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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Comments (58)

  1. Tarah Elkins says:

    But a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw great design . "He who will not reason is a bigot he who cannot is a fool and he who dares not is a slave." by Sir William Drummond.

  2. The Shrink says:

    Melissa, You are a wonderful, wise and kind human being. I like what you write and you seem like a great cook and a wonderful wife and mother. Does your husband also live by the credo you do: family comes before profession?

  3. JamesinAlaska says:

    I am glad you are on the Food Network.
    The judges got it right and made a wise decision when they hired you! Kudos to them.
    You are a wealth of knowledge and useful tips.
    Keep up the good work. :)
    creator of

  4. Roxxie says:

    If you think Susie Fogelson should get fired for her incompetent handling of FNS, click "thumbs up" and send a message to the idiots at FN.

  5. The Suz says:

    I'm still laughing at Susie for choking away a win in the finale. if only she could speak so people could understand her.

  6. Bobbie T says:

    How about a column on what losers like Susie should do now that her 15 minutes are up?

  7. Tee Bone says:

    I love how Jeff whipped the floor with Vic and Susie. They never had a chance. FN got rid of Jeff's real competition before the finale to make sure it was no contest in the end.

    • diane says:

      I don't know about wiping the floor but you are on the right track.
      What I do know is that some of the contestants personalities were persuaded to fit the mold of a marketable status.and,
      Jeff threw down with Susie on the Iron Chef challenge and was not the winner culinary wise.
      Jeff prevailed over Susie the following week Personality wise.
      In theory:
      PERSONALITY + food = Star
      When it should equate to:

      I hope that all that participated and those yet to, have all gained from what we call;
      SEASON 7

      • JamesinAlaska says:

        Speaking of season's some of what I'm hoping for for season 8:

        Looking at the last 3 yrs......does it seem to you like when a season begins, that it is just TOO "politically-correct". I mean does the cat-of-characters really HAVE TO include:
        1. a bald-headed guy (how many seasons ago was "Hans"? Seems like we've had one ever since.
        2. The tattooed-guy. (ever since Guy Fieri).
        3. The "health-nut" (who was the brunette last year (or the year before) with the big eyes like that?..and then there was "Herb, last year. Fitness buff and "energy chef".
        4. The Fat guy (eddie? Ernie? the guy who cooked southern food. I always felt that maybe Paula was a bit threatened by him and sure enough, he was eliminated).
        5. The Crier (remembering Amy....and Alicia).

        Perhaps all these would happen anyway. Maybe. Maybe not.
        But it just seems too....predictable!
        As if FN is "trying too hard" to "include everybody".
        So what would make me happy?
        Just someone without any tattoos, bright-yellow hair flying in 20 directions, or endless whining about their dead father.
        Example: Melissa--was a wonderful choice. Straight-ahead. Not 16lbs of make-up. Wholesome.
        It would be nice if FN could repeat that. Male or Female. Regular folks without a "prop".

        • diane says:

          What's with all the stereotyping going on up there? A chef/cook is exactly that, no other characteristics than what appears on a plate.This is how a chef/cook is defined. I do agree with the "Gimmick' thing you mentioned, if you refering to POV, that also should be defined on a plate. And Not if your lucky enough to possess something that fills a void in the Networks agenda, so you will have a better chance of winning.

          • JamesinAlaska says:

            Seems pretty matter-of-fact to me.
            We DO see (repeatedly) the people I described. Just look at the last 3 yrs.
            I dont know about you, but there's such an Obvious-ness about I cant help but watch "episode 1" and think: "Let's see, did they leave ANYONE out?"
            (But they seem to get eliminated by the end, anyway.)
            All I'm saying is: does every season HAVE TO have"
            the bald headed guy
            the street-person
            the overbearing one (Penny)
            the crier
            the fitness buff.....
            You can see (expect) it coming before it even gets here. Its just too....predictable.

          • Edward says:

            I have been watching the show for a number of years and have come to the conclusion that personality trumps cooking ability. You don't have to be a great cook but at least good and you must be personable. Guy Fien presents a variety of interesting and wonderful meals on his show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives which is indicative of the thousands of good cooks across this country. When I am looking for a unique recipe to prepare I seldom use any from the Food Network Stars. I like watching their programs but don't cook their meals.

          • diane says:

            That's an interesting statment you made. Why then do you like watching but not doing?
            Are you refering only to DDD, that technically is not his cooking program, Big Bite is his demo show. DDD features cooks from abroad and their specialty dishes not Guy's.
            Where do you find your inspirations from if not there?

          • JamesinAlaska says:

            I like both DDD and Guy's Big Bite.
            Too bad they dont do a few less re-run's of DDD and
            maybe show a re-run of "Bite" in the evening now & then.
            That would be cool.
            Ed, I'm curious where you get your recipes if not here.
            Oh well, there's no shortage of cooking websites.

  8. Kim Weese says:

    Melissa, this is one of the reasons I admire you. You are real. It's like visiting with a friend. Keep up the good work and I can't wait to see you new cookbook. :)

    Congrats. to Jeff. I think, like Melissa, you are real too. Looking forward to seeing your new show. Who doesn't like a good sandwich?!

  9. Guest says:

    Did FN let Jeff win to avoid a lawsuit after Bobby Flay stole his idea for a sandwich show?

  10. Bob Toren says:

    I'm going to control myself and resist the urge to add a nasty reply to some of these nasty comments people have left. Say what you will about the contestants but you can't take away the fact that they all had the guts to step up to the plate and give it a shot, on national tv no less.

    Melissa - thanks for another well written, well thought out take on the show. Your comments are typically spot-on.

    I think Jeff is going to do very well with his new show and branch out into more success in the future. Also hoping that a couple others from this season get a chance at a show too.

    Kind of bummed the season is over and already looking forward to the next one!