Review: Aarti Party

Well it has been one week since fellow food blogger Aarti Sequeira was named The Next Food Network Star and now her show is premiering.  That’s not a lot of time, except when you consider that Aarti actually won months ago.  The poor dear has had to keep that bottled up inside so as not to ruin the show.  Next year when it is me Had it been me, I might have to sprint to the observation deck of the Empire State Building and scream it for the entire eastern seaboard to hear.  I mean it is truly a life changing event.

Aarti Sequeira Aarti PaartiBut now the dream has been fulfilled; it’s reality’s turn.  I brace myself for the first ever Aarti Paarti.

NEWS FLASH: Aarti Party has already been renewed for a second season.  Read more HERE.

Right off the bat it is clear the judges made the right choice.  While the other contestants were hoping for their own cooking show, Aarti was born for it.  She is so natural in front of the camera.  It is refreshing after enduring some past winners who, even years later, still are painful to watch.  Congratulations, judges, you have finally picked your second Next Food Network Star.

Watching the first episode the one thing I was struck by was that this is only the first episode.  The grace and energy of the host made this seem like a show that’s been on for years.  Aarti’s Indian spin on everyday American foods is just what was needed to introduce this amazing cuisine to the last country to give it a fair shake.  Sequeira pulled off the menu to her first show without ever mentioning the word that sends Americans running for the hills, Curry.

Here’s some of the new things that Aarti taught us in the first episode about Indian food – kale used instead of lettuce in a salad can be tossed in the dressing and stored in the frig without breaking down. . . for days.  And did you know that in India they have their own version of ice cream?  It’s called Kulfi and it is actually richer and denser than our ice cream.  The best part – no ice cream machine!  I have got to start experimenting with Kulfi.  With the exception of Guy’s Big Bite I have never had an NFNS winner compel me to try anything before.

Aarti Paarti kicks off the block of recent NFNS winners’ shows and after watching her it is startling how much smoother she is than last year’s winner Melissa D’Arabian whose show follows Aarti’s.  Melissa is pleasant and amiable but still seems like a home cook who won a cooking show in a contest while Aarti comes across as a seasoned pro.  If future episodes are as good as the first it will eclipse many of the tried-and-true franchises.

After several days of indecision the network has decided on a spelling for the name of the show.  It was originally Aarti Paarti then Aarti Party, then back, then back again.  It looks like Aarti Party is the final answer.  Episode 2 was even better than the premiere.  Gone was the nervous giggle that was the only negative about episode 1.  Two episodes in and she has still not mentioned the dreaded C-word, curry.  The next four episodes would have to be tragically bad to not justify a second season especially since they are still producing episodes of Big Daddy’s Kitchen.

In episode 3 Aarti made an Indian-inspired pulled pork sandwich with mango BBQ sauce, an amazing citrus/green apple cole slaw and a chocolate-ginger pudding pie. You can come out from under the bed, America, there’s still no Curry among the ingredients.  The menus through the first three episodes have demonstrated exactly why Food Network needed this show, because most people’s opinion of Indian cuisine are completely wrong.

Aarti is so polished and natural on camera that it is hard to believe she actually had to enter NFNS to get a show on Food Network.  It just shows you how out of touch Food Network is with what is happening on the Internet.  There are lots of web-based hosts that need to be added to the FN line-up to replace some of those interesting-for-a-second-dull-for-a-decade shows that bog down a lot of their programming. If given proper venue it is a certainty that most viewers would prefer Average Betty to Sandra Lee or Jaden Hair over Paula Deen.  They might even find room for a certain Wannabe TV Chef.

Aarti Paarti airs in the customary time slot reserved for the NFNS winner, Sunday 12/11 CT.  Right now this seems like a great time slot but in three weeks it will be up against the NFL where it will get hammered regardless of how good it may be.  If the show isn’t well received (like most NFNS winners) then they can hide it in this time slot until people forget about it.  If it does well (Guy’s Big Bite) it will move to a better time slot.  Even though the winner shoots six episodes they really only get three to prove themselves.

Aarti was nice enough to post recipes from the inaugural episode and here is one of them.  The rest are available at the Food Network web site.

