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. LISN says:

    This week, I noticed that Josh has unusually beautiful piercing blue eyes. I wonder if Giada was enamored & chose him because she was hypnotized.

    • Athena says:

      She sure didn't pick him for his cooking skills or camera personality.

    • Jerilee says:

      She chose Josh because because she thought he had on camera presence. Remember, she was looking for personality, charm, and cooking skill. The last on cooking. He is a sushi chef. His skill as as fashion photographer suggests he has an eye for camera appeal. As for HIS on camera appeal? Piercing blue eyes just may not cut it. He hasn't decided his own person. Rock star? Chef? He needs to differentiate, quickly. He can't be both at the same time.

  2. KEF says:

    I think there is way too much product placement and it's a shame that someone who is obviously at the bottom can stay because they were on the winning team. Not sure I like the new format as it seems to me that you should have the worst of each team compete in the cook off. Also seems to me to be more about the mentors than the competitors. Rooting for Emily but figure FN has as usual already decided who they want to win and manipulate the result....hoping Josh gets booted next week

  3. Food Fan says:

    The were problems in the past seasons. Too much drama, cattiness.
    I think its good for FN to try something new.
    They can always "tweak" it or change again.
    I do have 3 concerns over the new format, but still wanna give it a chance to work.
    1. I hope contestants can be themselves and cook their way and not be required to be a "clone" or else they're doing it "wrong."
    2. I hope they can fix or find a way around someone doing badly, surviving another round, simply because OTHERS did good on their team. This seems bad. It should be individual merit. It is after all, a competition.
    3. I hope it doesnt evolve into being more about the 3 mentors and their coaching styles than it is about the contestants themselves.
    So, these are things to watch. But hopefully, they *will* watch, and be alert, and be willing to re-tweak and fix it if problems arise.

    On the positive side--I *do* like: the feedback (ESPECIALLY when its 1-on-1 with a mentor and an Individual contestant. Here's hoping they all get some of this and not just always addressed as a group).
    Also, if this new format Reduces mind-games, bashing others you are competing against and cattiness or drama, then its worth it.
    I would like to see all the contestants compete against *all* other contestants instead of just the rest of their team.....but I think Food Network needed to do *something!*.

    Hopefully, they are reading our comments. Its good when we give specific reasons & examples for how we feel.

  4. kawgirl says:

    . Is there something wrong with you? You seem to chant the same mantra over and over, like a broken record or someone with OCD. If you do have condition that renders you relentlessly in rerun form, I apologize for my question. If you merely want to drive your point home ceaselessly, please desist. You've made your opinion known. Now, you're just being more annoying than a gnat.

  5. Cheryl <> says:

    I hope Emily has the cooking chops because for me she is unique and engaging to watch. I feel she could develop her character even further as time passes... sort of like Ron Ben Israel is doing. She's on the right track if she can relax and have fun with it. The motion sickness episode just shows everyone faces challenges that are uncontrollable in life... making lemonade when handed lemons, or in her case... maybe "Preserved Lemon Icebox Pie."

    • Athena says:

      I really like Emily too!

    • Jerilee says:

      Emily is cute, energetic, and very intelligent. I don't know how she has the energy to peruse her PhD, expand a business to international, and compete on this show! She is for sure an example of the American dream. Go for it, dream big. Don't take no for an answer, and don't let anyone stand in the way of you dreams!!!

  6. Jetta says:

    Where are people getting the idea that the concept of someone who screws up skating through because their team won is a new concept on FNS? Have you forgotten how many times Chris from last season was saved because he was on the winning team? He should have been gone at least three times that I remember and was saved because his team won. This is hardly anything new.

    • MoHub says:

      Not just FNS, but most competition shows. And even in individual competition, someone better only has to screw up worse than you did for you to move on and him or her to leave. Two words: Wendy Pepper.

