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Saturday, August 8

Food Network Addict Review: Melissa d'Arabian's 'Ten Dollar Dinners'


Melissa d'Arabian won The Next Food Network Star last Sunday, as you know, and her show Ten Dollar Dinners premieres tomorrow, Sunday the 9th, at 12:30pm ET. Unlike last year's winner, Melissa and her show pretty much remained under wraps until the big reveal. And, luckily, the first episode was pretty good! She managed to not kiss any raw meat.

Melissa's first episode, titled "Perfectly Priced Parisian," sounded very similar to season 3's winner Amy Finley's show The Gourmet Next Door when I first got it in the mail. (I already pointed out the recycling of Amy's blue tiles, and now after watching I'm pretty sure she also got Amy's old oven. So green of Food Net!)

While Melissa and Amy do have some similarities (both are moms who have lived in France), Melissa comes across as much more polished and TV ready than Amy ever did. There was some debate as to whether or not Amy ever wanted to be on TV or not; with Melissa there's no question.

The big change for Melissa's show is that all her meals are supposed to feed 4 people for $10. Considering that spoonfuls of some of Ina Garten's French dishes cost $10 or more, Melissa will surely have to think creatively to stay under budget.

Budget or not, the food is pretty good in this first episode. Her potato, bacon, and gruyere torte looked delicious and is obviously the "big ticket" item in the meal, as the rest of the meal consists of a green salad with mustard vinaigrette and what she calls an applesauce granita, which is nothing more than applesauce and a squeeze of lemon frozen in a pan and scraped into a glass like a granita. (She does end up topping it with a yogurt maple sauce.)

Compared to the other budget cooking shows on Food Network (Sandra's Money Saving Meals comes to mind), Melissa's food actually looked pretty appetizing. She made me want to try that torte, which is something I don't really think after watching a lot of shows on Food Network (truth be told).

I don't particularly like the little "mini-interview" thing that they threw into her show, like they do on Down Home with the Neelys. You know, where the host takes a little time to talk to an off-camera person about the recipe or a "special story" or about how a homemade crust makes you feel "warm and special inside." Still, Melissa manages to pull them off without making them entirely unbearable.

That's not to say Melissa comes across as a pro in the first episode. She calls her $10 dinner a "lunch" twice and occasionally trails off while talking. (There are a few awkward pauses here and there... which I guess is better than non-stop, irrelevant talking.) I know there must be a million things running through your head while taping your first episode of your first TV show, so I'm giving her a pass for a while. (She's light years ahead of some hosts on their first eps.)

While capitalizing upon a trend-right, in-the-moment feeling in America (we still recessioning?), Ten Dollar Dinners, by its very nature, runs the risk of not having a very long shelf life. How long 'til inflation raises those dinners to $11.25?

Watch tomorrow and let me know what you think.

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47 Comments:

At 8/08/2009 5:15 PM , Blogger Alec Smart said...

I do like the little mini interviews they give during their shows, however I could care less about knowing anything more about the Neelys.

Melissa might actually have some interesting, compelling stories and get this, she rightfully earned a spot on the network. The Neelys were fastracked for other reasons

 
At 8/08/2009 6:41 PM , Blogger DeathByGiraffe said...

Snore. *clicks remote to other station*

 
At 8/08/2009 7:54 PM , Blogger imjacobsmom said...

I click the remote when the Neelys come on. I'm not a prude by any means, but this is a cooking channel...

 
At 8/08/2009 8:31 PM , Blogger Kayleigh said...

I'm looking forward to checking out this show, though I do have to admit I was somewhat disappointed to see they didn't keep the "Kitchen Survival Guide" concept from her pilot episode. I thought that was a much better match to what Melissa brings to the table and has the potential to last a much longer time. Maybe they'll switch her back to that after they run out of things to do for "$10 Dinners"?

 
At 8/08/2009 8:33 PM , Blogger Karen said...

I thought the chicken dish she cooked in the finale was boring, but this sounds much more interesting. I'm on a budget and I'd like some meal ideas that are actually new ideas, not the same thing we've seen a hundred times, or just opening cans and boxes. Melissa's food sounds promising so far.

