Aarti’s After Party: 3 Secrets to Good Presenting

by in Food Network Star, May 20, 2012

Bobby and Kara

Aarti Sequeira won Food Network Star season 6 and expanded her popular blog into a cooking show, Aarti Party (catch it on Food Network, Sundays at 7:30am/6:30c). As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Aarti shares her insider’s take on what went down each week.

Oh man, how I loved this challenge! Wasn’t it good? I think this might have been my favorite challenge in Food Network Star history.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a journalist by training — I worked at CNN, and I produced a documentary about the genocide in Darfur that aired on HBO. So the prospect of being thrown into an unfamiliar field to harvest stories and secrets from the locals, and then recount them to an audience? Hooray and huzzah! And while at first blush this week’s challenge seemed to favor one team in particular (I’m looking at you, Team Giada), this is something that every Food Network hopeful needs to master.

Food television is changing — not only must you be able to cook, be able to talk about what you’re cooking and relate to your viewers, but you must also be able to take viewers on a journey, pull them along with you as you experience food cooked by other hands, and make people feel like they’re sitting at the table with you. Look at the success of shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, United Tastes of America and Heat Seekers, and you’ll see what I mean.

So, future Food Network Stars, here are a few of tips on presenting like the star that you are.

Alton and Judson

1) Don’t “Present”.

Forget about this being a presentation. All those memories of standing at the front of the classroom, speaking robotically about the major themes in literary classics — forget ‘em.

Instead, speak colloquially (but coherently), as you would to a friend sitting across the table from you. Literally imagine that person: It could be your best friend, your spouse, your grandmother, someone you feel completely comfortable around. A news anchor once told me that he always imagined he was talking to his favorite 70-something-year-old aunt when he was reporting. Cute, huh?

See, when you do that, suddenly you start to sound like a human being. All the formality will evaporate from your speech. Your voice will soften, as will your jaw. You’ll smile more, and your eyes might even light up. It’s a small adjustment that reaps rich rewards. It’s what Alton said to Judson in his Producers’ Challenge: “Just talk to me. Stop selling me something.”

I think of Ippy, Martie and Martita here; each of them made me feel like I was sipping coffee in their living room as they told me about this great new place they’d found. I mean, Martie was so relaxed, she hitched her leg up on a seat! Her joke about being able to fit that sandwich in her mouth seemed genuine, unforced and, heck — any time you can make people laugh, you win. Martita brings this sensual warmth into the room; everything seems to slow down a little, the lights dim. Also, I want her hair.

Giada and Josh

2) Tell a story (but keep it short).

The essence of practically all entertainment is storytelling. Every film, every TV show, even every recipe is a story. In journalism school, there was this theory called “the blade of grass.” The idea was that if you were covering a huge issue, like the Farm Bill, you’d find a farmer and tell his singular story in order to illustrate the larger, more abstract issue. It put a human face on the largely dry jargon of bills, amendments and votes — and everyone loves a story.

The same thing applies here. You have to be inquisitive when you’re in the field; ask a lot of questions to draw stories out of the characters you’re talking to. Giada gave great advice to her team when she ran through a quick list of questions to ask: Why are you here, what’s the history of this place, who comes here, do you have any funny stories? You kind of have to be a nosey parker in order to get the goods from people. Being genuinely curious goes a long way.

Yvan’s enthusiasm about not only the mozzarella, but also the guys who make it, lit up the bus. You can’t force your joy over a product (as poor Judson learned), so you’ve got to find something about it that you can love. Yvan seemed to love the history behind these artisans as much as he loved the cheese itself, and that showed. So he told their story, and he kept it short and sweet.

Josh, on the other hand … Well, I’m still not sure what Joe Pesci had to do with the sausage place. We can all lose track of time and, trust me, I’m thoroughly guilty of taking too long to tell a story (look at how long this post is!), but if it’s a long story that’s relevant to the task at hand? At least you’re one for two.

Team Alton

3) Fail with a smile.

