She’s Indian, speaks with a lovely trill and has a kittenish sex appeal that will remind you of Nigella.
But Aarti Sequeira would really prefer that you describe her as the next Guy Fieri.
Sequeira is one of three L.A.-area contestants who have cooked and campaigned their way onto Season 6 of “The Next Food Network Star,” which premieres Sunday night on the cable channel with a celebrity-studded season set in Los Angeles. Among those scheduled to appear along with judge Bobby Flay and this season’s mentor, Giada De Laurentiis, will be actress and restaurateur Eva Longoria Parker.
Although it remains, by far, the network’s single most popular show, most seasons of “The Next Food Network Star” haven’t lived up to their billing. While past winners have gone on to success, few have become true stars, household names, like Fieri, who was the Season 2 champion and is now the spiky-haired symbol of the fame and fortune that can come with winning the show.
Sequeira, 31, was convinced she had an edge, heading into this culinary boot camp aimed at discovering that diamond in the rough who can be polished to be a Food Network brand.
After all, she knows pressure: At one point, she was pursuing a career in journalism, working for CNN and producing live shots. Moreover, the food blogger already has her own online cooking show — “Aarti Paarti” — and is quite at home in front of the camera.
At least she thought she was.
“When it came to camera challenges, I thought it would be fine, I thought this would be the strongest part of my personality,” she said. “But the committee is watching you … the lights are shining in your eyes, and you have this one shot to get it right. I prayed a lot.”
If you want to root for the home team, Sequeira will be joined by Darrell “DAS” Smith, a caterer who runs the culinary arts program at Beverly Hills High School, and Doreen Fang, a caterer who splits her time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. There are 12 contestants in total.
Smith, 28, a Detroit native who immediately stands out with his youthful vibe, nonetheless gets a drubbing in the first episode — which was made available to the media — for trying a bit too hard and for his seemingly uncontrollable arm-waving during a demo. It was a humbling moment, he said.
“This is a show where you really have to do soul-searching, find out who you are and who you want the audience to connect to … you really have to put it all out there,” he said. “I take my hat off to every cooking show I watch from now on.”
Smith said his dream would be hosting a show aimed at twentysomethings who have left home and are cooking on their own for the first time.
Fang, 38, of Walnut, is the kind of foodie who flies to Seattle to eat and drink — for the day. (It helps that she has a friend who works for an airline.) She said she would love to host a show on which she travels the world, introducing audiences to new spices, ingredients and techniques. “I don’t want people to be afraid to cook using new ingredients in everyday meals,” she said.
As for Sequeira, who was born in India and raised in Dubai before coming to the U.S., she said her dream cooking show would get its inspiration from her cultural background, which would be a first for the Food Network: It’s never had a show that focused solely on Indian fare.
“I think people are ready to hear that Indian food is not just about curry powder,” she said. “The time is now for the Food Network to bring that whole cuisine to America.”