'Next Food Network Star' season finale recap: And the winner is...

next-food-network-starImage Credit: Food NetworkIt was a feel-good season finale of The Next Food Network Star, and not just because the right person took home the crown. While the contestants of the show’s sixth season were often spottier than a herd of Appaloosas, last night found the final three — Herb, Aarti, and Tom — delivering solid pilots under the watchful eye of Rachael Ray. Just as encouraging: Tom’s food seemingly matched his ebullient delivery (at least based on Rachael’s enthusiastic taste-test); Aarti avoided marinating her food (and herself) in a lukewarm bath of self-doubt; and Herb didn’t crush a can of Red Bull over the head of Food Network president Brooke Johnson when he learned he wasn’t the winner. Oh, and can I also take a second to express my relief that our fearless finalists didn’t shoot their pilots clad in the not-so-star-worthy clothes — Herb’s generic black polo, Aarti’s rose-emblazoned grandma top, and Tom’s gray long-sleeved t-shirt from the “rolled out of bed” collection — that they wore to the studio?

But I digress! When the lights finally dimmed and the curtain was dropped to see the cheapest newest portrait on Food Network’s wall of stars (one that, coincidentally, didn’t include last season’s champ Melissa D’Arabian), it was Aarti (or “R.T.,” as Bob Tuschman inexplicably began calling her) whose smiling, spice-spooning visage appeared. And based on the pilots the finalists presented — combined with the work the finalists have done all season — it was the right decision.

Indeed, the Aarti Party pilot was thoroughly engaging and casually informative, while managing to present a dish that looked equal parts unique and delicious. I loved Aarti’s relatable humor (“People will think you’re incredibly fancy,” she cooed, after explaining how to make your own chutney) and the way she wielded her expertise without ever turning her show into a dreary academic lesson. Here’s hoping when her series premieres next Sunday, that we’ll get the low-down on how to make that Indian pizza on a piece of naan, because I do like a little something savory to scarf down with a good book and a glass of wine. (Also: Check back here at PopWatch this afternoon for my Q&A with Aarti!)

Interestingly enough, I thought Tom’s Big Chef pilot was just as entertaining as Aarti Party — and with a tagline that was second to none: “I’m Big Chef. Don’t be scared; it’s your kitchen.” Tom may not be king of the Deeply Moving Personal Anecdote, but he truly excels at bringing the joy of cooking to life. Just as he did with the tale of two tuna, the scruffy dude with the loopy sense of humor put an anthropomorphic twist on his recipe this week, telling his chicken she looked “so beautiful” and declaring her “ready for the big dance” once he’d stuffed her skin with marinated mushrooms and rubbed her down with paprika. Still, given Tom’s lack of consistency this season in delivering big flavor along with his big personality, I felt like the selection committee made the right decision. Plus, even if you happen to be a member of Team Big Chef, there’s no need to fret. Food Network’s press release about Aarti’s victory contains the following sentence: “Runner-up Tom Pizzica will host the new primetime series Outrageous Food, premiering November 2010. Production begins today for this traveling food show featuring out-of-this-world eats.”

Which I suppose makes Herb the second runner-up in this pageant. Now look, if you’ve been following my recaps, then you know I’ve spent the last nine weeks trying to understand the judges’ fascination with Fluctuating Energy Chef, and the mystery continued right to the bitter end of the episode. Seriously, Herb? You wanted to sell an entire TV series based on your ability to make an egg-white frittata and share anecdotes about how your mother’s careless cooking turned you into a self-described chubby kid with issues? Maybe Susie Fogelson could whip up a Cooking con Sabor line of dumbbells and antidepressants to go along with it? Still, at least the muscular man-chef whipped up his dish with only a tablespoon of barely suppressed rage (that outburst of “oh the cheese!” as he chucked his cheddar to the floor) and not a single shake of “bro!” or “dude!” or “baby!” And simple as it was, the end result did indeed look tasty. Mark this one in the “win” column for Herb, and raise a glass of Muscle Milk in his honor!

