All Posts In Behind the Scenes

About Last Night

by in Behind the Scenes, June 6, 2011
Food Network Star Judges My fellow judges agreeing with everything I say.

What did you think? Pretty good premiere, right? Let’s dive right in to the deep end and talk about my impressions of the finalists. Then, I want to hear yours. Let me warn you – I reveal last night’s eliminated finalist in this post. If you don’t want to know who went home, then you shouldn’t read.

Vic. His tattoos make him look tough, but there’s a sweetness to him that jumps off the screen. He’s likable and when Bobby commented that he makes you, “want to know more about him” – well, I couldn’t have said it any better.

Alicia. When we questioned her on her accent, we had no idea that she would take it the way she did. She sounded like a Valley Girl -- I didn’t think saying so was insulting. Were we wrong? And by the way, I was taken completely by surprise by the immense disdain between her and Penny – more to come there, later.

Orchid. Warm, engaging and the camera loves her. Her food was to die for. It may sound cliché, but I can’t wait to see how this orchid blossoms. I know – that was a bit cringe-worthy.

Whitney. I like her confidence. Camera loves her. She has a slight edge to her which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’ll see how it shakes out.

Jeff. Funny guy. Can be a bit over the top. Warm. Love the sandwich POV – accessible, everybody loves him (if he can bring something new to the game). Sandwich King? We’ll see.

Mary Beth. Food Writer + Former Attorney = Smart. Love that. But can she bring warmth and humor to the screen? Can the food writer be a food star? Jury is way out.

Chris. Loud and a bit “frat boyish.” He has a lot of work to do. Right now, I’m having trouble coming up with something more to say about him. That’s not good.

Susie. She’s a spitfire. Love her personality (and what a story). But I’m confused about by her POV. I need to see more of HER in it.

Katy. Boy am I confused. She wants to be a thousand things. This may work in her life, but not on TV. All those props illustrated the problem. I need a simpler, clearer, stronger POV and persona.

Justin D. Seems nice and smart, but so far hasn’t left a big impression.

The Other Justin. Memorable – for good and bad reasons. Anybody else thinking Avatar? Confident cook. There’s an expert, passionate guy there – but NOT on camera. Flat.

Juba. Such a likeable guy with an interesting POV – until he gets on camera. Like ‘The Other Justin,’ persona is not translating on camera. Lots of work needed here.

Penny. She’s a tough personality, but she cooks great food. I wouldn’t want to get caught in her cross-hairs (Alicia), but I could eat her food all day. Just stop with all that “sexy” talk.

Jyll. Something I really like here. Funny, down to earth, warm. But her promo? Ouch. Teleprompters are evil. I’m withholding judgment because overall I see promise.

Howie. I always feel bad for the first to go. I really thought his success in radio would have translated into an advantage to get him further. Oh well.

Where’s “The” and “Next?”

by in Behind the Scenes, June 2, 2011
Star Judge Bob Tuschman Bob Tuschman, General Manager, Food Network

It seems like only yesterday that we were launching this show called The Next Food Network Star. We premiered the show in the summer of 2005 and immediately you made it a success (you also made a few people big stars). Is it as hard for you to recall that Guy was once a competitor on this show as it is for me? It feels like he has always been a Food Network talent. But look at us today. Here we are on the cusp of season 7. We’ve dropped “The” and “Next” from our show title (Food Network Star is cleaner) and we’ve added more finalists (15 this year) along with new twists and turns to the show. (You’ll have to watch to find out what those are.)

What can you expect this season? Look for great food, tears, not-so-great-food, more tears and truly outrageous moments. Did I mention tears? This show is dramatic, but the most exciting season to date. Here’s a small glimpse of what’s to come. Also, starting Monday I’ll be blogging here weekly to give you my firsthand account of the previous night’s episode. I’ll share my honest opinions and I expect you to do the same. If you disagree with Susie, Bobby or myself (I expect you to disagree with them more than me), lay it on me.

