Aarti’s After Party: Fashionable Food

by in Food Network Star, June 3, 2012

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.

I have two words about this week’s challenge: Food. Fascinator.

I nearly gave Emily a standing ovation this week for her delightful spin on the old standby of ham steak with pineapple and maraschino cherries. This challenge was sort of tailor-made for her, since her POV is all about putting a fresh coat of paint on retro dishes. And so I expected her to nail the dish, although I must say that pickling the cherries was an inspired idea — maraschino cherries are not an easy ingredient to work with (as I learned on Chopped All-Stars earlier this year!) because their sticky, saccharine flavor usually overwhelms the entire dish. You have to stand up to them, and that she did, dousing them in spicy vinegar to show ‘em who’s boss. “When life gives you cherries, pickle ‘em.” Yes indeed, Emily.

But the fascinator? As close to genius as I’ve ever seen on Food Network Star. I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing it’s the first time that a contestant has turned a piece of food into an accessory. Even with my flower fetish, I don’t think I would have considered putting pork behind my ear. But Emily’s little beauty? I’d wear it in a heartbeat.

And what’s even more impressive about Emily’s “secret weapon,” as she dubbed it, is that she came up with it under pressure. It might be the understatement of the year to say that cooking in these challenges is stressful. Unfamiliar kitchens, not being able to run back to the store if you forgot something, always a little less time than you’d really like and something that most of us don’t think about: creating beautiful individual plates.

I remember the first time I saw someone using a ring mold during my season. I felt like I had just caught a glimpse of some wild exotic animal or something — I had never in my wildest dreams considered using one. As primarily a home cook, I always imagine my dishes to be served family-style: mound of rice here, big ladleful of curry there, spoonful of vegetables to round it out. It’s something very different to conceive a dish whose components will stand together on a plate and make an impact as a solitary item, rather than as part of a big, bubbling pot.

Practically everyone managed to do that, though. Of course, Justin killed it, but I’ll get to him in a second. Yvan has to get a special mention. Shepherd’s pie always leaves a dent in the table because it’s so heavy, but Yvan transformed it into something you might find at one of those California-style fine dining spots here in L.A. It was beautiful and indicative of the light, fluffy potato he topped the heavier meat sauce with. I also have to give it up to sweet, sweet Eric. It is not easy to change your cooking plan as the seconds tick away, and turning his spring rolls into beer-battered fritters was a fantastic idea.

See, plating might be one of the most underestimated — yet most important — parts of putting food in front of anyone, especially during this challenge when everyone is focused on beautiful fabrics, draping and colors. The food’s got to be able to stand up to that kind of scrutiny. You’ve heard that we eat with our eyes first, right? In this situation, we also judge someone’s cooking prowess based on the beauty of their dish. I always talk about presenting to an audience or to the camera, but you’re doing the same thing with your plate: Before you’ve opened your mouth to talk about your dish, or before a spoonful has hit a judge’s palate, your plate is doing the talking.

That’s why Justin is moving into first place for me at this point. First off, his presentation was flawless. It was witty and, for this particular word geek, his ability to describe food in such an articulate way made my heart go pitter-patter.

Second? Checkerboard plate, people! Not unlike a certain designer handbag. That plate screamed playfulness, confidence and intelligence. It made an impression as soon as it landed on the judges’ collective lap. Susie’s first word: “Wow!”

Finally, the fact that the dish delivered flavor-wise was the final arrow on the dartboard. Beet cream? Yum. The mushroom gel is something I want to learn to make; a little molecular gastronomy here and there can breathe life into stale recipes, and would certainly impress dinner guests. And I want Justin to show me how, because I know he’ll make me laugh and get my brain churning in the process. I love seeing how his mind works, how he’ll interpret every challenge. And he seems quite matter-of-fact about it; it’s incredibly endearing. From the unorthodox and theatrical method of removing excess powdered sugar, to this week’s Louis Vuitton-inspired plate, I’m starting to fall for this Justin guy. I can’t wait to see what he does next!

What did everyone else think of this week's food fashions?

