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. Long Island Fan says:

    Ippy would bring a young fresh POV to Food Network and we would all get to learn a bout a type of cuisine that most of us know little about. If the Food Network is truly interested in launching a new show to keep its audience entertained and get some new viewers, IPPY is the chef they are looking for.

  2. Athena says:

    What does Justin mean by the darmier (sp?) pattern on a famous handbag? He said to "Ask your girlfriend," but I am a woman and I have no clue. ???

  3. suzy says:

    I am watching rerun of fashion show, and previously I've been thinking I've been too hard on Bob and Susie. But wow, I am cringing at how mean they were about Judson.."he's soooo hollow; and Bob smirking he doesn't believe him one bit. Then they have the nerve to say Ippy is canned and not a star??? Susie says she is "so over his being laid back."
    I'm not over it. So Susie, if you like personality so much, watch Nadia's Bitchin Kitchen, which is to me, despite her good reciepes - unwatchable.

    • JLF says:

      I agree about Bitchin Kitchen. For all their preaching about having stars that are "real", that is one of the phoniest show-off and annoying performances on the channel. I am not commenting on the food - perhaps it's good. But I just can't get through the in-your face presentation. And now I'm seeing commercials for a new show with Baron somebody that looks like another made up phoney character that I won't want to watch.

      • Jerilee says:

        Sorry, I like that show...it gives me relief from every day!! She is so...different. As far as Baron Ambrosia, no thanks.

        • beachinfrizzy says:

          You obviously don't live in New Jersey! : ) (I do, and while most of the people I know don't speak that way, seems like the ones who end up on TV do).

          • Jerilee says:

            No, I don't live in NJ. And , I'm sorry, but what are you referring to? Speak what way??? I'm lost...

          • beachinfrizzy says:

            The 'in your face' 'badda-bing' style of talking like the Bitchin' Kitchen girl that Suzy referred to, does - the Sopranos/Jersey Shore thing. Don't know who the Baron guy is (I DVR and ff thru commercials, but sounds like I'll find out soon) so I guess I didn't consider that part of the post - I'm sorry I was wasn't clear! (Long week).

          • Jerilee says:

            Thank you for clarifying. I guess I really hadn't paid much attention to the way she talks, I keep the volume down, and some of our block partiers talk that way so I'm kinda immune to it. I understand about Tyne long week....thanks again.

          • Jerilee says:

            Just noticed spell-checker changed my "the" to Tyne....sorry!

    • Phineaus says:

      Judson coming out with that ridiculous fabricated "One of the mantra's in my life is "Delicious cuisine plus exquisite fashion equals Love."" That's not a mantra, and I agree with Bob T...I don't believe him one bit. I don't think they were too hard on him.

  4. outoftheblue911 says:

    Justin and Emily are amazing and I could see them having a whitty, fun and flirty show ..It would be like the Regis and Kelly of the food network.

    • JLF says:

      How fun - modern, avant garde meets retro rad. They are both so creative and their contrasting personalities would play off of each other so well - kind of like Jamie and Adam on Mythbusters. Now that's a show I would watch! Are ya listening FN?

    • Jerilee says:

      Sounds interesting. Wonder if FN might think about it? I'd be willing to watch too.

  5. Guest says:

    I love Melissa D'Arabian's show. She really knows how to stretch a dollar and she is easy to listen to.

  6. kjb199 says:

    I thought Justin's food and plating were MARVELOUS! I admit I've been voting for him since the beginning, and the last two weeks made me more confident in my support for him.

    In the previous week, I felt he would do best based only upon his audition video, where he said he's used to cooking almost anything. This is the perfect Chopped mentality.

    This week, he showed me his ultra-stylish side with a presentation that is beyond what I've ever seen for someone competing for a network spot. Most chefs that come up with presentations like this don't compete for television jobs, so this just floored me. But it showed me again that he has the ability to think in a flash and show great creativity.

    On the other hand, I was a little bummed about the performances of Ippy and Eric; these two chefs are more talented than their results demonstrated. But there are certain qualities that go into making a star that have been lacking for these contenders the previous weeks. I agree that Bob and Susie were stuck with one of their most difficult early eliminations in the history of the series, with these two competing against each other before the final week. The last time they had a decision that difficult was in dumping Brad in season 6; however, they made the wrong decision that time. The jury is still out on this one.

  7. kjb199 says:

    One other question: What is it with people named Justin? Last season, there were TWO of them. This season, there's one more, and another named Judson (which is close enough for me). Nothing against the name, but I never knew there were that many good chefs with that name.

  8. Food Fan says:

    Watched the video-clip for the next Challenge.
    It "test your Versatility" and the teams will Host a live show!
    This--oughta be really good.

    • Frank Demeo says:

      It looks interesting for sure. I have a feeling Nikki gets the axe but, ya never know.

  9. rxnlw says:

    I totally agree: Justin is unique & exciting to watch, Marti has to go, Ippy knows how to cook & there is nothing wrong with being laid back (as he put it-that's the way Hawaiians are) & Emily was great in the last episode.

  10. Food Fan says:

    ..? Is my computer acting up?
    It looks as if we now have 4 threads that have stopped cold, or very nearly.
    Both fashion threads
    The Star Commentary thread w/Alton's pic.
    and the Thread with the pic of Martita in the kitchen.
    Any ideas? Its like everyone suddenly went on vacation at once.
    (Maybe we just need a new thread?)...
    I'm looking forward to the next challenge/episode. It will test their "Versatility" according to the video clip.

    • Jerilee says:

      Maybe because no one is posting?? Every once in a while I have to search the blog section to get to them. Some posters can't post and some, myself included, have posts eliminated for, what we deem, "no good reason". I don't know whats happening.

      • Sandy says:

        I tell ya Jerilee I think a new employee is sitting in the admin chair & hitting that delete button in error. Its not our computers...
        Hopefully they'll get it fixed soon.

        • Jerilee says:

          Well, Sandy, I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest his finger be removed, or the delete button should be removed, take your pick. I'm a nurse so I can care for the finger, as for the computer...I'll leve lhat for the Geek Squad!!!! LOL!

    • Jerilee says:

      I just went to the star commentary thread, no posts for 10 hours!! Fashionable finalist is still active, I just posted. All I can say is keep trying!!!