 
At 8/08/2009 8:36 PM , Blogger Karen said...

By the way, did anyone see Chefs vs City last night? Kelsey from season 4 was on, and they referred to her as a "food network host" or something like that. I didn't know she was on the Food Network - there was a story about her doing something on the FN web site, but I couldn't find it. (Not that you can find much of anything on the web site!)

 
At 8/08/2009 9:21 PM , Blogger Brian Flaherty said...

I agree with your last statement about the $10 concept running out of steam fast

 
At 8/08/2009 10:12 PM , Blogger seaphile said...

Sad that this is yet another occasion for Amy-bashing. She was good and would have been better if she had been allowed to follow her original culinary point of view - bringing French food into American kitchens. I didn't get that with Meliissa during NFNS, who rode the motherhood schtick to death.

 
At 8/09/2009 12:38 AM , Blogger Rachel said...

I may be stating the obvious here but I think FN knew they wanted to do a budget show from the get go and when it came down to it Melissa made more sense than Jeffrey.
They tried to keep up with everything by having Sandra Lee do her Money Saving Meals. I mean she was already on the payroll so why not?

 
At 8/09/2009 9:06 AM , Blogger Samantha said...

I will only watch this show to see how she got the cheese in the meal. My husband and I went to purchase some and it was $9 for 1/2 lb. I can't justify paying that much for cheese at this time. :/

 
At 8/09/2009 1:04 PM , Blogger Ben said...

$10 Dinners? Are you kidding me? Can we see a receipt of her ingredients? That show should be called, "$10 Dinners if your pantry is already full of spices and ingredients". Last time I checked, it's pretty hard to buy bacon, potatoes, olive oil, and cheese for less than $10. Maybe they should rethink her shows and change her title to, "Cooking with an awkward host".

 
At 8/09/2009 1:38 PM , Blogger Judge Roy Bean said...

Neelys suck, obnoxious and tedious. Trite.

 
At 8/09/2009 2:28 PM , Blogger Jeffrey said...

If anyone can make dinner for four (4) without having a fully stocked pantry is shopping at a grocery store that charges prices back in the mid-eighties (80's). The economy is what it is and you have a snowballs chance in death valley too purchase and make dinner for the advertised price of $10.00 if you do not have that fully stocked pantry like they do for the show. I like the concept however, we live it the real world out here in non-tv land.

 
At 8/09/2009 2:58 PM , Blogger DeathByGiraffe said...

@Karen - Kelsey scored a "prestigious" web-host gig on Food2

 
At 8/09/2009 4:11 PM , Blogger Benjamin said...

Just watched the premiere. Overall, I liked it. Melissa wasn't too manic, didn't go overboard with the personal stories and the food, as Jacob said, looked really good.

I will definitely try that torte (probably with a pre-made crust, though) but its caloric intake is Paula Deen-level (potatoes, bacon, cheese, cream).

That the $10 hook is complete b.s. Clearly they're amortizing the cost of the ingredients over multiple meals; that's an outrageous cheat.

I missed the first minute or two, so perhaps Melissa addressed this, but they're also assuming we have a fully stocked pantry and not counting those ingredients in the $10 cost. Another cheat.

We didn't need that separate Neely/Giada interview, especially as she repeated the story about the recipe for the salad dressing a moment later.

I realize FN wanted another show to go with Aunt Sandy's meals-on-the-cheap show, but Melissa's "Kitchen Survival Guide" concept would have worked just fine with this episode.

And as Sandra Lee's show is also a massive cheat, I hope FN lets Melissa go back to the survival-guide concept once this marketing concept runs its hook.

Another issue I have is the level of salt in her torte recipe. I realize this is a lost cause with FN; I was watching Giada's "pasta party" episode this morning and she dumped whole handfuls of salt into the pasta water. It made me gag just watching it.

But Melissa salted the potatoes in the torte multiple times, then added salty cheese, not to mention a salty salad dressing. FN really needs to at least acknowledge the insane levels of salt they recommend on almost every show.

 
At 8/09/2009 4:14 PM , Blogger Lou said...

