LAist Interview: 'The Next Food Network Star' is... Aarti Sequeira
Aarti Sequeira, winner of The Next Food Network Star's 6th season, will host her own show, Aarti Party (Photo courtesy The Food Network/Used with permission)
We've been following the sixth season of The Next Food Network Star closely--because, not only was most of the series shot in Los Angeles, but among the 12 finalists vying for their very own Food Network show were 3 locals, including food blogger and LAist alum Aarti Sequeira. Each week we brought you Aarti's insider's look at being a part of the show through her weekly episode recaps. Last night we watched her win the title of The Next Food Network Star, and her new series, Aarti Party, debuts next Sunday. We got the chance to talk to her the day after her win was broadcast.Where did you watch the finale last night?
I went to the Village Idiot. I love that place. They have a huge TV in the back, and so they reserved the space for me and some friends. It was awesome to be watching it on Melrose--how L.A. is that?
What was it like watching yourself on the series?
It was good and bad. Every episode I got just a little more comfortable. But the greatest thing about the show is that--you know how in in your life you do things, and you wish you could look at it later to see what that was like--that's what this is: The chance to see it as it was without coloring it. When I saw me in some of the camera challenges I got to see myself as I was, and I thought: "Wow, I really am good on camera!" I'm so visual, too, so [seeing the show] was great...amazing.
Was it hard to keep things a secret?
It's funny because after I won [a couple of months ago] I called my husband. We just got new smartphones but this was before and his phone was so old it was held together with duck tape! But his phone was on silent or something and he wasn't answering and so I was texting my friends trying to find out where he was, and they were asking if everything was okay, and I could only say "Err, uhh, I just need to tell him something..." But, yes, it's been hard to keep it a secret! Last night at the party one of my friends came up to me sand said, "You know, darling, this is really gracious of you to have a party if you came third." Since the show started airing so many people have said to me "I know you won!" And I'm glad I did because I wouldn't want to disappoint them.
When did you start shooting Aarti Party for the Food Network?
Not long after finale. It was about three weeks after that I was shooting the show. I don't know how they built the set so fast! After I won, the very next day I met with the production team, and they were like, "Hi we don't know anything about you, but we're going to do this show with you..." Oh, and then: "And we need 24 recipes by tomorrow." That was when being a food blogger was really helpful--not many people who cook write their recipes down, but I had so much of my stuff already on my blog. My husband went and wrote down everything for me from the blog, to help me remember "Oh, this lamb went with this sauce, and that goes well with that so that can be one episode!" I was so glad I was this geeky food blogger!
What is it like shooting your own show? How does it compare to making your "Aarti Paarti" videos for the internet?
When we shot the videos at home it was just me and my husband. We had it down to a technique so he could stop [shooting me] to do a closeup [of the food]. It was cool to not really have to worry about that because [on my Food Network show] I have 3 or 4 cameras rolling at all times. [...] The thing I had to remind myself [while shooting the new show] was that this is not different than me at home in my beautiful kitchen, and that relaxed me. I don't want to be anything other than who I am and what got me here. But it was great to have [the video experience] in my back pocket so that I knew how to have fun with it. Because if you're having fun on the show then people are more likely to watch you.
What can we expect from the show this season?
Well, the show airs Sundays at 12. It's going to be just sort of a continuation of my idea that you can put Indian flavors into your everyday cooking. For example I make this bread pudding with coconut milk, ginger, and cashews. And it tastes like bread pudding, but with these amazing flavors. Or I do a baked samosa, with chicken, potato, chipotle, and coriander seed--it's very L.A.! So there will be all of that...with my trademark goofiness.
What has been the reaction of your friends and family living outside the U.S. to your culinary point of view?
They are really intrigued by it. To me, though, the biggest compliment I could get came from my mum. She said to me: "You know, I didn't think you could improve on my chicken tandoori, but when you put it on that scallion pancake, I was really impressed." That really meant a lot to me. And then I've got cousins who live in Bangalore, and they emailed me to say they had made my grilled cheese with tomato chutney. And I'm thinking: "But everything you make every day is so extraordinary!" and they're trying my food. You know, I've also been hearing from lots of people who, background-wise, are similar to me--they are Indian and grew up in London, or Dubai--and it's kind of cool to hear they cook in similar ways to me. One sent me their recipe for their Butter Chicken Pizza and I thought "Wow, amazing, what a great idea! And I do something similar to that!" [Hearing from everyone] has been very encouraging.
Are you going to keep blogging?
It's my intention to keep blogging--that's what got me here. Plus I think it's cool for me to have a written history of how this feels; I don't write in a diary anymore so my blog is my diary. People really relate to [the blog entries] and I've been blogging all the way through this experience so I'm hoping to keep it up. We'll see how busy I get!
The Next Food Network Star's 7the season is casting right now--what advice would you give to a prospective contestant?
I would say, first of all, make sure you're really comfortable on camera, and when you're on camera, be yourself. You don't have to take on this "Cooking Show Host" persona, or be bigger than life. Be who you are, because that's what really works, and that's what really crackles on camera. Second, I'd say that you can't expect to be on the show and just make whatever tickles your fancy. You have to have a point of view, because they are going to drill you on it. Me, they asked me about mine the first day, and I was ready for it--I told them my point of view and was really clear about it--and they never asked me again. [...] The coolest thing about The Next Food Network Star is that they are really looking for talent. Tom [Pizzica, a finalist] has a show, and Adam Gertler [season 4 runner-up] has a couple of shows, so there are opportunities for you--you don't have to win the big crown. Although, I was waiting for my crown...I still haven't gotten it!