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October 25, 2014

Meet the Winner of 'The Next Food Network Star'

by Allison Waldman, posted Aug 16th 2010 8:03AM
the_next_food_network_star_2010After ten episodes that have put hopeful television chefs through the rigors of cooking in a food truck, charming Eva Longoria, mastering an 'Iron Chef' challenge and even serving meals from the Palm Springs kitchen of the legendary Frank Sinatra, last night the winner of 'The Next Food Network Star' was crowned.

It came down to three finalists -- Aarti Sequeira, Herb Mesa, and Tom Pizzica. After filming their pilots, under the guidance of Rachael Ray, the programs were evaluated by both focus groups of Food Network viewers as well as the selection committee.

The reviews were excellent all around. Nobody failed and each pilot showed true promise. The selection committee made a strong case for each contestant. Of course, only one could be the big winner. Who was it? Consider this a SPOILER ALERT. Continue on for the reveal, as well as an interview with 'The Next Food Network Star' champion.

aarti_sequeira_food_networkAarti Sequeira was the victor, asserting her strong, vivacious personality on screen and marrying it to her expertise cooing traditional Indian fare with an American touch. Her show, 'Aarti's Paarti,' will be something new and different for the Food Network. Something a little exotic, at least cuisine-wise. However, if the network is right about Aarti, she may well be the next Rachael Ray or Giada DeLaurentiis.

We were able to speak with Aarti just moments after the finale aired. Here's her thoughts on winning, cooking, and getting ready for a brand new career on the Food Network.

What was your immediate reaction when you knew you won?

I don't think that I could put it in words. I just started to scream. I was just so humbled, so happy and ecstatic. Yet it was kind of bittersweet because when the curtain fell, and I saw my picture, I wasn't sure if I was really seeing my picture, and then Herb and Tom threw their arms around me. That was when I thought, 'Oh my God, it's true. That's really my picture. I won.' I was so, so happy.

Was it difficult to win knowing the other finalists lost?
Spending that much time in that kind of grueling circumstances, I really grew to love Tom and Herb like brothers. So it was bittersweet because they wanted this just as badly, if not more, than I did. I know what a blessing it would have been their lives. But I'm comforted because I know that they're so good and they have so much to offer and I know something good is going to happen for them, too.

When you were watching the focus groups, you seemed to recognize that Tom had upped his game in the pilot. Were you concerned?
It was weird because I watched all the pilots and I thought Herb did a good job. Mine was fine, but I knew I could have done even better than that. But I thought Tom had the best pilot. So after I watched it, I thought, 'Crap, Tom just took it home.' I knew exactly what he was talking about, to be that close and think, 'If I had just given it a little bit more.'

How did your experience on CNN and your YouTube videos help you with this competition?

I think it did. You know, like working at CNN, I was in the control room when 9/11 happened. I have been there and I think those kinds of things help you keep calm. Also, just being familiar with being around a place that has cameras and producers and all that kind of stuff. It can be a very foreign feeling if you haven't been around those things. I felt at ease. I'm the sort of person who, if I'm in an unfamiliar circumstance, then you can see it on my face. So I think having had that camera experience and then doing my own online videos really helped because I was really comfortable in front of the camera. It was the cooking I was worried about.

Did you have any experience in a professional kitchen?
I interned at a restaurant for a very short amount of time and I was never on the line. It took some serious adjusting. In the first episode, I made raw chicken and it definitely was because I wasn't used to working in that kind of kitchen with my kind of time, where you can stop the camera if you made a mistake. I had to learn to work a lot quicker. I was really inspired by watching the rest of the finalists and seeing how they worked quickly and methodically. That really taught me. I watched a lot more people than they think.

What was the toughest challenge?
The Beso challenge with Eva Longoria. That was the toughest for me because having seen my husband earlier that day, it just made me pine for him. I realize that Beso and the Frank Sinatra challenge were both the hardest challenges for me because I felt intimidated by the grandeur of the environment. I wasn't sure my food was grand enough for people who were judging it or the environment.

You must have felt over the moon when you saw the reactions of the Iron Chefs to your food?
Oh my gosh, that was just incredible, especially when I made that gazpacho with the coconut milk. That was totally a roll of the dice. I didn't know if they would like it, but it really did work. Michael Symon saying that it was the best food he'd ever had in the competition in three years, I don't think that still has fully sunk into my heart. There's still a part of me that thinks that's a miracle, like Jesus turning water into wine. I didn't know it was that good.

Was there a point when you thought you were out of the competition?

When I was standing on the firing line at the end of the Beso, I thought I was going to be okay with being sent home. I deserved it because I wasn't able to battle my demons. I wasn't able to bury them. I realize now how my self-confidence issues can get in my way because I have the goods. It's just all in my mind. I really am so grateful for the committee that they kept me on for one more week after that.

If you could have re-done anything, what would that be?

In that challenge, the emotion I had was fear. So I think I would have done one of two things; either I would have made that lamb really, really well, or I would have taken a big risk and made something that was really frightening to me.

How daunting was it dealing with celebrities who you've watched on Food Network?
Very daunting. Someone like Alton Brown, everyone loves Alton Brown. You can't help but be impressed by him. He has that funny way helping you understand the science behind the cooking. He was incredibly intimidating. When I was doing the commentary for the Iron Chef, it was as if I was working with Edward R. Murrow and I was the reporter. My nerves really got to me in that moment. If there's someone with whom I want a do-over, it's him.

What was it like dealing with Bobby Flay?
Bobby is a funny one because I don't think he realizes how scared of him we are. He has a poker face when he evaluates so you don't know what he's thinking. But he really wants you to do well. He really wants your food to taste good. He really wants you to do well on camera. I was sort of surprised by that. I was surprised by how invested he was and that really warmed my heart.