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Comments (572)

  1. Guest says:

    I am disappointed that Eric went home. I think he is an excellent chef. It is too bad he was struggling in his presentations. Ippy will be given a second chance, and I think he does have a lot to share about his culture. How did Marti stay in? There were so many avenues that she could have gone with tuna--perhaps a sushi with an Asian noodle? Something Thai? Her food presentation did not look appealing at all. I also think that Judson will be going home soon. I thought he came on strong at the beginning of the series, but he has been struggling for a while. Good luck next week to everyone!

    • Joyce says:

      Agree with your post. Sending Eric or Ippy home was sad. Marti lost it in this section and won a reprieve.....at the expense of Eric..

      • beachinfrizzy says:

        Not that I think Eric should have gone home (very much the opposite), but I don't agree that Martie stayed at his expense...she stayed because her team had the winner. Besides, if Alton's team didn't have the top two judges' favorites (Justin and Emily) and his team was up for an elimination, it very well could have been Judson. The judges didn't like his fakety-fake "fashion equals love" presentation or his wierd dish. I think Judson's going to get the boot next with Martie not far behind.

        • Katrinka says:

          It's ironic the judges didn't like Judson's fakety-fake presentation, when so many of their existing hosts are fake. Giada, Guy Ferry, Aarti, Sandra Lee, and on and on.

          • beachinfrizzy says:

            Hee hee, good point! Ippy's natural personality is laid back island dude...but they want him to not be laid back for the camera! So what is it, "be yourself, be genuine", or, be a STAR!!!!

          • Jerilee says:

            Perhaps Ippy can find an in-between?

    • Kevin says:

      And this is why this show is pointless. The only one of those contestants I would watch (their own show), would be Eric, someone who can cook. I don't, err won't, watch someone because they can talk on camera but can't cook or show me something I don't already know. All of the winners of this contest and their shows are the equivalent of getting legal advice from someone who is an expert because they watch C.S.I. At least it opened up my Sunday evening for something else now.

      • Katrinka says:

        I agree. When I watch a cooking show, I want to learn something. I don't care about personal contrived stories. I want to learn about technique, culinary history, and the like. Molto Mario was a little flat, but I learned so much from watching his show, and I was glued. But now the network is full of entertainers and the likes of Guy Ferry, Sandra Lee, Rachael Ray, that pioneer woman, and not with reputable chefs who do know how to cook. What happened to Anne Burrell's show? is it on hiatus?

    • beachinfrizzy says:

      I was thinking of cannolini with fresh tuna and spring vegetable filling. She was given tuna casserole and made...tuna belly casserole. Ooookaayyy. Then again, they had a similar challenge on Top Chef years ago and the chef who was assigned to make tuna casserole 'healthy' did a mish-mash in a ring mold too.

    • terri Rube says:

      I agree with your post. I thought Eric could of stayed longer and perfected his camera persona. I am really suprised that Marti is still in this. She is not Paula Deen and she cannot cook. I am really ready for her to leave the show

    • lovetocook says:

      TO ALL: Forget Eric and Ippy, BOB and SUSIE ( and other Food Network execs) have totally ruined this show. They have made it about THEM not the chefs. Do I really need to see Bob smirk and give his opinion...he should stay in his office and away from the camera! Susie previously was a favorite but has been made to be a food network exec star'...really, does shemake me want to cook...NO! After the last seasonm when they picked "sandwiches" as their next food star, they have totally lost it. Thank goodness for the previous winners...Aarti who has inspired me to cook many many Indian dishes..and the other previous winners, THANK YOU! Let's get back to the real cooking and stop with this nonsense....I've stopped watching.

      • Katrinka says:

        Bravo! Thank you for saying what I've been thinking. Scripps needs to fire Bob and Susie.

      • Violet says:

        Fire Bob? Hope not! Why should he be penalized for being able to zero in on a person's traits be it good or bad? Sometimes the truth hurts. After all, this is a competition.

    • Jack says:

      I agree. Eric was the main contestant that I wanted to see every week. I want to see his from-scratch masterpieces every week. I think his on-camera persona could be developed if he was given the chance. On the other hand, it would also be a shame to see Ippy at this point.

