WTVC Food Network Star Fan Poll

Here at Wannabe TV Chef we’re doing our fan poll a little differently. Just doing a “vote for your favorite” poll is a cop out. We have categories for contestants who best embody the spirit of former NFNS competitors. Check it out and come back often; you can vote for each category once a day.
[polldaddy poll=”5097747″] [polldaddy poll=5097777] [polldaddy poll=5097801]

[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!

[polldaddy poll=5097809] [polldaddy poll=5097818] [polldaddy poll=5097825]

WTVC Exclusive Next Food Network Star’s Serena Palumbo

Last year on Next Food Network Star Serena Palumbo drew a lot of attention with her delightful and bubbly personality.  Amongst all of the classically trained chefs it was this home cook who forged one of the most devout followings.  Her effervescent personality and spitfire “can do” attitude struck home with lots of viewers.

Serena Palumbo of Next Food Network StarOf all of the contestants to ever compete on NFNS, Serena may have had the best Plan “B” for not winning.  She could always fall back on her old job of being an international corporate lawyer in the global finance industry.  In 2001 she earned her Juris Doctor from Universita’ degli Studi di Napoli Federico II (Federico II University School of Law in Naples).  In 2004 she studied Corporate Law and Securities Regulation at New York University School of Law as part of a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship.

Serena proved she was no one-trick pony when she started her popular web series Cooking in Manhattan.  Since 2009 her channel has received roughly 50,000 page views with nearly 150,000 individual video downloads.  The success of Cooking in Manhattan has lead to appearances on Food2, CNN, BBC and ultimately as a finalists on Next Food Network Star.

Just a few days before the premiere of NFNS 7 I spoke with Serena.  When talking to her you cannot help but notice her accent.  It is not the stereotype Hollywood gives you of Italians but something warmer and just a touch exotic.  Underlying that accent is a complete mastery of the English language.

As a writer you are always looking for that perfect word to convey an emotion.  Usually it comes easily enough but sometimes you have to thumb through a thesaurus to find it.  That is why it is amazing  to hear Serena do it in casual conversation in what is essentially her second language.  That is an indication of a very keen mind.  She says unabashedly that she is a nerd and proud of it.

Today Serena balances her jet-setting law career with her emerging lifestyle brand on the web site which chronicles her life as an attorney, cook, traveler & fashionista.   She has big plans for the site but why not hear about it from her.

[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!

Are you planning to watch the new season of Next Food Network Star?

Most definitely.  Not only will I be watching but I will be live Tweeting about that.  Last year I was very new to Twitter and I didn’t have a chance to use it as a conduit for telling my story.  This year I have been a little more attuned to social media.  I am looking forward to the new season because it is very large in regards to the number of contestants and some of them are characters I would like very much to get to know.

Does it seem like a year since it was you standing before the judges?

It’s been an interesting year.  It’s hard for me to believe that just last year my season was premiering.  It’s been quite hectic.  And it’s been slightly different from what I thought.  It’s really amazing that people recognize you on the street and they tell you, I really liked you on your season.

It’s been really interesting in seeing who took advantage of the platform they were offered and who did not.  You look on my season you saw a lot of people who looked to be very entrepreneurial and you have imagined that they were ready to run with it.  Fortunately some people really ran with the exposure they got.  On the other hand some people didn’t take advantage of it at all.

What changes have taken place in your life since last year?

Serena Palumbo of Next Food Network StarI am very blessed that I participated in the Next Food Network Star because my life has been totally different than it was.  It gave me a lot of training in what to say and what not to say.

My web site now is all new.  There’s so many good things that are going on.  Obviously there is more Cooking in Manhattan.  I keep toying with that because it’s a nice hobby to have, to have this little cooking show that takes place in my own kitchen.  I have been a food writer; I have written for Boulevard Long Island, for Chibo Magazine.  Also in magazines in Italy; the Italian version of Cosmopolotan.

I feel more fearless.

Are there any members of your cast with whom you keep in touch?

Definitely.  I keep in touch with Aarti (Sequeira).  We were friends throughout the show.  I think Aarti is doing an excellent job.  I’m really glad that she got this opportunity.  I think it really went to a person that deserved it.

I’m very good friends with Alexis (Hernandez) and Doreen (Fang).  Alexis is really a person with a big heart.  I really appreciate him a lot.  And Doreen is wonderful.  I am in contact with Brianna (Jenkins).  When she comes to New York from time to time she calls me and then we meet for coffee.  Tom (Pizzica) and I follow each other on Twitter but I actually became good friends with some members of his family so we keep in contact indirectly.

You had a strong run last year and remain a fan favorite to this day.  Can we look forward to seeing you do more work on TV?

There are no plans so far.  If someone comes up to me and says, “Would you like to have a cooking show?”  I definitely would.  Maybe if I can make Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelson and Bobby Flay change their minds one day then that would be good for me.

How much of your time would you say you spend working abroad right now?

I am the in-house council in America for an Italian bank so they send me traveling very often.  We have a branch in Brazil where they send me often.  They send me very often to Italy because that’s where the headquarters of the bank are.  I would say that my practice in 99% in the United States.

You’re an advocate for the war on childhood obesity, why is this cause so important to you?

I was very chunky when I was a kid.  You know the hippos in Fantasia?  I was more or less like this.

So I am very much an advocate for childhood obesity because I think that obesity is driven sometimes by the fact that kids are not exposed to real food.  They are not exposed to where the chicken is born, where the cows come from.  They are not seeing that and that is something in my culture I did have.  My parents would tell me the apple comes from this tree but the fig comes from a different tree.

