All Posts By Maria Russo

Maria Russo is an editor at Food Network, now living in New York City after being born and raised in the great state of Michigan. She likes her eggs runny, her pasta cheesy and has been known to throw back dozens of oysters at a time.

New Photos: Go Behind the Scenes of Food Network Star, Season 11

by in Behind the Scenes, Food Network Star, June 23, 2015

Food Network StarAn action-packed episode complete with two trendsetting challenges and a duo of special guests judges, Sunny Anderson and Geoffrey Zakarian, this past Sunday's episode saw no shortage of tense moments for the finalists — or slimy, stinky and incendiary flavors, as far as the dinner party dishes were concerned. But no matter the finalists' nerves or the Committee's task of sending home another rival, most on set managed to crack a few smiles between takes. In keeping with the episode's trend of taking photos, Sunny and Geoffrey posed for a quick shot behind the scenes — though it likely wasn't posted on social media.

Keep reading below for more insider snapshots.

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One-on-One with the Latest Food Network Star Finalist to Go Home

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, June 21, 2015

Food Network StarIt's the nature of the Food Network Star beast that even though no matter how badly finalists want to achieve their dreams of stardom, ultimately only one can win the coveted title, and with that, 11 finalists will be going home. Every week Star Talk will bring you the first exclusive interview with the most-recently eliminated finalist. From thoughts on mentors' critiques to reflections on past challenges and hopes for the future, be sure to check back every Sunday night for the latest one-on-one chat. We're about to break down the ins and outs of tonight's new episode and reveal who went home, so if you've yet to watch the show, read no further until then.

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Caption It: Right Here, Right Now

by in Food Network Star, June 19, 2015

Food Network StarIt's the nature of the Food Network Star beast for some finalists to leave the competition as quickly as they entered it. After all, there's only a few short weeks between the premiere and the finale, which means that Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis have but a short window of time to not only mentor the hopefuls' budding Star power but also prime them for their would-be job of Food Network Star.

This Sunday's episode marks the third week of the contest, and while the competition was surely fierce in the beginning, it's even steeper now. The time for nerves and self-constraints has ended; to prove their readiness for Stardom, rivals ought to not hold back from here on out, as the mentors will be watching and expecting only excellence.

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From the Chopping Block to the Dinner Party: Geoffrey Zakarian Previews His Star Appearance

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, Judges, June 18, 2015

Geoffrey ZakarianWhen it comes to judging chef competitors, few others do it as well — or as frequently — as the Chopped panel, including Geoffrey Zakarian, which means that the remaining 10 rivals are in for a world of surprise when he shows up to judge this Sunday night. From the time constraints to the pressures to please, he's familiar with the issues affecting the finalists, and he's no stranger to doling out constructive criticism in an effort to help them better their performances. Come Sunday, he and Sunny Anderson, one of his fellow co-hosts on The Kitchen, will be on hand to attend a dinner party thrown by the competitors; ultimately Geoffrey, Sunny, and mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis will evaluate who has the Star potential to go the distance in the business.

Recently Star Talk caught up with Geoffrey to find out what he'll be looking for in Star hopefuls this weekend. Read on below for his insider take, and find out what he believes to be one of the best pieces of advice he's ever received.

When you meet them, the finalists will be only three weeks into this journey. What are you hoping to see in them?
Geoffrey Zakarian: Well, I always try to see if they have real fire. How disappointed they get from setbacks — this says a lot.

Giada has said that she focuses on molding finalists' personalities, while Bobby's all about their cooking chops. Do you think one piece of the puzzle is more important in this competition: the camera presence versus the food?
GZ: As a chef, I think food is foremost. But you need to learn to understand the camera and the power it has.

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What Does It Take to Impress Alex Guarnaschelli? The Judge’s First Impressions, Plus Lessons Learned

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, Judges, June 17, 2015

From mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis to guest judges Melissa d'Arabian and Alex Guarnaschelli, the competition was brimming with superstardom this weekend as the finalists endured two rounds of challenges: one to turn leftovers into family dinners and another to bake up savory sweets. Alex was on hand during the Star Challenge's baking task, and in true Chopped judge fashion, she doled out constructive criticism to the 11 remaining rivals and ultimately deliberated with Bobby and Giada about who should go home.

Star Talk recently caught up with Alex to get the dish on her experience both in the judge's seat and in the arena as a contestant. Read on below for an exclusive interview, then click the play button above to get her take on the finalists' best baked offerings.

Not only have you judged competitions before, but you've also competed on Chopped All-Stars, The Next Iron Chef and Cutthroat Kitchen, among other shows. Do those experiences affect the way you look at the finalists who are going through this journey for the first time?
Alex Guarnaschelli: Of course. It’s just like being a chef in a restaurant. If you’ve been a busboy and a dishwasher and a cook and a sous chef, then when you’re the chef, you have empathy and understanding of each part that’s played to make something successful. The same is true in a competition show. I’ve competed, I’ve judged, I’ve watched, I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve won, I’ve lost. When someone walks in front of me and starts cooking, I know already how this is going to go.