Watching someone nail a take without any mistakes is pretty cool, but watching someone make a mistake, laugh about it, shake it off and keep going? That’s memorable and relatable — and winning. I know firsthand how hard it is to perform when the network is watching. Mistakes are going to happen, so embrace them. Let your warts and freak flag fly. I felt awful for Emily when motion sickness took over. I know that feeling. Heck, we all know that feeling. That’s why I was hoping that she’d acknowledge it in her presentation. You should be honest, laugh it off, finish your presentation and forget about being perfect. Be brave enough to show your human side, because we’re all human.

Mistakes are a gift, actually, because they provide the opportunity to be spontaneous, to let the real you leak out. The more you try to plug up the leaks (bad metaphor, I know. Forgive me, Emily.), the harder it is to appear natural. So forget about perfection. Perfection is nice. Being real and honest about your imperfections? That’s an act of bravery, a daring finger in the eye of how things are “supposed” to be — it’s the makings of a star.

What do you think? Whose presentation did you like the most? The least? Did you agree with who went home?

 

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Comments (145)

  1. Food Fan says:

    Cant say I'm wild about the idea of anyone staying because their team did good.
    It should be more of an individual effort thing.

  2. kitty12 says:

    I think Kara should have stayed. I didn't like it when Judson said "I'm not going home" and cried. For me he blew it right then. That's like telling your boss "you aren't going to fire me". What an arrogant statement to make. On another note -- is Alton ever going to smile? Giada smiles all the time and Bobby smiles sometimes but not as often as he usually does, Sort of takes all the fun out. Yes it's a serious competition but cooking is supposed to be fun. The jusges are all grim too. I'm not enjoying this show this year because of all the grim faces.

    • fran sing says:

      Thats because Alton thinks he alone should be the judge of all. He really is not a nice person to watch or to listen to.

  3. Food Fan says:

    New Format.
    Gonna give it a chance. Should be fun to watch.
    I definitely agree with:
    Don't Present
    Keep it short
    Fail with a smile.

    Nice to see more boy & girl next door types this season.
    Also nice to see less folks who are restaurant owners already.

    I liked the emphasis on Genuine-ness.
    The eventual winner doesnt need to be weird in order to be remembered.

  4. Crystal Ball says:

    Prediction time: I see both Emily and Justin getting shows in the future. Cough Cough we shall see - that's all for now. : ) Note: Statements intended for fun only.

    • Jetta says:

      I love Emily and Justin - but Emily seems like she might end up cracking under pressure.

      • vert2013 says:

        Emily did seem a little frazzled yesterday even before she got sick. I'm glad the Alton and the producers were understanding to her situation. You really can't control motion sickness. Poor kid.

      • JLF says:

        I think Emily's problem last nite was strictly due to motion sickness. Up until they got on the bus she seemed her same happy confident self. I still have high hopes for her.
        Justin started winning me over last nite. I didn't get him last week - almost felt like he wanted to be weird just for weirdness sake. He made sense last nite and I thought he was great with his presentation.

  5. Food Fan says:

    Is it true that if someone's team loses this week, they cant lose again next week?
    That seems just wrong. Either someone's individual effort was excellent, or it wasn't.
    And if a team (or contestant) does bad repeatedly, oh well. This is like saying if you failed your Math test last time, we'll guarantee you a passing grade this next time. I disagree with that.
    I do like the idea of the bottom contestant on each team doing a three-way cook-off to see who stays.

    • vert2013 says:

      I haven't heard that teams cannot lose 2 weeks in a row. I think it'll probably happen as we progress further into the season.

  6. Jim H says:

    So far the one thing I have liked is that there are few opportunities to stab another contestant in the back. The competition is more head to head. Last year the back stabbing became almost unbearable to watch. Less opportunity for the drama queens to throw wrenches into the works. The team approach builds more congeniality than it does contention although this could change as we get to the final stages.

    One thing i do not like is the immunity of the lowest person on the winning team. Its a cheap way to get into later rounds. One could literally totally suck at cooking and get carried all the way to the finals if your "team" should happen to win more often. Some better people on losing teams could also get screwed in the process.

    The other thing that the "coach" does is to help assure that the groups are monitored so that one person does not try to screw the others for their own personal gain as we saw so many times last year.