      My opinion would be that Marti is the weakest contestant and should have been gone at this point. I can cook as well as what we have seen from her. I could learn from Ippy and especially Eric and would be anxious for the opportunity.

      • Katrinka says:

        I agree. I wanted to learn how to make hand crafted, from-scratch meals. I don't want to know any more ways to ruin my pancreas and liver with canned frosting and stupid cocktails. There are enough shows on the network to appeal to the busy need quick cheap meals demographic. I wish the network would get back to cooking.

    • Kate says:

      I loved Eric. He is the only chef I would be interested in watching on their own show. How can you take the best chef (as stated by judges), who could explain what they were doing, and send them home! No wonder I find myself watching less Food Network than I used to.

    • BE5 says:

      Eric was one of the best chefs on the show. He would be someone to watch and learn techniques. He also had a very pleasing personality... and he doesn't need adjectives to describe his cooking. We know it must be great, because he did not use shortcuts. I would have recorded his show, plus watch it. Is there another channel that can mainstream his talents? i would love to have a cookbook by him. Meanwhile there are some dolts on the other team, who should not have been in the same kitchen with Eric. Bring him back.

  2. disappointed fan says:

    I really like Justin, kinda upset that Eric left, I think that his leaving is premature and he really can cook. I feel like I would watch his show... I think the producers do have a winner in mind already makes it kinda pointless to watch

    • Joyce says:

      I agree with your assessment. The producers have already decided the winner....we are just watching the saga. It is sad when the really good chefs are sent packing and others stay on.....

    • Cupcake says:

      Is it possible that they want to bring Eric back for Chopped or Iron Chef. I would love to see him there!

  3. JLF says:

    Terrible decision to put Ippy in the bottom from Giada's team. It should have been Linkie. The judges commented that there was not enough chicken for the amount of pastry, and she fell apart in her presentation. They praised Ippy's dish as elegant and bright, and the worst they said about his presentation was "laid back".

    And I'm so frustrated that there is team immunity. Because this was really Marti's time to go. Serving the ring on the plate? How did they decide that was a "fortunate accident"? And how do they see her as charming when she really is just clumsy? Folksy doesn't carry one through a lack of skill and knowledge.

    • Jerilee says:

      You picked the right points. Martie is, well, just Martie...The ring should have been removed. I have been to Hawaii and they really are laid back. There is no "hurry up" there. Ippy's smile is infectious, he really is representative of the Hawaiian people. A show with with no "rush" just might fly. Linkie's presentation fell apart. I think the bottom two should have Linkie and Martie, with Eric a distant third. We shall see in future epiods.

      • Katrinka says:

        I would have liked to see Ippy as well as Eric. Ippy and Eric had a soothing quality. They caught my attention because they taught me something I wanted to learn. But he doesn't fit the Network family, full of screaming loud fake smiling and frenzied hosts with their own schtick.

    • Guest says:

      Too much laid back becomes frustrating when energy is needed. Life is not always laid back, unless you're on vacation. I could not connect Ippy's comments with the food on his plate tonight. They did not say or show much of Linkie tonight. I wonder why. She could have been one of the models and the judges were impressed with the curried chicken! It frustrates me to see Giada attitude and I wonder how she helped her team behind the scenes. All she do is cheer and push. Alton and Bobby couch.
      I was very sorry to see Eric go. I think he will fit better in some of the challenge programs like chopped where cooking reins over personality challenges.

      • beachinfrizzy says:

        But wouldn't it be nice for Ippy to take viewers on a 30-minute 'vacation' with his laid back island vibe among all the frenzied "you have x minutes - and your time starts NOW!!!" pressure-cooker chop-chop rush-rush get-it-all-on-the-plate contests that are so prevalent on the network these days?

        • Jerilee says:

          It would be nice. That really is the way Islanders are. I lived in Hawaii for two years when hubby was on a job. The only people in a rush were the Mainlanders on vacation!!! They only had a week, and by gosh the had to see and do everything. Trust me (or not), it can't be done in a week!!!

