Category: The Next Food Network Star

'The Next Food Network Star': L.A.'s Jeffrey Saad is the Spice Smuggler


Look who's back. Jeffrey Saad, who came thisclose to winning Season Five of "The Next Food Network Star" has earned a spot at the table after all. His video series, "The Spice Smuggler," was unveiled today at

Saad, you may recall, was the Bel-Air real estate agent who tried out for the food world's version of "American Idol" after a friend watched him cooking in the kitchen and said "You should be on TV." Saad entered the competition so strongly that he was favored to win it from Day One -- until it was stolen from him by Little Mrs. Sunshine, Melissa d'Arabian. Unfortunately, Saad was a victim of his own success. He was so proficient in front of the cameras from the start, that it (unfairly) backfired. It looked like he hadn't grown much over the course of the competition. D'Arabian, meanwhile, showed steady and impressive growth, and is now hosting "Ten Dollar Dinners." Food Network couldn't turn its back on Saad, however -- hence the new gig.

Utterly unrelated observation: Does Food Network run a sweatshop or what? D'Arabian went right to work the morning after winning the grueling competition. And from the looks of the number of videos lined up online, Saad didn't get much of a break either. Actually, both of these competitors wanted to win so badly that I bet they were thrilled to get to work as quickly as possible.

-- Rene Lynch

Photo: Screen grab from


'Next Food Network' champ Melissa D'Arabian: Too polished? Or just perfect?

Melissa Well, how do you like your newest Food Network star?

Fresh off winning "The Next Food Network Star," Melissa D'Arabian debuted her new cooking show, "Ten Dollar Dinners." It was hard to believe this was the same Melissa who was criticized repeatedly during the competition for coming across as too frantic and harried. Then again, audiences saw firsthand her ability to take each week's feedback and adapt to it. So perhaps, in retrospect, it wasn't really all that surprising she was perfectly poised and polished, as if she'd been doing this for years. The show's conceit is brilliant and could last over the long haul -- recession or no, people want to be able to put dinner on the table without breaking the bank.

And her recipes -- the episode was "Perfectly-Priced Parisian" -- were mouthwatering. (But what's not to like about a flaky potato-bacon torte, a cafe green salad or an applesauce granita with maple yogurt. All for $10? Set the TiVo!)

But was it too perfect? Frankly, I liked Melissa because she was a bit harried and frantic. It was real. And it resonated -- not just with stay-at-home moms but with anyone struggling to get dinner on the table before, say, midnight. I miss that Melissa. And I couldn't help wonder while watching: Is this Melissa still relatable, when she's talking about recipes she picked up while living in Paris? And would kids actually eat a torte and a salad tossed with soy sauce-spiked dressing?

What do you think?

I know I'll be watching, and rooting for this scrappy underdog who managed to come out on top in the end. 

Next week's episode is called "Less Money, More Moroccan." Hmmm. Wonder what Jeffrey Saad thinks about that  -- it sounds like something that could have come off his menu!

-- Rene Lynch

Photo: Food Network

'The Next Food Network Star:' A come-from-behind win

Melissa It's mommy Melissa.

Melissa d'Arabian, the mother of four from Texas and the absolute underdog heading into Season 5 of "The Next Food Network Star," won the competition tonight, beating Los Angeles' Jeffrey Saad, the front-runner in this race literally from Day 1. Melissa now stars in her own cooking show, and it starts in just one week.

From the beginning of the reality TV show competition, Melissa stood out from the pack -- and not just because of her sunny smile. She seemed to have little in common with the rest of the nine competitors, many of whom were much younger and presumably hipper. One example: While the other competitors seemed focused on food and winning, she seemed fixated on her lack of cooking school creds and mommyhood. (She was ribbed for frequently talking about breastfeeding her twin girls and foods that aid in lactation.")

But Melissa set out to immediately close that gap between herself and the competitors. Week by week, the audiences tuning in for the food world's version of "American Idol" watched her grow more confident and more authoritative with each challenge. She blossomed before our eyes and charmed everyone along the way.

