All Posts By Melissa d’Arabian

Winner-to-Winner: Melissa’s Insight

by in Food Network Star, August 18, 2011

Jeff Mauro's winning moment

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. You can catch new episodes of her show, Ten Dollar Dinners on Sunday mornings at 9am/8c. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

Congratulations, Jeff, on the big win!

I’ve spent the past couple of months sharing some of my BTDT (been there done that) advice with the finalists.  Last week, I talked about the art of losing.

Now, for the winner, here are some insights I’d like to share about your new world:

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Melissa’s Insight: The Art of Losing

by in Food Network Star, August 11, 2011

Mary Beth and Jeff

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. You can catch new episodes of her show, Ten Dollar Dinners on Sunday mornings at 9am/8c. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

Today I’m dedicating my blog to losing. Yes, losing. Next week at this time, we will be focused on who won, so now’s our chance to talk about not winning. Believe me, I’ve earned the air I breathe around this subject. While I did win my season of Star, I know what it’s like to watch someone else get something I wanted so badly, something I believed was my destiny. I’ve had to step aside with a graceful smile and applaud the victories of others. And I’ve replayed events over and over in my mind, wondering if there was a key moment where I lost and, more importantly, what could I have done to avoid it.

I’ve learned more by losing than by winning. When I lose, I try to nurse my hurt ego for a short time and then set it aside. Only then can I see losing as the valuable feedback it is. I evaluate and adjust course. In my experience, losing is a speed bump on the way to winning.

I believe that any given moment, I am right where I am supposed to be, good or bad. If it weren’t uncomfortable, then where would I find the motivation to try something different? Besides, discomfort tells me that life is in session. And that’s a good problem to have.

Here are some truths that have become apparent to me, through the gift of losing:

You are always auditioning for life, never just for the job. Think how many people have lost out on the prize in front of them only to go on to succeed in ways unimaginable. Do you think Jennifer Hudson imagined winning an Oscar when she was sent home from American Idol? My advice: When you lose, impress anyway. Be graceful. Be so good that people can’t imagine not calling you when they are looking for someone with your skill set. Mary Beth may not be the best cook Food Network has seen, but I will be very surprised if she ever has to seek work again as a writer. She’s great at that, and she showed what a class act she is. (Her parting words, “A lot of people don’t ever find their passion; how could I be anything but grateful?” show exactly why she will be successful.)

Penny Davidi

Make people want to pick you first for the big dodge ball game of life. Which makes Penny’s decision to phone in her work this week such a crime — not against Mary Beth because I think she would have been edged out anyway — but Penny robbed herself of the opportunity to turn it all around. Imagine if she had just knocked herself out for her teammate? What could have come from that? We’ll never know, and sadly neither will she.

Your life mission is not becoming a Food Network Star, even if it feels that way. You weekly readers know how I feel about having a personal life mission — it’s critical. Indeed, knowing what small mark I want to leave on the world gets me up in the morning. Here is the secret: If a life mission is about winning a contest (or job or any achievement), then consider the possibility that you aren’t thinking big enough for your life’s mission. As much as I wanted to win FNS (a lot), and as much as I knew why I wanted to win (to pursue my life’s mission), I also knew that my life’s mission could be served without winning. Making the mark is more important than doing it exactly the way I imagined. My life’s mission is helped along by my TV career, certainly, but my TV career is not the mission itself. Means versus ends.

Making peace with not winning is actually pretty simple. Know why you are playing (meaning know your life mission), play a game you can win (for instance, no one can bring Susie’s family recipes to life like she can), put in the work to win that game (no shortcuts), and then let the results fall where they may, accepting you are right where you are supposed to be at the end of it, win or lose.

Lastly, I remember the Olympic creed, which states that the most important thing is not to win but to take part — just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.

Good luck Vic, Susie and Jeff. Winning the FNS finale is not as important as what it took to get there, nor as important as where you will go after. Whoever wins, though, call me, and we’ll chat about winning, and your new life. Because it’s all about to change.

See what Melissa’s cooking up on Ten Dollar Dinners, check out her Facebook Fan Page and follow her on Twitter (@melissadarabian).