      • Food Fan says:

        You say "when energy is needed." But why is it needed? To get ratings? But "energy" (and I do like to see enthusiasm) is not the only way at all to get ratings!
        I dont want dull. But Ippy isnt dull. The audience can also be pulled-in to watch but a skilled cook with a warm smile. It doesnt take bright hair flying in 9 directions and a loud voice.

    • Macaroon says:

      Yip, Linkie might be pretty, but the rest just isn't there. Should have been bottom two tonight. She's just not a star and does not stand up to Emily, Ippy and Justin, who are all clear cut stars. Hope the winner will come from those three. Hated to see Eric go too.

    • beachinfrizzy says:

      I think Judson was worse than Martie this week. Justin and Emily carried both of them on to the next round.
      As for Ippy, I can see both sides. Yes he's adorable and the Hawaiian/island cuisine is a POV that is currently lacking in FN's line up of Italian, Italian, home cookin', contest, Italian, contest, contest, home cookin', etc. I would watch his show. On the other hand, I can see how the network execs, within the context of a potential life-changing competition, are concerned that he just doesn't seem to really 'want it' the way that others do. That "come to Hawaii, where the sun warms your skin and the people warm your spirit" was eye-rollingly cliche and straight out of some cheesy cruise line brochure.

  4. Team Alton=Team Swag. I hope someone from their team wins because I find them fun to watch. I'm not huge on Martie (or whatever) though and I hope that Judson comes back to an A game cause he is crashing fast. I completely understand how Eric got sent home because he is bland personally almost like how that tall butcher dude from last season went home...good food yet bad and boring in a camera. Everything in this competition is timed and perfection and time doesn't mix so that is what really frustrates me with Eric. I was like when are you gonna crash already and he almost did this time and he got sent home anyway. What was Eric gonna sell to me eat anyway?

  5. Jenopiano says:

    Eric was the best chef and they sent him home? Really disappointed in the show format...Eric should have his own show. Not everyone wants a fake "high energy" person to show them how to cook beautiful food. Last seasons sandwich king is no cook and it looks like they (the producers) are headed down the same wrong path. Personality does NOT trump skill.

    • beachinfrizzy says:

      That's exactly how I felt about Whitney last year, Jenopiano. She was an excellent classically trained chef and they kept throwing her curveballs (make an appetizer out of pop tarts anyone?) and telling her she didn't have enough "personality". Not everyone has to cackle like Paula, juggle stacks of dishes like Rachel or shout nonsensical comments like "Dat's off da hook, man!" to make for interesting, informative viewing.

      • Food Fan says:

        Absolutely! (hi-five)
        When you say:...."Not everyone has to cackle like Paula, juggle stacks of dishes like Rachel or shout nonsensical comments like "Dat's off da hook, man!" to make for interesting, informative viewing."--I definitely agree.
        Im on the west coast. Many of you saw tonights show before I did. Reading thru some of these responses, now. I'll have more to say, further in this thread. But I think we should make distinctions between:
        likability and
        energy. Not the same. They are different from each other.

        • JLF says:

          I think the judges need to make more of a distinction as well. They just keep saying that they don't like the energy levels, when what they really may mean is a lack of genuine personality. But that's not the message that is communicated to the contestants, and does not give constructive advice on meeting the judges' expectations.

        • Jerilee says:

          I'm on the West Coast too. I watched the East Coast feed and, later the West Coast feed. I'm still forming my opinions and will have more to say tomorrow, on my break at work. Paula is her own as is Rachael. Both have created a niche. I've had enough of "off the hook"...too many re-runs. You're right, there's a big difference in likability, personality, and energy. Not to mention watchability. It's hard to create a balance.

      • akrock says:

        or have big b----s to flash and a smile that shows almost ALL your teeth.

      • Elderleigh says:

        I agree 100% I get tired watching the overly peppy and that peppiness doesn't mean make better cooks. I can't even watch Rachel - she is just an energy killer.

        That was one reason I liked Jeffrey Saad, the year he was on. Unfortunately, I think their network peppy personality experts got to him for his show and he is not as laid back and mellow as he originally seemed. He's still better to watch than some....especially some of the foodporn stars on Unique Eats/Sweets....