I agree with Ben & Jeffrey! I watched Melissa's show and there is no way you would be able to make that 'meal' for $10 for 4! Get real! I buy Kroger brand bacon (1#) and it costs $3.00 on sale! Applesauce - gag! Rath & Hormel top upwards of $4.00 and I'm in the DFW Texas area and our cost of living is fairly reasonable. I lived in the DC area for four years and there would be no way of getting ALL of those ingredients for under $10! and why didn't she show her grocery list with receipt? That would at least lend some credibility to what she is saying!

 
At 8/09/2009 5:17 PM , Blogger Stuart Reb Donald said...

I didn't get to see the premiere but to those suggesting that the $10 project was out there before Melissa won you are right. About a year ago FN had a casting call for a female cooking show host for a show called $10 dinners. NFNS has never been about casting someone in a hit show. It is strictly about the contest and its ratings. Guy Fieri was an accident. They had no idea people would actually enjoy his show and personallity. I think if they could they'd have Aaron win every year. That's probably why they pulled the stunt with JAG in season 3 - he would have been a star also. Don't think for one minute they didn't know the truth about his resume before they ever auditioned him. FN goes over your past thouroughly including FBI background checks before ever inviting you to an NFNS casting call.

 
At 8/09/2009 11:23 PM , Blogger BlueEyedChicka said...

Lou.. the show is $10 dinners for 4.. not $10 for all the ingredients.. the recipe calls for 4 slices of bacon.. not the whole package.. therefore you take your $3.00 bacon and divide it by 12. so therefore the bacon if you pay that much is only .25 a slice.

 
At 8/10/2009 6:31 AM , Blogger femaile said...

Only 1 slice of bacon each, what ever will all the obese slobs out there do?

 
At 8/10/2009 7:09 AM , Blogger Ben said...

Thanks for the explanation BlueEyedChicka. But how are we supposed to know that? Was there a DISCLAIMER before the show started stating this information?

I think they need to can this show right now and start a show where she is cooking like the average cook.

 
At 8/10/2009 7:35 AM , Blogger Lou said...

thanks, Blue...for explaining that ... though, I'm an Accountant AND a cook...my point is that there should be some credibility put to the title '$10 meals for 4.'

 
At 8/10/2009 9:26 AM , Blogger tom said...

Lou, Lou, Lou... you're an accountant, that explains your nitpicking. Get away from the calculator and relax. Who cares, the meal looked great and I plan to make it this week even if it costs $11.75. By the way Lou I have a tax question. If I buy a pound of bacon and only use three slices can I depreciate the remaining bacon on my 2009 return?

 
At 8/10/2009 11:07 AM , Blogger Vegies said...

Her new show was fine. BUT, Neelys I can't STAND them. They are Foodnetwork's PORN!!!!

 
At 8/10/2009 11:29 AM , Blogger Ben said...

Yes Vegies! Yes! I didn't want to go there, but I am glad someone did. Often times, I think that show should be on Cinemax at 2AM or something. I love their personalities and I think they would make a great show but on their own shows. If they aren't talking about "buttering each other up" or "you're my sugar mama", I don't know what else they are talking about.

 
At 8/10/2009 11:30 AM , Blogger Andrew said...

Regardless of amortizing, based on the first episode, the show should very clearly be called Thirty Dollar Lunches.

 
At 8/10/2009 12:22 PM , Blogger Tiklish said...

I really wish they hadn't named it $10 dinners. I spent the entire time adding up what it would have cost to buy the ingredients. The apple sauce alone (and she poured in the whole jar) would have been $3 or $4. And I missed it somehow if she made it clear she was only using some of the bacon and some of the cheese.

Not that she's made chicken yet, but it costs about $7 or $8 in our local supermarket for a pound of chicken breast fillets, so I can only assume most meals won't fit the $10 dinner budget.

Having said all that, $10 for dinner is WAY more than I can afford to spend. Right now my budget allows for $1 dinner, either a frozen Banquet or something from the dollar menu at a fast-food place.

But as for TV, I don't want to be thinking about money, and Melissa had real good range in her cooking during the competition, and putting her on a budget is way too limiting.

 
At 8/10/2009 12:43 PM , Blogger Lou said...

