Posts tagged ‘The Next Food Network Star’

$10 Dinners with Melissa d’Arabian gets 2nd Season

NFNS 5 winner Melissa d’Arabian has posted on her Facebook page that $10 Dinners has been renewed for a second season and that she is currently working on the new episodes.  The message reads:

Ten Dollar Dinners renewed for Season Two!! All new episodes in January. In the meantime, stay close here….I’m still around. Happy Fall everyone!
She also commented on how her life has changed since edging out Jeffrey Saad, “A year ago, I stood in line for hours at Williams Sonoma to get Bobby Flay’s signature in his new book. In half an hour, I’m walking over to do a joint cooking demo with him….the two of us cooking for an audience at the New York Food and Wine Festival. how crazy is my life suddenly????!! :)”

October 12, 2009 at 9:20 am 1 comment

NFNS 5 Finale

They finally got it right. For the first time in three years the two best contestants made it to the finale. Was Melissa a better choice than Jeffrey? I’m sure that question will occupy many a forum for quite some time.

For me, I would have preferred Jeffrey’s show. He is the consummate technician. No one in this show was a better cook than Jeffrey Saad. His creativity, his execution and especially his knowledge appealed to me. But I am in the industry so I do not look at food television the same way home cooks do. I want something new.

Melissa represents a proven cooking show format. It has been a cornerstone of the Food Network’s programming from its conception. It is the quick-and-easy-recipes-for-the-family-on-the-go format. First it appeared in the form of How To Boil Water, then continued with Sarah’s Secrets, Thirty-Minute Meals, Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller, Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee and Jamie at Home to name a few.

It is my belief that Melissa d’Arabian will excel in this format. Her background and her spunk make for an engaging host. She has a lot to teach the home cook and occasionally even a grizzled old veteran like me. I wish her the best of luck.

This is not the last we have seen of Jeffrey Saad either. Alton Brown was right, both contestants were stars in the making. Jeffrey has two built-in audiences, culinary professionals and women. Every female judge beamed whenever Jeffrey spoke, nowhere was that more evident than in episode 8 in Miami.

When Jeffrey walked into the dining room to present his three-course meal all of the women noticeably sat up in their chairs, especially Susie Fogelson. Her body language betrayed her physical attraction as she turned her chair to face him and crossed her legs kicking her foot directly in his direction. The half moaned, “yes” she uttered upon his entering the room was a more tangible clue. Even during the final episode Fogelson stared glassy-eyed at the screen as Jeffrey’s pilot played. Perhaps we’ll see Saad bringing a little youth to sister network Fine Living.

Throughout the contest I, like many others, took the position that if Debbie Lee won I would not support her show and would likely wash my hands to NFNS as well. In chat rooms around the web the prevailing question was , “Why do they keep Debbie when she’s such a snake?” Then it came to me that there was no way they were going to give Debbie a show. They have seen her underhanded ways since the first episode and knew that their audience would not like her. In fact, they were betting that people would hate her and hate is a powerful emotion. It compels people to watch a TV show just to see the person they hate get theirs. Did it work? Who knows.

Interest in the contest is notably down from past years. It did not find its way into very many water cooler discussions.  Very few of my foodie friends bothered to watch this season; many were put off by the seedy outcomes the past two years. The numbers of people reading my blogs of each episode is drastically down as well. Of course that could just be a reflection on my skills as a blogger. Is it possible that the public’s interest in all reality cooking shows is waning? Top Chef: Masters is not bringing in the Nielsen ratings that its blue collar forerunner has.

The one great irony of this season for me was that the winner was from Keller, TX. Why is this important? Because the casting calls for this season were limited to either East Coast or West Coast cities. If someone from the middle of the country wanted to attend an audition they would have to travel halfway across the continent. If you’re going to make that kind of sacrifice they’d better give you a show. Right, Melissa?

