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).

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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