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Next Food Network Star Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is a transcript of an Interview with with Melissa D'Arabian and Brianna Jenkins on July 19, 2010 about the Food Network show Food Network Star.

Question:
I saw the preview for next week's show, but I was a bit confused as to what your role actually is. Could you please describe it for me?

Melissa D'Arabian:
I'll be joining Giada for the camera challenge. The finalists are going to have to take breakfast food and turn it into a non breakfast item. It's a cereal challenge, so they really are going to have to get their creative juices flowing.

Question:
There is a very diverse and varied group on the show this season. How do you feel they compare to the group you competed with?

Melissa D'Arabian:
It's so hard to separate myself and watch this just as a fan. On one hand I do watch this as a fan and I love it! I'm sucked in just like you all are, then I am just dying to know who's doing well and who's not doing well. But at the same time I also watching it and I am so stressed for them, because I know how it important it is and how much it means to them. So you know just like our season everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses, everyone brings something different to the table, and as I said to the finalists this past year when I got to meet them, when I was shooting this episode that is coming up, they really need to embrace who they are bring that to the table and celebrate that. Because it's quick - next thing you know you're gone. So if you can't get to that pretty quickly then that's where you're going to start living in regret. So obviously they all have something to special to bring to the table and I am excited to see where it goes.

Question:
What can we look forward to on Ten Dollar Dinners?

Melissa D'Arabian:
We just had a new season started out a few weeks ago, we just had the third episode premiere, and we've got 15 new episodes premiering every Sunday. I love this season's recipes. I've got some really creative ideas, and I think after season 1 a lot of people thought, "Can she keep going? Is there more to make under ten dollars?" and we did it and then again on the second season. And season 3 people are going to be surprised by the variety of foods and the creative ways that you can get exciting foods to fit in your budget. We all know you can eat hot dogs under 10 dollars - that's not the trick. The trick is to find creative ways to bring in international flavors, or to bring in a twist to an old family favorite, to bring in recipes good enough to serve a dinner party. That is what Ten Dollar Dinners is all about. And Ten Dollar Dinners to me is never about just the recipe. I really want people to walk away from an episode of Ten Dollar Dinners with at least one, maybe two or three tips or tricks or techniques that they can put in their hip pocket to help them save money every time they shop, not just for my recipes, but how to shop in general. My hope is that if someone watches Ten Dollar Dinners over the month they will start to see their grocery bill go down all the time because they are adding one more shopping technique into their hip pocket every time they watch.

Question:
How hard is it to balance home life and reporting on the show?

Melissa D'Arabian:
The trickiest part about having gone back to work is balancing home life and work. But the good news is this: I am joining the ranks of millions of working parents across America, but that is my biggest challenge. I think people expect it to be something else, but it's really the simplicity of finding that balance. I have found over the past ten months learned what works for me, for instance, compartmentalizing is very important. When I am working, I really try to focus on work and try to find a great alternative for my kids - if they are in school or if my husband is with them, and I feel very confident that they are being well taken care of and that they are happy, so that I can 100% focus on work. Then on the flip side, when I'm with my kids, it's 100% my kids. I'm not a check my Blackberry and check my email while I am talking to my kids. That has no place in my house because it stresses me out. So when I'm with my kids I'm 100% theirs and work is on hold, there is no email checking and that is what it is. And when I'm working and checking recipes, I do it when the kids are not at home so I can focus on that 100%. That's the trickiest part. It's tricky, it's tricky, it's imperfect, but I also think it's great for my kids to see me have a job that I love, I also feel like my job advances my personal life mission. That is very important for me to find ways to link my personal life mission in with my job so that it makes it all worthwhile I feel like at the end of the day I have gotten further along in my personal life mission through my job, and that to me is the best one could ever expect in a job. So that takes the sting out of saying goodbye to my kids sometimes, because it is hard to kiss them goodbye and get on a plane and go. But I'll tell you what, I get on the plane and I go, and literally from the minute I land in NY and sometimes even up in the sky because you know, they have WIFI now, I am 100% in it with work and I focus. Every minute of mine is taken up with work. And everybody knows that if I'm in NY, there's not a meal that I have to myself, because I fill it up with work. If I have to be away from my kids I'm going to make it all about work and get it done so the second I'm done, I literally take the very next flight and go home and then it's all about the kids. So it's imperfect but that's how I do it.

Question:
What is something you wish someone had told you before you auditioned for Next Food Network Star?

