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Food

The Next Food Network Star Episode 7: 'Girl, your curry was the bomb'

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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 competitors catered a swank dinner party at the Frank Sinatra estate in Palm Springs; here's how Episode 7 looked from inside the kitchen...

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Aarti at the Supper Club (Photo courtesy The Food Network/used with permission)
Talk about being torn.

We’re standing outside the hip event space, The Smog Shoppe, the imminent location for our very first underground supper club.

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It’s also, literally, about a 30-second drive from my house.

My house, where my bed is big and warm, occupied by one loving husband of 7 years who is probably snoozing as I stand here in the cold; where I can cook for as long as I want, without a big red clock counting down the seconds before a crowd of “foodies” judges my food; where I’m safe from the glaring critical eye of the judging committee which ripped apart my food last week.

Sigh. But I must stay here. I have a team to lead.

It has already been a long day; we’d woken up before the sun rose, hit the Whole Foods (the one I go to all the time!) to shop, and now we’re waiting on the sidewalk as the culinary team literally builds our kitchen from the ground up. We’re starving, but the only thing open at this hour is fast food, so we’re quickly (and somewhat reluctantly in some cases!) chugging room temperature coffee and greasy breakfast sandwiches. We’re not sure when we’ll get to eat again; better eat now, and hope the trans fat gets us through cooking and presenting (a wise decision, since we went directly into evaluation after the supper club).

We’re put on what’s known in reality TV circles as “hard time out” aka no talking whatsoever. There goes my plan to discuss how we’re going to divvy up table-setting and hor d’oeuvres-passing labour, how we’re going to present our individual courses.

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Aarti serves her hors d'oevres to the judges (Photo courtesy The Food Network/used with permission)
Oh did you catch that? Yeah. Hor d’oeuvres. You didn’t see that last night, right? In addition to cooking up our individual courses, we also made three different kinds of passed appetizers, and it’s a shame that you didn’t see those because they were delicious: Brad made a cheeseburger tartar, I made bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed with cilantro goat cheese, and Tom made a spicy cured cantaloupe served in little endive bowls.

Passing out our apps was our first opportunity to greet our guests, make them feel at home, introduce ourselves and make an impression. And, as a devotee of the LA food scene, boy am I glad that I didn’t know who I was talking to. I was only chin-wagging with the chef at my favourite LA restaurant, Providence: Michael Cimarusti himself! How did I not recognize him? I remember how gentle he was, very polite but with a great big smile. Then there was my little chat with the owner of Cobras and Matadors, who discussed his tattoos with me, and gave me some advice about planning my own. And why didn’t I realize I was talking to the guys from Animal, who must have chuckled when they told me how much they loved the cheeseburger tartar? Of course they did! Oh, and there was Dave Dahni, of the Grilled Cheese Truck, who introduced himself -- how can you not love a guy dedicated to grilled cheese?

I did recognize one lady there, which probably says a lot about where I spend my time: the beer sommelier who used to manage the Father’s Office on Montana. Her name is Christina Perozzi, and she’s responsible for my husband’s (and my) obsession with Unibroue’s “Terrible” beer, a deep, dark, dried fruit, chocolate, espresso-tinted beer whose complexity, and high alcohol content, quickly left us smitten the first time we tried it. I fell over myself telling her how much I love her, and I loved how much fun she was having at the table with her friends. That’s my kind of girl! I remember blushing especially deep when she whispered to me, “Girl, your curry was the bomb. Look at my plate. Empty.”

Chatting it over with my husband last night, I told him that I was glad that I hadn’t known who I was serving that day, or else I’m sure I would have really screwed up my food. (Also, note to future contestants: when you’re in charge of the team, don’t give yourself a complex two-hour curry to make in 1 hour. How I pulled that off, in addition to the bacon-wrapped dates, is a testament to teamwork and the miraculous hand of God!). He balked. “No. You would have cooked just as well, because you’re over that confidence thing, right?”

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Hard at work (Photo courtesy The Food Network/used with permission)
I stopped to think. “Huh, maybe. Who knows, maybe I would have cooked that curry even better!”

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