How will you make Indian food more accessible?
There are some people who think that Indian food is only spicy or only really difficult to make. I get where they're coming from, but that's not the truth. There are definitely recipes that are intimidating. I want to make the food a lot more accessible. Instead of using six spices, I'm going to show you how to get something close to that with three. I was to open the doors and invite people to just try. Try the cumin. Try the coriander. I want to give people that sense of adventure.

Where do you see yourself in one year and five years down the road?
A year from now, I want to see myself making the kind of show that I've always dreamed of which is a cooking show with aspects of music and poetry and drama. But really, a year from now, I want to see myself successful enough to bring my sister to America. My baby sister lives in India and she never got a chance to go to college. My big dream is that in a year, I'll be able to bring her out and put her in school. I really feel a sense of responsibility to my family because I'm the oldest daughter and my parents put me through school and my younger sister is incredibly talented and I really want to give her the same chance that I had. Look at how it's turned out for me.

'Aarti's Paarti' premieres Sunday, August 22, at 12 PM on Food Network. In the first show, Aarti takes viewers on a journey back home with recipes inspired by her family in India. She'll be making Sloppy Bombay Joes, an all-American classic updated with warm Indian flavors like garam masala and cumin. For a starter, she's making a crisp massaged kale salad with pumpkin seeds and honey, and for desert, creamy pistachio pops.

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Grace

Who cares if the Iron chefs adored Aarti's food??? These chefs are not watching cooking shows and needing to gain anything from them. The viewer watches and learns. I am a viewer. Well, I watched and learned that the judges are not in touch with reality. I watched and learned that I will not be tuning into this boring woman. Incidently, I am very fond of Indian food.

August 17 2010 at 8:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
crabby

I used to love watching Food Network but now not as much. I love Ina Garten Iron Chef America Giada and Guy on Diners DriveIns and Dives BUT everything else seems like a waste of my time. Now I watch the shows on PBS instead on Saturdays: Julia Child with Jacques Pepin Rick Bayless.... Lydia:) GREAT Chefs..aka REAL chefs!!!!!!! Arti is about to be turned into another Food Network cartoon character like Paula Deen Gina Neely and Rachael Ray!

August 17 2010 at 3:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
crabby

Even though I thought Herb needed to try to just cut loose a bit in the end his pilot was perfect.He was graceful handsome articulate charming professional and his food looked really appealing in his pilot.His POV was the most relevant too in that he continually emphasized his own personal experience with poor childhood eating ahbits being a chubb_o as a kid and learning to prepare great cuisine with lower fat and calories.He emanated radiant good health. BUT we get a short chubby Indian girl with a British accent who cooks with high fat coconut milk:)I think The Food Network misses opportunities to be responsible and offer programming related to healthy meal preparation.I LOVE Ina Garten but she "lets it rip" with NO inhibition when she cooks.Her meals are ALL luscious and dripping with butter calories cheese,etc.Wouldn't it be cool to have a chef on Food Network who prepares the same things but uses lower calorie lower fat substitutes?

August 17 2010 at 3:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
msdiamondgirl428

AS SOON AS THEY SAID HER NAME I CHANGED THE CHANNEL. ICAN SAY I WON'T BE WATCHING HER SHOW. BAD CHOICE! HERB HAD THAT SMILE WOMAN LOVE TO WATCH & LIKED HIS FIGURE FRIENDLY RECIPES. TOM HAD THAT PERSONALITY LIKE HE IS ONE OF THE FAMILY, LAYED BACK. WILL NOT BE WATCHING HER SHOW...NOPE...NADA...NEVER!

August 16 2010 at 10:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
msdiamondgirl428

AS SOON AS THEY SAID HER NAME I CHANGED CHANNELS. HERB WAS AWESOME & WOMEN WOULD HAVE WATCHED JUST SEE HIM. TOM WAS ALSO GOOD. GREAT PERSONALITY. I WON'T BE WATCHING HER SHOW..NOPE!!

August 16 2010 at 10:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Linda

I think they chose the wrong person too. I was so hoping that one of the fellas would win. The last few winners shows are really not that good. They seem to put them on at odd times and not all that great cooking. I think the only reason she won was because they needed someone who could cook Indian food really good. I think the fellas were more entertaining and fun. I did want to say that I thought Bobby Flay was really mean this go round. He's no Simon, but seemed to try and act like him...
Be yourself Bobby...you do it much better. Lighten up and stop being mean...it's so unbecoming for you!!!

August 16 2010 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Natalie

I am really happy that Aarti won!!! She deserved to win. I can't wait to watch her show. Herb was terrible! He was not my favorite. I wouldn't watch his show. If Aarti didn't win, I think that Tom would have been second.

August 16 2010 at 8:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
daveintn

The Judges BLEW it, of the three choices she was the weakest. Brad was the best of the bunch but never even made the final. Aarti is so bland, which is ironic because she won because of her indian flavors, but thats all she has, in every challenge, no matter what the food, she added Indian spices, wow what a great chef. We will never watch her show. As far as who I would have picked??? Big Chef Tom, sure he's not your average chef, but he's intersting and you connect with him, I hope he lands a show somewhere !!!

August 16 2010 at 8:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Elaine

Won't watch her! I think the judges are stuck in ditzy! Give someone whose not in the Rachel
Ray mold. How about another man?

August 16 2010 at 7:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rene

Aarti was chosen because the Food Network doesn't have someone like her on the Network. There isn't anyone who represents Indian cuisine. Plus, they really liked her food. All the finalists were pretty good but she brought something different to the table. All the Iron Chefs raved about her food.

August 16 2010 at 7:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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