Jonathan Waxman

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 . . .

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Aarti Sequeira
Aarti Sequeira on

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.

Next Food Network Star 6 EP 9 – Review

I want to start off this week by apologizing to a young lady named Victoria.  She was the person who I mis-identified as stalking Herb a few weeks ago.  I have since met Victoria and have learned that her mass Tweeting the show was part of a contest and not the result of an unstable lymbic system.  In her own words she has, “won a hundreds of dollars worth of a gift cards to various delicious restaurants.”  Hey in these hard times who can blame her?  Now the marketing firm might that sponsored the contest will certainly need to rethink its methods in the future as their gimmick ended up alienating a lot the people they were trying to reach.  I guess that’s why they call it “new media.”  We’re all still learning.

Allez Cuisine!

aarti sequeira on WannabeTVchef.comLast week saw the first contestant eliminated that viewers actually liked.  Brad, by far the best pure cook in the show was sent packing despite having a better week than the suddenly unlikable Aria.  Another sign that this show is less about finding an actual star and more about generating three months worth of water cooler chatter.  It’s a shame, too, Brad was the type of host that could actually teach and inspire home cooks, something Food Network has little of these days.

Star Challenge: Alton Brown arrives to conduct the contestants in a double Star Challenge.  Two combatants go head-to-head while the other two provide play-byplay of the ongoing battle.  There sous chefs ar the four most recently dumped contestants.  The judges were Iron Chefs Bobby Flay, Cat Cora, Morimoto and Michael Symon.  There was no sign of last year’s Next Iron Chef winner Jose Garces.  Part of me laments Brad’s dismissal last week because he would have owned this challenge; the rest of me laments it because it means Aria is still around.

My thoughts:

Dzintra Dzenis – went home week 3.
Doreen Fang – went home week 2.
Alexis Hernandez – went home week 1.
Brianna Jenkins – finally went home week 6.

Aria Kagan – Time to go.  Please, FN, don’t send home a better contestant just to keep her around for people to hate like you did last week.  Aria is combative and is not knowledgeable at play-by-play.  He gets stuck with Paul as his sous chef.  Aria has Serena as her sous chef and the theme ingredient against Tom is bacon.  Aria almost fails to plate on time and her presentation is not good.  Her family style service is the opposite of Iron Chef quality.  She seems to forget that bacon was the secret ingredient on each dish.  Her food is a major fail.  Her presentation is fair but it is filled with making excuses for her presentations.  I don’t see how she can possibly hang on another week.

Herb Mesa – Herb had a another pretty good week last week.  In the 1st battle Herb squares off against Aarti in Battle: shrimp.  Herb’s Latin fusion shrimp come together easily and he plates in plenty of time.  Herb’s presentation was great and the food was terrific on the first two courses and so-so on the third.  All of the Iron Chefs were impressed.  Herb’s play-byplay is solid but his throw was terrible.  The Iron chefs loved Herb’s approach.

Serena Palumbo – went home week 7.

Tom Pizzica – Back to the penthouse!  Tom does a good job with the play-by-play.  I was a little surprised that Tom chose Brianna as his sous chef when Brad was available.  Bacon, if ever there was an ingredient better suited for Tom.  Upon hearing that Aria is doing French Toast he decides to do a savory version with bacon, chorizo and clam sauce.  That is so what I would have done.  I think it is brilliant if he can pull it off.  Tom first risk pays off for the most part.  He tries to do a steak with pork belly which usually requires hours of slow cooking but with only an hour and his 2nd dish is too tough to eat.  Then the savory French toast – another fail.  Tuschman called it the worst dish in the history of Next Food Network Star.  Ouch!  The concept was sound, it was his execution was the issue.  Susie said it was greasy.

Aarti Sequeira – Had real confidence issues last week and came seriously close to going home.  In the 1st battle Aarti lucks up by getting Brad as her sous chef to take on Herb in Battle: shrimp.  Aarti shakes things up by going Spanish with one of her dishes.  Jose Andres would be proud.  But alas there is no cucumber for her gazpacho so she substitutes with coconut oil – risky.  She barely gets her dishes done, mainly thanks to Brad.  Aarti’s risky gazpacho works and her second course goes over, too.  Her third dish is Mexican-Indian fusion and Mike Symon says it’s the best thing he’s tasted in three years of judging NFNS.  Aarti struggles at the commentary but handles the cut-aways smoothly.

Darrell “DAS” Smith – went home week 4.

Brad Sorenson – went home week 8.

Paul Young – mercifully went home week 5.

In case you haven’t suffered through enough NFNS drama, Adam Gertler, Sunny Anderson, and (the person who should have won NFNS 4) Kelsey Nixon host a rap up show on the Food Network web site called After Party.  It really isn’t noteworthy other than the fact it is hosted by two former NFNS contestants and a Food Network Star who is less qualified than any contestant in the history of Next Food Network Star.

A small prediction – like Samson, Tom will stay strong as long as he doesn’t cut his hair.


“In it to Win it” Quotes – 0.

Number of people crying – 3 but can I really count Herb anymore?

Number of WTF moments – 2

Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Aarti

Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Aarti

Winner of Battle Shrimp: Aarti Winner Battle Bacon: Tom

Updated “gotta go” list: Aria.

The finalist who will be going home is . . .

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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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