August 3, 2009 at 3:19 pm 1 comment

NFNS 5: Episode 7

One Of You Will Be Going Home Tonight

The gang is still down in South Florida and it’s nitty gritty time.  There are two true contenders, Jeffrey and Melissa and two contestants that should have been booted weeks ago but for some reason the judges have kept protecting them, Jamika and Debbie.

Tonight featured the worst challenges I’ve ever seen.  Deliberately sabotaging the contestants in both rounds was not the least bit interesting.  The only thing that could have made tonight’s episode watchable is if Melissa gave Bob Tuschman a good, firm junk punt.


  • Brett – went home week 2.
  • Teddy – went home week 4.
  • Katie – went home week 5.
  • Michael– went home week 6 despite easily beating out Jamika & Debbie.
  • Debbie – did supiciously well.
  • Eddie – went home week 3.
  • Jamika – fell apart again.
  • Jeffrey – was the best contestant from day 1 and nothing has changed.
  • Melissa – still the only other true contender – she fills a nitch.
  • Jen – went home week 1.

In the first challenge each contestant had to do a four-minute live cooking demo.  What they didn’t know was that their segments were going to be sabotaged.  The person who came up with this idea should be clubbed.  Debbie did well, too well.  It was almost as if she knew what was coming.  Also the degree to which she was sabotaged was considerably less than the others.  Guess what? Debbie won the first challenge.  Hmm.

The second challenge was another sell-out to one of those corporate restaurants that puts profit above the health of their consumers, Red Lobster.  Ask any US fisherman or shrimper what they think of Red Lobster and they’ll tell you that old RL hasn’t used domestic seafood since 1971.  And we all know (or at least should) that foreign seafood is killing us.  If you want to know more about this issue read HERE.

Each contestant was lead to an outdoor kitchen where they were asked to prepare a seafood dish for the Red Lobster menu “in their style.”  Halfway through the challenge Bobby Flay and guest Michael Symon took away all of the elements that defined their style and gave them flavors from outside their comfort zone.  Well, all except Debbie who had her Southeast Asian ingredients replaced with Middle Eastern ingredients, ones you would still see in Southeast Asia – capers, anchovies and olives.

Despite lobbing Debbie an underhanded pitch she forgot to use the capers.  First she said they were in the her dressing, then she said she wasn’t given capers at all.  Then the tears started to flow.  If she wins her show should be called “Lyin’ and Cryin’ with Debbie Lee – Adventures in Korean cuisine with a Korean flair in a Korean kitchen – you know, cuz I’m Korean.”

Jamika fell apart on this challenge just like she did on the last eight or nine.  Too bad, she seems like a doll but the pressure of this competition really got to her.  She really should have gone home weeks ago – she did not deserve what they put her through.  Melissa did quite well and Jeffrey blew the judges away.

As of Last Week – Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Jeffrey or Melissa (and it really isn’t debatable.)

After This Week – Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Jeffrey or Melissa (and it still isn’t debatable.)

As of Last Week – Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Jamika or Debbie.

After This Week – Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Debbie.

Winner(s) this week:  – 1st Challenge – Debbie.  2nd Challenge – Jeffery.

The finalist who will be going home is . . .



July 19, 2009 at 9:28 pm

NFNS 5: Episode 6

One Of You Will Be Going Home Tonight

 SoBe, baby.


  • Brett – went home week 2.
  • Teddy – went home week 4.
  • Katie – went home week 5.
  • Michael – Slow start on food and presentation – better finish though not great.
  • Debbie – bombed 1st challenge – was despicable in the 2nd.
  • Eddie – went home week 3.
  • Jamika – 1st challenge was weak 2nd a little better.
  • Jeffrey – continues to distance himself.
  • Melissa – only other true contender at this point.
  • Jen – went home week 1.

In the first challenge, the contestants were taken to five airport restaurants and had to create a dish for the menu of their assigned restaurant.  The winner’s dish actually makes it to the menu of their restaurant.  Jeffrey rocked the first challenge and Melissa did well, too.  Michael did fair.  Jamika was below average and Debbie just flat out sucked.