Sunday night’s premiere (9pm/8c) is two hours and doesn’t disappoint. Check out our finalists then vote in our pre-season poll.

I’m excited to start another journey with you. Buckle up.

Keeping Up With the New Star

by in Behind the Scenes, Food Network Star, August 27, 2010

Aarti Sequeira

You followed her journey through all the Star challenges, marveling as she progressed from early insecurities to a few misses and many hits to a knock-out showing in the series finale.

Now Aarti's the latest and greatest addition to our Food Network Family, and her new show, Aarti Party, is gaining fans at lightning speed.

Keep up with future Aarti happenings over on our FN Dish blog, and follow her Facebook and Twitter updates, too.

Plus, check out videos of her latest recipes in the video section of her show page.

Finally, to all you fans and bloggers who made this such an awesome season, thank you. We couldn't be happier with our new Star, and we hope you love her as much as we do!

Looking for some spice? Share a favorite dish or two you'd love to see Aarti feature on her show.

More Reasons to Paarti: Happy Birthday, Star!

by in Behind the Scenes, August 19, 2010
Next Food Network Star Aarti Sequeira
Watch now as Aarti and her husband, Brendan, break into song for her 32nd birthday. Make a wish, Next Food Network Star!

What a whirlwind for Aarti Sequeira. Sunday was her Star win, followed by a busy week of appearances and interviews. And today Aarti celebrates her 32nd birthday. We caught up with her up in Studio B at Food Network's Chelsea HQ with her husband, Brendan, and raised a fluffy-flowered cupcake in her honor. Watch her hubby serenade her — so sweet. And yes, she shared the treat during the impromptu b-day "paarti." (You can also catch some cute pix of the couple and their family here.) Want to share your birthday wishes with Aarti? Leave comments and we'll share them with her, or check out her Facebook fan page.

How should Aarti celebrate her birthday?

In Aarti’s Own Words: Macarena, Anyone?

by in Behind the Scenes, Food Network Star, August 16, 2010

Next Food Network Star Aarti Sequeira

Where am I? What time is it? Who am I?

All these thoughts are running through my mind this morning.
Oh yeah.

I'M THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR!

I've never been able to do a cartwheel or else I'd do one right now. Would you take a round of the Macarena instead?

No?

Oh, ok.

To think, on day one, that I served raw chicken. Raw. To Bobby Flay. I remember thinking, I'm going home. I can't believe I'm going home already. My friends and family will be so disappointed in me.

Oh, and that budget-friendly, tastebud-unfriendly egg curry I served at the swanky Sinatra estate. I'm sure Frank was rolling his twinkly blues that night.

And of course, that monkey that sat on my back from day one, whispering, "You're no good. And it's only a matter of time before they figure it out." I know that it was frustrating for you guys to watch me collapse time and time again. I know, because it was beyond frustrating for me! I don't know why, but I never saw myself the way the committee, the house, or you guys saw me, even though I'd won more challenges than anyone else at the house. It wasn't until Bob Tuschman called me a "former frontrunner" in episode 5 that I realized who I was, or had been.

That's why this victory is so powerful, so meaningful. I can shove this metaphorical crown in that evil monkey's face (I think of the monkey from Family Guy gritting his teeth and pointing!): "See? I AM good!" This is proof to myself that I do have a purpose, that my life does have meaning. When I doubt my creativity, I'll remember that Turk-Eye Meatloaf or the Pomegranate-Glazed Lamb Kebabs that impressed the Obi-Wan of the cooking world, Chef Jonathan Waxman. When I doubt my energy or my strength, I'll remember sleeping four hours before prepping, cooking and serving on the cramped, smoky food truck for six hours ... or going straight from a long day at the supper club into a late-night evaluation. When I don't think my food is fancy enough or good enough for the most discerning taste buds, I'll remember how I killed it on the Iron Chef Challenge, how my culinary superhero, Chef Morimoto, loved my food. I mean, I did an Iron Chef battle, people. Not only did one. Won it (not against an Iron Chef, but... well, not YET!). How many people can say that?!