    • Food Fan says:

      Absolutely. Less backstabbing is good.
      But people should win on their own merits and not be carried or allowed to continue just because they are on an otherwise good team. Thats bad.

      While I do like the coaching, and am anxious to see how encouraging and constructive it can be, I am also somewhat concerned this may mean that whoever wins is *too* determined by a coach/team-captain and perhaps not enough by rave public reviews of people who ate the contestants food and liked their simple easy-to-follow explanations. Wanna give this all a chance, but am watching.

  7. Jen says:

    On the commercial for this week, Emily was seen interrupting the judges when they were back at the studio. What happened to that in the episode??

    • Food Fan says:

      As the shows are taped in advance, I wonder if we might see this in a future episode.
      But then, why tease us with it already? Hmmm.

    • guest says:

      Glad someone else noticed this. I kept watching the whole show to see what Emily was going to tell the judges. Hmmmmmm.....wonder if it will be in a future episode? But the previews made it seem that it was supposed to be in this past Sunday's episode.

    • Athena says:

      judging by the fact that she was wearing the same clothes she wore for the whole episode, I think whatever she said ended up on the cutting room floor--which is unfortunate because I really wanted to know what she was going to say! She kept nodding as the names were being said as if she thought she was going to be called for producer's challenge. Hmmm...

    • Derrick says:

      Hmmmmm

  8. Jetta says:

    This is probably going to sound petty, but...are they going out of their way to find contestants who are less and less appealing in appearance every season? I was able to look beyond Vic and his tatts and lip piercing because his personality was just so love able. But Justin B and his ear plugs and sleeve tats was a total turn off and had he won, I wouldn't have watched. This season it is Michelle with her saggy jeans that look like they are dirty and her nose ring. I honestly don't think I would tune in to watch her, no matter how talented she was or how good her food looked.

    • vert2013 says:

      There are a ton of chefs/cooks that have the same look as Justin B. did last year. Maybe not the gagued ears, but definitely with the full sleeve tattoos. It wouldn't surprise me if FN had a show with someone like that one day. I think in the case of Michelle, if she were to win they would definitely "clean her up" a bit. Not give her a total new look, but give better fitting clothes that still go along with her style.

    • FanFare57 says:

      You had a stronger stomach than I did. I could not get past Vic's appearance to even pay any attention to the warm fuzzies that fans found in him. He truly grossed me out so much that I wouldn't want to eat anything he made (or attempted to make since his first couple of challenges were missing the food).

      • Jetta says:

        I didn't like Vic much at first either, Jeff either for that matter, but as they 'matured' they grew on me. I think maybe what throws me so much about Michelle is the whole nose ring thing - I know from experience that they are much less securely held in place than a small stone and also are much much less hygienic. I had one for years and it wasn't unheard of for it to come unhooked and fall out without my noticing it.

  9. lms says:

    I think Eric Lee has not been given as much attention on the show as some other contestants. The guy seems like he can really cook!!! They can definitely make a star out of him.
    I also hope they keep Michele around, she is just fun to watch, because she is not so "cookie-cutter."
    I felt bad for Emily, I would like to see more of her on the show, as well.

    • Food Fan says:

      If cookie-cutter means that someone's hair is shampooed and combed or brushed and their clothes look clean, then I'll take cookie-cutter anyday.

  10. Food Fan says:

    Less appealing?
    On the whole, I think this is more of a mainstream group, and I'm happy to see that.
    But I agree about "cleaning up."
    I just cant get into the tough, street-people look, or any tattoos, or wild hair, at all. The contestants could have a wonderful personality and be an awesome cook. Still a turn-off. This doesnt mean I want a barbie-doll or a male model, either. Just someone non-offensive, who makes fabulous food, has a warm smile, and explains good.

    • Jetta says:

      As a whole, oh yeah I agree. But Michelle just seems so much more sloppy than any other contestant I have ever seen.

    • Dan's mom says:

      Shall we report her to the fashion police (aka What Not to Wear)? Maybe Michael Symon can convey the message to Clinton Kelly on their show The Chew.