NFNS6

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 SerenaPalumbo.com 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.

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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.

http://youtu.be/Vmnn5oVnNOE

‘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: 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:

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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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