$10 Dinners

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

Sauce:
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

Turkey:
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

Next Food Network Star 6 Rehash

NFNSThe finale to Next Food Network Star Season Six is tonight so I thought I would put together an index of posts to remind us just how we got here:

Next Food Network Star 6 Finale

next food network starWhy does it seem like this season has been going on for years?  Maybe because this was the weakest field of NFNS contestants to date.  Of the twelve seven never stood a chance and an eighth was at best a dark horse.  So that means there were only four legitimate contestants in the whole contest: Aarti, Brad, Tom and Herb.  With the finale upon us three of those four remain – Aarti, Tom and Herb.

Many Tweeting the show and commenting on blogs across the Online have stated that they don’t really see anyone in this year’s cast that they think they could watch.  In fact that seems to be the prevailing thought with most fans of the show.  True there may not be another Guy Fieri in this group but for sure none of the final three are Aaron McCargo Jr or Amy Finley either.  And let’s be honest, other than Guy, no one really watches the shows of NFNS winners.

Here are my thoughts on the final three contestants:

Aarti Sequeira on WannabeTVchef.comAarti Sequeira – She has the most star potential.  She brings something to Food Network that they have never had, an Indian chef.  That is important because Bob Tuschman really wants an Indian show on the “big network.”  But more than that Aarti has proven she has range.  Throughout the competition she not only showed the flexibility of Indian cuisine but she also proved proficient in others having won challenges with Mediterranean, Spanish and Mexican dishes.  Just think, Food Network hasn’t had a chef who’s specialty was an Asian cuisine since Ming Tsai.  That was over a decade ago.

Herb Mesa on WannabeTVchef.comHerb Mesa – He is an immensely passionate person.  His love for his family is something that I think everyone will take away from this season.  In a country were many parents only go through the motions of parenthood, Herb attacks it with zeal.  He is also a talented chef but unfortunately I think that the direction he wants to go, healthy food, is one that the Network has tried on many occasions with little success (see Kathleen Dahlman, Ellie Krieger and Juan-Carlos Cruz before he became a murder suspect).  However, I think Herb’s point of view would make a highly successful show on the right network.  I believe he is tailor made for Planet Green.

Tom Pizzica on WannabeTVchef.comTom Pizzica –What a fricking wild card!  When Tom is on he is another Guy Fieri – humorous, stocky, funky hair and bold food.  When he is off he just flat out sucks.  Aarti I’d like to meet at a food bloggers conference, Herb I’d love to cook with but Tom . . .  Tom I want to grab a beer with.  He seems like the guy who’d sit through a marathon of South Park and then put in the movie.  One thing is for sure, in his best challenge he made a potential employer out of both Bobby Flay and Todd English.  I’d say he is already a winner.

Who do I think should win?  After what we’ve seen this season I would have to say that Aarti has earned the win but not by much.

Who do I think will win?  Again it is hard to go wrong with Aarti.  Herb and Tom, though entertaining, do not bring anything new to the Network where as Aarti brings something they’ve never had and desperately want.  Remember last year the race between Jeffrey Saad and Melissa D’Arabian was very close so ultimately, in my opinion, demographics decided the winner.

Thanks for playing:
Alexis Hernandez – went home week 1.
Doreen Fang – went home week 2.
Dzintra Dzenis – went home week 3.
Darrell “DAS” Smith – went home week 4.
Paul Young – went home week 5.
Brianna Jenkins – went home week 6.
Serena Palumbo – went home week 7.
Brad Sorenson – went home week 8.
Aria Kagan – went home week 9.

There was no real mystery in the final challenge; it’s how they always wrap things up.  Each contestant shoots a pilot for their show concept while some Food Network star acts as the director.  This year it was Rachael Ray.  I highly doubt that the final challenge has ever really determined a winner.  There’s the usual curtain call of former contestants and the seriously over played, mellow dramatic, extended pause before announcing the winner (seriously reality TV producers, that trick has gone stale).

So without further eloquence I would like to congratulate The Next Food Network Star . . .

[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!

Aarti Sequeira
Aarti Sequeira on WannabeTVchef.com

Congratulations to Aarti. Hopefully for season 7 I’ll be in her shoes or at least some that are similar to hers only in a size 13 extra wide. Until next year NFNS’ers!

