Last night, August 15, 2010, I had the privilege of watching the last episode of this current season of Next Food Network Star and might I say, I was horribly disappointed. The final three contestants were Tom Pizzica, Herb Mesa, and Aarti Sequeira. Each contestant had their own difficulties early on either it being lack of self-confidence with Aarti, a slight fear of the camera with Herb, or talking to much like Tom but they pushed through and made their way to the finals.
Unfortunately, Aarti won. I say unfortunately because, she was lacking in confidence in herself not to mention what I see as the beginnings of a subpar television show. I really thought that the Food Network selection committee really coddled her early on, acting as her self-esteem from the beginning. Tom and Herb had their problems but did not receive the same kind of sympathetic mothering that Aarti had. In fact, it seemed to me that stoic women do not have a chance in the competition at all. At least that seemed to be the case in both this current season, with Brianna Jenkins, and with Jamika Pessoa from season five. Both of these women had strong, “I am woman” personalities, not crying every time something went wrong and muscling on with setbacks but for some reason, it seemed like being a strong woman was not what Food Network was looking for.
In both the season five and six, they chose women who lacked the necessary skills, education or character to keep me entertained. Melissa d’Arabian, winner of the fifth season of Next Food Network Star, was a home chef and while I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, she lacked the guts to refuse help on a number of challenges. It was quite honestly embarrassing to me as a woman to have her chosen as the winner. Her most memorable and quite honestly the only interesting recipe that I saw for her was the Four Step Chicken, but the back-story was horrible. She talked about how she had over spent on dresses for her children and needed to skimp on the food budget to make up for it. Is that what women are to the Food Network? Are we ditzy women, who don’t know how to balance a budget, and don’t understand that pretty dresses are not that important when you don’t have food in the ‘fridge? I think not.
Then of course, there’s Aarti, who adds Indian flavors to everyday food, which is nice and all but nevertheless, it isn’t really what I would want to watch. My lack of enthusiasm for her is apparent especially when you can see self-doubt oozing from her every pore. I don’t want to watch a television show from someone who makes me feel as though I could out cook them in the kitchen based only on the confidence that I have in myself which she clearly lacked the entire show, otherwise the execs wouldn’t have had to constantly tell her to have some.
Now, I liked Tom because he made “man food”. I like “man food.” In a world where metrosexual has replaced macho as the male standard are people like Tom, movies like the Expendables, and the bringing back of the “man’s man” is something that is making a comeback. His show Big Chef would have been an excellent place to get good recipes that satisfy any hearty eater. He wasn’t interested in making the kind of stuff that you eat while hanging out at a frou-frou book club meeting. Tom was making the kind of stuff that you eat while watching a Jets game and drinking a Budweiser, but he also had the technical competence to make it perfect for date night.
Nevertheless, the real winner should have been Herb Mesa. Herb Mesa tapped into a number of markets that would have been excellent for the Food Network to capitalize on. Herb cooked healthy food with Hispanic flavors. I know that I heard Bobby Flay say on a number of occasions during the season that the Food Network wanted to promote healthy food for children because of the obesity epidemic in the United States. Well what better than to have Herb to give them a show that is all about healthy and hearty food? He could have given them healthy food coming from a number of different dietary ideals. He would have been a much-needed relief from the food porn that fills the channel these days, with “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” and “Kid in a Candy Store.” I think with the increasing flab of the American people shows that encourage such munching are not the way that the network should go.
Additionally, according to a 2008 USA today article, Hispanics will make up approximately 1/3 of the United States Population by 2050. This fact in tandem with the information that more than 5% of births in the US are from undocumented immigrants and large amounts of those immigrants are Latin American creates a unique market. Herb Mesa would tap into that market, giving Hispanic Americans a place to learn how to make healthy and filling Spanish foods. Foods that speak to their traditional food culture but also give them the tools to fight obesity and other diet related diseases.
I really think that the food network choosing Aarti over either Herb or Tom really was a general loss on their part. Yes, it would have been a little bit of a stretch to choose Herb or Tom they aren’t cookie cutter kind of guys but they give the same kind of appeal that makes Alton Brown a star they’re different. Herb and Tom are out there giving home chefs a challenge instead of an easy plate like Aarti.