Jeffrey had much in common with Melissa on the personal front -- a dad of two, Jeffrey and Melissa bonded over their kids. In other ways, the two couldn't have been more different. Melissa is all about helping parents get dinner on the table in record time. (Watch out, Rachael Ray.) Jeffrey is all about exotic ingredients and helping the home chef incorporate them into everyday meals. Jeffrey earned endless kudos for his ability to "bring food to life like no one else."

For their final challenge, both Melissa and Jeffrey delivered mock pilots of their shows, and both excelled. No surprise there. Food Network's Alton Brown helped them put the pilots together, and he warned Food Network execs that they would have their work cut out for them. ("There's a little movie star tucked away in there," he said of Melissa.) It was deemed the hardest decision in five seasons of the show.

In the end, it's hard to say why the selection panel chose Melissa -- they didn't really say. But Melissa clearly has a bigger potential audience -- that would be anyone, man or woman, looking into a bare pantry and trying to slam dinner on the table. That said, it's hard to believe that Jeffrey won't be rewarded in some way for his outstanding talents. Perhaps a show melding travel and food?

But what did you think? Did the right person win?

-- Rene Lynch

[Updated at 9:04 a.m. Monday: An earlier version of this post misspelled Melissa D’Arabian’s name as DeArabian]

Photo credit: Food Network

'The Next Food Network Star': A risotto flops, a star shines brighter, and someone goes home


It seems like each week on "The Next Food Network Star" finds the judges making noise about how hard it is to eliminate someone. This week, I felt their pain.

Melissa, Jeffrey and Debbie all deserved to be in the final three. All three have a unique culinary point of view. And it's not hard at all to see each starring in -- and succeeding with -- his or her own Food Network show. But it's called the final two for a reason. Someone has to go home. And it was L.A.'s Debbie Lee.

Debbie was a natural. She took to most of the challenges like she'd been doing it all her life -- she was repeatedly praised for both her ease in front of the camera as well as her cooking. Too often, though, she was dinged for not bringing enough of herself to the plate, as well as her unique point of view: Seoul to soul. (Born to Korean immigrants, she was raised in the South and Southwest, and her dishes are something akin to fried chicken meets kimchi.)

In many ways, it seemed like Bobby Flay and the other judges wanted more spice from her. Judges had also dinged her for not taking enough responsibility for her shortcomings. Still, everyone agreed she was a delight in front of the camera and, more often than not, captivated her audience.

That leaves Jeffrey, who has been a front-runner from Day 1, and Melissa, who just seems to get better and stronger with each passing day.

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'Next Food Network Star': And then there were three


How did this happen? How did Jamika start out so strong -- with that sensational smile, good-looking food and sassy attitude -- and end up falling short of the final three?

She self-destructed, that's how. She turned off that megawatt smile, dropped her head and appeared put out every time something did not go her way, such as during the live challenge on a Florida TV station when the remaining contestants were "punked" -- their demos were rigged to go awry. Debbie dominated the challenge, delivering a performance that was called both flawless and brilliant. Melissa and Jeffrey excelled as well. Jamika stumbled.

It was worse during the Red Lobster grill challenge, when the competitors were told to cook up a seafood dish only to have Bobby Flay throw them a curve ball by substituting in different ingredients. Asked how she was handling it, Jamika told the judges she was "pissed" and "irritated" by it all. Well, that did her in. In the evaluation room, she tried to defend it: "I've got the attitude -- you pull it out of me, you're going to get it." Food network honcho Susie Fogelson responded: "For this job, that's not going to work ... you're giving us dour and sour."

And then Jamika was sent home.

The final three competitors for their own show on Food Network include two of L.A.'s own: Jeffrey and Debbie, who join Melissa.

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'The Next Food Network Star': Global a gone-gone


Michael was a one-of-a-kind, with his multicolored hair, his flamboyant mannerisms and his culinary point of view: global a go-go, mama! Granted, there was a segment of the population that would never want to watch him do his thing. And that would be fine with the rest of us, who would happily tune in for a weekly dose of his antics.

But he was apparently too real for reality TV. Michael couldn't deal with speaking directly into the camera — something he (unwisely?)  told the judging panel again and again, most recently during this week's challenge: putting on a cocktail party in Miami.

