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Next Food Network Star Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is an Interview with with Bob Tuschman & Aria Kagan on August 9, 2010 about the Food Network show Food Network Star.

Question:
What is it that you're looking for when you approach the winning dish?

Bob Tuschman:
For last night or for the season overall?

Question:
The finale.

Bob Tuschman:
We're always looking for a combination of somebody that has star charisma, a unique point of view that we think will be of interest to our viewers and the ability to create and teach really delectable dishes that we think viewers will want to make.

Question:
Are there any contestants you can see developing a Food Network show, even if they don't win?

Bob Tuschman:
I think the final three that we have are really all talented, and I think it depends on who wins, and if we think there is another show idea that would be right for somebody else. As you know, two seasons ago, Adam Gertler did get another show and he has turned out to be popular with our viewers. So I never rule it out, but we don't plan on it all. The plan is that we find a winner for this series, but it is a search for talent. I think if we found someone that we thought down the line could prove to be another talent for Food Network, we wouldn't rule it out. But certainly the goal is to find a winner for this series next week.

Question:
What particular hurdles do you think each contestant will have to face in the finale?

Bob Tuschman:
I think that each of the three have their own specific challenges, and things we're excited about and concerned about with each of them. So with Tom, I think that Tom has a really great, winning personality. Very funny, very easygoing, very imaginative food - but his food has been uneven as you saw last night on the Iron Chef challenge. He had a couple dishes that were very adventurous, but ultimately didn't win. That's a concern to me, but there's a lot that we like about the guy. With Herb, Herb has been such roller coaster. He has had weeks where he's been so at the top of his game - charming, energetic, charismatic; and other weeks where's he's been low energy and unfocused. He's had a hard time pulling his point of view together, he's finally found, in the last couple of weeks at the very last minute, a point of view that really works in terms of healthy and Latin together. But the fact that he's been so up and down has been a big concern for us, since we're looking for someone for the long term. For Aarti, she has a real easy and vivacious camera presence. She has had such problems with her confidence and with being able to maintain a really steady, confident star presence. That's very worrying for us, because ultimately someone has to go in front of the camera 52 weeks a year, or in front of an audience, and always be at their best. Aarti has bee up and down too. I think each of these people have such great promise as a star, and also have challenges to make it over the finish line.

Question:
Last night we were watching, and you slammed Tom down for that rubbed bacon dish, and called it the worst thing you had ever tasted on the show. Were you just exaggerating? Or was it really that bad?

Bob Tuschman:
I think it really was that bad! Because the texture of it literally made it inedible. As you saw, we could barely cut through it. And it really didn't work as a dish because you couldn't eat it. I've had other dishes that didn't succeed totally with the execution, but you could at least put the thing in your mouth. This literally was not made to be consumed, so it was a grand idea that just had no grounding in reality of what the actual dish would taste like.

Question:
Everyone has their own names for their shows if they win. Some are pretty decent. Are those show names permanent? Is that what you're going to go with, or are you going to mess around with them?

Bob Tuschman:
It is certainly what they're coming in with for their pilots they'll be filming, but it is not necessarily what the final show title will be. As you know last year, Melissa D'Arabian came in to the finale, her pilot was titled, I may get the exact words wrong, I think it was but Kitchen Survival Guide, or something similar to that. We ended up changing the actual show along with her to Ten Dollar Dinners, which we thought collectively would take the essence of what she did but make it more appealing to viewers. So there's no guarantee that what they're suggesting will be the absolute final title for the winner of the show.

Question:
When you go down to the judging ceremony, sometimes Bobby Flay can come across aggressive, that's just his style. It's all camera work so you don't know when people are actually responding, but it looks like sometimes people want to respond to him, or to what y'all have said about their dish. When they defend their dish, do you frown upon that? Or do you actually encourage it?

Bob Tuschman:
We actually encourage it. What you see, for sheer editing purposes, is a very shortened version of the conversation that actually happens. It truly is a dialogue between the judges and the finalists as we're going through their evaluation. So what gets edited down to something like 12 minutes of television is probably, probably the shortest one we've done has been about three to four hours of conversation. So it is in every way a dialogue back and forth, we just unfortunately don't have time to include it all.

Question:
What was it about being part of Next Food Network Star and not just being a great chef that really made the show appeal to you?

Aria Kagan:
Now when I first thought I really wanted to audition for this show, I kinda went back and forth. It's a show, it's a reality show, it's cooking, it's being on television, and I wasn't really sure if I could pull it all off, because I've never really been in front of the camera before. When I decided to do it, my mom said, You have to go, you have to go! I wanted to do it, but I wasn't quite sure, should I, should I not? For my birthday, she bought me a ticket to go and audition. It's a big deal to have someone believe in you a little bit more than you believe in yourself. I didn't know what I was getting myself into, to be quite honest. [laughs] It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up, and putting it together is a lot more difficult than it looks. But it was fun, it was exciting, it was a great ride, super challenging, and I honestly met some incredible people. It's been fun.

Question:
How do you find that the cooking you did during the competition - whether it's the process, the actual dish, differ from your regular cooking?

