Food Network's Melissa d'Arabian is at the top of her game. It was only four months ago that she was announced winner of the Next Food Network Star; now her new show, Ten Dollar Dinners with Melissa d'Arabian, has been renewed for a second season.
I spoke with the energetic young mom, who seemed surprisingly grounded in spite of her recent TV success, about her whirlwind year, her show, and her favorite $10 dinner of all. See what she has to say after the jump.
YumSugar: How has your life changed since winning?
Melissa d'Arabian: It's changed quite a bit. My dreams have come true. Still, I was happy a year ago, and my level of happiness has not fundamentally changed. Happiness is an inside job. That [attitude] keeps me away from the feeling of "What if it goes away?" But I do feel blessed. It's a great fit for me. I'm busy, but being busy is a high-quality problem to have. I want to focus on the work and what I want to convey.
YS: Are you still in touch with the other contestants? How has your relationship with network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson changed?
MD: It's definitely changed. I know Bob and Susie a lot better — I just had lunch with Susie today. I feel lucky to be going through this with the support of Food Network. With the finalists, you go through this unique experience together, so all of the finalists will always have a place in my heart. Truth is, though, that I'm busy. Do I stay in touch with them day to day? No.
YS: Don't you ever wish there wasn't a $10 budget?
MD: There are definitely people who think it's a shame to be limited to this budget, but to me, that's the exciting part! That's where people are going to be saying, "Oh, that's a great idea." I've been a full-time working woman, a stay-at-home mom — I'm going to leverage all of those experiences in the kitchen.
YS: What's your favorite $10 dinner that you've made on the show so far?
MD: One of my favorite episodes was when I made the potato bacon torte [on the semifinal of The Next Food Network Star]. I was serving all these amazing culinary minds [like Rick Bayless and Bobby Flay], and it turned out to be one of their favorite dishes of the whole night. We were given $1,000 to create a meal for these chefs, and I think the torte cost something like 22 cents a person. Yet not one of them brought up the cost, as in, "Wasn't this really cheap?"
YS: Do your daughters like to watch you on TV?
MD: My kids love watching me on TV, but they are so young that they don't fully appreciate the difference between broadcast TV and, say, home videos. Still, they think I'm cool because I'm on the screen like DJ Lance on Yo Gabba Gabba.