Aarti's After Party: Getting to Know You

Next Food Netowrk Star Season 8, Episode 5

Next Food Netowrk Star Season 8, Episode 5

Contestant Judson Allen of Team Alton giving his Demo to Guest Star Guy Fieri for their Star Challenge "Live Demo-Halloween" as seen on Food Network's Star, Season 8.

Photo by: Edward Chen/Creel Films ©2012, Television Food Network, G.P.

Edward Chen/Creel Films, 2012, Television Food Network, G.P.

Aarti Sequeira won Food Network Star season 6 and expanded her popular blog into a cooking show, Aarti Party (catch it on Food Network, Sundays at 7:30am/6:30c). As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Aarti shares her insider’s take on what went down each week.

We’re five weeks in, and there are only 10 contestants left. With this large a group, it’s hard to get to know anyone on a deeper level, and that seems to have been the theme of this week’s episode. Cue the show tunes! "Getting to know you, getting to know all about yooooooooou … "!

When asked, "who are you?" it seemed that most everyone’s inclination was to talk about his or her family. Whether it was Michele’s mom’s meatball recipe or Judson talking about his family’s struggle with weight, there’s something about talking about your family that instantly connects you with people, perhaps because, for the most part, everyone has one.

Next Food Netowrk Star Season 8, Episode 5

Next Food Netowrk Star Season 8, Episode 5

Contestants Malcolm Mitchell, Michelle Ragussis and Nikki Martin of Team Bobby giving their Demo to Guest Star Guy Fieri for the Star Challenge "Live Demo-Kid's Meal" as seen on Food Network's Star, Season 8.

Photo by: Edward Chen/Creel Films ©2012, Television Food Network, G.P.

Edward Chen/Creel Films, 2012, Television Food Network, G.P.

When Michele talked about her mom, Phyllis, her character seemed to round out a little. She transformed from a hard-nosed whatever-it-takes chef to a daughter, an Italian daughter, who watched her mother carefully as she soaked bread in milk to make meatballs. It felt like I’d just put on a pair of 3-D glasses at the movie theater.

But, is anyone wondering whether the family stories are becoming a bit of a gimmick? When they come up authentically, they’re magic; I already mentioned Michele, but I’m also thinking of Malcolm here, whose face lit up at even the mention of his kids. Listen, I’ve told my fair share of family stories on my show, so I’m the pot calling the kettle black here, but perhaps it’s because I treasure these stories so much that I bristle at even the whisper of gimmickry.

Next Food Netowrk Star Season 8, Episode 5

Next Food Netowrk Star Season 8, Episode 5

Producer Giada De Laurentiis mentoring her Contestant Linkie Marais cooking for the Star Challenge "Live Demo" as seen on Food Network's Star, Season 8.

Photo by: Edward Chen/Creel Films ©2012, Television Food Network, G.P.

Edward Chen/Creel Films, 2012, Television Food Network, G.P.

If your family really is the reason why you cook the way you do, then great! But if not, let’s dig deeper and find out what makes you tick. That’s why my ears really perked up when people dodged the more predictable road and instead talked about their personal struggles. When Linkie talked about how, upon arriving in Mississippi, she was told to lose her gorgeous South African lilt, I got a lump in my throat. That’s tantamount to being told, “You’re not good enough the way you are.” And it can leave a deep, painful mark. (I also loved the moment when Giada talked about her similar experience and showed Linkie that it’s possible to succeed even with that painful mark on your heart.)

I loved hearing about Judson’s weight-loss battle. It told us so much about his character – that here was a young man who bucked nature/nurture and decided to change his life by losing weight. Losing 115 pounds is no joke. It takes perseverance, strength of character and, of most interest to the porker writing this blog, creativity in the kitchen to satisfy those cravings in a healthful fashion. I’m sad he left before he got to share all the tricks he picked up along the way.

To that end, there are still some characters whose fleshed-out stories I’m missing. While you all know that I’m a big fan of Emily and Justin, I’m starting to reach for my 3-D glasses, as it were. Why is Emily such a fan of the '50s? When did she start marinating in that era? And Justin: Were you always a science geek? Were you always a rebel? Why do you cook? It strikes me that the latter question is probably the one we’re always seeking an answer to from these contestants. It’s not just about what do you cook, but why?
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