Past NFNS Finale Foul-ups

This Sunday night is the final of season six of the Next Food Network Star.  The finalist are Aarti, Herb and Tom but I’m guessing you already knew that.  The fact that the show has only produced one legitimate star in it’s first five tries has not stopped viewers from tuning in each week to follow the ups and downs of the contestants vying for the chance to be the second.  NFNS remains the number one rated show on the Food Network.

That is strange because of the history of, let’s say, questionable endings to some of the past seasons.  The first two seasons went OK, not much controversy but in season three the fireworks started.  Set the way back machine:

Season one was historical in a couple of ways.  It was the first such contest of it’s kind.  Second, the winners were a gay couple which, too, made it ground breaking.  Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh are bright and talented caterers from Chicago.  Their winning show, Party Line with the Hearty Boys, was not very entertaining but that wasn’t as important as the standards set by that first season.

Season two yielded the only Next Food Network Star winner to ever actually become a Food Network star, Guy Fieri.  And a star he has become.  Those TGIFriday’s commercials speak to the California culinarians mass appeal.  He has hosted Guy’s Big Bite, Guy Off the Hook, Ultimate Recipe Showdown and another show you may have heard of, Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives.

JAGSeason three is where things started getting – what’s the word? -oh, yeah, suspicious.  JAG would have won, should have won, but for the last minute revelation that he had exaggerated his resumé.  This resulted in an 11th hour return of recently booted Amy Finley who, given a second chance, ended up winning the contest (just like in a Hollywood script).

Why is this suspicious?  Having been through the NFNS process I know how thorough their background checks are.  Honestly, it’s easier to slip something past the FBI than it is The Food Network.  With that in mind the idea that FN hadn’t bothered to check the accuracy of resumés just doesn’t wash.  I do know this, the inncident was huge for the ratings.

Season four the shinannigans were even more outlandish.  A stand-up comedian who was so unfunny it was actually painful, a boorish elitest who described anyone who has ever eaten boxed macaroni and cheese as “white trash” and a chef who was scared of fish and stayed weeks too long because she was pretty and satisfied a missing demographic at TFN, Indian cuisine.

Next Food Network StarThere were two contestants who blew away the competition every single week.  Shane Lyons and Kelsey Nixon were both perfect packages, however the judges (Bob Tuschman in particular) kept harping on their youth.  It didn’t matter how well they performed, they were too young to take seriously.  That of course begs the question, why let them into the contest at all?  Nixon, by the way, won TFN’s fan poll on their own web site in a land slide and is to this day one of the most popular talents in the Food Network stables.

After eliminating the two best contestants, in successive weeks no less, we were left with the trio of Liza Garza, Aaron McCargo Jr. and Adam Gertler.  Garza arrived as a foppish diva with serious cooking chops who, more than anyone else on the show, listened to the judges and turned herself into exactly what they said they were looking for.  Gertler was good on camera but had limited culinary skills.  McCargo was a passable cook but was terrible on camera; still is.

In an episode designed to whittle it down to two contestants McCargo, who had been a model of mediocrity, bombed.  He bombed hard.  In fact, it was without a doubt the single worst performance in the history of the show.  Adam was okay and Garza blew the doors off the studio.  Easy choice right?  Boot the guy who bombed, right?  Nope, the judges decided to change the rules and bring all three back for the finale.  Aaron should have been gone but given a second chance brought home victory (just like in a Hollywood script).

Speaking of Lisa Garza she recently announced that she has signed a contract for her own cooking show.

Then there was the slip on the web site.  Apparently, some web geek accidentally revealed the outcome of the show days before the final episode was to premiere.  The web fiasco turned into a boon as fans who had tuned out because of the questionable antics (the elimination of Kelsey Nixon, especially) tuned back in to see if the web screw-up was a publicity stunt.

Season five was a little more tame with the exception of contestant Debbie Lee.  Considered by many to be the most vile and despicable person in the history of reality cooking shows, Lee cheated, back-stabbed and sabotaged herself all the way to the next-to-last episode. At least that’s how it appeared after a few days in the editing room anyway.  Melissa D’Arabian won and as her reward was given a TV show called $10 Dinners.  Which oddly enough was not the show concept that won her the NFNS title.  Coincidentally there was a national casting call back in 2008 for a cooking show called $10 Dinners that was surprisingly similar to the show D’Arabian now hosts.

So that brings us to season six and who knows what stunts, if any, Food Network has up it’s metaphorical sleeve.

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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
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
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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