Sloppy Bombay Joes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 serrano chile, seeded and finely minced (save the other half for the turkey)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup water

3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Small handful shelled pistachios, about 1/4 cup
Small handful raisins, about 1/4 cup
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 large white onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, finely diced
1/2 serrano chile, seeds intact (don’t chop it up unless you like things spicy!)
Kosher salt
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup half-and-half
Small handful chopped fresh cilantro (soft stems included)
4 to 6 hamburger buns

Begin by making the sauce: Warm the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, until it shimmers. Add the ginger, garlic and serrano pepper. Saute until the ginger and garlic brown a little. Add the garam masala and paprika and saute for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile for the turkey, in large skillet, warm 2 tablespoons of oil. When shimmering, add the pistachios and raisins. Cook until the raisins swell up and the pistachios toast slightly. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Return the pan to medium heat, add 1 to 2 more tablespoons of oil, and warm until shimmering. Add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle for about 10 seconds, or until some of the sizzling subsides. Stir in the onions and bell pepper; saute until softened and starting to brown. Add the serrano pepper. Saute for another couple of minutes, seasoning with a little salt. Stir in the turkey, breaking up the big lumps. Cook until opaque, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, your sauce should be ready. Pour the sauce into the skillet with the turkey. Stir and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

Once the turkey is cooked and the sauce has thickened a little, remove the serrano pepper (unless you want to eat it whole, like my Dad does!). Add the honey, half-and-half, pistachios and raisins. Stir through and taste for seasoning. Before serving, garnish with fresh cilantro.

Toast the buns, fill with the turkey mixture and serve. Eat (with your hands!) and enjoy!

NEWS FLASH: Aarti Party has already been renewed for a second season.  Read more HERE.  Check back later this week for my exclusive interviews with runners-up Tom Pizzica and Herb Mesa.

Aarti made a beautiful and humble post to her blog, also called Aarti Paarti that gives a brief glimpse into her life the moment her victory was announced to the world.  Read it HERE.

So, those of you who watched the show, what did you think?  Leave your comments below.

Sloppy Bombay Joes

11 Responses to Review: Aarti Party

  • averagebetty says:

    Thanks for the shout out Stuart! I really admire all the contestants on The Next Food Network Star… it seems like way too stressful of a competition to me! Congrats to Aarti Paarti!!

  • Jeff Miller says:

    A star is born! Not since Guy Fieri has the FN chosen an NFNS winner who's ready for prime time right out of the gate! Like Guy, she's a natural. I look forward to her continued success on the FN channel.

  • Jac says:

    Found her phony, giggly and definitely will not watch her again. Aarti is not the person I would have chosen to have their own show. Nothing remarkable about her food other than throwing in a few "indian" spices.

  • Debbie says:

    i hope she goes 3 shows and out. She is not my gavorite and way too phony.

  • karen says:

    I like Aarti and rooted for her win. Everyone else we had seen before. I don't agree that she is the second best nfns. Several of the winners have done quite well. I love Big Daddy and his food is right on track. Guy is over exposed and works my nerves. I want to learn more about the spices she uses! Good Luck Aarti

  • Diana says:

    I was very excited to see the show as I love love Indian Food! A bit disappointed with the recipes. He personality is sparkly and she does look good on camera, but her recipes are not all that interesting. Sloppy Joes with garam masala? Not much of a twist and no so original. Hoping for better recipes! Really….

    • You are in the minority, Diana, Aarti's Sloppy Joe recipe was the most searched for recipe on the Food Network site last month. But I understand your disappointment in the show so far if you are looking for traditional Indian food. They have said from the start that this was not a show for traditional Indian cuisine but rather a way to introduce the flavors of India to an American audience that has been resistant to even experiment with them. Something like 85% of the US population has never tried Indian food because they are convinced they do not like curry and they are convinced that all Indian food tastes like the curry powders they have smelled but never tasted. I have tried the kulfi recipe and it is fantastic.

      • Notinthe85% says:

        Please link your sources, I would be interested to see not only hers but some other stats as well. As for her food, I am not that impressed and I really cannot get into her show but then each to their own I suppose.

  • Diana says:

    Thanks for your reply! Not sure where you see the statistics, but I supposed it will depend on the region in the US.

  • Annie Noonan says:

    I love your review, & I agree with you on every point except Big Daddy's House, which I felt had a lot of flavor & technique to offer. Aaron McCargo Jr.'s growth of ease in front of the camera was inspiring to watch. And I loved how he involved his son & brother in the final eating, the part I always think is so self-validating about a cooking show. Graham Kerr, long ago, oozing euphoria over his own food, seems to have set the trend. I want to see other people brought in who are as rapturous about the results as the chef is. Aarti minimizes the gushing, which helps. But when she had the outdoor meal with friends, where there appeared to be more candid reactions, I felt more compelled to try the recipes when I saw the response they brought.

    • I agree with you Aaron has grown and his food has always been top notch. Though that first season was tough to watch season two was little better. I haven't kept up with it since because they have put it in a bad time slot for me. I don't get to watch Aarti much either anymore. I mainly keep up with her through Facebook and Twitter. It's also obvious that he is a great family man and from everything I've heard from my friends at the network he is genuinely one of the nicest people you will ever meet.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
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2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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