Stay-at-home mom Melissa d’Arabian won this season of The Next Food Network Star (and her own cooking show on the network!) by impressing the judges, and surpassing everyone’s expectations, week after week after week. The Texas-native, who specializes in family cooking, can be seen on the network next week on her own show: Ten Dollar Dinners (which premiers Sunday August 9 at 12:30 pm on The Food Network).
What was it like waiting for the judges’ decision?
The Food Network did such an amazing job with our pilots that when I saw mine I thought, ‘Oh, I think I might win this!’ And then they showed Jeffrey’s pilot and I was like, ‘Oh, I think Jeffrey might win this!’ I really didn’t know who was going to win. I thought both of us had done our best so I’d made peace with the decision either way. Right when they were about to make the announcement my kid started fussing in the audience. I’m very aware of my kids, so it actually was probably a good thing because it got me from stressing too much about what was going to come.
Did you have a favorite challenge or moment from the show?
Every week was such a journey and a whole journey in itself. That being said, I think the Iron Chef America challenge, which we did in Miami Beach [with] Red Lobster, was where I really started feeling like I was coming into my own. I felt like I was able to tap into my expertise and into a better energy.
What did you learn from the experience?
For any hat that I wear, I learned something as a result of [the show]. As a cook, I learned to trust my palette and to get outside of my comfort zone because I was forced to do that. As a mom I learned, you know what, I’m a mom but I’m also a person. As hard as it was to leave my family I think being forced to do so helped me rediscover me.
Can you tell me a little bit about your new show?
I’m so excited about Ten Dollar Dinners. I make the viewers a promise: that for ten dollars I will feed four people and feed them well. I think even people who are not on a budget will be really excited to see my recipes. The trick to budget cooking is cooking in a way that still makes you feel fabulous. The trick is not feeding a family hot dogs for ten dollars. The trick is feeding a family shrimp for ten dollars. I think people are going to be surprised by how well they can eat for so little money.
What do your daughters think about Mom being on TV?
They love watching me on TV. I thought no one could be a bigger star in their eyes than Barney but, when they get their special treat of TV time, more times than not they’ll say, ‘Let’s watch Mommy on TV.” Do they realize that it’s broadcast TV? I don’t think that they quite grasp that—this day and age you can watch YouTube on TV. So far they love it, and, I’ll tell you what, they love Bobby Flay. I mean they talk about him as if he’s their pal. In fact, [one of my daughters] said, ‘Mommy, Bobby Flay is my new best friend.’
He’s a lucky guy!
[laughs] He could do worse.
Besides your new show, what else will you be doing?
TNFNS is such a springboard for new opportunities and I’ve been involved with them in some capacity for about eight months now, with the majority of that being under-raps. I’ve relived it can all be out in the open and I’m so excited for whatever the next steps are. And I’ll be looking into those starting today—today is Day One!
What advice do you have for those aspiring to try out for TNFNS?
Really think it through. I really thought through, ‘what do I bring to the table?’ and ‘what message do I have?’ and ‘what will this mean for my family?’ That kind of clarity made the experience better for me—it made me a more attractive potential finalist. I think living with purpose and knowing what you’re about makes the journey fantastic and meaningful no matter what the result is.