And so, to that monkey I say, "Adieu and thank you. I'm sure you had a purpose in my life, but I'm done with you now, and I never want to see you again." For any of you struggling with the same monkey, know that you don't have to carry him around forever. To my fellow contestants, especially my brothers from another mother, Tom and Herb: Thank you so much. To stand up there with you two was an honor and a blessing. I learned something from all of you, whether it was how to be strong in the face of adversity (Brianna), or how to coat your chicken wings in mustard to make them extra crispy (DAS!). Thank you to the selection committee for your patience with me, for all the therapy during evaluation (!), and for giving me another chance to lift my head up with pride. To all the producers, crew, culinary crew: we all saw how hard you guys worked even when you were more tired than we were. Thank you. And to you, out there in TV-terra: Your constant messages of support and encouragement were like a chorus of angels willing us forward. Thank you. And I hope you stay for the next chapter in this crazy story! And finally, I hope you'll allow me one final shout-out to God: Father, You know I'm nothing without You. Thank you so much! AMEN! Selah!

WOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOO!

Bonus Caption This: Coulda Been a Contenda

by in Behind the Scenes, August 12, 2010
Caption It: Next Food Network Fallen Stars?
Caption It: Next Food Network Fallen Stars?

Brad, Brianna, Serena and Paul returned last week, brought back after their ouster to aid Aarti, Aria, Herb and Tom. Would you be glad and gracious or bummed and baneful? Ya think they'll watch the finale Sunday? Wish any of them made it to the finale? Vote now for your favorite from among all the chefs--the fan favorite will get a web series. Then caption the picture. My riffs on what they're thinking, left to right: "Where's my hat?" "What? The party can't be over--I'm here." "I swear I will slow it down." "Bobby, I like your tie, honey..."

What do you think's going on here?

Heading Into the Finale Feeling Good

by in Behind the Scenes, Food Network Star, August 9, 2010

Herb Mesa

This whole experience has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, but all in all it’s been worth every up and every down! Linda and the girls are the most amazing part of my life, and I wouldn’t be here on the show if it weren’t for them.

Going into the pilot, I feel really good -- and nervous, but I feel that I have a very good chance at winning. My show idea just came to me as I realized that The Energy Chef concept alone may not be the right fit for Food Network, and that they really seem interested in my Latin culture, so I went with it and made it work still keeping it healthy.

Rachael Ray on The Next Food Network Star My food has gotten better, and I feel more comfortable with the cameras and with my new culinary POV. Meeting Rachael was sooo surreal -- I was like, ‘I can have her job one day! This rocks!’

I Just Have To Be Myself

by in Behind the Scenes, Food Network Star, August 9, 2010

Aarti Sequeira

There aren't enough exclamations to convey my excitement:
Leaping Lizards!
Jumpin' Jehosaphat (sp?)!
Holy Carp!

Nope. None of them work.

Here it is, our chance to actually DO the thing we've been fighting tooth 'n' nail for! And while I'm nervous (who wouldn't be), most of me is actually calm. It was always the cooking at the drop of a hat that spooked me. Being in front of the camera is fun! When I look in that camera, I'm going to imagine my husband Brendan, my family and my friends on the other side. I wonder whether anyone is going to help us through this thing? Cooking and talking to camera is much harder than it looks. I'm going to stick to my original mantra: be bold, and be joyful. After all, this may be one of the toughest challenges yet – putting everything we've learned so far together in one short pilot – but people watch Food Network to escape the difficulties, the pain, the doldrums of real life. We've got to bring the warmth, the joy, the fun... and wrap it around a tasty morsel and some kitchen know-how.

What could be easier, right? Hmmm.

I'm so happy to be up here with Tom and Herb. They've become brother-like to me. They even tucked me into my bed last night (an empty room now that Aria has left), and simultaneously kissed me on either cheek.

