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The Next Food Network Star Episode 6: Curry is Such a Tricky Beast

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Aarti tames the curry beast in Palm Springs (Photo courtesy The Food Network/used with permission)


Aarti tames the curry beast in Palm Springs (Photo courtesy The Food Network/used with permission)
For its sixth season, The Next Food Network Star was shot in Los Angeles, and among the 12 finalists vying for their very own Food Network show are 3 locals, including food blogger and LAist alum Aarti Sequeira. Each week, Aarti will give us her take on the episode, from her unique insider's perspective. Will she be named The Next Food Network Star? We won't know until the finale. Last week the contestants felt the heat of working from food trucks; here's how Episode 6 looked from inside the kitchen...

We head out the door, destined for Frank Sinatra’s house in Palm Springs, dressed as glamorously as possible. We separated: blokes in one car, ladies in the other.

And can I tell you? There’s nothing worse for a bunch of anxious cooking show contestants than a 90-minute drive; it’s just you, them and your paranoia.

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See, even though this Star challenge was hard enough (putting a modern twist on retro classics like pigs in a blanket, tuna noodle casserole and deviled eggs), our spidey-senses were tingling. Was yet another twist in store for us?

As we drove past the windmills and the mountains, we cast our minds back to Guy Fieri’s visit in the second episode. He’d told us about a challenge where once they'd started cooking, the clock was suddenly stopped, and everyone had to step down the line, so they were cooking with their competitors’ ingredients, not their own.

Could that be in store for us? Oh no! In something of a panic, we decided we would run through each of our dishes, and talk about how we had planned to make them. As I write this, it strikes me that had Bobby Flay known we were doing that, he would have been mortified: where’s the competitive spirit?! But we all felt a sense of camaraderie in that car, a sense of sisters doing it for themselves or something… if anyone was going to leave this week, it was going to be one of the guys!

When we got to my dish, a coconut egg curry (playing off the deviled eggs), a light bulb went off. I have expertise! The women were listening so intently, repeating the ingredients and process back to me with such focus, that I knew this one would be tricky for them, especially because I wasn’t using curry powder.

This might sound snobby, but I know my subcontinental homies are going to back me up: no self-respecting Indian uses curry powder to make a curry. There’s no such thing as a catch-all curry powder in Indian cooking. There are thousands of curries, and each one requires a slightly different mixture of spices. Don’t get me wrong. I love it on my curried popcorn. But that’s about it. Right? Homies? Can I get a witness?!

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Star Challenge judges Bob Tuschman and Bobby Flay with guest judges Maile Carpenter and Ted Allen (Photo courtesy The Food Network/used with permission)
Curry is such a tricky beast. Not only do you have to manage the spices, but there’s the browning of the onions, the blooming of the spices, the careful browning of the meat if you’re using any. There’s a lot to learn. But once you do, you’ll get the hang of it.

Interested in trying to make an authentic curry? Check out my “baby’s first chicken curry” recipe; I talk you through the basics of making a curry. This one is lovely: tomatoes, chicken and poppy seeds. Great combo. Another favorite resource is a blog called Hooked on Heat. In this post, Meena Agarwal outlines some basic curry options. Try them out and let me know what you think!

The Next Food Network Star airs Sundays @9 p.m. on The Food Network.