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One-on-One with the Latest Food Network Star Finalist to Go Home

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, June 14, 2015

Food Network StarIt's the nature of the Food Network Star beast that even though no matter how badly finalists want to achieve their dreams of stardom, ultimately only one can win the coveted title, and with that, 11 finalists will be going home. Every week Star Talk will bring you the first exclusive interview with the most-recently eliminated finalist. From thoughts on mentors' critiques to reflections on past challenges and hopes for the future, be sure to check back every Sunday night for the latest one-on-one chat. We're about to break down the ins and outs of tonight's new episode and reveal who went home, so if you've yet to watch the show, read no further until then.

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Caption It: Reactions Speak Louder Than Words

by in Food Network Star, June 12, 2015

Food Network StarIf the premiere was all about first impressions, then this Sunday's Episode 2 is set to show which finalists have the chops to go the distance in this competition and who, perhaps, was simply gifted a bit of beginner's luck last week. Not only will the contestants have to impress judge-mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis in two tougher-than-ever challenges on Sunday, but they'll also come face to face with two other superstars — Melissa d'Arabian and Alex Guarnaschelli — both of whom know all too well what it takes to succeed in a culinary competition.

Melissa's the Season 5 Star winner, so she's uniquely aware of the anxieties and pressures affecting the finalists right now; it's up to her to not only judge them but also offer the finalists been-there-done-that words of wisdom that only a fellow Star rival would understand. Alex, too, knows the best bets for finalists hoping to wow a judge — after all, she is a frequent judge on Chopped and a notoriously no-nonsense one at that.

Check out the sneak-peek photo above to get the first look at Sunday's all-new episode. While Rue, Sita and Jay look somewhat pleased at what's going down before them, Emilia appears downright shocked and Matthew looks on with a blank stare. What do you think they're reacting to?

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A Star Returns: Melissa Previews Sunday’s New Episode As a Guest Judge

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, June 11, 2015

Melissa d'ArabianFor the remaining 11 finalists vying for StardomGuy Fieri, Melissa d'Arabian and Jeff Mauro are proof that it is indeed possible to graduate from the group of Star hopefuls to the ranks of superstardom on television. On Sunday's all-new episode, the competitors will receive the shock of a lifetime when they see one of these been-there-done-that survivors return to Food Star Kitchen. Melissa, the Season 5 winner, will enter the arena not as a hopeful, of course, but as a guest judge and Committee member who's all too aware of what the rivals are experiencing on their journey to Star glory.

Star Talk caught up with Melissa recently to get the dish on her upcoming appearance, and she spoke of her feelings for the finalists. "I feel nervous for them because I know how nervous I was. And I know how much you want it," she explained. Keep reading below to hear more from Melissa in an exclusive interview, then tune in on Sunday to see what she thinks of the Season 11 contestants.

Will you judge the competitors differently having been in the competition before?
Melissa d'Arabian: Absolutely! I think that it should be a requirement that before you can judge anybody else cooking under these circumstances, that you do it once or twice, because it’s hard, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s at play.

Do you sympathize with what the finalists are going through, or do you believe that if you survived it, then they can too?
MdA: I really feel for them. I feel nervous for them because I know how nervous I was. And I know how much you want it. I remember that moment of anticipation where the guest walks out and you’re waiting to see who it is and if you relate, and what you think, you know. It’s all as clear as day to me. I remember that emotional feeling. I remember it all. And, yeah, I get it. I feel very much. I feel very deeply for these contestants — very much.

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Fan-Favorite Finalists: Who’s Your Pick?

by in Community, Food Network Star, June 11, 2015
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Fan-Favorite Finalists: Who's Your Pick?Not only was Sunday's episode all about each finalist's first chance to impress the Selection Committee, but it was also their first opportunity to wow, you, the fans, who are watching the journey unfold. From their initial struts into Food Star Kitchen to their final moments at evaluation, the premiere allowed you to see the competitors as they are under pressure — both at the stove and away from it — and learn a bit more about their all-important culinary POVs.

Each week it's up to you fans to decide which of the rivals is your favorite and who you think is worthy of topping the fan vote. As it stands right now post-premiere, Christina, the finalist who faced week 1 elimination, is holding the lead with 20 percent of the votes, while Matthew and Emilia, both of whom had only OK showings on Sunday, are following closely behind with 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

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WATCH: What Were the Judges Thinking? The Network Speaks Out

by in Food Network Star, Videos, June 10, 2015
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The first days in a new setting are all about making (hopefully positive) first impressions, and the Food Network Star competition is no exception. This week the 12 hopeful finalists arrived in Los Angeles for the job opportunity of a lifetime; not only did they have to get to know each other — their rivals vying for the same title — but they were also introduced to mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson, as well as the entertainment industry as a whole, represented by People Magazine's JD Heyman.

Star Talk was on set at Triunfo Creek Vineyards as the competitors showed off their 30-second pitch videos to the Selection Committee and presented the panel with first-ever bites of their food. We caught up with Bob and Susie after these initial on-camera and on-the-plate introductions to get their first reactions to this year's crop of talent. Click the play button on the video above to hear what they had to say.

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