I’m still trying to figure out how the heck I’m smiling and soothing when chopping cabbage under Alton’s nose seemed terrifying. Source:

Rule #1: Never, ever, try to guess what’s coming next on Food Network Star

When Nicole and I heard we were going to a berry farm, we flipped out with berry possibility! “Oooo, I’m going to make a berry pie! Ahhh, I can’t wait to make a berry compote for something I haven’t figured out yet!” I imagined prancing between the rows, floating on fairy dust in my element. This was not so. There were no berries to speak of, but instead, the distant echo of a centuries-old berry farm now careening with roller coasters. It’s not that I don’t like roller coasters. My little brother’s motion sickness never kept the rest of the gang from boarding ride after ride after ride. It’s just that amusement parks were never a place I felt remarkably comfortable, simply because Mamma usually found it more amusing to put us in math camp for the summer. (Ok, I’m not being fair, that’s not entirely true).

But hey, we all saw my literal interpretation coming…this sequence from Hot Dog Rocket’s blog is hilarious. I’m deep-belly chuckling over my naiveté. Honestly … a berry farm!?

KnottsBerryFarm_TumblrScreen Shot 2014-07-01 at 9.27.50 PM

I encountered two more degrees of discomfort that day, making LA’s sunshine stifling: crab cakes and a commercial grill. Which brings me to the second cardinal rule.

Ready, set, GO! Yes, we do run our lil butts off. Not a second to be wasted. Source:

Rule #2: Never try something new on Food Network Star (but please, be fearless in your own kitchen)

I want to share this Facebook comment from Frank:

Say, “Man, I wanted this to be so good, but the crab was being crabby and it won’t knock your sox off like I wanted, but, hope you enjoy … cuz sometimes the great thing about cooking is well, that it didn’t work for you, but you learn, and will knock it out next time!” AND I KNOW YOU Can!!!”

He so articulately states what I love to teach: be fearless in the kitchen! Every meal, every dish, is a new adventure. If you don’t reach the summit the first time, brush it off and try again. For those of us fortunate to feed ourselves and our families, there is always another opportunity to master a recipe. More importantly, every mistake is an opportunity to learn something new.

Judges, “what are you bringing to the demo today?” Me, “ENERGY!” Source:

However, there is one exception to the rule: when you are competing on a cooking show, it’s best to stick within your comfort zone. While I’m not averse to the grill, I’m no “girl on grill” either. Call it segregation, but in my family the men always gravitated to the fire since the open air was also fit for cigars. With that being said, I’ve done my fair share of grilling and know the grill should be greased. I can’t say much more other than I had a brain lapse in the midst of speed and nerves. But let’s get down to the meat of it: crab crakes are not to be grilled. I was already outside of my comfort zone with crab cakes, which while Bobby mastered so beautifully in Martha’s Vineyard, I had only made once in a stale memory.

Yes, this is a real picture of Bobby catching real crabs!
Crabs –> crab cakes –> devour time.

For comfort I approached them like Mamma’s polpettine (Italian meatballs), but aimed to give them a Yankee kick with Old Bay seasoning. I prepared the crab mixture with parsley, garlic, olive oil, eggs for binding and bread crumbs for crunch. I crafted my own Old Bay on account of there being no pre-made mix – I was proud for knowing the components! I thought the mixture itself was delicious. Truly!

But even meatballs are broiled or sizzled in a pan with ample oil, and for some silly reason I thought we had to use the grill for our 4th of July dish! After all, this holiday is all about grilling. Repeat: do not try something new when you are competing for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I adapted as best I could, and well, that is all one can do when they’ve encountered a culinary “disaster.” Next time I’ll make a deconstructed crab cake salad!

Eight pals left standing. Source:

Rule #3: Remember the Holy Trinity – Love, Family and Food

Love, family and food are universal. Neither are always peachy keen, but they are common threads that tie us humans together. For those who read my blog, it’s no secret that food is a gateway for me to tell stories about people I admire because they so inspire me – they feed me! Food is also the marker for my memories – yes, keeping them fresh! I remember bustling streets of a distant city by the skewered satay at a street stand, or magnetic connection quenched with rose and water in the sunny window of an outpost.

On Episode 2, I began to realize that I could speak my culinary stories out loud. They are the butter of my blog, and why not let them inspire me to smile in the face of a heated Food Network Star challenge. My anxiety over getting crab cakes was quickly quelled by recollecting the summer of 2005, when I fell completely in love with Bobby and was too soon pulled away by adventure. But in the airwaves between Bobby’s retreat in Martha’s Vineyard and my research with the Food and Agriculture Organization in Kenya, we collided in thought and fancied a life together.

Above left: my twin sister Dimity sharing a meal with our welcoming family at Pepo La Tumaini Jangwani (Wind of Hope in the Desert), a center for children affected by HIV / AIDS in Isiolo, Kenya. Bottom left: me, tucked in between some of the Pepo movers and shakers. (Visit:

And it’s true that while he was catching crabs (yes, I get the joke) and making crab cakes for his friends, I was learning how to split coconuts with farmers and make Indian-Chinese curry fusions with my Uncle Roger and Aunt Luwei at their home in Nairobi (they both work for Unicef). (Here’s a recipe and bit more on my experience in Kenya). Hence the marriage of coconut-curry slaw with crab cakes.

I appreciate that not everyone shares the same taste buds, and I’m always open to tips from mentors on improving a dish – from Mamma to Alton. But I must say I do love my coconut-curry coleslaw. It has the same rich, creamy effect of mayonnaise with superfood flavor. It’s a staple at home and a hit at potlucks and parties. I will share the recipe on my blog soon!

Through my internship with the Food and Agriculture Organization of Kenya, I worked to help coastal farmer groups connect with rural, elementary school cafeteria programs as a way to provide children with nutritious meals and income for farming families.

And so, it was remarkably fitting and intimate to watch this specific Episode at my mamma’s home in Connecticut, during a rare convergence with my amazing, eclectic family from Kenya, Jamaica, the U.S. and my Italian Nonna (who claims to be a reincarnated Brahman Indian woman and whose spirit animal is none other than the majestic Elephant).

As I walk into the next set of challenges in Episode 6, I hope to retain such majesty and strength!

The Masai Mara

Ode to the one and only Christopher Lynch

What I love about Chris is his total and utter devotion to food. He lives to feed people with the kind of finessed sophistication and creative talent that one rarely finds in the kitchen. Granted, he’s been sharpening his skills for twenty years, working under legendary mentors like Emeril Lagasse. Chris is always plugged into the bigger picture: his children, his girlfriend and his New Orleans community at Atchafalaya, where he runs the show as partner and executive chef. He’s wonderfully generous in every sense of the word and was constantly more supportive than competitive on set (though we were permanently in awe of his cooking chops!). A Philly boy at heart, we bonded hard over the City of Brotherly Love (I’m a Penn alum). My twin sister’s alma mater is Tulane, giving yet more cause for bonding over the City of Jazz, Sin … and everything under the sun. We’ve kept up off-set, and considering NOLA has a constant parade of people coming through, he’s set up several of my friends with a prime table and lavish hospitality at his restaurant. I will truly miss Chris’ grounding presence and gentle personality, but feel enriched for having made this new friend through Food Network Star.

While in suspense, enjoy these links!


Read Season 8 Winner, Justin Warner’s Rebel Recap

Top moments and photos from this episode

Go behind the scenes

Watch the full Episode 1 on Hulu or Amazon

Watch a Recap of Episode 5, and a Sneak Peak of Episode 6

Read my buddy Chris Lynch’s Exit Interview


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