Everyone loves Food Network and Cooking Channel superstar Melissa d’Arabian (www.melissadarabian.net) — myself included! With her warm smile, clever advice, and ability to make you feel that you can be a savvy, smart saver + cook deliciously all at the same time, Melissa offers comprehensive, one-stop-shopping, budget-friendly cooking school for your family, through her hit TV shows and New York Times best-selling book!
Melissa is the super kewl host of the top-rated Food Network program Ten Dollar Dinners and Drop 5 Lbs with Good Housekeeping on sister network The Cooking Channel. She is also the first-time author of The New York Times best-selling cookbook Ten Dollar Dinners, which is chock-full of awesome recipes, amazing strategies for making saving money easy and fun, and techniques for managing ingredients and mastering the kitchen.
A mom of four daughters, Melissa learned firsthand about culinary culture in its global epicenter of France, and today is the go-to helping hand for moms across America, families everywhere, and now, kids, too! Simply put, she is a neon, glow-in-the-dark radiator who grabs attention and puts her fans, viewers, and friends at instant ease as her brilliance and knowledge come straight through the screen!
At the recent, prestigious Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival in October 2012, Melissa was so generous to spring the ultimate, heart-skip-a-beat surprise on me, in real time — the invitation to join her on stage during her super popular cooking demonstration, in front of a packed audience of hundreds, and learn how to sear up her delicious Four-Step Chicken! We had a blast and I enjoyed the very best time sharing the stage with the true leader, this one-of-a-kind headliner and legacy-maker, who has taught so many so much and keeps going at record speed.
As the second season of Melissa d’Arabian’s Cooking Channel show Drop 5 Lbs with Good Housekeeping gears up for a kickoff this Saturday, January 19th, 2013 (mark your calendar!), Melissa set aside some time for a special interview with me here on KewlBites about everything from family traditions in the kitchen to her favorite recipes and the winning strategies that helped her rocket to the top in reaching her goals. Check out her inspiring answers and incredible wisdom right here!
Thank you so much, Melissa, for chatting with me for KewlBites.com! I’m so proud to share your ingenious thoughts and insights with our readers!
1. What was one of the best memories you have from your experience as a competitor on The Next Food Network Star? (P.S. – I was a huge Melissa d’Arabian fan during The Next Food Network Star… and still am!)
I loved the evaluations. Yes, they were stressful, and long (sometimes 6 or 7 hours). But having the attention and energy of people who are the best in their field is a gift of mentorship that is priceless, in my opinion. I learned volumes standing there in front of those judges. I believed that if we listened closely, they would tell us how to win. But you have to be willing to take the criticism and internalize it without letting your emotions get in the way. It’s a tough balance. Accepting criticism and responding to it constructively, though, is an important skill for anyone interested in climbing up a ladder.
2. Congratulations on your amazing New York Times bestselling cookbook Ten Dollar Dinners! Your book has so many helpful tips about making smart choices when it comes to food shopping and cooking. Can you suggest some ways that parents can share with their kids how to shop smartly and spend wisely?
Kids hear what you do much more than what you say. So my first plan of attack when it comes to healthy eating and smart spending: live what I want my kids to learn. I take them shopping with me and ask them to pick out, say, the best looking cilantro bunch for me. And then I ask them if they see the price. Just letting them witness that our family spends with purpose will soak into their brains without any big lectures from me.
(Click here to pick up a copy of Melissa d’Arabian’s must-have cookbook, Ten Dollar Dinners: http://www.melissadarabian.net/book/)
3. You have four daughters – Valentine, Charlotte, Margaux, and Océane. Do you spend a lot of time together in the kitchen?
My girls love to cook! I purposely carve out relaxing time to cook with them in the kitchen because it’s in those relaxed fun times spent together that suddenly a random special moment will surface. You can’t plan those little gems of connection with your kids; you can only set up plenty of space for them to happen. Cooking for us is a big source of special time together, either as a group or one on one with each of my daughters.
4. What does having a healthy relationship with food mean to you? Can you share some tips on how parents can help their kids to develop their own healthy relationships with food?