Melissa D'Arabian:
I really do believe the season that I was on, season five, as a viewer I see sort of the transition into me embracing who I am and celebrating that and bringing that to the table, and not worrying about what everyone else brings to the table. I knew that going in. The truth is when I got there and I looked at 9 other competitors who were all professionals and all really had incredible culinary resumes, I let that get to me for a couple of weeks and it made me feel a little bit out of sorts. While I don't regret the past at all because it is what it is and sometimes you have to go through to get out, you just can't go around something from experience. That was a stressful, tough experience for me, but in the end that's what I went through to own my own experiences and own my own strengths and celebrate that. I may not have better knife skills thean somebody that has been cooking for 20 years, as that should be, but none of them could get dinner on the table for 4 screaming kids like I can. So you know what, that's what I'm good at, and I call that playing a game I can win. So I think I could have done a better job at the beginning playing a game that I could win. That would be my advice to anybody, to today's contestants, is play a game you can win. Trust that you're okay. Look at your own self and bring that to the table and celebrate that.

Question:
Most contestants have a hard time with the TV aspect and performing in front of the camera. What advice would you give them to deal with the camera?

Melissa D'Arabian:
Let me back up and say this: Now that Food Network Star has the camera challenge and the star challenge - what a brilliant move. When I went in and saw the finalists with the camera challenge I was floored. I thought, 'Oh my gosh, they are way more advanced than we were at this stage of the game'. I think they have the camera challenge to thank for that and Giada as a mentor, because talk about somebody who really makes friends with the camera, Giada couldn't be a better mentor for the finalists. So I have to tell you, I think they're doing a great job. I promise you it's much harder than it looks. I'll tell you this - there is no substitute for just doing it. Finding a way to find a connection with that camera, when I'm shooting Ten Dollar Dinners, there's kinda one main camera that sorta follows me and represents my audience, so to really have a sense of where the camera is, because when you look down to chop an onion, you want to look up and hit that camera. Meanwhile that camera may have moved a little bit, so you always have to be aware of it being there. There's something to be said for the muscle memory of the technical aspects of TV, so the experience in front of the camera helps with that. But you can focus on what is important, which the information, the food, the stories relating to your audience. So in that aspect these finalists are miles ahead because they've had the experience. So I gotta tell you I was impressed, I thought they did great.

Question:
What's the biggest mistake contestants make when they try to reinvent a dish, kind of like Aria with pigs in a blanket?

Melissa D'Arabian:
It's a tough balance. Reinventing a dish is tricky, because on one hand you want to be creative, but number two you need to know where to draw the line before getting too far away from the dish. So the pig in the blanket and the shrimp in the batter, I see where she was going with that and in some way maybe she was thinking, they will think 'WOW this is genius!' and that's what you're going for when you're coming up with your dish idea and as you saw, I hope I'm not spoiling anything, but it was too far away. They were impressed with the food but it was too far away from the original spirit. Here's the thing with Aria's pig in the blanket - I feel that she had a lot of options without leaving the basic components. You know Bobby had mentioned she could have done pork belly, which would have been a great option. There were lots of options for her in the pork family that I feel like she could have been just as creative and not gotten so far away. But I will say this, it's a tough call, because you want to put yourself out there and nobody wants to play it safe. The thing about Food Network Star is you have minutes to make a decision, so once you're there, I think they got 30 minutes to shop, but once you're down that path, 30 minutes to shop is not a lot of time. Once you've made the decision, you're in it. So you have moments to make the decision and then you're committed, so you do your best and sometimes you hit and sometimes you miss.

Question:
Do you think you were prepared for Ten Dollar Dinners from the challenges you got from Food Network Star? How did you prepare?

Melissa D'Arabian:
Nothing can prepare you from having your own show. It is unlike anything else you've ever done. There exists no set of challenges that will adequately prepare you for your own show, so the answer to that is no. But that's just because having your own show is having your own unique animal, there's no way to prepare somebody. That being said there are things you can do to be prepared, the camera challenge is a huge step in the right direction, because a big part of having my own show is about the camera work. You know I shot these shows that are airing now back in April. One of the big surprises to me is the separation of TV from the work. There I am in April and I'm living in the recipes and tips, bringing in my experiences and passing these recipes out on my family; there's a whole process that goes into developing these recipes for a season of Ten Dollar Dinners. It's a lot of work. It's work that I love, but it does not at all feel TV and glamour-y at all. It feels very much about the information of food, and I'm thinking to myself, if I could share this information with my next-door neighbor or my best friend, what would it be? It's really about that work. And then it's about that muscle memory and that camera and the circle piece, and dealing with the kitchen, which in the first couple of seasons, is somewhat unfamiliar to you. In season three I feel so much more at home in my kitchen and it really feels like home, and I think I really see that in season 3 versus season 1. It's very separate, the work is separate from the TV piece and it's kind of funny when a few months later I see it on TV and I start to see the fruits of that labor, but that was months ago and now I'm dealing with other recipes, other work, other whatever. But the fact that it's on TV is sort of like the icing on the cake that comes several months later. There's a broad separation - I kind of thought they would be more linked. Sort of like, 'Oh my gosh! I'm doing this and I'm on TV it's crazy'. No it doesn't feel like I'm on TV when I'm in my studio. It feels like we are all very passionate about food, and passionate about the information and making sure we are being clear. It feels more like a communications class. You know when you're in high school and you had to do speeches in front of the class, it's really more that kind of experience than it is about the TV experience. That being said, the camera challenges are a step in the right direction. It sounds cliche, but making friends with the camera is a big part of it. It's a really big part of it. The other thing is, nothing can prepare you for being the only one on camera. My show is pretty much shot in live takes; which means I get four acts in a show with commercial breaks and I pretty much shoot them as you see them. Worst and all you're going to see that, but I love that because I feel like it really helps me connect with the audience, and it's hard to do. You get better at it, and you get less nervous about where that camera is and looking up and hitting the right place with your eyes. Kind of making that camera, the guy who carries the camera Klaus, he and I have just become really good friends because I feel it's sort of like this duo. He and I are in this sort of sync, and the camera that he carries around is really what it's all about. Food Network Star just can't teach you that. But I really do think who ever wins will be much better prepared on the camera front having had the camera challenge and Giada there to help them out along the way.