'k Tom! lol...actually, I'm nitpicky cuz I really wanted Jeffrey to win! (sorry) but, I will lighten up on Mel and give her another chance...

 
At 8/10/2009 12:43 PM , Blogger Lou said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8/10/2009 4:35 PM , Blogger Bridgett said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8/10/2009 8:15 PM , Blogger femaile said...

I agree with most here. What numbnuts changed the name?????

 
At 8/10/2009 9:02 PM , Blogger BlueEyedChicka said...

Bridgette & whomever else that is missing the whole concept of the show.. You can't go by the Whole hunk of cheese.. It's $10 for 4 for the meal.. not for all your whole grocery bill.

The idea of budgeting meals is you say buy bacon.. there is 12 slices in it.. the recipe is only for 4 slices.. you budget and menu plan so you use the rest of the excess ingredients for meals through the week.. same with the cheese, bag of flour.. etc etc etc.

That is the whole idea of menu planning an budgeting... You make it so you can use your ingredients in a variety of meals through the week..

 
At 8/10/2009 9:09 PM , Blogger tom said...

Lou,

I am glad you took my comments as humorous. After reading my own comment I thought I sounded a bit harsh, I didn't mean for it to sound that way. Your comments are valid. After all, this is all in fun. I hope I didn't offend you, we all need accountants, especially those that like to cook.... more than the books:)

 
At 8/10/2009 9:15 PM , Blogger Charles said...

I changed back and forth on Melissa's show. Her food did look good, particularly the applesauce granita, but she just did not hold my attention. I'll prob watch her again though.

To Benjamin re: overuse of salt...Ummmmm, you have to salt the water so that you flavor the pasta itself. When the pasta is a main ingredient, you don't want your guests biting into it and they get a sense of eating chewy cardboard. Mario has even stated on several occassions that the water should taste somewhat like seasalt. (Though Mario is a growing boy and might not be the best example here, but he knows what he's talking about). Even Anne Burrell admitted that chefs in restaurants use a ton of salt and that's what makes the food "pop" and taste so good.

And I am completely sick of the Neelys' too! Get them off of there! Same damn constant talk and they have no appeal and their food is just not appetizing. I thought they weren't bad at first but I am sick of them two. Squirrel cheeks and the pig collector need to bounce from FN! And what really drives me crazy is those tacky utensils they have hanging over their stove!!! Who does that???

 
At 8/10/2009 10:32 PM , Blogger Lou said...

Tom, no worries, please and (don't believe in cooking books...lol...too much prison time involved...eeeh, the confinement...)kidding...anyway, oh, and to answer your question, unfortunately no on the depreciation...in as much as bacon is tangible, at least initially, you really can't classify it as something that will have a salvage value at the end of its useful life. So, please don't try depreciating it next year...
Ok...Blue, I understand your point, but for the time I spent watching Mel, which was probably half the show, I don't believe it would honestly be hearty enough for a family of 4 and it was considered a lunch which from a 'health standpoint' should be the more substantial meal of the day so you can burn off the calories. Again, I understand the budgeting concept however you must admit that in the 'typical' American household, gruyere cheese will not be a staple ingredient so it would be necessary to go out and purchase it in preparation - and as I'm seeing the costs for just 1!! ingredient, I'm thinking that would potentially turn off the 'average' cook. I, personally...like the gourmet touch but again most Moms aren't going to be all that concerned with it. In my mind, getting out a meal that has so much salt and fat content (cheese, cream, pastry?!) on a daily basis is a bad thing because in the very long run, the negative health costs are going to make that/ those meals cost way more (Yes, I was a nutrition major before I got my Finance degree.) The purpose should be to strive to be budget conscious but also health conscious (No, I couldn't stand Katie!) and, I'm not trying to argue with you, just state some other realistic facts.

 
At 8/11/2009 10:45 AM , Blogger Greg said...

I told myself I was going to check out her first episode since I sat through every episode of the actual Challenge to get there. Guess it says a lot that this completely slipped my mind. I did remember to DVR Chef v. City, for which all I kept saying to myself was Man that girl's got a big butt. (Just try to watch that episode again and claim you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

The whole $10 Dinner thing never even made it to the DVR. I guess it's just got too much of that How to Make Mediocre Food Pretentious feel all over it. If I'm watching a cooking show, then I want it to inspire and excite me. I wouldn't want to watch a fine art show only to have them show me how to color in coloring books, or a music show that features the kazoo.