    • Joyce says:

      Agree with your comment. Best chefs do not always win this format. Sad but true. What is the goal? Someone who can cook or someone who can entertain? What is the goal? I am not sure with the selection. The decision has already been made. It does not matter what we think??

    • Unhappy Eric fan says:

      I agree with you whole heartedly, this decision was an incredibly stupid one and shows why very few of the food network next food stars are actually interesting. There are so many people who's cooking on this show doesn't even hold a candle to even the basic skills that Eric possesses, tuna casserole left in a baking tin, bleh! All of that friend nothingness from Judson, it was incredibly disappointing. Bobby Flay was right when he said Eric is the best chef in the competition and they shouldn't overlook that and they totally did, Food network needs to rethink their perspective. I have to mute half of the people when they talk on this show they are so annoying, and I don't watch it for the people, because honestly none of them are that interesting, I watch it because I LOVE TO EAT, and I LOVE FOOD. I miss Eric and I'm disappointed I won't get to see his creations for the rest of the season.

      • Angela says:

        I agree with "unhappy Eric fan". I watch this show and other FN shows to get NEW ideas in cooking, new techniques and enjoy cooking. I feel somewhat insulted that FN would think I only watch to see "their view" of an attractive, bubbly personality. How insulting, don't they every think their viewers want to see SKILL and they only person that had it was Eric.

    • Kate says:

      I agree. Give Eric his own show and I'll watch it. He's most like Julie Child was. They don't have that type of show anymore.

    • Annie says:

      Remember that what we see of the judges conversations with the contestants is a mere snippet of the hour-long discussion that the judges have with each contender. Personality and camera ability are as critical for a food network chef as good cooking ability. If you can't relate to people, or they can't relate to you as a presenter and yes, entertainer, you don't get a show. That said, I was also rooting for Eric over Marti - I was less impressed with her presentation and her tuna in the ring mold presentation.

      • Jlinnote says:

        Personality is important (but not more than skill) and I think Eric's sincerity and love of his craft certainly came through to my screen in my living room. I watch FN to learn about food and cooking and Eric was easy to take and believable. I don't watch Flay because of any kind of charisma, but for his experience and talent for cooking. He is a pro and he shows us this skill over and over again. That's it- no dazzlin' "presentation" parade there, or silly fashionista crap.

  6. Hawaii hopeful says:

    I understand being able to give a good presentation when you're competing for a TV show of your own. After all, we don't get to taste the food and will never know whether it is fabulous or a flop. But I don't want to watch just energy and over-the-top personality. What I really want is to shake Ippy and say, "Let me taste Hawaii. I'll never get there, so help me savor the ripeness of a pineapple, smell the orchids, feel the sea breeze on my skin and so much more!" I want to know what poi is, how foods wrapped in leaves taste, what makes salt water fish taste different than a lake perch.

    • Guest says:

      Agree with you. I am not sure if he himself knows who he is. Great person with Hawaiian personality, but that is not reality in a kitchen. If he want to represent Hawaii, he should go tropical and give a more energetic performance. Sunshine does not fit with all dishes. A fresh spin on his POV will be nice.

      • M K says:

        YAAAY IIIIIPPPY! Are they crazy saying he's dull? He is pleasant, interesting, a fantastic chef, sweet, interesting and Hawaiian! There is Nothing to Change! He is perfect just the way he is! Is he supposed to be a loudmouthed NYer like me? I want him as he is; as his People are. They are laid back, respectful, kind, giving, and wise. We dont go to Hawaii to race around, we go to relax and hang loose! This is exactly what this country needs! We need to embrace and finally learn something from Indigenous cultures! (p.s. Im caucasian) Its about time we STOPPED TRYING TO CHANGE THEM, AND WE SHOULD CHANGE! We have stolen much from them, now we should start learning with grace. I love him and hes perfection the way he is! I am glued to the set when I see him. I WANT HIM TO WIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HE IS EVERYTHING WE HAVE NEEDED ON TV AND FOOD NETWORK I hope Ippy never changes!

