson, and give us some teeth (at least in your blog)..

      • Wayne says:

        I concur. Melissa presented herself as a stay at home mother during her season. Near the end of the series more details about her impressive past were revealed. I felt manipulated. Kudos to Melissa for keeping up the act.

        • jay says:

          melissa also had a different pov then. fn came up the meals for $10. i wanted the show she had in mind. i don't need ideas for $10..

          i want an upscale show. i'm tired of the neeleys, paula, and i certainly don't watch big daddy

    • Dan says:

      Agreed! Prior to booting Whitney off Bob Flay spoke very highly of her food. He also mentioned that Marybeth's food wasn't all that great. Seems like the comments didn't support the decision. I guess we know who will go next week.

      • diane says:

        yes, Yes, YES!
        The consistency of the food matters, NOT
        Not according what their telling us.

  10. anonymous says:

    i love michael symon so much and i love his laugh!!!!!!!!