Melissa’s Insight: Listen to Those Judges!

by in Food Network Star, August 4, 2011
Jeff Mauro
Jeff did well in one of Melissa's favorite challenges: The Best Thing I Ever Ate.

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. You can catch new episodes of her show, Ten Dollar Dinners on Sunday mornings at 9am/8c. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

This week, I’m extra excited for the episode: It’s a Best Thing I Ever Ate (love that show!) challenge and then a finalist roast with top comedians. Before I move onto the episode, I thought I would share a couple of (random) fun facts, since I’m feeling like we are now friends.

1. Whenever I see The Best Thing I Ever Ate, I think of the time my husband and I ate what seemed like a gazillion spoonfuls of spicy aioli on camera at 7 a.m. in order to illustrate how delish the sauce was in a fried calamari dish for the appetizer Best Thing episode. Nothing says “good morning” like a belly full of mayonnaise and fried seafood.

2. Speaking of roasts, little-known fact about me: Years ago, before kids, I was a full-fledged member of the Friars Club. And you thought I could just make a mean potato-bacon torte!

Back to FNS: A few weeks ago on my blog I imagined sitting down with each of the finalists to give them some been-there-done-that advice. Today, I’m going to highlight some advice or words from the judges that jumped out at me as being the important gems of the episode. (You are all welcome to agree, disagree, discuss, right here in the comments.)

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Melissa’s Insight: Old and New Faves

by in Food Network Star, July 28, 2011

Jyll Everman

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. You can catch new episodes of her show, Ten Dollar Dinners on Sunday mornings at 9am/8c. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

Jyll, one of my early faves, left this week. As much as I loved her, I understand the judges’ decision. Instead of letting her increasing time in front of the camera translate into a genuine, relaxed presentation, Jyll’s personality started feeling a little superficial or slick, as if only half her mind were actually in front of the camera, while the other half were trying to direct her own performance. The result felt a bit detached and disingenuous, despite her sincere intentions. It’s a shame.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Six remaining finalists head to NYC and into the Food Network kitchens. The first time I ever walked in, I felt starstruck, eyeing the gleaming commercial-grade appliances, and flashing back to the many times I’d seen Bobby Flay and Miriam and Stephanie (his assistants) develop recipes for Throwdown. It took me down memory lane to watch the finalists share that moment of awe too. I cooked for Ina during my season also, and I loved the Cupcake Challenge this season. I was pleasantly surprised that no one had cupcake recipe issues (where has this baking know-how been all season?). Except for Jeff, who seems as if he didn’t really even attempt a true cupcake (to his detriment).

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Melissa Answers Your Star Questions and More

by in Food Network Star, July 21, 2011
Melissa d'Arabian, Bob Tuschman and Michael Symon
Earlier this season, Melissa relived her Star memories as a guest judge.

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. You can catch new episodes of her show, Ten Dollar Dinners on Sunday mornings at 9am/8c. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

Was that a collective sigh of relief I heard? With surprisingly little fanfare or drama, Penny was eliminated, and along with her, Chris went home. I’ll be honest: I would have been floored if either of them won. I wasn’t entirely surprised Sunday night.

So I’ll jump right into your questions. First, a few of you worried that it was unfair to compare Jeffrey and Orchid because he made it further in the competition. Fair enough. They both were the front-runners at the start, and both had judges complaining that they didn’t progress as time went on in the competition. But to be clear, I’m a fan of both Jeffrey and Orchid. They were solid contenders, and fantastic chefs (I know — I’ve eaten their food). And despite not ultimately winning, both are talented and savvy enough to create amazing opportunities.

FancyTX asked if we really cook under the time constraints given and if we have help. We really do it in the times you see, and we do it all without recipes. Which explains why sometimes you’ll see some misfires. It’s incredibly stressful but, honestly, very exciting, too. Trusting your hands and ingredients is amazing — feeling and tasting your way through a completely new recipe is an incredibly creative and satisfying endeavor. I have rarely gotten lost in my work as much as I did while cooking on Food Network Star.

Melissa d'Arabian, Season 5
A reader asked Melissa how accurate the editing was during her season, pictured here.

Wayne wondered how accurate the editing was my season. And the answer is: incredibly accurate, given the challenges of boiling down hundreds of hours of footage into a one-hour show. Yes, plenty is left out, by necessity. But I did not find that stories were “created.”