The second challenge was to cater a fabulous South Beach cocktail party and Jeffery (by virtue of his 1st challenge win) was named team leader and he decided to let everyone choose what they will prepare for the party.   Brilliant strategy – let everyone sink or swim on their own merrits.  But will it bite him in the butt?

Michael rocked the bar, Jeffrey was the ideal host, Melissa ran the kitchen (even though it was Debbie’s responsability – you’ll why in a second)  while Jamikastruggled keeping up but did a good job considering.  Debbie helped no one but herself.  Because Debbie sat on her island, Melissa then had to make five dishes in stead of three.  Food wasn’t coming out fast enough so Bobby Flay went to check the back of the house.  Before long Michael had to abandon the bar to go prepare his own recipes because Debbie wasn’t doing her assignment.  As a result, though, Debbie’s dishes were the best received.  Interesting strategy she had as well, sabotage everyone else.  Same old Debbie.  If she wins, I am done with this show.

The judges have been propping up Jamika and Debbie for weeks now.  If it happens again tonight that means that Jeffrey, Melissa or Michael go home after a week where they were far better than the other two.  Jeffrey’s food (and cocktail) underwhelmed, Michael’s as well (the one’s Debbie was supposed to help with but didn’t), Jamika’swere hit or miss, Melissa’s food was okay but she had to do five dishes.  Jamika had to do four while Debbie just focused on her two.  That information did not go over well with the judges after Debbie claimed she did everything single-handily.  Melissa called her out and the judges finally saw the real Debbie.

The judges did prop up Jamika a great deal, her food was fair & her presentation was below average, but she is very likable.  Melissa went over well with the judges with good food and great personality as did Jeffrey for the same reasons.  The judges keep harping on Michael’s dislike of the camera (the same judges that picked Aaron “mumble, mumble, back to the camera” McCargo Jr.) but admitted he was far and away the best personality of the group – his food was okay (the food Debbie was supposed to help with).  They also addressed Debbie’s lack of anything resembling character – man they must really want to fill that demographic.

I see that Food Network carefullyhidden their fan poll this year on their web site.  Not only that but they have made voting a 20 minute process by requiring loads of personal information.  And this poll does not show who thefans want to see but who they think should be eliminated.  I wonder if this has anything to do with Kelsey Nixon running away with the voting last year and eventual winner Aaron McCargo Jr. spending most of the voting period (appropriately) in the middle of the pack.


As of Last Week – Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Jeffrey, Michael or Melissa

After This Week – Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Jeffrey or Melissa (and it really isn’t debatable.)

As of Last Week – Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Jamika or Debbie.

After This Week – Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Jamika or Debbie.

Winner(s) this week:  – 1st Challenge – Jeffrey.  2nd Challenge – I’m not sure how, but Jamika.

The finalist who will be going home is . . .



July 12, 2009 at 9:13 pm 1 comment

NFNS 5: Episode 5

One Of You Will Be Going Home Tonight

 The annual visit to the Rachael Ray Show.


  • Brett – went home week 2.
  • Teddy – went home week 4.
  • Katie – rocked 1st challenge was solid on the 2nd.
  • Michael – started strong on 1st challenge then nose-dived.  Great in the 2nd challenge.
  • Debbie – do judges truly love her or is it demographics?
  • Eddie – went home week 3.
  • Jamika – forgot to cook on the 1st challenge – barely cooked on the 2nd.
  • Jeffery – back on winning track on the 1st challenge.
  • Melissa – gets better each week.
  • Jen – went home week 1.

First challenge was to take healthy food and make it kid-friendly.  Jefferey and Michael’s food was best.  Katie was best all around and Jamika spent her time talking and not cooking.

For the second challenge they have to do a live demo on the Rachael Ray Show.  I was actually able to catch this episode of Rachael Ray when it aired so I had the benefit of seeing each presentation before seeing the behind-the-scenes aspect on NFNS.  The contestants were paired off and tasked to make favorite kid’s meal adult-worthy.

