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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?

 

Watch/Chat With Giada

by in Behind the Scenes, July 30, 2010
Click Image to Chat Click Image to Chat

Can you EVEN? The very first email I read this morning informed me that we had confirmed Giada De Laurentiis to participate in our live chat on Sunday night. I’m excited!

Bring your food questions, your thoughts on this season – Giada will be discussing it all!

If you haven’t chatted with us before, it’s easy – it’s fun, and if you love watching The Next Food Network Star, why wouldn’t you watch (and chat) with Giada?

See you Sunday at 9pm/8c – Giada will be expecting you.

 

Serena vs. ME

by in Behind the Scenes, Videos, July 28, 2010

No, it’s not as dramatic as it sounds – but, Serena definitely had words for me when we were reunited at The Next Food Network Star After Party.

Oh, and yes – she did address the unforgettable “singing” moment.

Watch the clip, it’s pretty funny.

Watch Video Now
Click Image for Video

 

Jumping Into the Fray

by in Behind the Scenes, July 24, 2010

nfns6_bobt_s4x3_lead

Hey, Guys: I’ve been following all the chatter going on here at Star Talk and to put it simply – I had to join the conversation!

Every week, through the remainder of the show, I’ll be happy to answer questions you send in via our blog here, Facebook or Twitter. If you don’t have a question, but a comment – well, leave that too. I love reading your insights (and several have made me laugh out loud). Keep ‘em coming!

Now, let me get to your questions.

Do you guys watch the behind-the-scenes footage of the cast, kitchen incidents, etc. before making an evaluation decision?Nicole Miller

Wow, excellent question, Nicole. There are hundreds of hours of footage from every episode, so it’s not logistically possible to screen and edit it all for us in time for judging. But the producers are vigilant about making sure we know EVERYTHING that went on behind-the-scenes. We get massive amounts of background notes before every judging event. The notes detail and transcribe every notable moment for the finalists while they were shopping, cooking, living together, etc. Why? As we say in this competition, character matters.

How long do the eliminations really take? The editing makes it seem really quick.Jenny Cohen

On average, we talk to each finalist for about an hour. Every judge addresses every finalist. We spend a lot of time giving them constructive advice. In the early episodes, these sessions can take about 10 hours. It all gets edited down to 12 minutes (of course, all my best lines are left on the cutting room floor). Pity the poor finalists – we’re sitting all this time; they have to stand.

Hi Bob. Have you ever thought about the contestants judging each other? Kris Mohnen

Hmmm. That’s an interesting idea, Kris. We haven’t, although we do that on The Next Iron Chef when they’re all pro-chefs. Maybe we’ll try it?

Hello Bob. I was wondering how someone goes about presenting an idea for a Food Network show. Who would a person contact, and what kind of presentation would you be expected to give?Devin S. Forbes

I’ve got bad news, Devin. For legal reasons, we are not permitted to review show ideas from individuals. We can only take pitches that come from major production companies (i.e., those who produce network series). So if any of you have an idea, you need to make a deal with a production company, who would then pitch it to us.

Have you ever tasted something that you had to spit out, or even made you sick?Mike Walters

Luckily, no food in this show has made me sick yet, though some has briefly made me lose the will to live. A few weeks ago DAS and Tom served jerk slaw which everyone but me actually spit out (I was fascinated that they could fit so many horrible flavors onto one fork). In two weeks, you’ll see a dish that I call the WORST DISH in the HISTORY of The Next Food Network Star. Not to put too fine a point on it.

Would you consider taking someone whose food and technique is not the best (but rocks it on-camera) or vice versa – knowing that they will need work to be ready for their own show? Or, are your criteria that they have to excel in both areas? Tim McMillin, Sr.

Our stars really need to have expertise and food credibility to make it, mostly because our viewers are smart and food savvy. That said, if we saw someone who had the inherent personality and passion for food, but just hadn’t learned proper technique yet, we might tell them to come back after they had been through culinary school and had some experience.

What is the most important factor in picking a star? Rebecca Stuart

Well, it’s not quite grammatically correct, but there are TWO most important factors when picking a star: A charismatic personality that pops on camera, and an authentic passion for and expertise in the food world. Unfortunately, those qualities are so rare to find together. But if it was really easy to find people like this, I probably wouldn’t have a job.

How much thought is put into the candidates' ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, etc. when choosing contestants for The Next Food Network Star, Chopped, etc? From the outside it appears to be far too much. Gary Saunders

Our candidate pool and our audience is richly diverse in every way. So, we’re lucky to be able to pick the finalists we feel have the most potential while still being able to reflect the diversity of our viewers.

At the start of the season do you have a gut feeling about who the winner will be? If so, how right have you been? Hope Harris- Gayles

I’m right about half the time. But no matter what the initial feeling is, you never know how the finalists will do when put to the test. Last year on the first day of taping, I thought Melissa, Jeffrey and Jamika radiated the most charisma. Two years ago, I thought Aaron was disastrous at the beginning of taping. Three years ago, I never could’ve guessed Amy. But Guy, and the Hearty Boys I had a good feeling about from the start.

That’s it from me. Now, what say you?

Talk to you next week.