Photo: Food Network
As The Next Food Network Star winds down its sixth season, we here at Slashfood are taking time to chat with the final contestants about their experience on the show.
Click through for our interview.
This week's eliminated star was Aria Kagan, a working mother and former chef-instructor from Miami, Florida. She started out the season as one of the front-runners, winning the judges over with her bubbly personality and ease in front of the camera. With her "family style" point of view, she seemed a natural fit for the network's audience. But as the weeks wore on, she was criticized for her sometimes over-the-top enthusiasm and lackluster dishes. Last night's Iron Chef challenge didn't play to her strengths. Instead of showcasing her secret ingredient (bacon), she used it as a side dish for a family-style French-toast breakfast and atop a pedestrian Waldorf salad. The judges felt the food wasn't Iron Chef-worthy, and sent her home.
Slashfood spoke with Aria about creating a TV concept, presenting in front of Bobby Flay and her frustrations with the judging process.
So tell me about the day after.
AK: Oh my gosh. It's so funny to be a part of the show and experience the whole challenge and then to see it edited and put together. It was such a whirlwind. I don't remember much of it.
How long has it been since you left the set?
AK: This was all taped earlier in the year. It was springtime when we shot this.
I think people have the perception that you just found out yesterday.
AK: I think that's what the Food Network would like everyone to believe. It's funny, because it was really, really hard to leave. We really did become very close. And I had to go through this whole mourning process and kicking myself for making a bad decision, and now I have to do it all over again, because people are seeing it for the first time. I have to relive it. Not one of my fondest moments, but nonetheless it is what it is.
You had to keep this secret for months.
AK: Yeah! And I had to keep the secret that I was on the show, too! They told me I got the show in November, and then I couldn't tell anyone until the end of April. And I'm not a good secret keeper. If you want someone to know something, you tell me.
They spend the whole season hammering home how important "point of view" is, and then you were sent home for emphasizing your point of view ("Family Style") in the Iron Chef Challenge. Were you surprised?
AK: Part of me was frustrated, because they really did love my food. As much as they didn't show it last night, they really did think a lot of my ideas were new and inventive and fresh. But at the same time they thought I didn't follow through with the challenge properly. Tom, he went another way. He was totally like, "I'm going to do something Iron Chef and crazy" but his food wasn't good. I wanted the judges to feel like they were walking into my house on a Saturday morning and eating what I would make them for breakfast. So, you know, you live and you learn.
And the edit wasn't the kindest.
AK: Right. The edit was very unkind to me. And it was sad to watch because I felt so good when I left, because I did show them the person that I was, and what "family style" was all about. They were so complimentary of my food throughout the whole process, so to see it edited that way was kind of frustrating. But you know, when you sign up for something like this, you have to take the good with the bad.
And how much of a factor were the judges during last night's episode? You were cooking in front of the Iron Chefs and having to chat with Alton. Was that a little intense?
AK: I wasn't really intimidated by them -- to me, they're just people, people who love food the way I love food. Alton was a little intimidating though, and it was very loud, so a couple of times I didn't hear what he said. When I look like I don't know what he's saying, it was often that I just couldn't hear. I was like "What? Is someone talking to me?"
You were definitely painted as a front-runner from the beginning of the season. Do you think that might have hurt you?
AK: I think the judges had a lot of expectations of me, whereas with Tom they didn't. We're all going through the same process of trying to find ourselves. I went out into the first challenge with the attitude, "If they like me, they like me, if they don't, they don't -- but I have to just be myself." But then they didn't like my original show idea, "Farm to Table." So I was trying to reinvent a show that they would enjoy where I could also be myself. I wanted to please them so desperately, and wanted to get the show so badly, that I think I lost my passion along the way.
What made you try out in the first place? This is season six, so you had to kind of know what you were getting into.
AK: You never know what you're getting into. I went into it very blind. I'd always wanted my own cooking show and thought, "here's my chance." I was going back and forth, debating whether to audition for it, and my mom bought me a plane ticket and said, "You're going!" In life, sometimes you need people to believe in you a little bit more than you believe in yourself.
You have a young son, and that obviously made things harder. How did you guys keep in touch?
AK: In the beginning, I was able to call, but then around week three, they stopped calls from coming in or going out. One of the producers was able to call and make sure everything was ok and tell them that I was fine, but after that, I didn't have any connection with him until episode eight. [The contestants were reunited with their families on camera as part of a challenge for this episode.]
No wonder everyone was so emotional.
AK: Yeah, we were all dying to see our families.
Last night, when the judges were deliberating, Bobby Flay said you were "born to talk to the lens." It's obvious you have on-camera talent. Are you going to pursue a television career?
AK: Honestly, I would still love to have my own cooking show incorporating the whole farm-to-table idea. I want to show people where their food comes from in a cool, fun, sexy way. I have a blog where I'm going to be documenting a lot of this, and posting recipes. On the show, I'm a character. On any reality show, you have the characters. And I want people to see me for who I am. The Food Network really sets you up. Millions of people have seen me. And I hope someone says, "I've seen her, I like her, let's work with her."