Based on the viewing on RR it would be hard to choose which team did better, but not impossible.  I would have to give the team of Melissa and Michael the win in this challenge – they worked well together and their food (grilled cheese on a stick and tomato-basil soup) was terrific.  Debbie and Katie were really good together as well.  Katie especially shined, but there was a moment (when Katie first took over the presentation) that Debbie rolled her (snake) eyes.  Their assignment was to class up chicken tenders and mac & cheese.  Other than that little bit of nastiness they were very good.  The two favorites were paired as Jeffery and Jamika snazzed up beans and franks.  Their food was amazing and actually reflected both of their “culinary points of view” really well.  Their presentation, though not bad, seemed a little manic.  Jeffery kind of dominated with a lot of narrative and they had to rush Jamika’s part of the dish to get it done inside of 5 minutes. 

After watching the full episode I observed that Jamika had some serious confidence issues which is a shame because she has been a strong contender and has apparently had the judges on her side since day one.  The judges have appeared to have turn on her as well by their comments.  Two bad weeks in a row – will they invoke the Aaron McCargo rule?  Yes.

Also, we got to see Debbie’s negative comments about having to let Katie cook half of the menu.  Can you say control freak?  And how many times can Debbie mention she’s Korean?  Tushcman just foamed at the mouth over Debbie’s presentation and slammed Katie’s.  Odd since everyone else seemed to like Katie much more.  Tuschman’s love for Debbie brings back memories of Nipa from last year one was kept weeks past her ability because Tuschman thought FN needed an Asian chef.  He always seems to be more worried about demographics than finding the Next Food Network Star.  Both Bob and Susie scolded Katie for looking down and not making eye contact – Bobby did not share their opinion.  Debbie was just as bad but they seemed to miss that.  Hmm.

The judges didn’t care for Melissa or Michael very much.  Huh?  They were great.  What gives?  Sure they were mediocre on the first challenge but they killed in the second – no question.  This sheds light on the growing chasm between FN and their core viewers.

As of Last Week – Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Jeffery, Michael or Melissa

After This Week – Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Jeffery, Michael or Melissa

As of Last Week – Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Melissa, Michael or Jamika.

After This Week – Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Jamika or Debbie.

Winner(s) this week:  – 1st Challenge – they didn’t really name one.  2nd Challenge – same here.

The finalist who will be going home is . . .



July 5, 2009 at 10:12 am

NFNS 5: Episode 4

One Of You Will Be Going Home Tonight

 I loved the challenges – they actually showed what each chef could do as opposed to hindering them.


  • Brett – went home week 2.
  • Teddy – the human roller coaster – started okay but then took a nose dive.
  • Katie – remains her own worst enemy.  Better on the second challenge than the first.
  • Michael – bounced back well after a sub-par showing last week.
  • Debbie – don’t think anything in the history of this show was as satisfying as the sound of that sheet pan when it hit the “snake.”  She started to blame it on Michael but first rule of the kitchen – if you are behind someone you have to say, “Behind.”
  • Eddie – went home week 3.
  • Jamika – sounded too forced.  “Pitch woman” was Fogleson’s description.  Food was not good.  Off night.
  • Jeffery – was off his game, much like Michael last week – still the best of the bunch.  Even on an off-day he was better than most.
  • Melissa – great energy – really good food.  Full blown contender.
  • Jen – went home week 1.

It was clear from episode 1 that Jamika is who Tuschman/Fogelson wanted to win.  But it is not as bad as their thinly veiled McCargo bias from last year.  Jamika has not bombed a challenge as badly as Aaron did.  Granted she won the second challenge in episode two making essentially the same dish that got Jen booted in week one, a questionable verdict to say the least.  Jen was told a side dish was not a Food Network worthy dish.  Apparently the rules are different for Jamika .  However, unlike Aaron, she is a natural in front of the camera.  She is likable and her food is at least as good as Aaron’s.  Granted neither has really been the strongest cook among their cast but neither was the worst either.