Saluki pointed out a pan-network problem with making good risotto in televised cooking competitions. I couldn’t agree more — see my post from a few weeks ago. So, let’s add risotto to potato gratin on the “do not make” list for future contestants. It’s just too time-sensitive (which is why a good risotto is so expensive at a restaurant). While we are on topic, let’s go ahead and add panna cotta and any flans or custards that need to set just right.

Ncexnyc asked if I had any lessons learned to share about balancing family life with my four daughters and my career on Food Network. First, working parents across America are doing this every day, so I’m comforted in knowing I’m in good company. Second, I’ve learned to compartmentalize: When I’m working, I shut the door (or get on a plane) and focus completely on work. When I’m with the kids, I put work on hold, close up the email and give them my complete attention. Parenting and working simultaneously makes me feel like I don’t do a good job at either. And that feels awful and stressful. Third, I married a spouse who is in my corner as much as I am (and I’m in his). I may be the one you see on camera, but from where I sit, getting my show out is a team effort.

Melissa d'Arabian on Ten Dollar Dinners
Melissa on the set of Ten Dollar Dinners.

Katrinka asked about how ingredients are priced on Ten Dollar Dinners and if pantry ingredients are freebies in the calculation. I follow standard convention and count the quantity used in the recipe. For instance, if I use two cups of flour, I count the cost of those two cups; not the whole five-pound bag. So even “pantry items” costs are included. The only freebies on Ten Dollar Dinners are salt and pepper. Pantry items are money savers because you use them often, so you minimize risk of waste, but they are not free.

Diane asked if we might spend a little more money than 10 bucks on, say, a special holiday meal. Well, Diane, it’s a little soon for me to be promoting my holiday episode of Ten Dollar Dinners, but since you ask — stay tuned for a fun budget twist in December!

And finally, Shoebox wanted to know if I write these blog entries myself, or if someone else does it for me. It’s just me. And in fact, my husband is out of town this week so I don’t even have him to review my writing before submitting. So don’t blame him this time around.

See what Melissa’s cooking up on Ten Dollar Dinners, check out her Facebook Fan Page and follow her on Twitter (@melissadarabian).

Melissa’s Take On Orchid

by in Food Network Star, July 14, 2011

Melissa d'Arabian

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. You can catch new episodes of her show, Ten Dollar Dinners on Sunday mornings at 9am/8c. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

Oh, Orchid. Last time I felt this way Pia Toscano was singing over credits without a shot at the judges’ save. Here is why I am so blue: I think Orchid really could have won and she just got in her own way. I hesitate to write that because I imagine her reading this, kicking herself instead of making peace with the outcome. Not that I presume the finalists are at home clinging to every word I write, but I also know that the ability to Google one’s own name and get actual results beyond a random high school swimming score is a temptation that is too strong to abandon for at least a few months. So I’ll go out on a limb and guess that Orchid is reading this.

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Melissa’s Insight: Keeping It Real

by in Food Network Star, July 7, 2011
Guy Fieri
To celebrate the 4th of July, the finalists faced Guy Fieri and live demos, which Melissa tells us are much harder than they look.

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. You can catch new episodes of her show, Ten Dollar Dinners on Sunday mornings at 9am/8c. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

Week five and Guy Fieri: First, live demos for the finalists are on the agenda, and this is a biggie, because they are much, much harder than they look. And, interestingly, a theme of the week emerges: authenticity. Some finalists rise to the occasion and share themselves organically: witty Whitney (who knew? hooray!), off-the-cuff Mary Beth (“I’m here all week … maybe not!”), charming Susie (thumb story a true gem), hilarious Jeff (despite my initial silent “ugh”), and tender Vic, who somehow managed to use that wig as a meaningful prop.

Some fall a little flatter. Penny tries too hard to pull off a crowd maneuver best left only to the Julie McCoys of this world, Jyll comes off as “eternally perky” according to Susie Fogelson, and Chris makes me squirm with Guy-isms. (I love Guy, but we have Guy.)

Being authentic and live demos: Let’s dive in.