What did you think of this season of The Next Food Network Star? Were you pleased with Aarti’s win? Will you watch Aarti Party? How about Tom’s Outrageous Food? And were there any other contestants this season for whom you’d green-light a show? Sound off in the comments, and to get all my reality-TV musings, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.

Comments (222 total) Add your comment
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  • Ceballos

    From a couple of weeks into the season, it was pretty obvious that it was ALWAYS going to be Aarti, and she deserves it for being so strong throughout the entire season.

    That being said, I was pretty impressed by ALL of the finalists’ pilots. However, with all three pilots being equal (or at least without one person blowing someone else out of the water), the win had to go to Aarti for her consistent excellence.

    …then again, I’m not really sure how important winning is, since Tom is getting his own show pretty soon. (Aarti’s premieres sooner…so what?)

    Thanks for the consistently entertaining recaps this season, Slezak!

    • Bobby’s Robot

      Agreed they all did well last night, but Aarti was the most consistent all season with both cooking skills and personality. I’ll be watching, and I’ll probably check out Tom’s show too.

    • old john

      FN had Aarti on the Chef’s page 2 months ago for 1 day, thereby ruining any suspense.

    • john

      thanks for recapping another predetermined – fixed contest show on the fool network – always entertaining to see that you could have figured it out from day one but really had to fill empty air time

    • Noel

      I like Tom and Herb but the foodnetwork already has shows like thiers. Aarti is new there aren’t any other indian cooking shows on the orginal food network. (there are on the new cooking channel). I will watch she’s like the Indian version of Rachael Ray.

      • ugly nikki

        did you type this on a phone?

    • darclyte

      Her pilot was actually called Aarti Paarti, which is also the name of her food blog (google it.) The winner’s show usually doesn’t have the same name as their pilot, so I’m curious as to what it will actually be called. Also, what was with the woman in the focus group who said that Aarti was going too fast? Really? Of the 3, she came across as the most deliberate and methodical. I thought that the focus group might doom her, but thankfully the judges knew the real 411.

      • shelly

        they totally changed melissa when her show began…she still cooks her exotic dishes just for $10

    • Susan Hopewell

      It was very obvious from the start that they were for Aarti. Personally, that is a show that I will not watch at all, Indian food is awful.

      So very glad that Tom got a show, and a better show (primetime) than Aarti who will be hidden on Sunday mornings. Just wish he would be cooking on it.

      • RICH

        dont be racist..all food is good

    • Jennifer

      I disagree with the winner and will not watch her show. I did not like her my daughter and husband agree with this statement. She is to aggressive.

      • ana

        LOL..this isn’t a political ad, no one cares if someone else endorses your statement…

  • Sara

    I had a hunch Tom would be the Next Adam Gertler, ie runner up who gets to be on the shows on when people actually watch. Good for him!

    • RK

      Nice of them to give him a show that already exists on the Travel Network…

      • Charlotte

        I get basic cable which doesn’t include the Travel Network so I’ll definitely be checking out Tom’s show on the Food Network!

    • michelle75

      I agree with you, Sara. Tom’s show is the only one I would watch. Aarti is probably very nice, but nobody is going to watch her show. She’ll fade away like the rest. The only one from NFNS that has achieved true superstardom is Guy.

      • Sharilou

        I couldn’t disagree more. I have no interest in watching ADHD Tom and can’t wait to watch Aarti’s show.

  • Min

    I was on Team Anyone But Herb.

    Consider me happy!

    • Jill

      I was on the same team!

    • Lyn

      Likewise — especially after he parroted that old myth about sugar making kids hyper, and referred to his “bicep.” (It’s BICEPS muscle, ya big dope.)

      • Tucker’s Mom

        Physical Therapist here, with 2 stints at Gross Anatomy. There are 2 biceps and technically, he could be talking about one or the other-long or short head. Same insertion, different origins. So no, he’s not wrong.

    • Anastasia

      Ha! I agree Min!

