Before she was put on bed rest with twins, Melissa worked in finance for Disney, a job that led her to Paris where she worked in merchandise finance at Euro Disney. But food has always played a huge part in Melissa's life and spending time in a city known for its magnificent cuisine only fueled her fire to cook full time.
Now that dream has come true and this Sunday she'll be anxiously awaiting the reviews on the premiere of her new Food Network series, Ten Dollar Dinners with Melissa d'Arabian.
Melissa and I had a chance to chat earlier this week and she had a lot to say about food, family and...fennel?
SheKnows: So Melissa, tell us about the concept behind Ten Dollar Dinners.
Melissa d'Arabian: (On the show, I) bring in my real life experiences as a stay-at-home mom and former working parent to the recipes. You're going to see a lot of the survival tips and tricks and you'll be seeing techniques and savings philosophies that I have implemented in my life to cut my own grocery bill more than 60 percent.
SheKnows: You came into the competition a bit of a dark horse as you had no formal training, is that right?
Melissa d'Arabian: I've taken a weekend class at the local store, but I've had no professional training. I love to be in the kitchen and even when I was working I was still having dinner parties all the time. My husband is a huge foodie so we cook a lot together and his mom is an amazing cook so she's a big influence on my cooking. I grew up with my mom cooking. I've always been in the kitchen and I think that's what I bring to Ten Dollar Dinners, these are recipes I have made that have passed the nitty gritty test in my own kitchen.
SheKnows: What do your kids think about mommy being on TV?
Melissa d'Arabian: They love mommy on TV they think that's great. Charlotte told me the other day that Bobby Flay is her best friend and she's completely serious. They don't fully get everything that's going on. They get it more from the end that mommy is going back to work part time.
SheKnows: Talk to me about juggling a big new career and a family.
Melissa d'Arabian: It's a lot to juggle. I'm going to have to balance work and family like millions of working parents already do and I'm sure I won't do it perfectly. My family will always be my priority and I'll have to do my best day-by-day. One thing that's so great about The Food Network, is so many of its stars have lives and families outside of New York City. (Like them), I'll do my work in New York and then go home and see my family as much as possible. Family is where the cooking comes from.
SheKnows: Cooking on a budget is such a necessity these days. The price of meat is outrageous! Can you give us a great tip?
Melissa d'Arabian: One of my favorite budget tips for meat is that meat actually goes on sale at most grocery stores as a lost leader. That means, the stores will pick out one of each kind of meat -- one chicken, one beef, one pork -- and have one item that is on super sale. The idea is that you, as the consumer, will see the prices and you'll do your grocery shopping there so they more than make up for it. But the smart consumer doesn't buy just what she needs that week, she buys several packages of this hugely discounted chicken. You begin to know that every six weeks boneless skinless chicken breasts will go on sale. I know the price I'll buy them at and if they're higher than that, I just don't buy them. When they go down, I stock up. So over the weeks, the smart consumer will fill up her freezer with meats she's purchased for 50 to 75 percent off.
SheKnows: With all this talk about saving and low budget, are there any items worth splurging on?
Melissa d'Arabian: The one place I don't get to fussy about the money is in the produce department. The good news is if you're looking for the best quality that's what's on sale. Why? Because a sale comes when there's a factory overstock. The factory in this case would be Mother Nature. That is the Earth's way of telling you what's in season when it's producing a lot of something. Now, what I do is I also take my daughters with me and in the produce department. I allow them to pick what ever they want, because if they pick it out they'll buy into this food when I get it home. So I let them go a little wild because even expensive produce doesn't break the bank. Take fennel, it's one of my favorite ingredients to cook with. It feels luxurious. It tastes high end and yet it's mild enough that my kids love it. Yes, it's expensive compared to lettuce but it's still only two or three dollars.
SheKnows: Fennel, huh? That's one vegetable I've never tried. I just can't wrap my brain around it.
Melissa d'Arabian: Lucky for you, I do a fennel slaw it really is tasty. I think people associate the taste of fresh fennel with fennel seeds and they're two very different flavors. The fennel slaw is very mild and I use the strategy of stretching the fennel, which is a more expensive ingredient, with red cabbage, which is less expensive, and it's very pretty. The cabbage is sliced so thin that it's not an overwhelming flavor and the fennel is mild and delicious and there's just a hint of cooked bacon and I'm telling you -- the slaw is so delicious you have no idea that it's a low budget item.
Melissa d'Arabian: (Laughs) My knee jerk reaction is to say, after the kids go to bed, I love to cook. Cooking in the sense of experimental cooking where I put on some music and talk to my husband about how his day went. I cook and taste, not necessarily for that night -- just experimenting in the kitchen is relaxing. So who knew that all these years of relaxing would result in a cooking career!
SheKnows: What's the best music to cook by?
Melissa d'Arabian: I love jazz, Diana Krall: Live in Paris, I think that's my favorite one to put on because it reminds me so much of us living in Paris. And speaking of Paris, I'm debuting with a Parisian inspired menu on Ten Dollar Dinners. And by the way, ten dollars for four people isn't one dish, it's a meal and I am going to be serving my bacon, potatoes tort that I served to a very elite group of chefs during Food Network Stars $1,000 ultimate dinner party challenge. They loved it and they had no idea it cost pennies a plate. That's what I want to serve, food that does not scream budget that makes you feel good.
Ten Dollar Dinners with Melissa d'Arabian airs Sundays at 12:30 pm on Food Network.
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