nfns 6

MasterChef Season 2 Casting Call

Gordon Ramsay on WannabeTVchef.comFOX has ordered a second season of Gordon Ramsay’s newest culinary competition series, MASTERCHEF, it was announced today by Mike Darnell, President of Alternative Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company.

“Gordon Ramsay is an incredible talent and the biggest culinary star on television today, so we’re very happy to have Gordon and MASTERCHEF back for another season on FOX,” said Darnell. “MASTERCHEF has resonated with viewers this summer, and we look forward to seeing where Gordon takes the show in Season Two.”

“It’s amazing and refreshing to see how much passion and raw talent there is from amateur home cooks across America,” said Ramsay. “It’s extraordinary the amount of energy and excitement the show brought in Season One, and I’m thrilled to be back at FOX for a second season.”

“The amazing reception for MASTERCHEF on FOX has been hugely rewarding for all of us at Shine Group,” said MASTERCHEF executive producer and Shine Group Chairman and CEO, Elisabeth Murdoch. “As the creators of this unique global franchise, we’re thrilled to see the U.S. audience love this show as much as we do. We are looking forward to building on this early success with an even broader, bigger search in Season Two, and to seeing the brand grow as it continues to do so in Australia, the U.K., France and around the world, breaking viewing and ancillary records as it goes.”

MASTERCHEF is the No. 1 new program of the summer among Adults 18-49, outperforming the next highest-rated show by +14%.

For those that believe they are the next MASTERCHEF please visit fox.com/masterchef.

Inside Look: Next Food Network Star’s Herb Mesa

The Next Food Network Star is the highest rated show on the network each year.  Viewers are in love with the annual motley crew of Wannabe TV Chefs vying for the life changing experience that comes with winning the show.  Just think, Guy Fieri was just another restaurant owner six years ago.  Now he’s chilling at T.G.I. Friday’s with the Aflac duck.

This past August we saw the crowning of a new star, Aarti Sequeira.  Many critics declared this to be the weakest group of contestants in the history of the show.  However, it did produce four of the strongest candidates in the history of the show in eventual winner Sequeira along with Brad Sorenson, Tom Pizzica and Herb Mesa.

In the early years of NFNS you never saw the non-winners ever again.  But that changed after season 4.  A season that was also packed with talented candidates, four of whom had genuine star potential but oddly enough none of those four won.  That’s when the network started integrating this talent into the fold.  Since then we have seen contestants like Kelsey Nixon, Adam Gertler and Jeffrey Saad getting their own shows on either the Food Network or kid sister The Cooking Channel. That bodes well for those who fell short of the ultimate goal this year.

Sorenson, as a reward for winning a challenge during the contest, has landed a series of 30 second helpful hints spots on the Cooking Channel.  Tom has also been tabbed to host a show called Outrageous Food (the pilot starred NFNS 4 winner Aaron McCargo Jr.) which seems perfect for his personality.  But what about Herb Mesa?  What has he been up to?  Let’s find out.

So, Herb, what are you doing today?

Herb MesaA couple of hours of work.  Then a little rest.  Then a couple of more hours work.

Can you briefly describe the process from initial entry until show time?

OK.  So let’s say the process took, probably from start to finish, I guess from my first audition until I actually went on the show about six to seven months.  And then once we shot the show it almost took a year for the whole process to be over with.

What emotions did you experience when you first arrived at the set in Los Angeles ?

You know it’s one of those feelings where you don’t know what to expect so it’s excitement, nervousness.  But since you really don’t know what to expect it’s kind of hard to describe.  Cuz you don’t know; you don’t know what to expect.  For myself I’d never been in an experience like that before.  I didn’t know what to expect so I didn’t know what to feel.  I was excited; it was something new.

So how has the exposure from Next Food Network Star changed your life?

Oh my God, my life hasn’t been the same since the show started.  It’s really weird to be recognized.  It’s nice to be recognized everywhere you go.  At least once a day or twice. In the super market, you go to a restaurant and little kids come up to you and say, “You’re that guy from Food Network.  I love you,” then run away.  It’s been really neat in that aspect.

And then as far as like opportunity-wise if you look at my Fabebook and my web page I’m constantly doing stuff now.  I’m involved in a lot of good organizations.  I’m with the Boys and Girls Club.  I just did a fund raiser last night with Make-A-Wish, Dishes & Wishes.  I mean I really keep myself busy, the Braves game.  I’m constantly working on different things.  I’m doing a tri-athalon for kids with Tourette’s on Friday.   I mean it’s just endless opportunities.

I’m working with a company.  I’m a consultant for restaurants.  So I pretty much just come in and reinvent restaurant menus for them so I am definitely keeping busy.

Does everybody ask you to do push-ups?

