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

August 10, 2009 |  7:21 pm

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