Interview and Recipe – The Next Food Network Star, Aarti Sequeira
Scroll down to see three of Aarti’s Recipes from her new show “Aarti Party” on Food Network
Like millions of others all over America, I watched The Next
Food Network Star to see who was going to win this year’s crown. But I sat on the edge of my chair with
increased interest because I had a personal connection to one of the
contestants – Aarti Sequeira. We are both Contributors to the cooking
video website, Good Bite. When she won, I jumped out of my chair and squealed
like a little kid… clapping my hands with excitement. Then, like a good blogger and social media addict, I ran to
my computer to hop on Twitter and Facebook. Aarti’s win was a thrill not just because of my connection to
her. And not because of her contagious charm, soothing British accent or her delicious dishes; but because her story is
a Cinderella tale that any hard working food blogger would celebrate.
Aarti and I are connected through our work on Good Bite and we’re Facebook friends. When she was
in the finals of the Next Food Network Star, I sent her a naïve yet
enthusiastic Facebook message asking if I could interview her for my blog. When she won, I came to my senses and
sent her another somewhat sheepish message saying I understood if she was too
busy or my blog was too small. My
feelings wouldn’t be hurt if she and her publicist said no to my request. I mean, what was I thinking? She was all over the web and was very
busy juggling interviews with the likes of People Magazine, the Wall Street
Journal and NPR. Why on earth
would she agree to a little blog interview? To my surprise, not only did Aarti and her publicist agree
to an interview, they treated me with a warm and professional courtesy that I will not
Although she has been passionate about food her entire life,
Aarti just embarked on her culinary journey a few years ago. Like many of us who ended up in the
food world today, she was at a crossroads in her professional life and was
seeking a change. From the time
she was a girl growing up in Bombay, India and then the cosmopolitan city of
Dubai, food was an important facet of her family and heritage. However, she
didn’t immediately choose food as a career.
A graduate of Northwestern University’s School of
Journalism, Aarti was fortunate to get a job opportunity at CNN in Chicago only
one week after her graduation. Opportunity knocked and she moved on to CNN New York where she worked for a couple of years as a Producer.
She followed the expected path of
going to college and starting a career only to find that something was missing. Aarti worked hard and was
blessed with great opportunities in her field, but part of her was left unsatisfied. She was also in love and missing her
future husband, Brendan McNamara, who was living 3,000 miles away in Los
Brendan (or “Bren” as Aarti calls him) is obviously a very
important person in Aarti’s life and career. “I met him the second day at Northwestern and by the fourth
day we were going steady.” Aarti said during our phone interview. They have been married for seven
years. Brendan is a smart and talented
actor who Aarti describes as a vocabulary fiend and wordsmith. He is also her biggest fan and
supporter. In 2004, she decided
to leave New York to join him in Los Angeles.
Aarti continued her media career after moving to LA where she worked
on an HBO documentary. When it was
complete, she started thinking about her next move. She decided to enroll in The New School of Cooking in Culver
City. Around the same time, she
started training in improvisational comedy.
While cooking school and improv may seem like an odd pairing, it
actually helped to prepare her for a future in television. When I asked Aarti
about her improv experience, she said: “Improv pushes you to trust your
instincts and not question yourself so much… to just listen to your gut.”
In 2007 after cooking school, Aarti felt lost. She said. “I didn’t
know what I was supposed to do. “
So, like many others on a path to discovering themselves, she started the
blog, Aarti Paarti. And she
started to write. Looking back she said, “Everyone should
have a blog. It forces you to have an opinion about something.” She also gained confidence in her
writing ability as well as her passion for making up recipes using ingredients
from her native land.
Two years later, she added a video cooking show to her
blog. Each episode was directed
and filmed by her husband in the small kitchen of their LA apartment. They
combined a little bit of sketch comedy with recipe demonstration. When I mentioned one of my favorite
episodes on Aarti Paarti that I thought was particularly funny, Aarti again
credited her husband, “The laughs were all Bren’s ideas.”
The blog became her launching pad for Food Network. By adding videos, she could practice demonstrating in front of a camera. They took their production and episode schedule very seriously and Aarti said, “I made myself blog everyday for a while and when it came to the cooking show, Bren and I decided to do 10 weeks on, 2 weeks off as if it were a real season on TV.”
Her on-line cooking shows were funny and entertaining and random friends started suggesting she try out for The Next Food Network Star. Aarti wasn’t convinced but her husband said, “You have nothing to lose.Just send in a video and see what happens.” Two months later she received a response and with it came with a commitment. She said, “They told me if we pick you, you have to do this.It’s a good thing they told me that because I probably would have quit.” She was excited and terrified and remembers crying in fear the day the car pulled up in front of her apartment to take her to the airport.
Aarti’s lack of confidence was a focus during the Next Food Network Star episodes. I found that ironic. How was she supposed to gain confidence when constantly reminded she lacks it? She acknowledged that she has always had a confidence issue. During the show she continually questioned whether she deserved to be a contestant. However, she continued to win more cooking challenges then any other contestant on the show. And over time and with continuous praise about her food from the celebrity judges, her confidence improved. She said . . .
