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The Next Food Network Star Episode 8: Humble, But Grand

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The final 5 in the kitchen for Episode 8 (Photo courtesy The Food Network/Used with permission)

The final 5 in the kitchen for Episode 8 (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 competitors hosted an underground supper club dinner for some of the city's most well-know food folk; here's how Episode 8 looked from inside the kitchen...

I’ve never considered my food “elegant” or “fancy.”

So when I saw Todd English standing before, a restaurant rock star, who told us we’d be cooking for him and for his Beso restaurant partner, Eva Longoria, I panicked. What could I make that was fancy enough for them?

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Oh, and we had a budget of $200. I’ve never spent that much on ingredients.

It’s starting to occur to me that in both instances of my being in the bottom, it was during challenges where the grandeur overwhelmed me: Frank Sinatra’s estate in Palm Springs, and now the dramatic Beso.

Chef Bobby Flay and guest judge Eva Longoria (Photo courtesy The Food Network/Used with permission)
Why is that? If we’ve learned anything over the past few years in food, humble food is hot. Govind Armstrong broomed the gourmet Table 8, and in its place, set up the everyman (with touches of gourmet I suppose) 8oz burger bar. Food trucks are so trendy that I’m waiting for the backlash (because that’s how it always goes, doesn’t it?). Those gristly, sinewy cuts of meat you ate as a kid because they were cheap? Ox tail, short ribs, beef cheeks… all uber-pricey now, the shabby chic of the food world.And so I went for a pulao (poo-LAO), the Indian version of a pilaf. At home, mum made it with mutton, the older, grizzlier sheep; I made it with lamb. She’d simmer it for hours, until it fell off the bone, spicing the broth with handfuls of fennel seeds, coriander seeds, even a little saffron. Then she’d carefully toast the basmati rice in hot oil, add the fragrant broth (so good that I could drink a bowl right now) along with the meat, and cook it for another 15 minutes. The whole house smelled like another world.

My mum has a special way with rice. Last year, she came to the States to celebrate my sister’s nuptials. For the first meeting of the two sides of the family, she made a simple vegetable pulao. It was delicately aromatic, each grain of rice sitting comfortable, yet separate, from the other. In fact, it was so good that my sister’s impending brother-in-law, a raw vegan, broke his fast to eat it. He started with just a couple of spoonfuls, but within about 20 minutes, he’d eaten every last grain in the serving bowl.

Humble, but grand.

I may not have nailed it this time around it, but I’m determined to figure out how my mum does it. When I ask her, all she does is shrug.

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

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