I think Michael's right, though, when he predicts that he'll be back. And while all the competitors seem to do that when they're packing up and moving out, something tells me that we will see him again. Hopefully in a format that plays to his strengths. (Oddly, he seemed at ease with cameras in the room, and in the "confessional" interviews. But he'd freeze up when he had to present.) Maybe some kind of "Michael: Live!" format, in which he plays to the crowd and the cameras just, you know, coincidentally happen to be there to catch it all. Or a format in which he shows up and — poof! — instant party. Kinda like "Dinner: Impossible," only without the ticking clock, plus more alcohol, and lots more finger snapping.

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'Next Food Network Star': Nobody's grabbin' it


Not even Greek gods are immune to the scrutiny of Bobby Flay.

Flay let the competitors have it this week, saying that no one has stepped up to command -- or demand -- their own Food Network show. Even L.A.'s Jeffrey Saad, who had been mopping up the accolades, got an earful when Flay called his gloppy lobster dish "surprisingly awful." (That said, -- registration required -- is still betting on Saad to win it all.)

If anyone is rising in stature it's Melissa. She won this week's burger challenge and then won over a crowd of returning U.S. soldiers with her take on regional cooking. Moreover, she is proving to have a masterful grip on that ability to tell a personal narrative through food: She revealed more about her life, including anecdotes from her college days, and that she was raised by a single mom who also served in the military. 

It was Teddy's time to say farewell -- and not a moment too soon, as far as I am concerned. Jamika put it best: The camera turns on and Teddy turns into a used-car salesman. Not appetizing at all.

So where does that leave us?

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'The Next Food Network Star': Serving up a backstabber

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Can someone explain this decision to me? How does Los Angeles' Eddie Gilbert get eliminated from "The Next Food Network Star" for a bad watermelon salad and Teddy gets to stick around for another week after proving himself to be a conniving backstabber?

Quick rewind. Last week, Teddy tried to throw Melissa under the bus and weasel some credit for her successful dishes. This week, he tried to do the same with Debbie, with whom he was partnered for a budget catering challenge hosted at Ina Garten's house. Teddy claimed all the credit for the successful meatloaf dish and he tried to make Debbie shoulder some of the blame for the disasterous dessert. "The meatloaf was mine and the dessert was the collaborative part," he said.

Just one problem. This is a reality TV show which means that there are cameras rolling at all times. And those cameras captured Teddy during the challenge claiming all the credit for the dessert, and acknowledging the meatloaf was a collaboration. In other words, he was caught lying.

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'The Next Food Network Star': What goes around comes around


Welcome to "Planet Brett." It's a place where you offer to help a fellow contestants who's struggling -- and then stab 'em in the back for taking your hand. Whether the judges on "The Next Food Network Star" took that tasteless maneuver into consideration was never broached -- but in the end, it didn't matter. Brett was thankfully sent packing.

And then there were eight.

And a considerable reshuffling of the deck.

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'The Next Food Network Star': Just can't keep a Greek god down

Jeffrey-1---Ep-1 Los Angeles' Jeffrey Saad emerged victorious from the first challenge on "The Next Food Network Star" smelling like...a Greek god?

It's was certainly Jeffrey's night. The real estate broker who figured he had nothing to lose by trying out for the reality competition — the winner gets his or her own show on Food Network — did quite well for himself. First, there was that Greek god compliment paid by one of Jeffrey's rivals, commenting on Jeffrey's build and flowing locks. Then Jeffrey charmed the 75 guests of honor — among them some of the network's biggest names, including Alton Brown, Ted Allen and Giada De Laurentiis — who were in attendance for the reality competition's first challenge: catering a party to celebrate the network's 16 years on the air. He also appeared to work his magic on judge and Food Network honcho Susie Fogelson: Did I or did I not detect a hint of sugary sweetness when she said "Hiiiii Jeeeeeffreeeeey" when his turn came up before judge's panel? But wait! There's more! Jeffrey won the challenge too, despite being hamstrung by several missing ingredients that required him to rethink his squash side dish on the fly.

Perhaps that's why oddsmakers are already betting on Jeffrey to take it all. (Check out, registration required.) What do you think? If Jeffrey wins the competition — and his very own show on Food Network — would you watch?

Things did not go as smoothly for the two other L.A. competitors:

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