One-on-One with the Latest Star Contestant to Go Home

by in Interviews, July 28, 2013

Stacey, Russell and Nikki - Food Network Season 9Every Sunday, Bobby, Giada and Alton take on the difficult task of eliminating one finalist in the quest to help guide fans to vote for Food Network's next sensation. And this is no easy task. Check back here every week to read Star Talk's exclusive exit interview with the latest Star hopeful to leave Food Star Kitchen.

If you missed the show and recorded it, don't read any further — Star Talk is about to chat with the latest finalist to go home.

Although the mentors appreciated Nikki Dinki's commitment to her vegetable-based culinary point of view, they were forced to let her go because she failed to convince them of her authority over food after more than two months in the contest.

Do you think she deserved to go home? Tell Star Talk in the comments below.

The mentors and focus groups agreed that your "meat on the side" point of view is smart and watchable. Have you always been a "semi-vegetarian?" What led to your eating like this?

ND: Veggies were the first food group that I tackled on my path from picky eater to who I am today. Meat came up much later in the journey, so I have always thought of veggies first and meat second. I've realized since I came up with the concept how timely "meat on the side" is. We are all learning that we should be eating less meat, and with more people embracing Meatless Mondays, I think a "meat on the side" show would really offer new ideas for vegetarian meals, along with presenting a more balanced plate.

You seemed to fluctuate between extremely strong performances and mediocre showings. What do you think accounted for the discrepancies?

ND: Each challenge is so different, and in the moment, it's difficult to always make the right choices. In the beginning, I let myself get so intimidated by the other chefs and the overall experience that I really forgot what a strong, confident woman I am in the real world. When I got that confidence back midway through the season, my performances improved greatly, but more importantly, I think the audience saw the real me.

Alton told you in your final evaluation that "your ability with food greatly outstretches your ability to explain what you're doing." Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

ND: Just like Rodney and Chad, I'm not a trained chef, so I have learned by experimenting, tasting and doing my own research. I might not be as scientific about food as Alton (I'm not sure anyone is!), but I have the extensive knowledge and experience to teach people. I am creative and able to develop complex flavors in ways that are simple and approachable for home cooks. My at-home education allows me to really connect with the viewer, by providing useful techniques and practical advice.

Did you become particularly close with any of the other finalists during filming, and if so, who? Any funny behind-the-scenes stories you can tell?

ND: I became really close with the other finalists; they were my supporters, confidants and family during our time together. Rodney would help me to relax when I couldn't stop worrying about the competition, Chad always offered great advice, Damaris and Stacey are two of the sweetest people I know and always knew just the right things to say. Combine all those things with the all-out fun we had together, especially when Damaris would do a signature dance for us, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Giada and BobbyWhat was your favorite moment of the competition?

ND: When Giada clapped for me at the end of my presentation during Episode 7 at the auction. I finally felt like myself again, and to have her so excited over what I did, I knew I nailed it and was on the right path. I realized in that moment that I could win this.

Who do you think is the most intimidating judge/mentor?

ND: Alton. He knows his stuff, and he's never afraid to challenge you.

What are you up to these days, and what are you most looking forward to in the future?

ND: I will have my own show one day — just to be clear. In the meantime, cooking is one of those skills that needs to be constantly refined and polished, so I was thrilled to recently have the time to spend more than 100 hours in culinary courses here in New York City, focusing on new techniques and diverse cuisines. Those courses and my constant experimenting at home have helped me grow as a cook and, most importantly, given me the unwavering confidence to stand up against any chef.

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Comments (1,315)

  1. callie O says:

    I loved Nikki and think she should have won!!! I feel that she has a great concept and a great personality. I will follow her on her blog and look forward to where she goes from here! Don't give up Nikki you are awesome!!!

  2. LEA says:

    You sent Nikki home??? sent home the next Food Network Star!!...what were you thinking???

  3. Mary Susan Nickerson says:

    I thought Nikki's point of view was the most enduring because of its emphasis on "meat on the side." (Pie Guy was just a Sandwich King" knock off, and Russell's adding "guilt" to food makes no sense.) If Food Network can't find a use for Nikki, perhaps Food Channel can. Kelsey, who lost to "Big Daddy, and Jeffrey, who lost to Melissa d'Arabian, both have shows on that channel. In addition, both have done guest spots on Food Network channel and in Food Network magazine.
    Nikki's oh-so-relevant POV really needs a forum.

  4. lizia says:

    Nicki has a new fan! :)

  5. Nora Barnacle says:

    As I've posted elsewhere:
    I think these judges need to recalibrate their talent-detectors. A FNS's POV has to prick ears as a concept, NOT only because it’s clever, unique, or catchy, but because it’s a sound byte offering something people have been looking for. What do people *really* want help with, or inspiration from, in the kitchen? Tips on how to infuse this or that with bacon or bourbon? Nah. Nikki’s show would have appealed to such a broad audience–vegetarians and omnivores alike. And her POV is perfect for the current moment: Documentaries like “Forks Over Knives” and “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” have been turning people’s heads toward healthful eating, doctors in New York are *prescribing* vegetables to their patients, and the “obesity epidemic” is a hot topic of heated political debate. My friends in the food industry in Chicago, from restaurant owners to “supper-club” organizers to personal chefs, talk constantly about how more clients increasingly seek not necessarily vegetarian, but healthiER, options–i.e., they still want their bacon-wrapped scallops, but they want a heaping plate of something healthy AND delectable next to it. Nikki’s show would have attracted these hordes of newly-minted healthful eaters–”foodies” who don’t want to go on a raw vegan diet just yet (or ever), but want to begin cutting down their intake of animal products and find new ways to cook satisfying, imaginative home meals using whole and plant-based foods. I can’t tell you how many of my friends can whip up an amazing batch of honey-bourbon fried chicken, but still think a vegetable dish is just veggies sauteed in butter. Zzzzzzz.
    None of this is to cast a negative light on Damaris. She’s charming, relatable, and a skilled teacher, and FN has a glaring vacancy that's perfect for her to fill. I just think Nikki's show would have been such a refreshing addition to the FN schedule. Sigh.

  6. Helen says:

    Dear FoodNetwork - I hope you choose to use your resources to bring Nikki to television. Her POV is very relevant. As a middle aged working wife and mom, I struggle with trying to design meals with less meat that would still appeal to my family. How can I reduce meat in a meal and still have it filling - more carbs? more beans? I think you can give Nikki lots of support (she wasn't bad at all), so she can come back in a year or so! I think motherhood will only enhance her POV and her appeal to FoodNetwork audiences.

  7. Linda says:

    I loved Nikki's Idea, It has inspired me, and have been losing weight since I have been following her recipes. If Nikki Dinki was on Food Network I would watch her Everyday. I watch her on the internet everyday. And I love food network so I would love to see her join the network eventually. She is fun to watch and her recipes are delicious and healthy, that is what the nation needs.

  8. Carrie says:

    Nikki - You've got fans here. I just found your website and already have my eye on your recipes. I'm excited about the pomegranate dip. You won in our house. Keep going lady. You are a star.

  9. Ginger C says:

    I love Nikki and was sad to see her go! FN needs a cooking show that centers on veggies! As a vegan, I hardly ever watch FN because there is no one who comes close to my food POV. I was rooting for Nikki for that reason. (And she was so personable and cheery!)