Aaron McCargo

Review: Kelsey’s Essentials

Kelsey's Essentials with Kelsey Nixon

I finally got a little more quality time with the Cooking Channel so I am attempting to review several of the shows I have not seen.  This time around Kelsey’s Essentials.

Never before has a person been so deserving of their own cooking show.

On Next Food Network Star 4 Nixon was the stand out contestant week in and week out.  Though small in stature she was head and shoulders better than every contestant on the show.  She won more challenges than all the other contestants combined.  Yet, mysteriously she was sent home three episodes from the end.  It wasn’t a case of having one bad day since she did at least as well as the other Wannabe TV Chefs in that week’s challenge.

The reason offered by the judges?  She was simply too young to be taken seriously as a TV chef.  She was 23 years old.  Four years older than Bobby Flay was when he became executive chef at a hip Manhattan restaurant and roughly the same age he was when he started with Food Network.  The age thing just didn’t wash.

That season was won by Aaron McCargo Jr. who, even on his A game, was the sixth best contestant on the show.  But rumor is the Food Network brass had fallen in love with the lovable big guy and decided he was the winner before shooting began.  I don’t know if that’s true but it makes better since than anything else out there.  Nixon had to go because she was simply too good, never mind the fact that she was running away with the fan poll on the Food Network’s own web site.

Kelsey Nixon of Kelsey's EssentialsKelsey marks the fourth entrant to NFNS 4 to get their own show.  The first was 26-year-old Mary Nolan who the judges were so impressed with that they gave her a series without having to compete.  Get that now, 23 is too young but 26 you get to skip the line and go right in.  I don’t recall that three year span being that important to my development as a person.  Nolan’s show was gone after one season.  McCargo still has his show plugging along for his small but devoted following and runner-up Adam Gertler has had two shows with the network, both prime-time series with great ratings.

So after taking Kelsey’s Essentials for a test drive I can say that what we saw on NFNS 4 was the real thing.  She is still the best.  Her knowledge and energy are spot on.  Watching the show I was amazed at how solid her technique was.  The knife was an extension of her hand, whisk in hand she effortlessly put together a lemon curd and all the while maintaining a warm relationship with the camera.  Just like on the Star she was flawless.

In short, Kelsey’s Essentials is a fulfillment of the promise that was ignored by the judges on NFNS 4.  It is easily one of the best stand-and-stir’s on TV and Nixon is a confident and inviting host.  If Cooking Channel isn’t careful they may have a star on their hands.

‘Outrageous Food’ now a New Food Network Series

Last spring the Food Network premiered a special called “Outrageous Food” hosted by Next Food Network Star 4 winner Aaron McCargo Jr.  Well, it looks as though the special’s popularity may have spawned a new series of the same name.  But not the same host.

According to AllYourTV.com NFNS 6 runner up Tom Pizzica will be the face of Outrageous Food the series.  That is a bit of an upgrade.  Tom’s personality and significantly more polished on-screen talent makes him better suited for such a show than McCargo.  Also, the show’s format may not be exactly what we saw when McCargo hosted his special.  Only time will tell.

Hagan Blount and Tom PizzicaNoted NYC food blogger and recent 7 Questions interviewee Hagan Blount was part of the off-camera crew at a recently taped episode in Brooklyn.  Hagan has provided a little amuse bouche of the episode on his blog The Wandering Foodie.  It includes pictures like the one here that shows Hagan and Pizzica on location at the Park Slope Chip Shop.

I discussed NFNS and Outrageous food with new host Tom Pizzica in this exclusive interview HERE.

Review: Big Daddy’s House

Originally posted on August 5, 2008.

What can I say about the premiere episode of Big Daddy’s House starring NFNS winner Aaron McCargo Jr?  There was nothing special about it.  The same problems that plagued Aaron during the contest are still there – he is hard to understand, seems fake when he tries to force energy, and he still is not friendly with the camera.  His kid was cute, though.

The menu was nothing special.  He coated chicken tenders with crushed tortilla chips.  That’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone do that . . . again.  Seriously, any idea that has ever graced the pages of one of the those $1.00 cooking mags at the check out of your local grocer has no place on the Food Network.  Plus, TFN already has one show that derives its menu from those, Semi-Homemade.

At one point, he spent about 15 seconds with his back turned to the camera while he fished through a utensil drawer talking to the back-splash.  Not all of it was Aaron’s fault.  The editing seemed choppy.  Maybe they did the best they could with the takes they were able to get, I don’t know. It felt like a rookie show, with a rookie host, and a rookie production team.  Aaron took a pot of steaming broccoli off the stove and when he removed the lid he let out a whoop like he had just popped the top on a boiling vat of Cajun crawfish.  Steamed broccoli is tasty, but there is little about the steam to get one excited.  This was a classic case of Aaron trying to force personality and it just came across as strange.

I will venture to say that Aaron actually gets more than six episodes.  FN will try to spin the show as “well received” and allege that it “earned” a second season.  This is only window dressing because there has been so much made of the shady nature of this year’s contest and the fact that they have only found one true star in four tries.  And who knows, it may get better.  Giada was a little hard to watch at first, too, but now she is a star.

The bottom line: I’ll watch it if nothing else is on, but it will not earn a slot in the old DVR.

UPDATE: Despite poor reviews and worse ratings Big Daddy’s Kitchen has been renewed for 13 more episodes.  Read HERE.

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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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