    • Sandy

      Ha ha!! Likewise! I will watch Aarti’s show and Tom’s. So glad he gets a show too.
      Slezak, you are classic. Those paintings did look cheap.

    • ginaM

      LOL. I never did understand the panel’s love for Herb. I think he is boring and most of the time they complained that his food sucked. I knew they would go for Arti from day one because they don’t have an Indian theme show. I agree she will probably be buried on a weekend show like Melissa. I’m curious to see what Tom’s show will be like. He looks like he could go the route of Adam Gertler.

  • Pam Barnes

    Big disappointment! In 10 weeks Aarti cooked nothing but Indian fare…can you honestly see this working out on Food Network, say 5 years from now? She may cook delicious Indian food, but everything she cooks shouldn’t be with that spin only. And she’ll need a big “camera-ready” makeover: get rid of that 3rd grade flower in the hair–makes her look like a waitress in a tacky beachfront Hawaiian noodle shop; the hair, the clothes–ouch! Our family watches FN daily but we won’t be watching “Aarti’s Party;” the judges must be looking for an ethnic demographic but they’ve swallowed too much curry this time. Bet they’ll wish differently in about a year…

    • Ceballos

      Isn’t your complaint kinda like griping about how Giada only cooks Italian food? (She seems to have done ok for herself.)

      • julie

        exactly! i don’t think pam’s comment could have sounded any more close minded…

      • Ann

        Actually, lately, Giada’s been cooking a variety of food, not just Italian. Hopefully Aarti will be able to do the same.

      • LuAnn

        Aarti is no Giada

      • Chichi

        I agree with LuAnn. Aarti’s head isn’t 4x the size of her body.

      • John

        Aarti is hotter than Giada.

      • old john

        Aarti thinks she wears the same dress size as Giada.

      • Lor Lor

        I am excited about an approachable Indian food show. They seem to have a lot of other cultures represented. Next year I hope a Thai chef wins. I would like to improve my skills there too!

      • idoljunkie

        Totally agree with you ChiChi….thought people were too busy looking at Giada’s chest to notice the size of her head! Would have preferred Tom, but glad he got a show. The winner, as witnessed by last season is not necessarily the winner after all is said and done.

    • Mon 8/16/10 2: 20 PM

      Paula Deen’s been cooking the same food for years now: something nutritious + lots of mayonnaise, butter, and bacon = her cooking.

      • laura b.

        It seems I am always on a diet(or watching portions size)but Paula Deens dishes are always appetizing.And not that diffucult to make.

      • Jingles

        I Love Paula Deen, she is so interesting to listen to. The other one that’s great is Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Let’s see how Aarti does in a year.

    • Dan

      Everyone is ethnic from someone’s perspective, so there is nothing wrong with Aarti. Besides, if you watch Rachael Ray’s show, she basically has only a small number of tricks up her sleeve. Food Network has had very few shows that have lasted more than a couple of seasons. For instance, Dave Lieberman’s show was great, but lasted maybe two seasons. Then again maybe he was too “ethnic,” being Jewish and all. The horror.

    • LuAnn

      You said exactly what I was going to post. Although I was a Tom fan. I was bummed by the finale. I thought they made a huge mistake. Do they judge on personality or food quality. It’s hard being a viewer. We like what we see,we can’t taste. The show needs to find a better way of getting across to we the viewers what they are experiancing.I was dumb founded when Aarti won, diffiently not who I would spend my time watching.I dont cook like that. I want someone I look forward to. Tom to me fit right in with Guy, Paula, Rachael, and Sandra Lee. They feel like family. But glad to hear they had brains enough to not let him go. He’s a money maker and they knew it. Not sure what Aarti is.Time will tell

      • Ceballos

        Why are people who were rooting for Tom so “bummed” and upset. The guy’s getting his own TV show as well, so it actually really doesn’t matter that he didn’t win.

        As for your other point, I can certainly appreciate that you want someone who you have an easy time relating to and who feel familiar and familial.

