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).

Star Commentary: Aaaaand She’s Out

by in Food Network Star, July 20, 2011
It’s been fun, Penny.

Well, it finally happened. The moment many of you have been waiting for came on Sunday night: Penny Davidi, the Middle Eastern Mama, was sent home. But not necessarily because of her food. After seven weeks of mostly stellar dishes that the judges described as “great,” “very well-seasoned” and having “lots of great flavors and textures,” the likeability factor — or lack thereof — sent Penny packing.

While the comments on Food Network’s Facebook page and our Star blog are largely in support of the judges’ decision to eliminate Penny, many of you cannot deny her unique culinary point of view and have expressed interest in learning Middle Eastern recipes. One viewer wrote that she “felt sorry for Penny last night,” while another thinks “it [is] a shame that Penny had to go home” because she has “warmed up to her over the past few weeks” and because “Penny brought something Food Network is lacking.”

Other commenters noted that despite Penny's “awkward personality,” she may have been “worth keeping around,” given the judges’ apparent praise for her food. Another viewer wrote that she “would appreciate some education” on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors but “couldn't imagine watching Penny to receive that education even though her food was so appealing.”

And then there are those of you who are simply gleeful over Penny’s departure. Viewers wrote that “Happy days are here again” and that “It is about time,” while another told Food Network, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for getting rid of Penny!!” It seems that Penny’s “penchant for drama,” about which you have been complaining since the second episode, is what most viewers found so frustrating and unappealing. Many wrote that “she was harsh,” “her attitude stinks” and that she showed “disrespect to all those around her.”

Given her previous tense moments, many of you were shocked at how Penny’s demeanor seemed to have changed during her final week as she handled her own dismissal. Several of you wrote that she “was a good sport,” showed “grace,” “behaved civilly” and was “more compelling this week than ever.”

Do you think that this week could have been a turning point for the Middle Eastern Mama, that, if given just a little more time, she could have become more personable, both on camera and off? Hear from Penny herself in her Exit Interview and learn her thoughts about viewers’ perceptions of her. Then, join the conversation on Facebook and Star Talk, and tune in next Sunday at 9pm/8c to see who has what it takes to make it in New York City.

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

Guest Star Spotlight: Wolfgang Puck

by in Food Network Star, July 19, 2011
Wolfgang Puck Check out our on-set interview with this week's guest star, Wolfgang Puck.

At the Food Network Star dinner table this week sat a culinary icon: Wolfgang Puck, one of the first-ever "celebrity" chefs. We stole a few minutes with him to chat about everything from his favorite comfort foods to his own first on-camera experience. Jyll, don't sweat it — Wolfgang knows what it's like to be nervous!

What did you think about Wolfgang's impromptu risotto tutorial (and Jyll's response)?

Plus: Want more behind-the-scenes time with Wolfgang Puck? Check out Food Network Magazine's peek into his home kitchen.

Penny for Your Thoughts

by in Food Network Star, July 18, 2011

Penny Davidi

Right or wrong, good or bad — she made for great television. Every interesting story needs to have an antagonist, and wouldn’t you agree Penny filled that role perfectly? Whether you like to admit it or not, I bet that she brought many of you to your TVs week after week. Every Sunday you all hoped to see her get her comeuppance. And, well, last night she finally did.

Yes, the self-proclaimed “Middle Eastern Mama” was a difficult personality, a pot stirrer and someone you loved to dislike. But, to keep engagement up, we needed a little drama — a bit of spice — and no one dished it out like Penny. Remember Debbie Lee from Season 5? She reminded me of her. I enjoyed that Penny brought some “Deb drama” back to Food Network Star. Come on, this is a reality show — drama is a good thing!

Then there was Chris. If I were to cast Chris as a character in a story, he would have been the resident class clown. I have no doubt that he’s a great, fun guy, and probably a really good cook. However, his endless bouncing off the walls wasn’t appealing to watch. I don’t mind “big kid” personalities, but know when to shut it down and act your age. I just kept thinking someone needed to give him a timeout (or a Xanax).

