Surviving Sticky Situations, like Dead Air
My mom is my favorite person to hash out each episode. She tells it like it is without the fluff I usually use to pad my critiques. Ok, she might be a little biased and outraged in my defense when I’m in front of the judges, but she’s always able to see the golden nugget. In this episode, the main lesson was surviving sticky situations. We all had them, some stickier than others, like Kenny’s burners malfunctioning or shuffling my feet like an idiot trying to drum up some quip or query instead of “dead air” while teaching Alton how to make chicken-fried steak.
One of the keys to success as a Food Network Star is to know how to adapt quickly to whatever situation you encounter. You have to have stories and tips on the tip of your tongue. You have to understand your ingredients and know how to make additions or substitutions in a pinch. Baking is less merciful, but the camera generally prefers not to wait for you or waste time. Every minute counts or you lose a viewer … try millions.
I was unable to shake the crippling nerves I had in Episode 1, and by the time I took my turn showing Alton how to fry the steak, I was all a-jitter. The recipe wasn’t the problem; in fact, it reminded me of making chicken cutlets with Mamma as a child. Easy peasy! But I felt like putty in the hands of Alton’s volatile reactions to our attempted instructions. Case in point:
Emma: “Drop the steak in very gently.”
Alton: SPLASH! “OUCH!”
Emma: “Um…durr…transport me to Mamma’s kitchen where nothing bad will ever happen to me again, please.” Dead air kicks in. Cue the elevator music.
In my replay, I ask Alton to crack a bottle of wine. Sure, it helps loosen things up, but having a glass of vino while cooking is a divine passage of time in the kitchen (if you drink). Plus, a splash of wine would truly have made Kenny’s upcoming gravy boat sail to stardom!
Food + Yoga: Practice and Possibility
My default interlude is yoga. When the conversation lulls or things just aren’t getting frisky enough, I’ll do a handstand. Sometimes you can get a whole room of people to try them, and everyone feels better for having seen the world upside down – new perspectives can be enlightening!
But in all seriousness, I was absolutely beaming with joy when I saw Reuben and me doing sun salutations and crow pose on TV! Body movement and cooking belong together. I don’t care if your dancing salsa while scrambling eggs or playing tennis before one in five meals, there’s no denying that we are what we eat and how we move. Michelle Obama went straight for this Holy Grail by turning the White House lawn into a garden patch and kicking off her Let’s Move campaign. Giada has this dialed in more than any other chef on the Food Network, well, maybe a close second to chef-becoming-body-builder Robert Irvine.
Yoga kept me grounded in the whirlwind of Episode 1 and 2. I felt healthier in mind and body for staying committed to my practice, even in odd places like the Stew Room! Admittedly, perhaps it kept me too calm on the outside (‘cause lord knows I was managing a storm in my stomach). The judges said my voice was meditative and one fan said even “breath-y!” Bottom line: I was at risk of putting people to sleep. (Though I’ve discovered on Twitter that Ina Garten is perfect pre naptime material! Lullaby chefs are IN).
So while I’ll be working on turning up the volume MUCH higher, I think yoga is a great metaphor for the second biggest lesson on Episode 2: food is an endless world of possibility in which practice makes perfect. It’s taken me ten years to hold a handstand for 5 seconds, built on years of learning how to work with specific poses and weave them into sequences (the way we become familiar with ingredients and form recipes). There are infinite recipes which is why copyrighting recipes is so darn hard. You can change a quantity by 1 teaspoon and turn out something new. But it takes practice to adjust the flow to your needs and desires, and there’s no better time to start than NOW.
The first dish I mastered was a simple stir-fry – a classic for college students and burgeoning cooks. With that one dish, I taught myself how to chop vegetables in different ways and how long each one needed to cook. I learned how to pair seasonings and make sauces before growing out of my wok and into other pots and pans.
What worried me about Episode 2, where Kenny and Aryen were battered for lacking authority in the kitchen, is that all you home cooks out there will be too scared to try something new! Don’t be! Sometimes you have to drop a chicken on the floor (applaud: Julia Child) or add cornstarch directly to the gravy (instead of making a slurry) to learn something new. The most influential chefs are the most candid and the ones home cooks can relate to, thus, the most endearing. Plus, chunky gravy might kill your chances of being the Next Food Network Star but it won’t kill you in real life.