        However, what kind of attitude is “I don’t cook like that”…so Aarti shouldn’t win? Personally, I LIKE learning new styles and I’m looking forward to being introduced to ingredients that I wouldn’t otherwise touch. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it would be incredibly boring if everyone on the Food Network cooked “like me”…or like everyone else.

      • sandasavi

        As for Money maker, there are a lot of Indian’s in the country who would love to watch Aarti’s show. I also feel that a Network station should not have the same style of people, they need to diversify to gain new people to their stations. Good Luck Aarti I will watch.

      • jdthinksso

        Sandra Lee is the anti-cook. She opens packages – her show should be on the Home Shopping Network.

        Aarti cooks from her heart and her heritage. And scary as it sounds, stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new things won’t kill you.

    • bob

      well thats the point they want someone who only cooks indian food. they want people who specialize in certain things thats their unique point of view. What are you a dullard.

    • Lost Wages Joe

      I think you have it backwards, Pam; Aarti was helped-out significantly by her focus on Indian cuisine. Food Network already has 3 “big man food” series in “Guy’s Big Bites”, Aaron McCardle’s “Big Daddy”, and Bobby’s “Grill It”, so Tom would have been superfluous. I believe that there’s also a health-conscious cooking show (which I don’t watch!), and a couple of latin cuisine-based shows. Aarti was the only one with a vacant niche to shoot for, and all other things being pretty much equal, that got her on the air.

      • dogfoot


      • mouse

        That ought to tell you what a big star Aaron McCargo, Jr. is – no one knows his name.

    • john

      @ pam – don’t like —- don’t watch, you could fill a entire season of episodes if you explored all the regional cooking of India – but of course you are most like too stupid to know that

    • Al

      I totally agree with you. I don’t know what they were thinking but I wouldn’t eat half of teh stuff she made. I did not see where she had such a flair in front of the camera. Zero confidence and annoying voice. I wil NEVER watch her show for the little time it will be on.

    • Patricia

      I agree….I knew that Aarti was going to win. She seemed to be the favorite with the judges. Seemed a little unfair. All she cooked was Indian dishes. She’s terrible in front of the camera – I won’t be watching.

      • Erika

        I agree! In the Iron Chef portion, she just stood around and went “ah ah ah ah…” If they would have given Alton Brown some weight, she would never have made it. And Indian food? Blech. Can’t stand the stuff. Won’t be watching, or making her dishes.

        And did you see the picture they put of her in the winner’s circle? Looked like “Mammy”.

      • Robin

        Well, I’m a fan of Aarti, but I agree with you about her picture. That’s the one they went with? I got a great laugh out of your Mammy comment, so thanks. :-)

    • foxglove kent

      “In 10 weeks Aarti cooked nothing but Indian fare…can you honestly see this working out on Food Network, say 5 years from now?”

      Of course I can see it. Aarti’s personality is winning, and she’s injecting Indian flavors into every day foods. There are a hella lot more Indians in the world than there are Europeans, man – and the great news is, Indian food ROCKS. I, for one, will happily watch!

      • Dan

        I don’t like Indian food in general. Despite that, I agree with you, it was a good choice for the network, and I am thrilled tat Tom is getting a non-cooking show, as that is what I prefer to watch anyway.

    • Emma

      Your xenophobia is outrageously outdated. Wake up and smell the curry. We’re not living in blandular vanilla America anymore.

      • Emma

        To clarify, the above comment is in response to Pam Barnes.

    • Christy

      “Nothing but Indian food…” Indian food is extremely diverse as well as extremely healthy, and it requires a lot of different cooking techniques. You might as well say someone cooked nothing but European food. She’s also going to concentrate on putting Indian flavors to non-Indian foods, which I think is a splendid idea. I’m as European in heritage as you can get, but Indian is my favorite cuisine.
      It’s about time we get an Indian show on the Food Network amid all the Italian and East Asian and plain American shows.