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Melissa’s Finalist Pep Talks

by in Food Network Star, June 30, 2011
Melissa d’Arabian, Michael Symon, Bob Tuschman
Melissa judged this week’s Kellogg’s challenge with Iron Chef Michael Symon and Bob Tuschman.

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. Her show, Ten Dollar Dinners, premieres its fifth season this Sunday, July 3. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

I’d love to sit down with each finalist and chat.

Orchid — I adore you. Code blue: brilliant. I’m going to try it on my four little daughters. Regarding the episode, I understand being starstruck. I felt that way many times during my season, and I have some wise words to share: Get over it. I’m (kind of) kidding. I still pinch myself when I look at the names on my phone’s speed dial.

Jyll — Your crab cakes were seriously delish, but I’m disappointed that you served something cliché to vegetarians: a salad. You missed an opportunity to serve something surprising or original. I had a similar missed opportunity during my season (Miami Beach Challenge), and to this day, I can still tell you what I would have made (spicy pecans) instead of what I did serve (awful chicken skewers). Mark Twain is right about regretting the things we didn’t do.

Justin D. — I thought the black bean with jalapeno was pretty tasty. I will not lie to you — I was alone. But I thought you should know. Oh, and can we call you just Justin without the D. now? I’ve confused that D and B more times than my 4-year-old daughter learning to read.

Chris — Let’s start off by bringing up the obvious question: Did you really say something was “whack” on national TV? Regarding your menu choice: Lamb shank that you usually spend 24 hours making in only 3 hours? Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Don’t choose recipes that have an 80 percent chance of failure before you even begin. Unless you happen to be …

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Melissa’s Insight: Four Rules for Finalists

by in Food Network Star, Recap, June 23, 2011
Vic Vegas
Melissa's advice: Take a cue from Vic and sell the heck out of your food.

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. Her show, Ten Dollar Dinners, premieres its fifth season on July 3. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

Next week, Melissa is live-chatting on Facebook on Monday afternoon! Join in at 1pm EST with your questions and comments.

Week three: I’m getting to know the finalists, and I’m emotionally invested. I crack up when Jeff talks about his mojo-in-sweat theory; I cringe at Chris “making the ice cream … oh yeahhhhhhhhhhhhh”; I brace for impact when Alicia announces that the “only thing” she is worried about is her cupcake recipe (uh oh); and I want to hang out with Susie over coffee and tell her how much I love her sleek hairdo. I have some early favorites: Jyll and Orchid. And I am dying to jump through the screen and tell Whitney and Justin B. to get out of their own way; this competition might be theirs to lose if they could only find a way to bring their genuine selves, however imperfect, to the audience.

This week’s BTDT insights for the finalists:

You eat with your ears first, not your eyes.
Make it sound good. What you name your dish counts, and how you talk about your food matters since your audience cannot taste it. A corollary: Don’t be a walking apology for a dish. Serve it and own it completely. Or leave it in the kitchen — there is no in-between. And a tip: Never, ever use the word “just” to describe food to Bobby Flay. It will drive him bananas, trust me. Justin B. starts off calling the orange fennel ice cream “just an anglaise base,” and Whitney is similarly tepid in her description of a brownie (although in all fairness, she was right — it was indeed “just” a brownie, which is not a good thing at all). Take a cue from Vic: He sells the heck out of his tequila lime cream puff with his culinary authority, no pitch needed.

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Melissa’s Words of Wisdom: Play Nice

by in Food Network Star, June 16, 2011

Food Network Star finalist Penny Davidi

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. Her show, Ten Dollar Dinners, premieres its fifth season on July 3. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

Week two is when I remember unpacking (literally and figuratively) during my season. I settled into the routine, and my place in the competition. This week, Susie embraces her Mexican heritage, Alicia is positively delightful with her truffle story, Mary Beth shows her warm personality and Penny takes a break from telling us she’s sexy. (Side note: There are some things in life I believe you should never announce about yourself; never tell others you are funny; never call yourself a “people person” in an interview. Show, don’t tell.)

Anyway, I like Penny’s new Middle Eastern mama angle and she wins the camera challenge. I settle into my couch, hopeful that this is a fresh start for a finalist who, I’ll be honest, didn’t impress me in episode one.

Hopes dashed.

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