I wake up thinking, "Holy crap! I won!" It's the morning after the taping of The Next Food Network Star finale. One of my two fellow finalists, Tom Pizzica, is still sleeping, but the other, Herb Mesa, has already showered and worked out. Amazing, considering how late we were out last night. We celebrated at Bobby Flay's New York City restaurant Bar Americain. We were all so ready to talk smack about Bobby’s food, after all those weeks of him critiquing ours. But we were speechless. His food was exquisite. Fine, Bobby, fine! You're excellent, OK? Later that morning, I head to a conference room at Food Network, where I meet with my production team. My production team! I still can’t get over saying that. I'm intimidated, though. How am I going to stack up against past winners?
I learn that I have two days to provide 24 recipes. And eight show themes. Gulp. I know I already have that many recipes. But wow, that’s fast! My husband, Brendan, starts going through my blog and writing down the names of all of my recipes. Prepping recipes for air is different than I had expected. I had assumed I'd make one dish at a time, but I'll actually be making them all at once. I remember Bobby telling me that I needed to learn to multitask. Bobby, why are you always right? At Food Network we choose a code name so that no one will find out I'm the winner while we work on the show. My secret name is Whiskey, my favorite drink. A little old-school, a little brassy. Love it!
My head is still spinning. I won two days ago, and now I'm planning my own show -- Aarti Party -- on Food Network! Somebody pinch me! When I get to my hotel that night, I check in under another secret name: Denise Brown. (It's hard to keep track of them all!) In my room I find a disguise I'll have to wear out in public: big sunglasses and a long, wavy wig. I feel like Beyonce! I even have my own production assistant. Her name is Maureen, and she follows me around to make sure I’m fed, hydrated, chocolate'd. She's amazing. She knows everything, like what kind of obscure tea I'm obsessed with at the moment. Can I take her home with me?