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:

    Just to clarify. I wouldnt say tattoos are "offensive", I just find them unpleasant and not my thing.
    Offensive, would be more like penny's personality, last season.

  2. Joan says:

    I was very disappointed with Alton and his weak direction of his team toward the food challenge of the tour. The choice of food for the tour was not inspiring or representative of what is truly Jewish New York food. What about cabbage soup, blintzes and sour cream, hummus and other middle eastern foods? It is very spicy and not at all dull or boring as represented by the program. I do believe that the team could have done a better job especially with the making of a dull meatloaf.

  3. salk says:

    I never liked her and will not watch her ever, in fact whenever she is on I change the channel.
    I even stopped watching the food network after she got picked. Hope this mistake never happens

  4. food critic says:

    Kara was let go because she can't cook. 2 of the 3 dishes she made was her Moms recipes and the dish that they said tasted like it came from the freezer section was ALL her !!! Also like the judges said..she is nothing special and not memorable !!!!

  5. cat says:

    WHY did Giada get to do Little Italy? I am with Alton and cry foul on that one.
    Loving Alton and his team, not sure why. Just seem more genuine and not like a bunch of cheerleaders. Interesting how FN tries constantly to keep the racial equity going all the time.

    • MoHub says:

      As a Southerner, Alton would have been the more appropriate choice for Harlem, and Bobby—as a native New Yorker, where everyone's a little bit Jewish—would have been the better choice for the Lower East Side. The fix was definitely in for Giada.

      We always used to say that if you were from New York, no matter what your religious upbringing, you were Jewish. Conversely, if you were from the Midwest, even if you went to synagogue every Friday night, you weren't really Jewish. It's a cultural thing.

  6. Jerilee says:

    I'm glad food critic has learned to cut & paste, makes for interesting reading. LOL.

  7. Disappointed says:

    Okay, did anybody notice how Yvan totally helped Linkie redeem herself by giving her the idea to use Ricotta cheese when she freaked out about not having enough cream cheese ? And she gives him no credit? I am so disappointed. If people cannot give credit where it is due, I lose all respect. She had my vote, but claiming the ricotta was her idea, just made it official that I will not vote for her again. She could have at least given him a shout out on the bus and thanked him.

    • Jerilee says:

      Giada also told her that there should be more ricotta than cream cheese.

    • JLF says:

      I was very happy to see a baker in the contestant pool, but at this point I'm skeptical of her skills.

      • Jetta says:

        On the flip side of this though - I was pleased to see the Josh didn't try to pass off the blame for his soup on Yvan last week, even though he would have been somewhat justified in doing so. Maybe the two cancelled each other out? lol

        • Disappointed says:

          Well, I just think it is low and shows poor character to not give credit when someone gave you an idea and then pass it off as all your own. Poor Josh, I think much more of him for not blaming Yvan. But this Linkie chick just is so threatened that she can't give credit where it is due. And that is despicable to me. I don't think she has the chops JLF.

    • Dan's mom says:

      I agree with you JLF. For a baker I would expect her to realize that a cannoli traditionally has a sweet ricotta cheese filling. I would question her experience.

      • vert2013 says:

        I think she knew it was supposed to be ricotta she just wasn't familiar with it because she hadn't used it before. Plus I thought she was going to use a mixture of cream cheese and ricotta but with more cream cheese emphasis and had to switch it up a little bit.

  8. kawgirl says:

    kara was let go because she can't cook. The 2 of the 3 dishes she made was her Moms recipes !!! The dish that the tourist said it tasted like it came out of the freezer section was ALL her. And like the judges said she is not memorable.

    • JLF says:

      Knock it off already.

      • Seriously? says:

        Like the other obnoxious posters, and a temper tantrum throwing two year old, it's best to ignore them.

        • JLF says:

          You're right. But I did usually tell my own tantrum throwing two year olds to knock it off (at least once). :-)

      • Jerilee says:

        I think I accidentally prompted that poster by saying something, sorry. Seriously has a good thought though.

        • Jetta says:

          It's okay - I was considering correcting her grammar, then I saw all the posts I would have to do it on. Guess it is a good thing I am too lazy to cut and paste that much. = ) lol

  9. kawgirl says:

    kara was let go because she can't cook. The 2 of the 3 dishes she made was her Moms recipes !!! The dish that the tourist said it tasted like it came out of the freezer section was ALL her. And like the judges said she is nothing special and not memorable.

    • Joan says:

      I do agree with you, but your reply had nothing to do with my comment. I was speaking concerning Alton's team and not Kara.

  10. Food fan says:

    Was it Justin with the bowtie who got "the Pickles" ?
    As this season progresses, I hope to see more even-handedness and team members using the same ingredients or at least being given a more even shot and making a rock-star dish. Would YOU wanna be the one who got stuck with pickles? I wouldn't.
    Just a comment, but, as much as possible, no contestants should be given advantages or disadvantages. Keep a level playing field and let superior technique, delicious taste, teaching and engaging the audience shine through.

    • Jetta says:

      It was Judson (Judsen??) Justin is the one who looks like he is wearing lipstick. lol

      I agree with the advantages thing - I think it is majorly unfair that next week is a chopped challenge and Michelle has done Chopped twice. There is this mean little part of me that hopes she does something to screw up and Scott nails her on it. lol