      • dogfoot

        Love Indian food, but the stuff I’ve encountered is far from healthy. It’s all creamy and gloppy – I’m sure that’s the cuisine from only one particular region, but it does seem to be pretty much what you find around here.

    • Barbara

      Your comments are right on as far as I’m concerned. I was never a fan of hers and never will be. She drove me crazy with the way she talked and acted, to me she was a big fake!

    • Daniel

      Ms. Barnes has been cross posting her dribble here and on the main FN website – sounding more and more racist lady…

  • Gemini

    No, I will not watch Aarti Party. Not only was her insecure, coyingly sweet demeanor annoying, but her show title is annoying as well (not to mention the granny tops). The producers do not have a good track record with picking winners. Guy Fieri has been the only successful NFNS and he was chosen by the viewing audience. Something tells me Big Chef would have won if the audience had their say.

    • Hula Hoop

      Honestly when you look at it, Guy hasn’t been that successful with cooking shows either. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives is the most popular and he doesn’t cook, he eats. Plus the Recipe Showdown thing and now Minute To Win It (not a cooking show, I know). Guy’s Big Bite isn’t bad, but it is probably the least popular of the shows he hosts.

      • LuAnn

        guy is laughing all the way to the bank. Rich dude!

  • Mitch

    I am just happy Brianna’s hooker booty didn’t win. I can’t say I will watch Aarti make repetetive Indian dishes all the time, but maybe once in a blue moon when I am in the mood for spicy foods. Tom or Brad should have won!

    • Mariah

      Is it really necessary to refer to Brianna as such? Saying you weren’t a fan of hers would’ve sufficed. And while she may have had challenges connecting with the camera, the judging panel stated on more than one occasion that she was one of, if not THE, strongest chef of the bunch. Not sure how that translates to being a streetwalker, Mitch.

  • Diane

    I’m just glad it wasn’t Herb

    • BruceMpls

      Unfortunately, the main thing Herb had going for him was his devotion and love for his two little girls and wife. A nice person but not necessarily talented enough to have a show.

  • Joanne Castro

    I was very happy with the winner on last night’s show. They really all gave strong performances last night. But added with the other 9 weeks of competions Arti did excell more than the gentlemen. Hats off to all of them, they were excellent. Looking forward to see Arti Parti show.

  • pam lautz

    Will not be watching Aarti’s show. She is not a mature enough person to handle the stress that having your own show will cause. I give it 4 weeks.

    • Ann

      Everyone has to start somewhere. Remember that Giada was terrible when she started, as was Rachael Ray.

    • Paloma

      Emeril and Mario Batali were awful when they first started. Have you seen their early shows? She has a lot going for her and she’ll get better.

  • Aarti, you’re joking, right?

    The Food Network stars who are already stars need to have normal people choose the next food network stars, because they are pitifully, woefully bad at it. Aarti? Really? She could not do commentary to save her life, she has a better-than-thou air about her, everything single dish she created was either something she learned from her mother, or something I have tried in any Indian restaurant. Nothing original. Herb while he did basically the same, had a great energy about him, while Aarti takes for-ever to make up her mind. There will be a lot of editing and hers will never be a live show. I can only assume this is the slumdog millionaire of the food network, to broaden its appeal. Tom was CLEARLY the winner from the beginning, took big risks, I mean, really, for his finale, instead of making basically what Aarti did which was tapas, Herb made pizza style, Tom made an entire chicken! And his commentary is superb, and he may know more than other contenders, but always was down to earth and approachable. What are these judges thinking? Tom clearly should have won. I will not watch again. Last year, they chose some blonde who looks like she’s shocked half the time, who keeps referring to her trip to France, or some other uppity thing. We had a completely engaging, down to earth, talented chef. And he lost. I am done with this show.

    • T

      Did you miss the part where Tom’s hosting a show now, too? Maybe you could chill on the rant and be happy that both Tom and Aarti are getting a chance to bring their talents to the Food Network. Good grief.

      • Ceballos

        “bring their talents to the Food Network.”