Aria Kagan:
It does and it doesn't. I love farm to table. I love finding great, delicious ingredients and preparing them very simply. I really believe in that. I don't believe in masking flavors and covering things up, I believe in the pure essence of what something tastes like. So in a lot of ways I cook very simply. When I first started on the show, I wanted to do a farm to table approach, and although the selection committee liked the idea, they didn't feel it had longevity, so that's how family style came about. I think in the process of going more towards family style, I think a lot of my food became not as creative sometimes as I usually, or not as excited as I usually am, because I wanted to focus on the show, building a show based on family style. I think in a lot of ways it is how I cook - that rolled omelet I did on last week's show, I do that because when I was in culinary school, I loved the craft of breakfast cookery. I loved making French rolled omelets, I thought they were so beautiful and delicious, so when I have a lot of people at my house, you can't do that. You can't do ten rolled omelets and still have a good conversation. So this is what I devised as making a big rolled omelet and then slicing it for people to enjoy. Something like that I'd do, I do these things at home, and I did things I knew how to cook, and then towards the end, you're down to those few moments and God forbid you make a mistake, I think I went a little safe along the way.

Question:
Do you think because the judges gave you such high praise at the beginning of the show, that it hurt your performance later on?

Aria Kagan:
Yes and no. I came out and I did that first challenge, and it was either, they're either going to love me or they're going to hate me, so I might as well just be myself and see how it goes. As I progressed on the show, they kinda started picking pieces of me apart, saying, You smile too much, you're too happy, and I got a little confused about what they wanted to see, and I wanted to please them. And as we all went through our times of trying to figure things out, I too went through those same times, trying to figure out exactly what I needed to do in the next challenge, how to show that this is really what I want, how to show that this is who I am, and it was just a natural progression for all of us. I think it showed on me more because I started off so strong.

Question:
Do you have any regrets?

Aria Kagan:
My only regret is not doing tons more bacon for the bacon challenge. I could've put bacon on every single element of the dish. The incredible thing is yesterday the judges really liked my food. Michael Simon said that this food makes him so happy. And that's what I was really trying to get across. I think I nailed it in a lot of ways, but the bacon... I just should've used a lot more bacon! What's wrong with me! [laughs] What was I thinking? [laughs]

Question:
I was hoping last night someone would make a bacon explosion.

Aria Kagan:
What is that?

Question:
It's a pound of Italian sausage, with a pound of bacon crumbled inside of it, with a pound of bacon basket weaved on the outside of it. BBQ sauced rubbed and grilled. It's like 14,000 calories in a log.

Aria Kagan:
Oh my God! Where do you get that?

Question:
You make it!

Aria Kagan:
Did you see on Food Network Star After Party, I made bacon donuts, deep fried in bacon fat?

Question:
I just got hungry.

Aria Kagan:
For the After Party on the Cooking Channel, they gave me an opportunity to recreate one of my dishes. I did these potato donuts, I put bacon in the potato donuts, deep fried them in pork fat, and then I put Nutella on top and sprinkled it with bacon-

Question:
My arteries are seizing up as you're talking.

Aria Kagan:
Right? And then wait, there's more. Then I also I had the donut holes, so I also fried those in the bacon fat, I rolled those in sugar and bacon, crunchy bacon. So I made a bacon sugar and I rolled that in the bacon sugar.

Question:
If you made that last night I think you'd win that challenge.

Aria Kagan:
Totally! It's one of those things, when I went into the challenge, we knew we were doing the Iron Chef challenge but we didn't know what our secret ingredient would be, at that point I made up my mind, I really wanted to showcase family style. All season long they'd been talking about point of view, point of view, point of view - we want to see your point of view. I really felt like it was just my last effort to show them, give them a glimpse into what my show would be about. I said to them, I want you to feel like it's Saturday morning, you're all invited to my house, and this is what I would make for you. I think I was so dead-set on showing them my point of view that I lost sight of the Iron Chef challenge in the process. Again they loved my food, they thought it was great, but I lost sight of the challenge.

Question:
You're right, I don't think it was very Iron Chef-y. You make something like those bacon fat donuts, those are a slam dunk.

Aria Kagan:
I should've totally done that, and of course, literally when they opened the case and I saw the bacon, I was like, Oh my gosh! This could be to my success or to my demise, because I had already set in my mind that I wanted to do breakfast. When I saw the bacon, I thought it was perfect, but it could hinder me. I did it, I should've added a lot more bacon, as I was watching I was like, What are you doing? Add more bacon! [laughs]

Question:
If Food Network were to approach to still do a show, is that something you'd still be interested in?

Aria Kagan:
Oh absolutely. For me, although it was a disappointment that I got so far, I was still so far away from winning, it was still a stepping stone to really reach out to the things that I love to do. My passion is to teach, even though I love food, I'm really passionate about teaching people how to cook and making it a lot more fun and accessible. I'm still really passionate about farm to table. If they came to me and said, Aria we want you to do a cooking show, I would be on the next plane to New York, absolutely. I think there's an opportunity for me to go and sell myself too, and show them that I really can cook, I really can! I think a few missteps along the way put me in a rough light when it comes to my cooking. But the answer is yes.

Question:
On your bio, it said that you ate a tablespoon of cinnamon on a dare.

Aria Kagan:
[laughs] I did! I did! Have you ever attempted to dare someone to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon?

Question:
I've never known anyone to fall for it.

Aria Kagan:
One of the guys in my classes was like, I dare you. And I was like, Really? How much? And he said, 100 bucks, and I'm like, You're on! [laughs] It didn't end successfully, but I'll try anything once.

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