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?

Similar Posts

A Letter to Lenny, from the Rebel

Dear Lenny, Out of all the seasons of Food Network Star, I can think of only one other winner who has a personality as big as yours. Congratulations a...

Comments (572)

  1. Hollywood says:

    Emily continues to interest me with her attractive, yet intriguing look. But she also knows and does food well. Like the first time I watched Giada, I thought she was gorgeous. Duh (still is)! Then I also realized that she knows and does food well. Looks only go so far. Food is first. Justin is cute and quirky... is it too much?

  2. [...] more: Aarti’s After Party: Fashionable Food This entry was posted in Food Network and tagged beautiful, cooking, emily, food, justin, made, [...]

  3. Sandy says:

    Bobbie Flay was really irked about Eric going home. It was all over his face. I think Susie wanted Ippy and she wins over Bob in those final choices. Flay said Eric could possibly be the best cook there but... Eric was just not getting the message across about his food. His greater emphasis was on the food he cooked, not the presentation of it. I thought he'd wind up going sooner or later but I didn't think it would be this soon.

    They'll probably be getting rid of Marti, Yvan, and Judson sooner than later. Noone will be hiding behind anybody's skills.

    I'm for that 50's gal Emily, that mad funny genius kid Justin, and Aloha Ippy!
    They're all unlike anyone I see on FN & thats refreshing for me!

    Yeah...maybe I wouldn't try any of their recipes but really...I don't think I'm the only one that just watches some of the FN shows for entertainment. I might watch DIY but I'm not dragging out a hammer and nail and building something.

  4. beachinfrizzy says:

    Poor Eric. He was so bummed out. I hope he doesn't beat himself up too much...he blamed it on being too ambitious in his cooking but that was his strong suit and why Bobby seemed so upset as well. He really did appear to be one of the most skilled, hard-working CHEFs in the competition. Just because he doesn't have a naturally effervescent personality doesn't mean he couldn't have continued to learn and grow in that regard with more on-camera practice (which they don't get unless they're about to be cut!) I do like Ippy, but in his final video he was staring down at the plate most of the time and nobody said a word about it. Like with Aarti two seasons ago, I think Bob and Susie are VERY interested in bringing someone of his background on board to fill a niche that's currently un-represented on FN and were more inclined to give him another chance. Plus Giada has a 'crush' on him...did you see that full-on, arms-around-the-waist embrace after Eric was let go? Geez!

    • Guest says:

      Eric should have stayed with "cooking from scratch' tonight. Instead he derailed and put his trust in an ingredient that he did not know and I think that was his only mistake: He is a great cook and should trust his gut feel. The judges asked him to talk about anything but food, so he talked about his childhood in the food commentary instead of combining the story with the assignment which was to describe the toasty.
      I really wish him well and hope FN will call him back for another program. Wish he wants to let us know if he got his job back!

      • beachinfrizzy says:

        You know I didn't think of that at the time but you're right...Eric would have been much better off if, when he couldn't find the right wrappers he was looking for, he just bought the ingredients and made his own (as we know he can do), then he could have incorporated his 'from scratch' POV into his presentation. Instead, he was grasping at straws with the rice paper which didn't hold up to deep frying, and got so far in the weeds just getting the dish done he had no time to think about his presentation (which is what he needed to focus on). His dish was attractive and tasted good, but because it wasn't in his 'handmade' wheelhouse, he basically had nothing to say. Same with the french toast thingy - he didn't make it, yeh it reminded him of something his mommy made when he was 6 but that wasn't enough. He should go on Iron Chef where you don't have to come up with heart tugging stories of dead relatives or how you've been homeless or discriminated against or any of the other sob stories Bob and Susie swoon over, in order to be successful.

  5. bill says:

    What does it say about the Food Network in general if they are willing to admit that they are kicking out the best chef of the competition this early? I don't care if someone has a loud and boisterous personality if I can't trust that they themselves can cook. The so-called sandwich king is a prime example of someone who I don't trust as a chef, so there is no point watching his show.

    How about getting someone with some cooking credibility and integrity for a change? Eric seemed like that kind of person. I think Bob needs to find a new job, his claim to fame of "discovering Giada" is a distant memory, and he's lost any credibility in determining who could and couldn't be a star on the Food Network.

    • @flitzy says:

      You can be the best chef in the world but if you don't captivate your audience so that they keep watching, then it means nothing.

  6. @sugarwalker says:

    Hated that Eric had to go home. Hoping that something good comes out of the exposure for him. If I had the money I'd hire him myself. He was a good chef with the desire to make dishes from scratch. Hey maybe they'll give him a show anyway called "Kitchen Scratch" where he teaches how to make restaurant dishes in your home. __Also loved the quick think on your feet save for his fish sticks.

    • beachinfrizzy says:

      Yes that was very frustrating that he got no credit for being able to improvise! First, for trying the rice paper wrappers when the ones he was looking for weren't there, and then, to come up with the beer batter fritters when the rice paper didn't work!

    • Guest says:

      I was so glad that he came up with a save and that Michelle had what he needed! I was biting my nails that he wouldn't have anything to plate. I really hope the best for him in the future.

    • Susanne Barrie says:

      I agree that Eric is good and I hope Bobby gives him a break... he just needed more time to build up his TV
      creeds... his food made me want MORE of Eric... there are several contestants that would NOT be the loss that Eric is to the competition... THE MAN CAN COOK!!! And he is ASIAN/AMERICAN... out of a Foodtruck, no accent... GIVE HIM A SHOW!!!!!!!

  7. terri Rube says:

    I think the show has its flaws, and they will send people home that we don't want to see go. But they still have plenty of talent on the show, and I'm hoping to see more great things from some of them. I was really suprised that Eric was sent home, but he really didn't have the tv personality that I like to see on tv. When I watch a cooking show, I want to see someone that I will watch all the time. Right now, in the early part of the show, I really don't see anyone with that great personality. I'm hoping they get better soon. I do agree that some of them, Marti, Yvan and a few others need to get off the show. But like I said before, Justin will be the one to beat right now.

    • Susanne Barrie says:

      I think it has been Martita from the beginning but Ellie and Justin have a chance... personality plus innovative tasty FOOD! Things I would want to eat... that simple...

  8. vince says:

    I think I ppy ddi a terriffic job and he is camera ready, hes has the personality that will bring people back to watch, and he is a very good chef his food looks very well planned and presented...

  9. Sandy says:

    And even IF Justin doesn't win, I think Alton would try to make room for him on his show Good Eats or on some other format. Alton clearly likes this kid. And so far, so do I.

    • scootersandi says:

      Sandy - I hope you're right about Justin being on the Network in some capacity. I'm voting for him every chance I get, but I see Martita is ahead (I won't watch her - too phony or ?) Justin is not like anyone we've ever seen - he's got new & different combinations of food that would be interesting to try. I rarely cook the same thing twice, since I want to try everything I see, so his type of "masterpieces" intrigue me (even more than Alton's!)

  10. guest says:

    I agree am so disappointed to see Eric go. He is probably the only one that I would actually watch and what were the producers thinking letting him go? i mean seriously I don't care if the others have a great personality but can't cook!!! I would never watch their show!!! Teach them how to be on TV but what's the point of their being on the show if they can't cook! I don't think Ippy or Eric should have been on the bottom tonight there are so many finalists who did a lot worse!