'Aarti Party' Spices Up Food Network's Lineup

Aarti Sequiera is this season's winner of The Next Food Network Star, a cooking show competition on the Food Network. The Bombay native won over the judges with her warm camera presence and unique blend of Indian and Western cuisine. Guest host Rachel Martin talks with Sequeira, whose new show, Aarti Party, premieres Sunday.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

Get ready, gourmands and food gurus, TV cooking shows are about to get a little spicier.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Next Food Network Star")

Mr. BOBBY FLAY (Host, "The Next Food Network Star"): The Next Food Network Star is Aarti.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. AARTI SEQUIERA (Chef, Winner, "The Next Food Network Star"): It's wild to think that I'm the first person on the Food Network to have a focus on Indian Food.

MARTIN: Aarti Sequiera is this season's winner of "The Next Food Network Star," a cooking show competition on the Food Network. The Bombay native won over the judges with her warm camera presence and unique blend of Indian and Western cuisine. Aarti's new show is called "Aarti Party" - it starts today, and she joins us now from our New York bureau. Welcome, Aarti. How are you doing? Are you excited?

Ms. SEQUIERA: I am ecstatic for so many reasons. I mean, I won. I...

MARTIN: Congratulations.

Ms. SEQUIERA: Yeah - I'm not going to get over that. But the fact that I'm on NPR...

MARTIN: Well, you're too kind.

Ms. SEQUIERA: ...we are geeked out.

MARTIN: We are thrilled to have you here. So, before I talk about how you've gotten to this place in your life, which is pretty amazing, tell us what you're going to be cooking on the first show. I imagine a lot of thought went into this, right?

Ms. SEQUIERA: Yeah, you know, I really wanted the first episode of "Aarti Party" to convey my culinary point of view, which is to take the sting and the intimidation out of Indian food. And the way that I do that is by taking really familiar American classics, like a Sloppy Joe, and wrapping it in a chicken tikka masala-like sauce. So, I mean, there's nothing intimidating about a Sloppy Joe, but this is a different way to experience it.

MARTIN: How in the world do you come up with ideas like that?

Ms. SEQUIERA: I don't cook Indian food every day. And, in fact, when I started to cook, which was only really seven years ago - you know, I was trained to be a journalist just like you - and when I started cooking, I didn't start with Indian food. Indian food is hard even to an Indian. So, I started with things like Sloppy Joes and steak and lasagna, and then I started to feel like, OK, I can put my personality in here. You know, these warm, earthy Indian spices in there. And it's much easier than you think it is.

MARTIN: I want to talk about how you have come to this place. You had a YouTube channel and a blog. And all of the sudden this has, what I would imagine, to be a journey that you didn't even expect at this point.

Ms. SEQUIERA: Exactly. I had always wanted to be a journalist and all of a sudden I just didn't have the fire to do that as much anymore. And meanwhile, I was cooking but I didn't know how to parlay that into a career. And, you know, as an Indian immigrant whose parents had spent a lot of money on university and everything, I thought, well, I can't throw all that away. Wouldn't that be a shame to my family? So, I was really lost for a number of years and the blog gave me a sense that I had a voice and I existed.

And then that led to this online cooking variety show called "Aarti Party" that my husband shot and I did enough in our little kitchen in L.A.

MARTIN: As you mentioned, you worked in television before, right?

Ms. SEQUIERA: I did.

MARTIN: Did it give you a leg up in any way?

Ms. SEQUIERA: In the competition, I think having worked in the television news business, I'm used to deadlines, I'm used to intense pressure and also it gives you perspective. Even if Bobby Flay doesn't like my food, you know, I'm not covering Katrina. This is not the end of the world, even though sometimes it really does feel like it. I think it gave me a sense of perspective.

MARTIN: OK. Last question: are you going to have a dinner party this weekend to celebrate the premier and what are you cooking?

Ms. SEQUIERA: That's funny. You know, it was my birthday this week.

MARTIN: Happy birthday.

Ms. SEQUIERA: Thank you. It's been a huge week, so I'm kind of celebrated out. A little bit. I mean, kind of. So, this weekend, I might make some ginger ice cream - a fan sent me her recipe and I thought it sounded amazing - and watch the very first episode of "Aarti Party" on Food Network.

MARTIN: Well, we will all be celebrating along with you. Aarti Sequiera is this season's winner of "The Next Food Network Star" and the host of the new show "Aarti Party," which premieres today on the Food Network. She joined us from our New York bureau. Thanks so much for being here.

Ms. SEQUIERA: Thank you so much.

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