Winner-to-Winner: Melissa’s Insight

by in Food Network Star, August 18, 2011

Jeff Mauro's winning moment

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.

Congratulations, Jeff, on the big win!

I’ve spent the past couple of months sharing some of my BTDT (been there done that) advice with the finalists.  Last week, I talked about the art of losing.

Now, for the winner, here are some insights I’d like to share about your new world:

1. The old adage is true: Believe neither the good nor bad press. Believe your gut. Trust what you see when you look at yourself in the mirror each morning, and what you see in the eyes of your family.

2. Don’t completely ignore the word on the street, though. If a handful of random Internet posters call my toddler ugly (oh, it has happened), I ignore it. (Side note: Stop Googling yourself!). But if a bunch of folks suggest that a recipe is too salty, well, then maybe it’s worth a few minutes to check it out. Without fans, you don’t have a show, so listen to them. Maybe they see something you don’t.

3. Take the time to make each fan enjoy their moment meeting you. Yes, you will meet many fans, but for each one of them, this is probably the only time they will meet you. I learned this when I, as a fan, met Bobby Flay for the first time (long before I met him on FNS). I’ll never forget how he took the time to pose for a photo with me and my (cranky) daughter. (FYI, Bobby is one of the hardest-working guys in the business, and he never, ever phones it in.) So, my own small but practical tip: When a fan wants to take a picture with you, take five seconds if possible to ask if the photo came out. What a bummer for a fan to have finally met his or her favorite Food Network star, only to discover the photographic evidence is totally blurry.

4. The talent eats first for a reason, so don’t let it go to your head. I learned this on a commercial shoot when the producer insisted that I cut ahead of the crew to the front of the lunch line. Thinking I was being polite, I went to the end of the line. The producer patiently explained she needed me to eat first so that I could get back into makeup for touchups and keep the shoot on schedule. This is a tiny example of the many perks that will come your way being a TV personality. So remember that special treatment is usually for production reasons. Keeping the talent well-fed and juiced with a latte when needed, for instance, is just a smart investment, given the costs of production and overtime. That’s easy to forget when the tiniest yawn from you results in a production assistant racing down the block for a double macchiato with extra foam before you’ve even thought to ask for it. When you are inclined to feel entitled, remind yourself that your special treatment is a business decision, not an acknowledgement of superior status.

Jeff Mauro's winning moment

5. Know how to say no. Remember your life mission and keep that front and center. It’s tempting to say yes to every single thing that crosses your path — there will always be many worthwhile activities, events and causes. I remind myself that I have to tell my kids that I won’t be able to tuck them in at night whenever I say yes. I’ve learned only to say yes to requests that fit into my life mission. Only then is it worth missing my goodnight hugs and kisses with my precious family.

6. Knowing how to say no doesn’t mean you (and your family) won’t have to make some sacrifices. I miss things. How can I not when my job is primarily in New York and my family is in San Diego? But I am crazy-proactive about my schedule, and about creating normal family time with my daughters. However, here is the important part: I want to raise young women who know it’s OK to say “no,” that it’s OK to disappoint responsibly. Who I am in front of my girls teaches them more than what I say, in my opinion. My family will always come before my job, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had to nurse a tear or two on my way out to the airport.

7. Stay the same behind closed doors. Two years later, my husband still will randomly say, “Can you believe you WON?” We are the same goofy family we were before. And when all four girls are racing around the house playing “chase the princess” (and they are all four the princess; it’s a complex game with many levels), Philippe and I just look at each other as if to say “how did this happen to us?” As my daughter Valentine says to me, “We are a very lucky family, Mommy, aren’t we?” Yes, we are. And it has nothing to do with having my dream job.

Readers, it has been a tremendous pleasure connecting with you every week during this season of Star. Jeff, I can't wait to work with you! And in case you are wondering, Jeff and I will indeed be working together soon, at the New York City Wine and Food Festival (along with Aarti!), so be sure to come say hi to us all.

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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