One-on-One with Aarti Sequeira, a Judge on Clash of the Grandmas

Hear from Aarti Sequeira, a host on Food Network's Clash of the Grandmas, about what's to come in this old-school-meets-new-school competition.

Photo by: Jeremiah Alley ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Jeremiah Alley, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

We're just a few weeks into the premiere season of Clash of the Grandmas, and if the first battles were any indication, it's clear that top-quality cooking knows no limits, age or otherwise. Aarti Sequeira is a judge on Sunday's all-new episode (airing at 10|9c), and she noted the downright fierceness of the ladies facing off in the competition. They are "vivacious, spunky grandmas who love nothing more than to feed people, whether those people are their grandchildren, or someone else's," she explained, noting that their dishes often boast that extra something-something. In addition to the "love" that goes into their offerings, she said, there's also "a little bit of I-don't-give-a-damn," which we can only assume is what makes their food so treasured. Read on below to hear more from Aarti and get her take on what it's like to judge grannies' cooking.

Aside from the age of the competitors, what makes Clash of the Grandmas different than other culinary battles?

Aarti Sequeira: There's something special about the way that grandmothers cook. They can make the simplest of dishes, but there's something in the way they turn their wrist, sprinkle in that brown sugar, layer in the cheese; it's all so infused with a sense of comfort that every round, after eating their food, I felt like everything was going to be OK. I don't get that when I taste even the best chef's cooking!

Were you surprised to see the gumption in these grannies and notice how fearless they are?             

AS: Totally! I think we all imagine that once you get older you lose your inner sparkle. But I'm happy to see that it doesn't disappear! That's a comfort to my soul! I also think that it's wonderful that no matter how old you are, you can always do something new and challenging. These women inspired me.

In general, what do you think makes grandmothers’ cooking so darn good?                                                  

AS: Love, experience and a little bit of I-don't-give-a-damn.

There's no shortage of surprises thrown at the grandmothers this season. Do you think there’s any way for them to prepare for this competition?                                                                                                     

AS: Try making your tried-and-true recipes with unusual ingredients. Just knowing that you can do it will make you feel even more fearless when the show tries to spook you!

How does the fact that the competitors are grandmas influence the way you judge them, if at all?   

AS: I come from a culture that REVERES the fact that we get older, because it means that we ostensibly are wiser. So I had a hard time being critical with these grandmas because my inner Indian was shouting, "Who are you to judge them?!" Plus, you gotta watch yourself — that's someone's gran! People are very protective of their grans! Tread lightly!

Do you have any special memory of cooking with your grandma? Please explain.                                        

AS: Sadly, both my grans passed away before I had a chance to cook with them, but I do remember that my paternal grandmother, Winnie (who I resemble a great deal), would always put the container of freshly churned butter right next to me at breakfast. It was her way of saying, "I see you and I love you."

Was there one dish your grandma was known for? Please explain.  

AS: So many! My mum has written down my paternal grandmother's recipes in her own journal of family recipes, and I can't wait to get my paws on them. I always think of her spicy mango pickle. No store-bought version has ever come close, and even though she passed on the recipe, no one has been able to make it quite like she did. Rest in peace, Winnie — until I get to heaven. And then you better have a pantryful of that pickle to feed me through eternity!

Tune in to Clash of the Grandmas on Sundays at 10|9c.

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Aarti Sequeira Bio

In August 2010 Aarti Sequeira competed on and won Season 6 of Food Network's number-one series, Food Network Star, landing the ultimate dream culinary job: her very own Food Network show. A dedicated foodie all her life and a journalist by education and trade, Aarti successfully combines these passions in her entertaining blog and online cooking-variety show, Aarti Paarti. Now she takes her food knowledge, love for cooking, and enthusiasm for sharing information to the masses in her Food Network cooking series, Aarti Party. On this show she surprises viewers with unexpected flavors and techniques to expand their palates and culinary repertoire by imparting her knowledge of Indian cuisine and putting an approachable spin on all-American classics. Born in Bombay, India, and raised in Dubai, UAE, Aarti's lifelong appreciation for food began at a young age and was inspired by her faith, her mother, her cultural background and her never-ending food experiments. Growing up in a traditional Indian Catholic family, Aarti spent Fridays dining on fish and Sundays at church. Her fondest food memories include her father's weekly trips to the market for fresh fish and produce, her mother's daily recipe creations, and Aarti's own pretending to host a cooking show — an unexpected glimpse into her future as a Food Network star. After completing Dubai's British system of schooling, including many music-related activities like piano and choir, Aarti moved to Chicago in 1996 to attend Northwestern University. In 2000, she earned a Bachelor of Science in journalism at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism with an adjunct major in International Relations. While pursuing her degree, Aarti gained valuable media experience working at the school's student-run radio and television stations and also spent a short time in Washington, D.C., covering Capitol Hill for a local Fargo, N.D., television station. Upon graduation Aarti worked for about a year at CNN as a production assistant in Chicago before moving to New York in 2001 to work as a CNN producer for two years. In 2003 she married her college sweetheart, Brendan, and moved from New York to Los Angeles to start their life together. In addition to working several freelance gigs in the Los Angeles entertainment industry, Aarti assisted a Peabody award-winning director on Sand and Sorrow, a documentary about Darfur in 2004. Feeling like something was still missing, Aarti enrolled in The New School of Cooking in Culver City, Calif., where she earned her professional cooking certificate in 2007. To further explore her culinary calling, Aarti launched her blog and online cooking-variety show, Aarti Paarti in 2008. In addition to cooking, Aarti enjoys improv theater, music, Middle Eastern dance and visiting art galleries. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, Brendan, while her parents and youngest sister live in Bangalore, India, and her middle sister lives in Phoenix.

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