        • Food Fan says:

          I have to jump in here--and agree.
          I was could hardly believe it, that Ippy was even on the bottom2 at all, tonight.
          When he gave his presentation, I did NOT think it was "canned" or artificial. On the contrary, it seemed appropriate and fitting with an Island background. I do not feel that all new winners should be copies of Guy Fieri and everything should be "off the hook." Look at how soft-spoken In Garten is. Would you put HER in the bottom two and tell her she doesnt want it bad enough?? I dont think so.

    • yvonne martin says:

      oh me oh my i'm so thinking the same thing

    • Yvette says:

      Totaly agree. I want to learn about food. That is why I watch FOOD TV. Not to watch an over the top
      personality. And I find Ippy personality GREAT!!!! SO He's not over the top. Let his food speak.
      We surely do not need another one like last years winner. I hate his show ,I really canNot take more than 5 min's of last years Sandwich King's personality before I have to swich the channel.
      So let get to the FOOD. I want to learn about Hawaii and Ippy's spen on it.

  7. Hollywood says:

    Like belly buttons, all have their opinions. For me, I'm looking for a star who will bring me back week after week to teach me about food and not just to look at. The first time I saw Giada, I thought she was gorgeous. Duh (she still is)! Then, as I watched, I learned. And it was that which brings me back to her shows. Emily has that same special thing. An attractive, interesting look, combined with a food point of view that would bring me back to watch each week. Justin is cute and quirky, but for me, I'm afraid that would get old...

  8. Francesca says:

    I wish there was a way to vote Giada off...... she's so self-involved and stuck up and winning is more important to her than the objective of the show - launching somebody's career. Almost had to shut the show off because of her a few times.

    • Guest says:

      Too much laid back becomes frustrating when energy is needed. Life is not always laid back, unless you're on vacation. I could not connect Ippy's comments with the food on his plate tonight. They did not say or show much of Linkie tonight. I wonder why. She could have been one of the models and the judges were impressed with the curried chicken! It frustrates me to see Giada attitude and I wonder how she helped her team behind the scenes. All she do is cheer and push. Alton and Bobby couch.

    • Sassy says:

      We're with you Francesca. Kick Giada off!!!!

  9. cnav471 says:

    Extremely disappointed Eric went home. He was the best chef. I think the producers have lost sight on what attracts viewers. I am not a fan of the Sandwich King and can't imagine anyone left attracting me to watch. What happened to Bobby's comment, if they can cook, he can teach them television.

  10. JLF says:

    I'm still enthusiastically rooting for Emily, especially after tonite's performance. She so completely presented her food in the fashion world (the little hats were adorable) and she was by far the best presenter - fun, genuine and clearly enjoying herself. I continue to want to see more of her.

    Justin Created the most "out there dish", so I guess I see why he won, except in every other instance, the judges this time seemed to rate presentation over food, and his presentation was good but did not shine.

    As long as Emily and Justin continue to hold up Team Alton, Marti and Judson will be able to hide behind their skills while other more talented candidates get sent home. Tonite was an example of the unfairness of that flaw.

    • disappointed says:

      I completely agree. I was disappointed in the decision to send Eric home, while others Linkie, Yvan, Martie, Judson, Martita, Michelle, and Nikki have less cooking skills. I would not watch any of these people cook. I dont care for their personalities, let alone their foo.d. I equally did not like the sandwich king last season and I have seen 1 show since he became a food network star and he was horrible. I will never watch again. What a let down. This format is worse because it shields bad cooks and presenters for longer. I can no longer handle watching the show and unless Justin or Emily win I will never watch any other of these contestants.

    • @flitzy says:

      Agreed. I think out of all of them, I'd most likely watch Justin, Emily, or Nikki (although Nikki is essentially a female Flay, at least her dishes are interesting).

      I'm rooting for Emily - I hope she makes it to the end. :)

      • Chops says:

        Could not agree more. Linkie cleary thinks she is all that when she is seriously lacking the x factor. I don't think she is ready for prime time.