The Next Food Network Star finale aired Sunday evening, and ended with the crowning of 2010’s champion. A trio of talented finalists, including comeback kid Tom Pizzica, consistent Aarti Sequeira and family-focused Herb Mesa, taped pilot episodes and then anxiously watched as a focus group viewed their final offerings. At hour’s end, Aarti rose to the top and became the Next Food Network Star winner. Here’s the play-by-play.
The finale opened with the three contestants awaking and sharing their thoughts on what’s to come. All seemed jittery but excited by the prospect of shooting their own pilots for the Food Network. They made their way to the Food Network kitchens and were greeted by none other than Rachael Ray, who shared that she’d be directing their pilot episodes. She also let them know that their pilots would be shown to not only the selection committee, but also a focus group comprised of Food Network viewers. Aarti was immediately intimidated by the notion of being judged by complete strangers.
Rachael then called on each contestant to share their planned dish for the pilot. Aarti shared that she wanted to make an Indian pizza on Naan, while Herb went with a chicken and sausage frittata. Tom the self-proclaimed ‘big chef’ planned to create a roast chicken.
Herb was the first to enter the test kitchen for pilot-time, and struggled mightily out of the gates. He ran way over the three-minute limit during his first take. Rachael encouraged him to look at the camera during his second go-round, but he was clearly frazzled. In order to combat his fear, he taped photos of his girls to the camera and finally managed to get into a groove.
The ordinarily affable Aarti was up next with her pilot experience. She opened smoothly but faltered during her first take. After taking a few moments to breathe, she delivered a knockout pilot. Rachael praised how comfortable Aarti was in front of the camera, and the contestant herself was pleased with her performance.
Up last was Tom. The ramblin’ man rambled on about mushrooms before finally cutting himself off and taking a moment to collect his thoughts. His next take was golden, though, as he told stories and cooked like a Food Network Star should.
With the pilots behind them, the three contestants ruminated on their experience. Aarti waxed poetic on wanting to really make it as an immigrant, while Herb expressed gratitude for his “roller coaster life”. Tom noted his own tremendous personal growth over the course of the season, going from listless ‘do I really want to be here”‘ guy to serious competitor in a matter of weeks.
After a break, The Next Food Network Star returned with Tom, Aarti and Herb dressing for the final judgment and chatting about their respective chances. After venturing to the studios, the trio settled in to watch the focus group’s response to their pilot episodes. Cooking with Sabor, hosted by Herb, was up first. He relished the experience as his clip elicited laughs and smiles from the focus group. Competitor Tom called it “a great idea for a show”. Herb was charming throughout his pilot and really connected with the camera. Herb watched nervously as the feed cut off: They weren’t able to view the focus group comments. The comments were largely positive, with one man saying he’d like to knock back a few cold ones with Herb and another calling the food appetizing.
Up next was Aarti Paarti, hosted by Aarti. She stressed over the audience’s initial lack of emotional response to her presentation, but Aarti often stresses, so it’s par for the course. At the conclusion of the clip, Tom noted Aarti’s ever-present humility and said that even if she won, she’d still decry the decision. She looked comfy in front of the camera and spoke freely, but didn’t actually look directly into the camera enough. One member of the focus group called her “extremely relatable” while another said she’d like to “join her book club”.
Last to go was Tom the Big Chef. He too drew some laughs from the focus group as he cooked and told stories of being a latchkey kid. Aarti had high praise for Tom, and worried over what his excellence would mean for her. He was great: He spoke freely, didn’t ramble quite as much as he typically rambles, and was funny. One focus group member said he had “star quality” while another said she appreciated that he wasn’t a “cookie cutter chef”.
The three Next Food Network Star hopefuls made their way to the selection committee one final time. They entered the room, which featured the Food Network Wall of Fame, and then the judges, including chef Bobby Flay, Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson addressed each contestant. Bob praised Herb’s “strong presence” and Susie called him “a star”. Bob told Aarti that she has “natural star quality” and Susie praised her self-assurance. Bob said that Tom “makes cooking fun” and Bobby Flay noted his impressive transformation over the course of the season. So who took the cake? Not so fast: The contestants were sent away once again so the selection committee could deliberate.
Bobby praised Herb’s passion, while Bob said that of the three, he may well have the most star potential. Bob appreciated how Aarti “blended comfort with excitement” week after week, but Susie worried over her ongoing self-doubt. She went on to praise Tom’s “complete 180” and Bobby appreciated his risk-taking nature. And finally: A decision!
The three nervous contenders were called back into the room. After a few brief pretty words, Food Network President Brooke Johnson entered for the big reveal. After the requisite dramatic music (and my heart was pounding in my chest!), Bobby revealed The Next Food Network Star winner Aarti Sequeira’s photo on the wall, alongside the likes of Giada DeLaurentis and Bobby Flay. Aarti encouraged viewers to go after their dreams, and then… it was all over.
So who will follow Aarti as the next winner of The Next Food Network Star? Tune in next season to see for yourself.
The Next Food Network Star finale, August 15, 2010, Food Network