A lot of people do ask me to do push-ups.  People always says you don’t look that big.  You looked bigger on TV.  That’s not very nice [laughs].  I also get a lot of, “You’re a lot better looking on television.”  I’m like, “Thanks, buddy.  Thanks a lot.”

People say, “Oh my God, I loved you on the show.  You shoulda won.”  I mean, they’re not going to say, “You shoulda lost.”  So, thank you for being so polite.  Some will say, “I was rooting for ya.”  You know what?  I was rooting for me, too.

The other day Aarti mentioned on her Facebook page that you were doing some work on the Food Network web site.  What are you working on?

I have a weekly blog that I come out with of healthy snacks.  The first week I started it was back-to-school stuff.  I did a chicken curry wrap, oatmeal chocolate chip and and uh I forget what the other things was.  I did my version of potato week food which was burgers and potato salad.

I’ve been getting a really good response by people from the Food Network web site.  So it’s been pretty cool.  I’m very excited. I feel like even though I didn’t win my own show they are keeping me around.  I feel like they’re going to keep me around.  They’re going to keep me around until I do get my own show.

Do you plan on watching the new season of The Next Iron Chef?

Yeah, that’s one of my favorites.  I love that show.  It’s inspiring.  It’s cool to see chefs work at the best of their ability.  I personally got to do my own Iron Chef competition on the show.  That was probably one of the coolest things ever.  I mean, I got to cook in a Kitchen Stadium and got judged by Cat Cora, Michael Symon, Bobby Flay, Morimoto.  I mean that’s rock star.  And I did well.

I think you kind of got the short straw in that challenge because you went up against Aarti and as it ended up the two of you had the best Iron Chef performances.

Herb MesaI just think I was on the bottom luck because I gave good TV face.  I was very dramatic.  I think they liked watching me suffer.  “Watch Herb suffer.”  Every week I did the live Tweet thing and I had people every week convinced that was the week I was going home cuz I was on the bottom five times.  And every week I was like, “Thank you, folks, for coming out but this isn’t my last show.”

It was funny.  Tom said, “Herb, you’re like a cat, you’ve got nine lives.”  At least I didn’t get the worst dish in the history of the Next Food Network Star.  Which he did on that Iron Chef challenge.

I guess that speaks to the pressure of that kind of competition wouldn’t you think?

Yeah for sure.  But what I loved about Tom, Tom’s creativity.  Tom would swing for the fences.  When his food was on it was amazing but when he was off it was off.  I had the same thing.  My food was good days and bad days.  When it was on it was on, when it was off it was off.  But it’s different, you’re cooking under a whole different kind of pressure.  It’s not like cooking at home.

I’m sure this has happened to you – someone walks up to you and says, “I’ve auditioned for the Next Food Network Star.  What should I prepare for?”

I would tell them to be themselves.  No matter what just be yourselves.  No matter what.  Have an idea of what you are getting into and have an idea for what you want your show to be.  Don’t walk in there and all of a sudden try to come up with a culinary point of view.  You need to have an idea of what you want your show to be before you walk in the door.

On Thursday October 7th, Herb Mesa will be the Special Guest and Chef at a boutique benefit for The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.  To purchase tickets click HERE.

Review: Spice Goddess

I finally got a little quality time with the Cooking Channel so I am attempting to review several of the shows I have not seen.  This time around Spice Goddess.

Bal Arneson on WannabeTVchef.comThe first thing that jumps out at me watching Bal Arneson is just how hard to understand I find her.  It’s her accent I believe.  She routinely puts the emphasis on the wrong syllable and it is distracting.  I’ve not had problems with Indian accents on other cooking shows so I am guessing that it is something unique to her or the village she grew up in.  She does has a very warm smile that makes you receptive to her entering your home.  As a writer, Arneson is the author of the nationally bestselling cookbook, Everyday Indian (available at amazon.com) as well as being the National Post-The Appetizer’s West Coast culinary correspondent.

The production quality on Spice Goddess is hit or miss.  The cinematography is nice but a little poorly lit at times.  The editing on the other hand leaves something to be desired.  Some transitions are too abrupt giving the show a slightly amateurish feel.  The style is consistent with what I have seen from a lot of BBC cooking shows which tend to have great images of ladies suckling strawberries and vegetables sizzling in a pan but also have very choppy editing.

My main issue with Spice Goddess is the title which implies a show where the host introduces the viewer to spices from all over the world and from varying cuisines.  Surely Indian cuisine is famous for it’s use of spices but there are lots of other cultures just as renowned for their use.  The show’s name is inconsistent with its culinary point of view; it’s misleading.  This is a show strictly about Indian cuisine and I do enjoy how Arneson applies Indian flavors to non-Indian ingredients like salmon and sweet potatoes.  I am anxious to see how it stacks up against the Cooking Channel’s other Indian themed show, Indian Food Made Easy with Anjum Anand.  Spice Goddess is definitely worth a watch.