There are so many mixed messages out there on food, health, body image, etcetera. I am the primary mentor for four young girls who will become young women in just a few short years. My hope for them is that they will develop a healthy love for food its amazing ability to nourish our bodies. If I raise young women who enter the world as adults with an adventurous palate, an open mind, and a strong sense for how food nourishes their bodies, then I will feel more successful as a parent than if I manage to get my five year old to choke down a requisite number of bites of Brussels sprouts next Tuesday night. Given that context, I try to focus on the overall relationship with food; not just what my kids are eating on one given day. For instance, one of my daughters always helps to make the salad (rip the lettuce, wash the lettuce, toss in lots of veggies, and dress it too), but she doesn’t like to eat the salad. Of course, my hope is that she will learn to love salad as much as she loves, say, carrots. But the fact that she spends a half hour having positive feelings about salad is a victory in my book.
Also, in our house, one child “presents” dinner each night to the family. She simply tells us what is being served, and very high level review of how the item was prepared (e.g. “Chicken roasted with fresh herbs on top of carrots and fingerling potatoes”). And then we discuss, very briefly, what the main ingredients provide for us (e.g. chicken is a protein and builds muscles, carrots have vitamins, etc…). It’s a very simple way to demystify new dishes, and to help my kids understand that different foods have different functions for us nutritionally.
5. If you could cook for and enjoy a meal with someone who inspires you, who would that be and what would you make?
I’m a huge Bobby Flay fan; he’s an amazingly hard-working man, chef, businessperson. I’ve cooked for him a number of times a competitive setting (Next Food Network Star, Chopped), but I’ve never cooked for him as a simple guest in my home. I’d let my daughters drive the menu because they adore Bobby, so the menu would probably go something like this: Lasagna (Margaux’s favorite food), Kale Salad (Oceane’s favorite thing to make), Four-Step Chicken (Charlotte is my chicken star!), and Black Bean Brownies (Valentine just asked me to make these today!).
6. If you were to create a culinary theme park based on your favorite foods, what would it look like?
I picture a huge Disneyland main street paved with black and white beans. I love dried beans…no secret there! Protein, fiber, low fat, and downright cheap! (and that’s when I realize that I must not be at Disneyland. Sigh…). Here’s a link to a blog post I recently wrote with all my bean tips.
7. You’re currently gearing up for the second season of your hit TV show Drop 5 Lbs with Good Housekeeping, which premieres on Cooking Channel on January 19th, 2013 – it’s right around the corner! (Woohoo!) Can you share with us the premise of the show and one of your favorite components that it encompasses?
Season 2 of “Drop 5 Pounds” (www.cookingchanneltv.com/drop5) is all new! We have changed the format into more of a talkshow-style, with guests, experts, lifestyle discussions and recipes. My hope is that people feel like they are spending some time with girlfriends who are bringing together expertise and ideas together, sharing our experiences with one another. Truly, this was by the far the most fun I’ve ever had shooting a show! Sam Cassety, Aarti Sequeira and I laughed so much everyday, and shared our lives together, both on and off camera. This season was an honor and joy to shoot. I hope that love comes through the final show. I can’t wait to see it!
8. What is one of your favorite recipes from your cookbook, Ten Dollar Dinners, which you think would be ideal for kids and their families to cook together?
Whether I’m on “Ten Dollar Dinners” or “Drop 5 Pounds,” I bring my real life to my work. So, my cookbook is based on recipes I make in my own kitchen, for my family, which means most of the recipes will skew family-friendly naturally. That being said, a few favorites for families: Roasted Vegetable and Whole Grain Penne with Sausage, Four-Step Chicken Piccatta* (or any of the variations in the book), Black Bean Brownies** (I love a little fiber and protein in my sweets), and perhaps the kids’ all-time fave: Green Morning Smoothie.
(*Break out your sauté pan and take a look at Melissa’s fast and easy recipe for Four-Step Chicken Marengo! I can attest — it’s a recipe rockstar! –> http://www.melissadarabian.net/recipes/4-step-chicken-marengo/ Melissa says that the key to this recipe is learning the fundamental, Four-Step process and then applying it to chicken in distinct ways. This Four-Step Chicken Marengo recipe exemplifies one execution of the procedure, but in Melissa’s book, she walks through the process and even offers a mix-and-match table with more than a dozen different ideas.
**And, fresh baked brownies always soar to the top of the charts! Here’s Melissa’s lighter, nutrition-conscious recipe for her innovative Black Bean Brownies: http://www.melissadarabian.net/recipes/black-bean-brownies/)