All of the work I do outside of my job is for charity because I have something that pays the bills.  Childhood obesity is one thing I feel very strongly about.  The second thing is the American Cancer Society.

Do you have any desire to run your own restaurant?

A lot of people came up to me asking if I would like to have my own restaurant, it’s a lot of hard work.  Maybe in a different stage of my life I will have time to do that.

What other projects are you working on right now?

My web site.  My web site.  My web site.  It’s going to be not only about food but if you notice there is a travel section.  There will be a lifestyle section that I am going to beef up in the next few days.  There is a reason for all this and it is because I have so many friends all over the world.  I have friends in India, obviously a lot of friends in Europe and a lot of friends in the Americas.

I would like to share a lot of things that are not American with my followers.  I’ll start off obviously with travel advice because it is something that I get asked for all the time.  Everyone tells me, “I’m going to Sardinia where should I go?”  That’s the first thing – one place where people can find all of that information on what to do that is not traditional touristy stuff.

And secondly is the lifestyle section that is more about who I really am because food is a great part of my life but there is also another part.  Italian women have a very different esthetic than American women or French women and I would like to show that.

There’s also going to be a lot of food writing for magazines and whatever comes my way really.


Season 7 of Next Food Network Star premieres this Sunday at 9/8 Central.  As usual I will be live Tweeting the event.  You can keep up with the snark by bookmarking this link.

Next Food Network Star 7 Premieres June 5

Well, kids it’s time again for Next Food Network Star, the show who’s name betrays its success.

Wow!  That sounds incredibly cynical doesn’t it?  Well, that’s how I usually start my annual NFNS diatribe by lamenting the show’s failure to produce actual Food Network Stars.  Perhaps it was that lack of production that yielded such a dreary response.  But just as likely it is born from the fact that I’ve auditioned four times without making the cut.  It is easy to chalk my attitude up to sour grapes but at the same time there have been some truly, truly retched contestants on the show.  You can make an argument either way.

Next Food Network StarI guess you could say that this year I’ve had a change of heart.  Perhaps it’s because my career is progressing nicely without the reality TV short cut.  Perhaps it’s the fact that Food Network is no longer throwing away the talent they discover on NFNS.

Everyone knows that Guy Fieri won season two but do you remember anyone else that year?  Of course not because Food Network all but exiled the rest of the cast.  Well, Nathan Lyon was also a member of that cast.  Like Guy, Nathan is one of the brightest stars in the TV chef realm as the star of Discovery’s A Lyon in the Kitchen and now PBS’ hit Growing a Greener World.  Lyon was a victim of the old winner-take-all approach the Network took to NFNS but he has still managed to establish himself as a player in the genre.

Then there was JAG.  That guy was so good, so energetic and so charismatic that he was a shoe-in to follow in the footsteps of Guy Fieri if not for some creative exaggerations on his resume.  JAG should have won NFNS 3.  But as I say, I’ve softened.  Perhaps it is because the Network has done away with the ratings stunts like that 11th hour disqualification of JAG or the mid-stream rules changes in season 4 to avoid eliminating eventual winner Aaron McCargo Jr.

Last year on NFNS 6 people complained that there were a lot of unwatchable candidates who should have never been considered for the show.  Quite true; I call those kind of candidates ratings fodder.  But on the other hand that cast also produced the strongest final four in the show’s history – Brad Soerenson, Herb Mesa, Tom Pizzica and Aarti Sequeira.

I was acquainted with eventual winner Aarti before her appearance on the show simply by running in the same food blogger circles.  We’ve shared a few Tweets back and forth but nothing too intimate.  I have not met Brad yet as he has been so busy with the roll out of his new venture the Silver Whisk Cooking School in Austin.  Tom and Herb I’ve been lucky enough to interview and I am proud to count them as friends.  Just this week I talked with fellow season 6 contestant Sarena Palumbo as well in order to catch up with her year post-NFNS.  I also had dinner recently with NFNS 2 winner Guy Fieri and I can honestly say he is a great guy.

So this season I’m likely to be a little less snarky than in years past.  I may even be a little nicer to the “villains” as editing tends to have as much to do with on-screen perception as does simply having an unsavory personality.  At the same time I will not treat the ratings fodder with kid’s gloves and unscrupulous competitors will be called out.  There’s an old saying in NASCAR, “if you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin'” but my belief is that if you have to cheat then were never good enough to be there in the first place.  Pack your crap and go back home.

So as we get set to start the biggest NFNS to date (15 competitors!) I invite you to introduce yourself to the contestants HERE and get a little more intimate look at NFNS 7 cast member Howie Drummond HERE.  You might as well check out the NFNS 6 Rehash HERE.

Oh, you may want to go ahead and bookmark my NFNS 7 archive (HERE) so you can keep up to date with everything that happens this season as it happens from the point of view of a genuine Wannabe TV Chef.  Let the flames begin.

Stuart’s “Aha Moment”

After years of toiling away at a music career, a stint as a ‘’ owner, professional cook and faceless call center drone, I came to the realization that life had prepared me for a very unique job, a TV chef.  That is the journey that I document for you everyday right here.

Recently I was profiled for Mutual of Omaha’s series “Aha Moments.”  Here is the final cut.  I wish I would have had this clip for my Next Food Network Star audition reel.

According to Mutual of Omaha, “A moment of clarity, the aha moment is a defining moment where you gain real wisdom – wisdom you can use to change your life.”

I think I speak for everyone when I say, “Aha.”

Follow Stuart via “the Online”

Sip & Chew with Mike and Stu

Add to Google


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.

Stu’s Latest Kindle Single is Just $2.99

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


Subscribe to this blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

ISO 9000 Culinary Arts Certification