The first challenge was to make their version of the all American burger and Michael’s Little Italy inspired burger with basil and mozzarella was the big winner.  Katie’s medium rare turkey burger was the big loser.

The second challenge was to cook their all-American signature dish for soldiers returning from the war andtheir families.  For once Jeffery was flustered.  Katie did well but Tuschman still found a reason to slam her.  What is it with Bob and perky women.  Melissa blew the doors off the place -great presentation better food but Michael was his game as well.  Jamika’s dish looked like gruel – her presentation was fine but not as good as the judges alleged.  Jeffery’s food bombed – his presentation was okay but not nearly as bad as the judges made out.  Debbie really tried to milk her accident as an excuse but her food was mostly done by the time she kissed the pan – her energy during the presentation was muted (understandably) but Tuschman acted as if she brought the house down.  The winner’s dish will be featured on the cover of USA Weekend, so congratulations, Melissa.

As of Last Week – Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Jeffery or Jamika

After This Week – Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Jeffery, Michael or Melissa

As of Last Week – Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Jamika

After This Week – Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Melissa, Michael or Jamika

Winner(s) this week:  – 1st Challenge – Michael.  2nd Challenge – Melissa.

The finalist who will be going home is . . .


Teddy – finally.

June 28, 2009 at 9:02 pm

NFNS 5: Episode 3

One Of You Will Be Going Home Tonight

Let the drama begin.  Tonight was the first night of back stabbing and teary-eyed cah cah.  I really could live without this stuff.  At least the challenges weren’t too lame. 


  • Brett – went home week 2.
  • Teddy – His energy was even keeled but his cooking was all over the board.  He’s a weak link to be sure.
  • Katie – much improved over previous weeks but still isn’t a contender.
  • Michael – he had a bad week.  His food was great but once again on his presentation he was hit otmiss.  Lost is an accurate description.
  • Debbie – enough with the histrionics already!  Stop sabbotaging the other contestants.  You’ve got a good shot at winning but not as long as you’re a back-stabber.
  • Eddie – Eddie’s presentation was good (for a change), his food wasn’t.  More ego than substance.
  • Jamika – Still a strong contender (and apparently a judge favorite).  Her food was good her presentation was calm and confident but seemed a little forced compared to previous weeks.
  • Jeffery – continues to distance himself despite getting the worst challenges.
  • Melissa – was strong although her food needed a little seasoning.
  • Jen – went home week 1.

Debbie and Teddy worked really well together.  When Debbie is on she is very good but she has a little crazy going on that makes her appear unstable, even evil.  Teddy’s dessert bombed.  Debbie turned on the tear machine and the entire situation went from good to bad quickly.  Teddy cried, geez.

The two strongest cooks, Michael and Jeffery, were teamed up and for whatever reason Michael was just off even locking up on his presentation.  Jefferey was strong as usual.  The food was the best as one would expect.  They took the competition.  When it comes to just plane cooking Jeffery and Michael are on a different level than the rest but this contest clearly is about more than just cooking. 

Jamika teamed with Katie and Katie’s presentation was very good but not good enough for Tuschman.  It reminded me of last year when he would nick-pick Kelcey whenever it was clear she had blown the competition away.  The difference here is that Katie isn’t blowing anyone away.

Eddie and Melissa did not fare well.  Eddie, to put it bluntly, was a jerk.  And he admitted to plagiarizing from a Paula Deen cookbook.  Melissa was good on her presentation and her food was fine though it needed more flavor.

As of Last Week – Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Jeffery

After This Week – Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Jeffery or Jamika

As of Last Week – Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Jamika

After This Week – Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Jamika

Winner(s) this week:  – the team of Michael and Jeffery.

The finalist who will be going home is . . .



June 21, 2009 at 9:05 pm

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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."



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