I do wonder, with two Indian cuisine shows on the Cooking Channel and possibly another resulting from NFNS 6 on the Food Network, is Bob Tuschman going overboard with a cuisine that most Americans still find unappealing?  Only time will tell.

Review: Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef

MasterChef is the latest American incarnation of a successful British reality competition.  The original MasterChef has been a hot commodity for years in the UK as has its cousins MasterChef: Australia and MasterChef: Hungary.  For the American version Fox has teamed Gordon Ramsay, one of the world’s greatest and most renowned chefs with two of the kingpins of the US restaurant industry, Chef Graham Elliot Bowles and restaurateur Joe Bastianich.  Fox was nice enough to let me catch a preview of MasterChef’s debut episode, a sneak peek so to speak.

Meet the players:
Graham Elliot Bowles on WannabeTVchef.comBowles is a prodigy who became America’s youngest 4 star chef at the age of 27.  He is a pioneer of the trendy molecular gastronomy movement that couples cooking and chemistry.  His groundbreaking restaurant, graham elliot, combines cutting edge American cuisine with humor and just a touch of moxie to create Chicago’s first “bistronomic” restaurant.  His accolades are many having brought home traditional culinary affirmation like the coveted James Beard Award and new age recognition as a competitor on both Bravo’s Top Chef: Masters and the Food Network’s Iron Chef America.

Joe Bastianich on WannabeTVchef.comIf the name Joe Bastianich sounds familiar it should.  His mother is famed Italian cheflebrity Lidia Bastianich.  He is also friend and business partner to America’s most successful Italian chef, Mario Batali.  But Bastianich’s life is about more than just great restaurants.  He is also a noted winemaker who is described as a “street-level philosopher.”  He has been honored as both vintner and restaurateur by the likes of Food & Wine and the James Beard Foundation.  His book on wine pairing, Vino Itialiano (available at amazon.com), is considered the standard by which the genre is judged.

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Gordon Ramsay on WannabeTVchef.comFew people in the western world are not familiar with the name Gordon Ramsay.  Though his reputation in the states is built mainly around his explosive temper and colorful use of metaphors in Europe he is thought of as one of the best chefs in the world.  It is a shame that most Americans only know the exaggerated personality shown on TV because he is one of the most gifted and passionate people in the culinary world.

The premiere episode features 100 hopeful home cooks vying to be one of the 30 finalist competing for the title MasterChef.  To earn one of the coveted MasterChef aprons each competitor is asked to cook the meal of their lives for the three judges.

The first round of dishes fails to yield a single plate worthy of remaining in the contest.  This forces Chef Ramsay to give a pep talk to the remaining contestants filled with the bleep riddled prose that the host is known for as well as a bit of the overcharged, dare I say forced drama that is the mainstay of virtually every “reality” show.

As with every “reality” contest on TV there is a plethora of over-critiquing.  Negative comments are far more negative than they need to be and positive comments are stuffed with Pentecostal exuberance.  Nothing is ever mediocre in “reality” TV; it is either dreadful or the best thing ever.  This lack of gray area is why television is anything but real.

The best example of overly-negative critiquing is when Gordon takes a stuffed bell pepper garnish from one plate, dumps out the contents so he can spit out the mouthful of fish taco he is tasting.  The best example of made-for-TV positive shtick is Bowles tasting one contestant’s Korean duck wrap and stating, “That is like sex in your mouth . . . in the best possible way.”  There are plenty of the tear jerking moments that producers love to show as well.  MasterChef follows the American Idol formula to a “T.”

But, as with any of Ramsay’s shows, there are truly honest moments.  It is these glimpses of lucidity that make him a star.  At his soul, Ramsay is a compassionate person and it is evident that he genuinely cares for other people.  It is likely that his persona and Graham Elliot’s lovable big guy personality will produce a similar chemistry to Paula and Simon.  Although I highly doubt Bowles would look as good in a short red dress.  Bastianich is the wild card; he lacks that biting English snark while at the same time he is cold and calculating in his critiques.

MasterChef separates itself from “Worst Cook in America” because it starts with ametuers who can already cook and seeks to make them better.  It also separates itself from “Next Food Network Star” because it allows Southern cooks to compete.  The best home cooks in America traditionally hail from the South but NFNS has clearly avoided casting calls in the South for some reason opting for mainly East Coast and West Coast auditions.

MasterChef also separates itself from all other TV cooking contests with its prize – $250,000 cash and a major cookbook deal which is potentially worth millions.  I like MasterChef more than I do Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen or Chopped and far more than I do NFNS.  But at the same time it is a far cry from Iron Chef America.

MasterChef premieres Tuesday July 27th (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on Fox.  For more information check out the official press release 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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