"My two dads!" I said, and they laughed.

Next Food Network Star Finalist Herb Mesa Next Food Network Star Finalist Tom Pizzica Don't get me wrong. They're fierce competition. Each of them can cook their pants off, and their brand of personality is so unique to who they are. I can't replicate it. Herb energizes you, and makes you feel optimistic about reaching your health goals. Tom makes you laugh and makes you feel like extraordinary food is within your grasp. It's sort of comforting to me - I can't be them. So I just have to be myself, do what I do, and see what happens.

We're all going to have a new career at the end of this, whether we win or not. But let's be honest. None of us want to lose. We might love each other to bits, but our competitive streak is still alive and kicking. Winning this thing would be a massive, humongous, gargantuan blessing to any one of our lives. Winning would make the last 9 weeks of sacrifice, challenges and no sleep all worthwhile.

Still, should either of my brothers win, I know I'll be almost as happy as if I had. I will wrap my arms around them, squeeze them half to death, and cry with joy. Because once you win this thing, it is no understatement to say that your life will never be the same again.

My Friends Call Me Big Chef

by in Behind the Scenes, Food Network Star, August 9, 2010

Tom Pizzica, Next Food Network Star Finalist

Oh God, there it is again. You would think with 9 weeks down in this competition this feeling of raw nerves in the pit of my stomach would have diminished a little bit by now. With my hanging-on each week and practically clawing my way through 9 other finalists to reach this: the pinnacle, the finale, I can honestly say that I’ve never worked harder at anything in my life. It is probably because I’ve never wanted anything more than this!

I have only one solo Star challenge victory under my belt, but I made it to the end and I could not be prouder of what I’ve accomplished so far. The Committee sees something in me, and I cannot let them down with a ho-hum “slacker Tom doesn’t care” performance on the pilot!

Waking up in NYC the morning of the pilot shoots, I still can’t believe I made it this far. Well...I guess I can believe it, but there is still the biggest challenge yet to go. Oh God, I’m going to throw up. This is it. This is why I fought tooth and nail (and got some good luck) for nine weeks. This is my “Big Chef” pitch to the Network, the last chance to blow away my competition and win my dream, and it has to be more perfect than anything I’ve done so far. It will be. “Big Chef” isn’t a cooking technique. It’s more of a cooking philosophy and a way of life in the kitchen that is absolutely 100% me and one I’ve been working on for 18 years. No fear Big Chef and stay bold and in control Big Chef. Man, I really should have eaten something this morning instead of pounding 3 cups of coffee. I should know better by now!

Giada De Laurentiis on The Next Food Network Star In the car over to Chelsea Market, Aarti, Herb and I run through the list of Food Network stars we have met along the way and those who we have not. We know somebody big is going to help mentor our pilots and we all guess Giada since she knows us and has been there for us throughout the competition (I would have been dead in the water at the Grove challenge if not for her advice and guidance!).

Rachael Ray on The Next Food Network StarSo when Rachael Ray shows up...well, it doesn’t help the nerves at all! She’s the master! The guru of cooking and talking at the same time! To say I’m intimidated would loosely describe my emotions; however, like all the personalities we have crossed paths with in this competition she is warm, genuine, and well receiving. She gives me great confidence and advice going into my pilot, and then she tells us she will be there to direct them. I can’t be more excited to get in the studio. Hi Rachael, I’m Tom Pizzica, my friends call me Big Chef.

Caption This: Episode 9

by in Behind the Scenes, Food Network Star, August 3, 2010
Alton Brown
Alton Brown

Sunday's episode finds the remaining four finalists (Aria, Herb, Aarti and Tom) in New York competing in an Iron Chef America Challenge. Alton, Morimoto, Cat Cora, Michael Symon and of course, Bobby, will all be there inside Kitchen Stadium.

In the episode, Alton has an "interesting" exchange with one of the finalists.

How would you caption this photo?