  7. Food Fan says:

    Chris might have been saved, but was it because he was on the winning team?
    And what about Vic Vegas last year? he was "forgiven" quite a bit. I dont think it was because he was on a winning team. I think they kept hoping against hope he'd somehow come thru cuz they liked him but he just made too many mistakes.
    Anyway, if they can avoid people "riding on someone else's coat-tails" this season, then that'll be good. I think the idea comes from (example) If Alton lost someone last week, then he is safe next time and it has to be either Bobby or Giada who loses someone next. (to keep the teams even?). We'll see.

    • Jetta says:

      It's still early in the season - if my guess is right Josh will be the next to go. Unless he pulls off a miracle, personality aside, he just doesn't seem like he has the food chops. Jeff was obnoxious at times too last year, but he had the cooking on his side.

      • Food Fan says:

        Yer right. Its still early.
        Tonight, I've been clicking on different contestants video's and watching them.
        Getting a better feel for who is who.
        Definitely interesting. Quite a range of personalities, and backgrounds.
        It will be fun to see (as things unfold), who stays pretty-much the same as they are in their own videos and who changes quite a bit. Some (in my opinion) are not doing so hot in their own videos and I would say could use some changing. Or at least "growing" might be a better word.
        But then some others, I am really hoping stay true to who they already are (while also learning). No doubt there will be lots to learn. But I hope the contenders dont let that morph them into trying too hard or becoming artificial. Being Genuine counts huge.
        Who will emerge as "the One" with that blessed combo of:
        Simple, clear teaching
        Warm smile/likability and genuine-ness.

        Its good to check out these audition-videos....and to see the unfolding and growth and range of skill in the contestants in the upcoming challenges. I like this seasons group better than last year's. Still not sure who I'll be rooting for just yet. (its easier, at first, to pick who should be sent home). Like you said, its still early. :)
        With Bobby, Giada, and Alton as mentors, all of he contestants have a Goldmine of tips & knowledge. A fantastic opportunity!

  8. Renée says:

    While I'm happy that there aren't any more drama queens like Penney this season, I'm just not loving the new format. Instead of making Bobby, Alton and Giada look like nice mentors, it's making them all look bad as they attempt to outdo each other. It's become more about them than the contestants, and that shouldn't be the case. We should be rooting for the contestants, not the stars/hosts.

    I agree that the fix was in for Giada going to my home turf on Arthur Avenue. I was touched that they featured Mike from Mike's deli. I am dating myself but I remember him when he was a much youngter man. I had a crush on him when I was a kid! I feel most sorry for the guy who got pickles - I can understand his problem with it. I love pickles but let's face it, they're mostly a garnish, not a main ingredient unless you're making relish (which is what I think he should have done). In general I like Alton's group the best but it seems like they're getting all the bad breaks and Alton is not looking happy about this. Not pleasant to watch!

    • Food Fan says:

      I *do* hope somehow it can be more about the contestants than the mentors.

      That said, Giada seems to be more warm as a mentor than as a judge.
      And I like Alton advice as a mentor when he said: Dont sell me. Just tell me.
      And I like when Bobby emphasized early-on: be Genuine!
      This is all good.

      I really hope they dont make such a huge deal about point-of-view. Im an avid viewer and personally, I could care less about point of view.
      I want a Cook who can:
      do a wide variety of dishes
      have Flavor-to-die-for
      explain simply how i can make it
      be likeable.
      Do that, and who cares how many grand-kids they have, or what neighborhood they grew up in? The food is either good, or it isnt. I just dont get the whole point of view thing. If point of view means: "what kind of food do you make?" then I answer "I want someone who can make alot of things excellently!" If Food Network is looking to fill a specific Niche..i.e...the next Italian, or Mexican, or Chinese chef, ...then they should tell us viewers up front.
      If I want history, I'll click on someone's Bio, or watch their video..but thats not why I tune in to a show. Its awesome recipes and showing me how easy it really is to do it.

  9. Sanita says:

    This is rude and crude on so many levels. If you have nothing nice to say....

  10. Reza says:

    Aarti...you are adorable. I've never seen your show.....the title sounds like Awti Potty.