A pinch of gratitude: Melissa d'Arabian

RecipesGeorgetownFood Network (tv network)Cooking Channel (tv network)

Melissa d'Arabian was instantly tagged the sole contestant without a professional cooking background when she took her place among the other Season 5 "Next Food Network Star" contestants in 2009. But d'Arabian had a few tricks up her sleeve that helped her ace the competition and earn her her own Food series, "Ten Dollar Dinners With Melissa d'Arabian," which is still popular three seasons later.

For one, d'Arabian sports an MBA from Georgetown and spent years working in strategy and finance at Disney and Euro Disney. So by the time she wed her French-born husband, Philippe, at age 34 and produced four daughters over the next three years, she was well prepared to switch gears from helping the House of Mouse save cash and make wise investments to making the d'Arabian house run just as smoothly -- and, via "Ten Dollar Dinners," the households of her frugal fans.

"I know all about cost cutting and looking at a cost base and finding great ways to streamline costs," d'Arabian explains, "so I took all that corporate know-how and applied it to our family (profit and loss analysis) and came up with some really guerrilla money-saving tactics. That was sort of the genesis of my life on 'Ten Dollar Dinners.' "

Talk to d'Arabian for two minutes, though, and you're inclined to pin her successes on a more innate life skill: a relentless, refreshing positivity born of what she calls her enduring quest for "pinch-me moments."

"I think that life is about small victories," d'Arabian says. "If we lose the pinch-me moments, then we're losing the real gems that life offers. Walking around with an attitude of looking for pinch-me moments is the better way. When that goes away, that's when I'll know I'm taking life for granted."

What are you currently reading?"My book club meets on Wednesday, and I was reading (the Tom Robbins novel) 'Jitterbug Perfume' up until yesterday when I realized that it's for March, not for February. Oops! So I'm starting 'Sky of Red Poppies' (by Zohreh Ghahremani)."

What did you have for dinner last night?"We ordered out Thai food, and I had some pad thai and some chicken satay and some salad. And I did have a little bit of curry. Being part of 'Drop 5 Lbs.' (her Cooking Channel show), I didn't load up on the coconut curry like I wanted to, but we still had a really nice family dinner out."

What is your next project?"I just turned in all my recipes for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival at the end of February -- I'm going to be doing a kids demo and I'm also doing a Grand Tasting demo."

When was the last vacation you took -- where and why?"We just got back! We took the kids skiing in Big Bear (Calif.) with my sister and her family. It was just lovely."

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