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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Star Commentary: Roasted, With a Side of Funny

by in Food Network Star, August 3, 2011
Vic Vegas
Vic Vegas and his roast

For the first time in seven seasons, Sunday night’s episode of Star featured a panel of comedic guest judges brought on to roast the remaining five contestants and their food — aptly, variations on the classic roast. This unique challenge elicited mixed reactions from the passionate and opinionated commenters on Food Network’s Facebook page and our Star blog.

While some of you found the roast to be “clever and different” and “a brilliant idea,” one viewer argued that typically “you roast people who are at the top of their game, not people struggling to get a start” in the industry. Another commenter worried that the roast would simply involve mindless “heckling,” although upon watching the episode, many found that the comedians offered “insightful” remarks and “were able to give the best feedback in terms of audience likeability.”

And while the challenge proved too much for Whitney, one commenter noted, “If you can't take the heat, now's the time to jump out of the frying pan! It's simply a test.”

What did you think of the roast challenge? Was it fair for the finalists to be judged by non-food people? Join the conversation on Facebook and Star Talk, and tune in Sunday at 9pm/8c to see who can withstand the pressure of Kitchen Stadium.

Who’s your favorite finalist so far? Cast your Fan Vote up to 10 times per day.

Star Spotlight: Comic Relief

by in Behind the Scenes, Food Network Star, August 1, 2011
Anthony Anderson, Bobby Flay and Bob Tuschman
Check out our behind-the-scenes interviews with guest-star comedians.

This week’s challenge brought something totally different to the Star set. Usually the finalists are trying to impress Food Network stars – members of the elite club that they’re vying to join. The surprise guests for the Roast were stars from the comedy world: Anthony Anderson, Gilbert Gottfried, Judy Gold, Louie Anderson and Aubrey Plaza. This impressive panel of comedians — faces you may recognize from stand-up, movies and television — was tasked with making fun of the finalists to see who could roll with the punches and take themselves a little less seriously.

Check out our behind-the-scenes footage of these funny men and women answering questions like “What would be your Food Network show?”

More Star Extras:

Funny Business

by in Food Network Star, August 1, 2011

The Remaining Five Finalists

Brevity can be a good thing. With that in mind, my overall summation of last night's show is this: They laughed, Whitney cried, she went home — and we now have our final four!

Jeff, Mary Beth, Vic or Susie: One of them is going to become Food Network's next star. If you were a betting person, who would you put your money on?

This post is short, you now have some free time. Fill it with:

Whitney's Departing Words

Vote for Your Favorite Finalist
Watch Last Night’s Recap
Top Moments From the Episode
Starlicious Recipes

Star Commentary: Time to Get Serious

by in Food Network Star, July 29, 2011
Mama's Boy Vic Vegas

After Jyll was sent home on Sunday night, the conversation on Food Network’s Facebook page and our Star blog turned to the remaining five contestants: Who among them has a clear enough culinary point of view (POV) to deliver creative, approachable and TV-worthy recipes to a viewing audience every week? After all, Jyll was eliminated because of her inability to sell her vacillating POV to the judges, so, at this stage of the game, knowing who you are and what your food represents is the key to Star success.

Vic has implemented a “Mama’s Boy” POV, inspired by growing up with his Italian mother in the kitchen, about which viewers seem equally confused and excited. One commenter asked, “I thought he was Vegas, not Mama's Boy?” Many others, however, complimented his obvious “food chops,” and several wrote, “I would love to have some of [his] ideas for Sunday dinner,” and “He’s the only one I would make it a point to always watch.” Still, commenters seemed to question his “one-dimensional character” and “awkward” persona more so than his POV.

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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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Double Star Spotlight: Ina and Rachael

by in Behind the Scenes, July 27, 2011
Ina and Rachael
Check out behind-the-scenes interviews with Rachael and Ina.

This week’s episode featured two Food Network superstars: the queen of 30 Minute Meals, Rachael Ray, and the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. Needless to say, it was an intimidating double-whammy for the finalists. Whitney got so emotional upon seeing Ina – the woman who taught her to cook – that she burst into tears. Susie wanted so badly to impress and emulate Rachael that she let her nerves get the better of her.

Check out our exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews with Ina and Rachael to hear their expert advice for our aspiring Food Network stars.

Tell us: Who would you rather cook for, Rachael or Ina?

The “Y”

by in Food Network Star, July 25, 2011

Jyll Everman

The judges made the absolute correct decision in sending Jyll with a y home. She performed well, but compared to the others she just wasn’t compelling enough. Even Whitney, who like Jyll with a y has been criticized for being too polished and not engaging enough, brought amazing energy to the Rachael Ray show. Never too bad, but never too good, Jyll with a y didn’t resonate with me. Frankly, the only thing I’ll remember about her is that persistent “y.”

Back to Whitney. Don’t you feel she, more than anyone, has grown exponentially from episode to episode? She has taken some hard licks from the judges, but Whitney seems to really absorb what they say and learn from the criticism. A friend recently pointed out that she looks a lot like Rachael — I never saw it until this episode. Seeing them side by side, I agree.

Jeff was supremely impressive. The man can make any sandwich look good. I am sooo not a fan of pork chops — the thought of them makes me cringe. However, I have to admit I was intrigued by Jeff’s pork chop/applesauce sandwich. I would actually give that creation a try (and that’s huge for me).

Mary Beth has a fan in Grant Dudley. I enjoy her personality. She’s warm, funny and there’s something about her that keeps me interested. I can’t quite describe her impact on me, but I’ll tell you this: I tend to do a thousand things while watching Star and most other TV shows (typing an email, looking for a snack in the fridge, searching for the remote, etc. ). When Mary Beth hits the TV screen, I stop all of that other stuff and pay full attention. She has a definite presence.

Vic: Bobby didn’t seem very impressed with his lasagna/chimichanga (“lachanga”) creation, but I loved it! Chimichangas and lasagna are two of my favorite dishes, and the thought of mixing the two pleased me tremendously. Vic, the others may not have thought that was a great combination, but I’m feeling you, bro.

Finally, Susie J. Now that Orchid is gone, Susie has stolen my heart a bit. I agreed with Susie Fogelson’s assessment that she needed to stop apologizing for Mexican food and its “stereotypes.” I think Susie J. is trying to get across that Mexican food can be elegant, but my question is, why does it need to be? I guess a hamburger can be elegant, too. But who wants that?

The clock is ticking — we’re getting closer and closer to the end here.

Caption It: And Then There Were 6

by in Behind the Scenes, Food Network Star, July 22, 2011
Your Caption Here

How do you top last week’s shocking double elimination on Star? With a trip to New York City, a visit from Ina Garten and an on-air spot on the Rachael Ray show, of course. This Sunday, the top six hit the Big Apple and face their next round of Camera and Star Challenges, which include a cooking demonstration in front of a live studio audience.

In this behind-the-scenes sneak peek, some finalists look pretty fired up. Who or what is in front of them? Tune in this Sunday at 9pm/8c to find out. In the meantime, we’re challenging you, Star fans, to write your best captions (tastefully appropriate, please) for this moment in the comments below.

Who’s your favorite finalist so far? Cast your Fan Vote up to 10 times per day.

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).

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