Question:
How does it feel to go from a contestant to a judge in such a short period of time, plus you having the show in the mean time?

Melissa D'Arabian:
It is a very interesting experience. Let me just tell you about the whole parenting thing; I find myself saying something to my kids then I say, 'Oh my gosh, I remember my parents saying that to me'. And that is exactly what it's like to be a judge now, because I'm looking at them and thinking, 'You re getting in your own way'. Trust that you are and just give us that. Don't worry about what you think we want to hear, celebrate yourself. I find myself, the words that are the same things that I heard judges say to us and I had the exact same experience, where you become your own parent. Well, you become your own judges too. It is less stressful though and I would prefer to be on the judge's side. I felt for them when they were doing the challenge, and it's really a fun challenge to watch, because you have to be pretty creative to take these breakfast foods and turn them into non breakfast foods and I think people are going to be really surprised by the creativity of the finalists. I know I was impressed and I thought they did a fantastic job. But, watching them, I wanted to give them all the same advice that I had heard as a finalist and I will say when I sat there as a judge, I was rooting for each one of them. I wanted them to give me their best. I wanted them to do well, and it broke my heart when somebody wouldn't. The stupid part is they just sabotaged themselves because they didn't trust themselves, they didn't take a deep breathe and say, 'This is who I am and I'm just going to bring the best me forward'. And let the chips fall where they may. That was a little heart breaking. Let me tell you something when I went to go shoot Next Food Network Star season six, I did not sleep the night before, I was so stressed. I was tossing and turning in my bed - it was a really stressful experience for me knowing the finalists were going to go through that and not knowing what will be coming up next. Here I am knowing that I am going to see them tomorrow so to put myself in their shoes, I could tell you, I'm someone who feels pretty deeply. When I know they are stressed, I was stressed I didn't sleep very well at all. But I gotta say if I had to pick a side of the table to be on, the judges side of the table is a good one to be on.

Question:
How has the show changed since you were on it?

Melissa D'Arabian:
I've been saying have the camera challenge was the biggest most obvious change and it has really given the finalists a chance to get comfortable with the camera early on in the process. Here's the thing, when I was watching the contestants when I was a judge on Next Food Network Star, I am thinking to myself, what are the crimes that could be fixed in a few weeks of being in front of the camera? What are the issues that just cannot be fixed? The judges are thinking, in a few weeks someone is going to have their own show. I am also thinking to myself, who is going to have their own show and who will be good after 5 or 6 episodes? The first 5 or 6 episodes they are play as you go, so who has issues that can be fixed, and who doesn't? That is what I am thinking as somebody who just goes in. I have a fantastic executive producer and a fantastic director who will come down and say 'Hey, when you put the big jug of milk here it ruins the camera shot and it makes for an ugly show'. Oh, ok, I know what can be fixed and what cannot be fixed, with a little bit of guidance and help down on the set. So that is my perspective, is thinking about what can be fixed and what cannot be fixed. Here's the great news about the new camera challenge - it gives them a good deal of time to get used to that camera and make it their friend. It gives them ten weeks, and if after those ten weeks they haven't made it their friend or worked that issue out, then we kind of get to see your true colors after 8 or 9 weeks of looking at the camera. So by the time I got there in week 6 or 7, you've gotten past the, everybody's panicking because it's your first time in front of a camera. Now their true colors are able to show and that's a great equalizer, that's really helpful to weed out who's good the first time around.

Question:
If you were given another chance on the show, what would you do differently this time?

