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. svetlana says:

    Huge disappointment that Eric left. I was hoping he wins and have his own show; he is the only person I would watch from current FNS cast. I would love to LEARN about food and how to make it from scratch, and Eric was the only person to show us that. FN already has plenty of shows about cheap, inexpensive, quick food or shows about cheap restaurant food. I want something AUTHENTIC, EDUCATIONAL, and CREATIVE – that’s what Eric represents. I would love to see him to teach us how to make ricotta cheese from scratch, or caramel from scratch or even lasagna from scratch. PLEASE BRING ERIC BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to learn how to make my own food FROM SCRATCH, not how to open cans or use frozen dinners.

    • Jerilee says:

      Don't give up hope. A number of non winners get their own show!

    • Isaac Wong says:

      I too am hugely dissapointed that Eric was sent home. That said, I was somewhat perplexed by his issues with the spring roll wrapper -- ironic that he should be defeated by a store bought product which was easy to make by hand from scratch. LOL

  2. Isaac Wong says:

    The real problem with the show was that the wrong people ended up at the "bottom." Both Marti and Judson should have been there. And in all honesty, if either one of those was at the table with either Ippy or Eric, it would have been a no brainer as to who would have gone -- in both cases, Eric and Ippy would have stayed. That's the proof that the format of the show is flawed.
    Additionally, I am just sick of Suzie's harping on Ippy's "laid-back" style. Honestly woman, you run a NATIONWIDE network, not a NYC local network. Guess what, some of us who aren't even as far west as Hawaii are just fine with Ippy's style. We can't all be uptight New Yorkers.

    • FanFare57 says:

      I guess Susie likes frenetic, artificial poser types. Ippy is unique. He reminds me of the painter who talked about "Happy little clouds". Ippy is simply a nice guy and there's nothing wrong with that persona.

  3. Annienyc says:

    Yvan yelling that he's a "New Yorker, baby" (after saying he's from Venezuela) and that they were in "his house", was painful to watch, especially because he was talking to a bunch of native New Yorkers, mostly. It came off as so artificial. He seems like a really nice person and it's sad they resort to doing things that are unnatural for them just to please Bob and Susie. Ippy looks stressed out because they keep telling him he's laid-back, but that is who he really is...

    • FanFare57 says:

      I agree with you. It's weird that Yvan has some cooking skills but masks it with an artificiality. He was more authentic when he appeared on Chopped.

  4. Phineus says:

    I hope Eric takes this experience and exposure to promote a cookbook. I'm sure that he could do a good job communicating his cooking techniques in written form.

    • Marlena says:

      Agreed. I thought thought LInkie's opening line "Good evening all you beautiful people" were incredibly weak and cliched. And almost cheap in a sense? She seems to have a very limited vocabulary as well. Her dish wasn't something I would try tomake at home. Just did not inspire me. It looked like something my 6 year old made.

  5. FanFare57 says:

    What's up with Alton's appearance? He went from professorial, erudite gentleman to a Bowery Bum because he couldn't find a razor. The grungy, scruffy look (on him) does not a hot dude make.

    • Jerilee says:

      Maybe he's doing another road show and and needs to look grungy! LOL

    • Tigergal says:

      I liked him better when he wore Hawaiian shirts. In fact, the Alton who took viewers on a food/motorcycle odyssey to the mouth of the Mississippi bears no resemblance to the guy on NFNS. Has he himself been the victim of the network's tinkering with a personality's onscreen persona?

  6. Bob Toren says:

    One of my favorite things about this new format is seeing the mentors presenting their arguments on why the person on their team should stay, I mean how cool would that be to have someone like Bobby Flay talking about your strong points?
    The thing I dislike the most about this format is immunity for the winning team, this last week was a glaring example of the flaw in that format....Ippy and Eric on the bottom?...are you kidding me? That was just wrong!
    I thought those were two of the top contenders
    I think they have a pretty strong bunch this year, my favorites out of the remaining contestants are Emily, Justin and Martita. I think those 3 are the strongest in both cooking chops and personality.

  7. Guest says:

    Any idea why Linkie's been played off against Martita?

  8. Food Fan says:

    Just noticed. New thread about Eric is up.

  9. Food Fan says:

    There are 2 or 3 others not on your list, that I like.
    But I like some on yer list, too.

  10. Nadia says:

    I think Eric should have stayed. fn needs a from-scratch show. Home made ricotta? That's not something every star knows to make. I think linkie would be good because there isn't a dessert/cake/decorating show.