Aarti’s Finale After Party: Winner-to-Winner Advice

by in Food Network Star, July 26, 2012

Justin Warner's Winning MomentAarti 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 shared her insider’s take on what went down each week during season 8.

I’d like to talk to the three people who didn’t win this past Sunday. Michele, Yvan and Martie: You guys battled your hearts out and I know this must be a hard time for you. It might get even harder; after something as momentous as this competition, there’s an inevitable adrenaline crash. It might even creep up on you long after all the Star talk dies down. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find yourself struggling with a serious case of the mopes for a little bit. Months of emotions, self-reflection and physical/psychological exertion take their toll.

And know that this isn’t the end of the road by any means. Just look at the careers of Kelsey Nixon, Jeffrey Saad and Tom Pizzica, to name a few. This is the springboard, the beginning of something. One of my idols, Christiane Amanpour, talks about how strongly she believes in the power of mistakes, the power of “failure” to propel you, to teach you, to refine you. She said that our generation is afraid of making mistakes, and perhaps it’s because we are so obsessed with perfection. But no one learns from perfection, certainly not me. So take a break, be kind to yourself, and then go grab your horse, saddle her up and get back on. Your journey isn’t over yet, loves.

To Justin, CONGRATULATIONS! And welcome to the family! The network of Food Network Star winners is small but tight, so I think I can safely speak for all of us in saying that we’ve got your back should you need anything. You better get used to us hugging you like we’ve known you forever.

Actually, that brings me to the first of three (unsolicited) pieces of advice:

1) Enjoy the hugs
You better get used to everyone hugging you like they know you. One of the most rewarding parts of this job, for me at least, is the smile that spreads over someone’s face when they recognize me. At first, I got more out of those encounters than they did, I’m sure! I’d be shocked and on a high for a while, because let’s face it, it’s not so bad to be told how much you are loved. But then I started to realize that it does just as much for the hugger as for the huggee. I remember how happy I was when I met actor Ron Perlman at a coffee shop one day because I got to tell him how much I love his work, his voice, his everything — it put a skip in my step and changed my day. And even now, when I see him on screen I think, I met that guy, and I smile like a kid on Christmas morning.

So don’t ever get jaded about this part. Take the time to love on every fan, every person that gets up the guts to come up and say hi — even when you’re tired and annoyed and wondering whether you made the right decision (it happens to all of us). This is perhaps the best part of the job. You get to makes someone’s day. It’s both a gift and a responsibility. Just like Spider-Man.

2) Ignore the haters (mostly)
There’s a funny thing about human nature: We find it much easier to tear things down than to build them up. Maybe it’s a gravity thing.

You might find that there are some rather strong opinions out there about you, both negative and positive. And that’s a good thing. You want people who are incredibly loyal to you, and, sadly, that comes at a price: people who really aren’t into you. We’re a funny species, aren’t we? In any case, being polarizing is a great thing. You don’t want to engender a simple shrug of the shoulders; you want people to be galvanized by what you’re doing.

That said, try not to give the haters too much of your attention. When I won, my journalistic background kicked in, and I tried to listen to both sides and evaluate from there. But, being a people-pleaser, here’s the thing I found: One negative comment, even if it isn’t reasonable, will outweigh 20 positive ones. So it’s just best to ignore them altogether. Better still, have someone whom you trust sift through the word on the street for you. If there’s a reasonable criticism that surfaces over and over, then perhaps that’s something you need to work on, because none of us are perfect.

3) Write an essay
Or something. Before the craziness of flying every week and being pulled in 10 different directions sets in, be sure you know who you are, what’s important to you and what you want to accomplish. Be specific, be silly, dream HUGE and dream down to the last detail. Write it all out and tuck it away somewhere, then check in on that every few months. Susie Fogelson actually advised me to do something like that and when I stumbled upon the list a year later, I realized that I’d forgotten a lot of what I’d set out to do. It’s easy to get distracted from your goal. Stay as true to the real you as possible, polishing where necessary but not so much that you lose all your rough edges; those spiky bits are what make you YOU! Don’t be so afraid to lose this thing that you squeeze all the life out of it, and forget that your particular flavor is what people responded to in the first place.