Brianna Jenkins:
I would open up a bit more about my personal life, I think the judges were really looking for me to draw from some of the stuff that happened to me throughout my life to connect with the audience, but not ever being in a situation like this, you just really don't know how to go about that. I didn't really prepare for that part of the show. I didn't prepare for the journey and the struggles that I would have to show you all of me, the real, raw Brianna.

Question:
As the season went along, did you start to get a feel for what the contestants did well and not so well? Or get a feel for who might be going home next before it happened?

Brianna Jenkins:
No, not really. With the type of competition it is - it's not just about food and it's not just about personality, it's about bringing all those elements together. Everyone has their good weeks and their bad weeks, and there was really no way to foresee who would be the first or second to go home. It was always a surprise to all of us.

Question:
What's next for you?

Brianna Jenkins:
I'm currently working on a cocktail table cook and design book. I'm also doing some consulting for restaurants that are opening up in the Atlanta area. I'm constantly on different show ideas to pitch to the network, so that's about it!

Question:
You said you didn't get to show viewers the real Brianna. What would you show them about yourself?

Brianna Jenkins:
I am very sophisticated and reserved, but I also live my life out loud. I usually talk more about my experiences, but I think it was my nerves that kept me back from really opening up. Really trying to connect each challenge with a personal experience is probably the key, you don't always connect the dots when you're in the middle of it. Looking back on it you're like 'Oh, that's what I could have done'.

Question:
Had you won Food Network Star and won your own show, what is the first thing you would prepare?

Brianna Jenkins:
That's a tough one. I'd probably do a really fancy brunch, and I'd invite all my girlfriends over, and we'd make oysters benedict, homemade sausages, waffles and beignets, and all kinds of really fattening breakfast food. [laughs]

Question:
Do you think feeding spicy chorizo to a five year old was a bad choice?

Brianna Jenkins:
Maybe using the chorizo was a bad choice, but the taquitos themselves are like a taco. I grew up eating all kinds of food, so I think that there is really no rule when it comes to kids - it's up to you and how you want to raise your child. I know children that eat chorizo, maybe not at 1 or 2, but certainly at 5 I'd be developing my child's palette. But that's just me. I had my best friend at our viewing party last night, she ahs a newborn, and she didn't get why no one understood why chorizo would be a good thing to feed a child. But chorizo was probably a bad choice, but in the moment I just grabbed it.

Question:
What was it like in Frank Sinatra's house?

Brianna Jenkins:
Oh jeez, it was so cool, and so surreal! The house itself is beautiful, you're in Palm Springs. You just felt the vibes when you walked in. I'm just glad that I got the opportunity to do that. That was a special moment for all of us.

Question:
Who do you think is a good candidate to win?

Brianna Jenkins:
Ah, you know what I think I am going ahead and go with my love here Atlanta, love. Not to say her, but you know her and I are close friends now and we do parties together each week and he's an amazing person and so talented. So, I think he's got a good shot. =

Question:
I noticed on your profile online that eggplant is one of the foods that you love, and I was just curious do you like that on its own or do you like it better on a dish?

Brianna Jenkins:
You know, sometimes I put it in but sometimes it's a meal for me. I just think "Hey" and drizzle a little top of oil and that's a whole meal in it's self for me. So yeah, I love it on every level on pizza, on pasta, by itself, the list goes on and on. But yeah, I definitely love, love it.

Question:
Going back to the show you and Serena had a very difficult relationship for awhile but you really seemed to come together when you had the two chicks in truck, which I absolutely loved by the way. How was it that you two kind of made amends?

Brianna Jenkins:
You know being on the bottom together I think really helped us bond. We were in the same place at the same time all hard feelings we had aside because we had a job to get done and it was more important that we win because we knew if we didn't that somebody was going to go home, between the two of us that week. So, outside to that there was a build up to that and we had it out and we actually moved through and kind of hugged it out before that challenge so we were a little step ahead of everybody. But really just being on the bottom together it brought us together. We are still friends to this day and when I'm in NY we go out to dinner and stuff, it was a great, great day.

Question:
So you have kept in touch with a lot of other contestants then?

Brianna Jenkins:
Oh yeah, absolutely we all talk. I talked to Das the other day. Of course I see Herb on a weekly basis. He trains me and we throw parties together. I talk to everybody with email. We're a family now.

Question:
What is it like living in the house with your competition?

Brianna Jenkins:
I wish I could tell you that it was hard and that we were fighting all the time and we were sabotaging each other but we really weren't it was like we were all brothers and sisters. We laughed together we cried together. We got really close really quickly and it's like we're a close nit family now. I never thought that I would survive that type of living situation but I did and like I said beautiful relationships have formed out of that.

Question:
Is there a lot of down time in between the competitions?

Brianna Jenkins:
No, no, not at all. It's pretty much a full time gig. Lots of work to do, not a whole lot of down time. I mean we got sleep but we didn't have a lot of time to do much of anything else.

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