        Not sure if it was intentional or not, but I love the LeBron reference! :)

      • Al

        I missed the part of Tom hosting a show. Is he really? That makes me feel much better. Arti is an annoying wanna be.

    • Adam

      I totally agree with you, Tom should have won this easily. The Big Chef was awesome! By far the best personality and best idea for a show, i would watch him. RT party crap i would never watch, don’t want all Indian dishes.

      • Jennifer

        Tom would blend into the background with a show that is like about 6 others already on Food Network. Aarti’s will stand out, since Indian and Middle Eastern (yes, she did do something besides Indian this season) are very under-represented. Hey, to each their own.

    • happy in life

      WOW get happy

    • caryn

      Wasn’t last season’s winner chosen by viewers? Her show is not that popular either. As other reality shows prove, the audience choosing the winner doesn’t mean they’ll buy or watch the product.

      • Gemini

        No, the producers chose Melissa. The year before they chose Aaron “Big Daddy”. Both have not progressed past their early afternoon Sunday shows. As I wrote before, the producers do not have a good track record with picking their “winners”.

    • drayche

      agreed totally, Tom rocked it last night he should have won.

    • Get real

      You do realize that Tom served french toast with clams–right? I’ll take Indian food any day.

    • BruceMpls

      I have nothing against Tom, but your argument is that because he made an entire chicken made his dish the best? Give me a break. He stuffed mushrooms between the skin and meat, period. I guess they were out of clams. Again, I liked Tom but I didn’t see anything in the finale that made him stand out, food-wise.

  • T

    Oh, I like Aarti! I have all along. I thought she was the most informative and entertaining on camera – she reminds me in a way of Giada, and I watch her all the time. I will definitely give Aarti Paarti a chance! Really enjoyed this season of TNFNS, and I’m glad that the right person was crowned. Kudos to Tom as well, as I really enjoyed the bits of his pilot that we got to see.

  • Buffy Freak

    I would watch Tom’s, Herb’s or Brad’s shows…but Aarti? Nope.

  • The Peanut Gallery

    Aarti Party? The name alone is sad. I will not be watching it at all. It is very disappointing that Tom or Herb didn’t take it. Has Bobby Flay lost his mind?

    • LuAnn

      I find myself going around the house saying “Aarti Paarti” in that annoying high pitch voice, I can’t get it out of my head

      • Gemini

        Oh my god, I know what you mean! If you or I start tucking flowers behind our ears, we’re in big trouble!

  • Ph

    I too agree the Aarti and Herb were both annoying. wouldn’t watch Aarti show. glad Tom got a show will watch it.
    How is Melissa’s show doing-I catch it a few times-do not understand why they changes her title.

  • MartinSA

    I really think that the Food Network Star judges have lost understanding of their demographic especially with the selection of the last two food network star winners. Aside from both of them having quite a bit of emotional baggage, neither of them had the confidence/expertise to give them an air of authority on their own shows. It’s almost as if the Food Network’s crew want to emphasize a “you too can do this and be a star” vibe over an informative and entertaining show. It also appears that the NFNS judges keep wanting to expand their demographics to include more women and think these type of candidates are the way to go. It didn’t work for S2. It doesn’t look to be working with last season and it probably won’t work with this season’s winner–sadly. What the judges need to realize is that women won’t be empowered by these winner and decide to watch the shows.

    • RK

      They don’t care about real chefs anymore — they’ve proven that for a long time. That’s why they have the Cooking Channel.

    • Jennifer

      Guy was Season Two’s winner. Last time I looked he wasn’t a woman.

      • MartinSA

        I was thinking s3’s winner but typed 2. go fig. the woman that was brought back because the guy the judges were so keen on lied on some stuff that disqualified him.

    • Diane

      Two of their most successful personalities are Rachael Ray and Paula Dean. Both are cooks, not chefs. And I’ve made a lot of recipes from these shows, and they create some of the best food. Both started with the ‘if I can do this, you can too’ vibe and are very successful.

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