“I went from filming in my kitchen… on my time… with my husband to the intense pressure of Food Network. You have to be a really bold person to do Food Network.Some people can do it. And others can’t. You have to produce outstanding food and make people believe what you’re saying at the same time. It’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy.”
It was evident when Aarti won that she did have what it takes to be on Food Network. “Aarti
has that all-too-rare combination we seek in our stars; a passionate food expert who is warm, radiant, fun, and relatable,” said Bob Tuschman, General Manager and Senior Vice President, Programming & Production of Food Network. “Aarti also brings a new world of flavors to Food Network and is perfectly suited for viewers seeking new inspirations.” Indeed, Aarti’s infectious smile and charm make you want to keep watching her no matter what she is cooking.
“I was most excited to meet Paula Deen. I love to watch her and could watch her all day. It isn’t her food necessarily, she just has a way of talking to you like you’re sitting right there…. Like you’re in her living room and she’s just handed you a glass of wine. When I met Paula for the first time I could sense her positive energy from across the room. She has a warmth like she’s lit up from the inside. And I learned a big lesson from her that you don’t have to be a prisoner of your situation. You can bust out of it.”
Of all the celebrities she worked with on the show she was most surprised by Rachael Ray. She said, “I was surprised how skilled she is in the kitchen and as a producer. She walked me through each step of a recipe.. each ingredient like it was her own. And she is incredibly beautiful in person.” During her guest episode during the contest, Rachael did show an incredible expertise in production while coaching the contestants like a seasoned general in the field. She is obviously a pro who is rumored to tape multiple shows per day. I will admit that my own respect for Rachael Ray increased after watching her during that episode.
Aarti has completed filming the first six episodes of her show, Aarty Party! The show features classic dishes with an exotic twist using Indian flavors. Now that she’s fulfilled one dream, she hopes to accomplish another by moving her family from Bangalore, India to the United States. She comes from a very close and tightly knit family and she misses seeing them. Aarti also mentioned that she would love to have her “Mum” here in the States to cook and develop new recipes with her!
Aarti is very appreciative and humble. Daily, she marvels at her fortune and what she describes as “the gift Food Network Star has given me.” She said this time last year, she wasn’t sure she could make rent. She went from a struggling food blogger to a food star in the span of a few months.
As a fellow blogger I wondered if Aarti had anything to share with her food blogging community.Her story is inspirational, but I was curious what she learned from all of this. What advice could she give to a blogger like me? She wisely said. . .
“Keep at it. Be disciplined about your blog, if you’re hoping to have this take you somewhere. People get used to regularity, and start to count on it. If I skipped a week of the cooking show, I would get panicked emails from people: “Is Aarti Paarti still happening?” Amazing. There were days when I really didn’t want to edit the cooking show (she is proud of the fact that she taught herself to edit on Final Cut Pro software) but Bren held me to it. If you promise to put something up the next day, put it up. Credibility is everything in the blogging world. Well, and in the real world too!”
Aarti’s show Aarty Party airs on Food Network each Sunday. Check your local schedules for programming in your area. I know that I will look forward to watching Aarti’s career blossom. Her story is a Cinderella tale. She has already inspired thousands of people across the country to expand their cooking horizons. She has inspired me to expand my own personal horizons.Aarti in her own way is a role model for us to go after our dreams and follow our passions.
To just “keep at it.” And I’ll do just that Aarti, one recipe at a time. . . one blog post at a time.
Since this website is mostly dedicated to recipes, I had to ask for one of Aarti’s recipes. I was on a roll, so why not? Here is a recipe that will be featured on Aarti Party tomorrow. Aarti graciously shared it in advance with the readers of this blog. I think it is the perfect recipe for a Labor Day BBQ.
1 boneless pork shoulder (boston butt), about 3 pounds, excess fat removed
For the Rub:
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the BBQ Sauce:
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 onion, minced finely
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 serrano pepper, sliced thinly (seeds discarded if you don’t like it spicy)
- kosher salt to taste
- 2 cups mango puree
- ½ cup fresh lime juice
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
and butter pickles
Combine rub ingredients, and massage into the pork shoulder until well coated.
Set aside while you make BBQ sauce. You could do this a day ahead and
keep refrigerated until ready to use.
To make BBQ sauce: In a large saucepan, warm oil until hot and shimmering.
Add cumin and fennel; they should splutter upon contact – be careful! Once
spluttering subsides, add onions, ginger and serrano and a little salt to taste. Saute until
they soften but don’t let them get any color on them.
Throw pork shoulder into the pot, coating it with the sauce. Cover, and
gently simmer for about 3 hours, or until pork falls apart easily with a fork,
stirring and turning pork often.
Shred pork using two forks. Return to sauce. Put a generous spoonful inside a
brioche bun, top with a few slices of pickle… prepare to have your loved one
swoon over you!
Update: I just watched this week’s episode of Aarty Party! Here are links to the other dishes
she prepared to accompany this amazing pulled pork!