Maybe Food Network needs to run a couple of seasons of The Next Food Network Writer to get some fresh ideas in the mix?

 
At 8/11/2009 2:45 PM , Blogger femaile said...

Ann B more than admits they use a lot of salt, you ever see her pinch of salt; it is a f---ing fist full... lol

 
At 8/16/2009 1:16 PM , Blogger SpunkyLubbock said...

How many hours every day does FN devote to the Neelys?????? It seems like whatever day, whatever time I turn the network on they have that pair on. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!!!!!!! GET THEM OFF!!!!!!

 
At 8/17/2009 1:57 PM , Blogger PJ said...

I did think her food looked interesting, but she came across so awkward and coached.

 
At 8/23/2009 2:53 PM , Blogger Carolyn said...

I've watched Melissa for the 3rd (and last) time. I really like her food, but her constant (read creepy) smiling and overuse of "filler" words and actually today her voice, were all just too much.

Then I watched Brian Boitano and was competely entertained and yes will try his recipes!!!!!

I don't know where to put this comment, but every time we watch Giada my husband mentions her cleavage being inapropriate for a cooking show.

...

 
At 8/24/2009 4:51 PM , Blogger Jennifer of Dog.Yarn.Knit. said...

I've only watched the Chicken a l'Orange episode. But I liked it. There are some shows I watch just for the entertainment factor. But mostly, I watch Food Network b/c I want to be inspired to actually try a new dish. And I think that's why Melissa's show has appealed to me thus far. It's why I wanted Lisa Garza to have her own show. I tried several of Lisa recipes that were on NFNS. I cannot say that at all about anyone else from the series...but Melissa may change that.

 
At 8/26/2009 4:49 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Saw two episodes so far and it seems to me that her only great tip about saving money is "get it in bulk, it's cheaper." Now I spend almost every weekend at Costco and seeing as how jam packed that place is, I think Americans know how to buy in bulk. This show is pretty useless. FN picked the wrong person again. They need to stop picking safe, bland bets and try something bold. As much as Debbie had dubious characteristics, she nonetheless brought a new perspective to the mix. Get someone like her. Isn't there enough shows for the busy moms with Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee?

 
At 8/26/2009 5:59 PM , Blogger Ben said...

I agree with everyone's comments in regards to $10 Dinners. And Rachel Ray...I can only watch her on mute. And I watched the Neeley's again and I swear, they are on the verge of making out with each other and taking off each other's clothes! I swear!

 
At 8/28/2009 10:53 AM , Blogger PinkDustFairy said...

Someone actually took the liberty of CALCULATING melissa's so called $10 for 4 dinners and even prorated, the meals come out to roughly $20 (or DOUBLE what they are advertizing). See for yourself!

http://justeyeballit.com/2009/08/reviews-10-dollar-dinners-with-melissa-darabian/

 
At 8/28/2009 2:49 PM , Blogger Lisa said...

I love Melissa and am so happy for her and her family. She has the chops and I look forward to trying her recipes.

That potato bacon tart has to be a winner.

 
At 10/11/2009 12:36 PM , Blogger jackie said...

Get rid of Mush Mouth, AAron.cannot stand to look at him...Sunny is good ,the Neely's would be better without her big mouth.give Road tasted back to paula's Boy's.
amy would have made it if you would have given her the attention you did BIG DADDY,PUKE a break.

 
At 11/11/2009 2:23 PM , Blogger McGeeter said...

I agree with what another person said here... I think Melissa is creepy. I would really like to see a winner of this show have sort of personality. In my opinion, she is very Stepford-esque. And, while I truly value moms (I am one and VERY proud of it), she dwells upon being a mommy home-cook waaaaay too much. Ugh!

 
At 11/11/2009 2:29 PM , Blogger McGeeter said...

And I agree with all the comments about The Neely's. I don't get it. Mainly, though, I think it would be better without her. He's okay.

 

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