Wolfgang Puck is a trip. Anytime the man is on this show, I know something unexpected will happen (which I love). When he escorted Jyll with a y to the kitchen to show her how to properly make risotto, I smiled. Well, hey, he’s the master, and I think she should embrace his correction and learn from it. Was she embarrassed? Absolutely, but this is one of those times when she should simply feel honored to have a world-renowned expert show her how to better the dish. Shake it off Jyll with a y — at least you’re headed to New York. You did something right!

The remaining finalists head to the Big Apple next week. Let’s all get in a New York state of mind.

 

Caption It: Hands-On Edition

by in Food Network Star, July 15, 2011
Your Caption Here

This week’s jam-packed episode of Star is full of surprises, tears, drama and a double dose of shocking eliminations. The one-and-only Mr. Wolfgang Puck guest-judges, as the remaining finalists face him and the selection committee for their midterm examinations.

In this sneak-peek shot, Star finalist Susie Jimenez relieves the pressure of test-taking by getting up close and personal with the ingredients for her Camera Challenge dish. Will she and the other contestants be able to hide their stress on camera, or will the demands of the competition get the better of them?

Before you tune in this Sunday at 9pm/8c to watch Susie in action, 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’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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The “Mama Orchid” Fan Club

by in Food Network Star, July 12, 2011
We'll miss you, Orchid.

Early front-runner and Star fan favorite Orchid Paulmeier was driven out of the competition on Sunday night after a sub-par food-truck performance. Judge Bob Tuschman told the barbecue-loving, restaurant-owning mom of three that she tends to “simmer” while other finalists “are at full boil” in the competition.

Immediately following the shocking elimination, comments on Food Network’s Facebook page and our Star blog indicated that you devoted Star fans questioned whether or not it was really her time to leave. Many wrote that “Orchid was robbed” and that the judges made “a bad call” in sending her home. Others “expected her to be in it pretty much until the very end” and were simply confused by her departure, noting that “Her food has been lackluster the last few weeks, but the judges still seemed to favor her.”

One viewer wrote that “Orchid was a pleasure to watch and her food appeared to be something I would be willing (and frequently eager) to attempt,” though others were not as enthusiastic about the Southern "Mama." Several commenters noted that “she hasn't blossomed and seems to lack confidence in herself and her cooking abilities.” Another felt that it “shouldn't have taken this long to get rid of Orchid.”

Hear from Orchid in her Exit Interview and learn her plans for the future. How do you feel about Orchid’s elimination? Should other finalists have been sent home before her? Join the conversation on Facebook and Star Talk, and tune in next Sunday at 9pm/8c to see who goes home after the season's midterm.

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

Oh, Orchid.

by in Food Network Star, July 11, 2011

Orchid Paulmeier

She’s gone and I’m sad.

Was I surprised by her elimination? I wasn’t, but I still hated to see her go. She started off as a front-runner in this competition and a fan favorite. But something happened. She began to change in the last couple of episodes. Did she start to lose confidence? Was she homesick? Were the other finalists intimidating her? Whatever the case, I had been hopeful that she would pull it together and bring back the Orchid we all loved. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

Sigh.

Breaking News: Orchid Responds

Caption It: Vegas-Style

by in Food Network Star, July 8, 2011
Your Caption Here

This Sunday on Star, tough guy Vic “Vegas” Moea dons big, dark glasses and a less intimidating baguette bat while filming the next Camera Challenge, a commercial advertising his food truck — bank robbery-themed, perhaps? Will guest judge and food-truck fanatic Tyler Florence and the selection committee approve?

Before you tune in this Sunday at 9pm/8c to watch Mr. Vegas in action, we’re challenging you, Star fans, to write your best captions (tastefully appropriate, please) for this macho moment in the comments below.

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

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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