A Cinderella story. The American Dream. A jackpot. Call it what you want, but Aarti Sequeira has parlayed her warm smile, charming personality and delicious recipes into a thriving career in front the of the camera.
Sequeira’s self-produced cooking show web series, Aarti Party helped her secure a coveted spot on The Next Food Network Star show to compete for a great grand prize, her own Food Network show. By surviving several exhausting challenges, cooking great food and winning the hearts of the judges, she won.
Her food pays homage to her family’s roots in India and other cultures around the world that have influenced her kitchen technique. Through all of the excitement, Sequeira hasn’t forgotten the web fans who encouraged her along the way. She continues to create webisodes for the Food Network site and consistently updates her personal blog.
Sequeira’s television show enters a second season on Sunday. Tubefilter caught up with a very busy Sequeira to find out about the new season on the Food Network, how her web series influences her TV show, and her advice for people who want to create a cooking program online.
Tubefilter: Your show started as a web series and became a Food Network Show after your won The Next Food Network Star. Now that you are going into your second season on Food Network, how much do your original webisodes influence how you approach the half-hour TV programs?
Sequeira: Having done a web-show helped tremendously. I mean, first off, I can look at it whenever I want and see what I’m like when I’m entirely comfortable, shooting in my kitchen with my husband behind the camera. I mean, talk about no pressure! That’s when the gold comes out. Then, I try to bring that same level of comfort and familiarity when I’m in front of the kazillion cameras in the big, daunting studio.
Also, having edited those webisodes myself, I’ve literally watched hours of myself on camera, so I know what works, and what doesn’t. How you need to almost unnaturally look up at camera every few seconds – even if you have nothing to say – just to stay connected, how I grimace when I’m focused, etc. Basically, the webisodes have made me a much more polished host.
Tubefilter: You are also filming new webisodes for the Aarti Party page on the Food Network site. Why is it important to you to continue to create video content?
Sequeira: The web videos were actually the prize for my winning the fan favorite vote during The Next Food Network Star. I believe in staying true to what got me here, and that’s the internet!
I like to think that it sets me apart, since I know how to create web content because I did it for so long. Web viewers are different to me than TV viewers… they’re looking for something a little more raw, a little quirkier, a little more natural I think, than what we have grown to expect out of the television set. Plus, I didn’t have cable for a few years and I still know tons of folks who get their entertainment online. It’s important for me to have a presence online for those people who have given up on TV.
Tubefilter: When you are developing new recipes, how do you know one will be right for the show? How did you decide what recipes to include in the new webisodes?
Sequeira: See, that’s where doing the web version of Aarti Paarti was so handy. I literally know which episodes were hits because those are the most viewed ones. I learned that people are really interested in India’s famed dishes; that’s how you get people to watch your channel on YouTube. My samosa episode was the first one to really garner some eyeballs that didn’t belong to my friends and family.
So this season, I’m doing an episode dedicated to a few of Indian cuisine’s “greatest hits” so to speak: Chicken Tikka Masala and Mango Lassi… and an episode dedicated to demystifying the curry. Then there’s Facebook: I asked members on my fan page what recipes they’d like to see and I got 300 responses within 20 minutes! I get a lot of the same questions over and over again, so we decided to focus on answering those in the web videos. There’ll be episodes dedicated to the spices I always have on hand, and another on what exactly makes a curry… there’ll be a few recipes in those videos, but they will focus mostly on educating people about a few Indian food basics.
Tubefilter: Is there a different approach to filming the show and the webisodes? Or is it the same camera and crew?
Sequeira: The webisodes are pretty similar to the show – a different crew but similar feel. Actually, the crew who shot the webisodes shoots Giada’s show so it was cool to see how another crew does things. One day, I’d love to resurrect the original ambience and timbre of Aarti Paarti (the web show); I love the quirkiness of those videos, and how they invited other people’s talents to shine including jugglers, singers, and belly dancers.
Tubefilter: What can your viewers looking forward to this season on your show and it your new videos?
Sequeira: Tons of great recipes! I’m really proud of the recipes this season because I expanded beyond just the Indian flavors people know me for. See, if you came over to my house for dinner, you might be surprised because I don’t cook Indian food every day. That’s why this season you’ll find recipes for things like Thai Curry Mac & Cheese, or Lebanese Meat Pitas (Arayes) or heck, the Vanilla and Black Pepper Pork Loin that kicks off the whole thing.
Oh, and I’m doing a Beer Tasting episode too, with beer sommelier Christina Perozzi. She brings the beer and I bring the food to match! Also, you’ll see some of my friends and family on the show! The biggest motivator for me when it comes to cooking is whom I’m cooking for. I’m so excited to share the magical people in my life who have motivated me to make great food! And you’ll find a little taste of the old Aarti Paarti when a belly dancer surprises my friends at one of my parties – super fun!
Tubefilter: When you started making videos in your tiny home kitchen, could you have ever imagined it would lead to all of this?
Sequeira: Heck no! Doing those videos was my oxygen; they gave me a sense of purpose and joy during a time when I was absolutely lost about why God had created me. While I had a small dream of eventually getting a show on the Food Network, it seemed like an impossible pipe dream. I still don’t think I’ve fully realized what’s happened to me over the past two years. I did a web show for 9 months, and then got a show on the Food Network. It’s such a fairy tale that I don’t think I fully believe it yet!
Tubefilter: What advice would you give to people who want to start a new web series about cooking?
Sequeira: Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself. Don’t put on a “cooking show persona” because (a) people can see right through that and (b) it’s exhausting being anything other than yourself, trust me.
Don’t talk down to your viewers. Smile. A real smile. Make eye contact. Talk to the camera as if you’re talking to your husband, or your best friend or your pet chihuahua, anyone who makes you feel really comfortable. People watching need to feel like they’re in the kitchen, sipping a cup of tea and watching you. Talk and cook at the same time; don’t do a big preamble before you start cooking, listing ingredients and stuff. Dive into the cooking, because there’s nothing interesting about watching someone standing still and talking into camera.
And above all, have fun! If you’re having fun, then so will the viewer. Everything else will follow!
The second season of Aarti Party premieres Sunday, December 12 at 12PM ET on Food Network.