And I suppose that’s it. Justin and I have already talked a little (told you that the Food Network Star fam is tight), but I can’t wait to actually hug him in person.

Oh, and thank you guys so much for reading this little blog every week. I hope that it’s been entertaining and perhaps, to potential Season 9 participants, informative. If you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen cooking but you can always find me on my Facebook and Twitter pages, and on my personal blog, aartipaarti.com.


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Comments (82)

  1. Katy says:

    Congratulations Justin!!!!! I was voting for you to win you are incredible and I cant wait to watch your show!!!!!

  2. charlene says:

    Loved the mentor approach. This really seemed to bring out the best in the contestants. Aarti, love your how. My 5 year old daughter loves to watch food network; and I love her to watch it. no violence, just people wanting to make other people happy through the universal language of love and food....

    • Marty says:

      I completely agree. The success of this season shows in the number of contestants that could legitimately host a FN show. There is just WAY more talent and potential than in any previous season of FNS.

  3. flourchild says:

    You did an awesome job and your advice for Justin could have only come from you, from a place of love and sincerity.

  4. pattistarz says:

    Well...altho the winner may cook to please some, I really wish Yvan would have won. Justin..annoys me, Yvan has a compassionate way about him, very humbling and loves to cook to share the love.

    • Priya says:

      I agree-I also wish Yvan had won.

    • AKFan says:

      Justin annoys me also...he gives me the creeps when I look at him. When I watch him I feel he is "robotic" and leaves me wanting for some kind of emotion. I really wished it had been Michelle or Yvan, they were more pleasant to watch and kept me very interested. I hope they both continue to do well in their careers!

    • Jimmy B says:

      I like Yvan, but I can't imagine him having a show. He's nice, and very passionate about his family, but i don't think his POV is interesting enough.

  5. rachel says:

    Great blogging, Aarti! Writing is clearly your strong suit. I like that Justin won, I'll watch him.

  6. Christine says:

    I think that any of the top four finalists could have their own cooking show. Justin was great, but so were the other three in the finals. I would like to see more new faces and less of Giada, Bobby Flay, Rachel Ray, and Paula Deen. Not they they are not good, but I'd like some variety.

  7. guest 7 says:

    Many Yvan viewers and supporters have verbalized, in their posts and elsewhere, their post-FN Next Star challenge observations that his early minimal camera exposure set him back in the numbers of popular votes, that he was the ONLY contestant that was NOT in the pitch room, and that his cooking chops, personality and hosting was superior. Hope the Network offers Chef Yvan a time slot to showcase his terrific talent and give viewers a treat of cooking and entertainment!

    • anne says:

      I agree. Yvan was my pick, but the exposure will , I'm sure, get him somewhere, if not on FN.

  8. Jimmy B says:

    Justin is the next BIG thing. He's funny, interesting, bold, cocky (in a good and bad way), smart about ingredients, (nerdy) and young. Justin has a lot of good qualities.

  9. Jack's Mama says:

    Congrats Justin!! So excited for you!! And thanks to Aarti for her insightful words :)

    Of course, I would have loved any of the 4 finalists to have gotten a shot because I think they all could have been amazing in their own ways, and I wouldn't be surprised if FN decided to give them a shot anyway (I'd watch them all!). . . but Justin has something so different that could really give FN a spark.

    And seriously folks-- you don't have to like him, but you just read Aarti's post about ignoring the haters, and some of you are just hating. Be happy for him, and for the others, who all have wonderful things to share with the world and who probably will have doors opened for them and will be back to share more with us.

    Peace :)

  10. Laurie says:

    Aarti, I have loved reading your blog all season. I was also super happy when you won (although I loved your runner-up as well) and I have been rooting for Justin all season.