Melissa's Insight: Four Rules for Finalists
Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. Her show, Ten Dollar Dinners , premieres its fifth season on July 3. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.
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Week three: I’m getting to know the finalists, and I’m emotionally invested. I crack up when Jeff talks about his mojo-in-sweat theory; I cringe at Chris “making the ice cream … oh yeahhhhhhhhhhhhh”; I brace for impact when Alicia announces that the “only thing” she is worried about is her cupcake recipe (uh oh); and I want to hang out with Susie over coffee and tell her how much I love her sleek hairdo. I have some early favorites: Jyll and Orchid. And I am dying to jump through the screen and tell Whitney and Justin B. to get out of their own way; this competition might be theirs to lose if they could only find a way to bring their genuine selves, however imperfect, to the audience.
Make it sound good. What you name your dish counts, and how you talk about your food matters since your audience cannot taste it. A corollary: Don’t be a walking apology for a dish. Serve it and own it completely. Or leave it in the kitchen — there is no in-between. And a tip: Never, ever use the word “just” to describe food to Bobby Flay. It will drive him bananas, trust me. Justin B. starts off calling the orange fennel ice cream “just an anglaise base,” and Whitney is similarly tepid in her description of a brownie (although in all fairness, she was right — it was indeed “just” a brownie, which is not a good thing at all). Take a cue from Vic: He sells the heck out of his tequila lime cream puff with his culinary authority, no pitch needed.
You are joining a cooking competition, folks, so please, please do not show up without a few baking recipes in your repertoire. You will likely have to memorize them, I realize. How Alicia, a professional baker, ended up not having a few solid cake recipes etched effortlessly in her brain is a mystery. She was really likeable, so I felt awful that instead of shining this week, she tanked. I take some comfort, however, in knowing that anyone who, in her own words, was “FUH-reaking out” in the kitchen, probably had her days numbered in the competition anyway.
Susie Fogelson is on target when she says, “I don’t believe you can have a team of six people without a leader.” Don’t confuse other (sometimes very desirable) traits with leadership skills. The laughs and friendship over on the girls team left a gaping hole where a leader should have been. Jyll’s desire to put “love on a plate,” however sincere, simply didn’t translate into results. As Duff said, “They just forgot to put out good food,” which is a little like the bus driver forgetting to pick up his passengers because he was running late. On the other team, Chris’s goofiness and good intentions left his ship without a captain. Leadership skills are critical in a restaurant kitchen, and will absolutely be useful for the FNS winner, as he or she helms a career and brand that involves many players.
You may not like what I have to say here, but your passion means very little to anyone but you and your family — unless it is driving you into action that makes others’ lives better. The judges struggle with knowing what Alicia’s skill set is “beyond being passionate about this.” Use your passion to drive excellence in action. I love competitive reality TV shows where the winner gets to realize a lifelong dream. And I’m always dismayed when I see the two remaining contestants given the chance to plead their case for winning and invariably someone focuses on their passion and how much they want to win. Here’s my BTDT tip for the FNS finalists who find themselves in this exact position for the finale: Save the “I found my life’s purpose” speech for Grandma, and make a compelling case for what you bring to the table if hired. Make your passion matter to others by delivering results that interest them, not you.