Now I know that we’re all supposed to be experts on the show, but my second favorite reason for being on the show was to have the opportunity to “learn a lot from everyone here.” We all bring something new to the table. And let’s be honest, the real experts are the grandmas who have spent their whole lives mastering cuisines and techniques. Hey, let’s have a Food Network Star for Grandmas! My Nonna just turned 91 and would crush the competition!
15 Minutes of Mystery
Truth be told, I was excited for the 15-minute on-camera challenge, mystery basket and all! I felt like this could be an opportunity to finally shine for two reasons. Last summer I had unknowingly prepared for a challenge like this by launching my online cooking show with Shanshan Mei, where I learned the importance of using stories to create an engaging narrative around every step. And even though in theory a mystery box should be intimidating, I feel like every week with my CSA (a weekly farm share of fruits and vegetables) I’m cooking with a mystery box of ingredients that I have to pair with my pantry (which I always like to keep powered with the basics – pasta included!). I was absolutely thrown for a loop when Alex was on the other side of the wall, cooking along with my steps, but she was lovely and supportive!
In Food We Stand Re(united)
Watching Episode 2 last night in NYC was phenomenal. It began with a foie gras doughnut at Justin Warner’s restaurant Do or Dine; peaked when mamma’s freshly harvested garlic scapes become party favors at Long Island Bar; and ended long after the bar’s last call, stoopin’ it in Brooklyn with Nicole chewing the twirly scape wands to ward off the vampires in our Food Network Star nightmares.
There is little comparison to the bonds you form with cast members on the show. In my Food Network Star interview, I said “what I’m most looking forward to taking away is new friendships that I will make with the other finalists.” My husband Bobby equated our fast and furious Reality TV friendship to another social phenomenon: fraternities. It’s true, we underwent culinary hazing, but we often stood in solidarity while fighting for the same prize. This staggering contradiction makes our growing friendships all the more remarkable.
Food Network Star is like summer camp for adults, in a pressure cooker. Since the first day of speed dating, when we walked through the doors on Episode 1, we’ve shared each other’s greatest fears and triumphs under the scrutiny of national TV. You get close, fast.
So when Nicole walked into my twin sister’s apartment last night, we realized we’d had a very successful crash course in becoming true chums on FNS, but in a sense we were now starting over like normal human beings. We were meeting each other’s friends and family, and getting a taste of the flavor and rhythm that makes us each stars in our daily lives. Food Network Star is just a part (albeit a big, bold, bright part!) of the constellation of people, projects and passions that define us. In the midst of what feels like the most important and emotionally charged undertaking in my life, it’s good to step back and appreciate the big picture!
It was surreal and heart-warming to gawk and giggle over Episode 2 last night with an incredible mix of Season 10 cast members and FNS alums, and family and friends from different chapters of my life – past, present and future! I’m thrilled to add my Food Network Star family to the web.
What it’s like to NOT be on the bottom
AWESOME. When you’re pouring your heart and soul into each challenge, it’s nice to feel like your efforts paid off! It was a huge relief to do well in this episode. I know I made it very clear that the judges gave me great advice, but I’d like to say it one more time! “Thank you! That’s great advice!” I can see and hear exactly what they mean by too calm and soothing. Loreal and Lenny were way more fun to watch than I was! The truth is, I’m getting to know the judges, the cast and the cameras. I’m a little shy at first, but I’m feeling more comfortable and the feedback this week gave me the boost I need to break out in Episode 3!
In every elimination there is the devastating jolt of reality that someone will go home. I was shocked – like jaw dropped wide open – that Luca was the one to leave our tenacious crew. I will miss him and our conversations in Italian and his sweet, gentle air. His energy was infectious and self-confidence contagious yet humble. He’ll be competing in Star Salvation, and I’ll be rooting for his return!
The show must go on! Tune in next Sunday evening at 9 p.m. for Episode 3 – Cutthroat Kitchen! Enjoy these links to tide you over, and don’t forget to VOTE FOR FAN FAVORITE!
Make my Pasta Primavera (while I work on getting Episode 2’s pasta online!)
Hey, he says: “For real, I could listen to Emma talk all day. I don’t care what the judges said. I felt like I was in some sort of egg being incubated by that warm voice. When it was time to hatch, I was born smarter and with a delicious plate of pasta before me.” Thanks Justin :).