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tomato love.

A little over one year ago, I started this blog as an outlet to write about my ridiculous fascination with food.

Then, I took a brief hiatus to film a little show called Food Network Star, and spent the last 11 weeks writing recaps about each episode. That was cool and all, but I’m really excited to get back to writing about what this blog was originally intended for: FOOD!

Oh, but wait!

I think it would be rude to continue on without first wishing somebody a belated Happy Birthday. On August  2nd, this blog turned a whole year old. Happy Birthday, TooFullForSchool.com!

You can take a peek at my very first post here. (And you should make that open-face tomato feta sandwich, like, yesterday.)

It’s really no secret that I have a borderline “unhealthy” obsession with tomatoes. If you follow me on social media, or if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you probably already caught on.

Soo… What better time to start writing about food again than smack dab in the middle of my favorite season!?

No, dummy, not summer.  Tomato season!

Sorry. I shouldn’t have called you a dummy. But tomato season is my favorite time of year for so many reasons. Late summer, in general, is just magic.

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a recent harvest.

Humidity drops, but warm temperatures, long days, and sunshine stick around. The ocean stays warm too, and hurricane season brings in lots of fun swell, with – hopefully – no actual hurricanes. Tourists go back home, kids go back to school, and beaches go back to being the quiet peaceful places they are the other 9 months of the year. Open windows keep electric bills low, and make sleeping dreamy with gentle breezes and cricket lullabies. In August I get to celebrate my anniversary, and in September, my birthday.

But the best part about this time of year, HANDS DOWN, is the produce.

June brings greens and peas, and yeah, July has summer squash, berries and beans… but August is when the farms and gardens really start putting their best feet forward.

New Jersey is called the Garden State for a reason!

Ugh…No.

NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!

That’s all stereotype.

THIS is the real New Jersey:

Believe it or not, New Jersey is actually loaded with farmland, beautiful beaches, and wildlife reserves. And our rich, sandy soil allows us to grow the best damn tomatoes in the universe.

That’s right, the universe.

But tomatoes are good this time of year no matter where you live. So now that these babies are in their prime, I think it’s appropriate to discuss the best ways to select and store tomatoes.

Sounds boring, I know. But, you might have been doing it wrong this whole time! And I just want to see you get the most enjoyment possible out of these precious gems.

Read over the following suggestions, and hopefully it will change your tomato game forever.

Selecting

Follow your nose! This applies to lots of fruits and veg. If they don’t smell like anything, they probably don’t taste like anything. Smell the blossom end of the tomato- that’s the bottom – not the stem end (top). They should smell bright and fragrant- like tomatoes!

Don’t be put off by odd shapes or small cracks on the tops. The ugliest tomatoes tend to be the tastiest. Do, however, be mindful of any bruising or torn skin. This will affect the texture and cause your tomatoes to spoil faster.

Different colors, sizes, and shapes will vary in flavor and texture, so try them all out and pick your favorite. Yellow tomatoes tend to be lower in acid than their red counterparts, but there are always exceptions to the rule.

This year in my garden I’m growing sungolds & a sun sugar hybrid, a green zebra, a big zebra, a pineapple tomato, a Oaxacan jewel, a big pink & white stripe, a purple Cherokee, two UglyRipe’s, and an Aunt Ruby’s German Green. They each have their own unique flavor, and make for one colorful salad.

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2010 mid September harvest. My garden in Atlantic City grew the best tomatoes.

Another rule of thumb, which applies to other fruits as well, is to choose tomatoes that are heavy for their size. I use this especially when selecting citrus. Why? Because the heavier they are, the more juice they contain. Juicy fruits = good fruits!

Storage:

So you got carried away at the farmer’s market and bought so many gorgeous heirlooms, you’re not sure how you could possibly eat them all.

I’ve been there. Trust me. But, don’t be tempted to refrigerate them. You’ll be doing yourself, and your tomatoes, a massive disservice.

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT store your tomatoes in the refrigerator.

Ever.

Got it? Good. Now, lets talk about why.

The cold destroys both the flavor AND the texture. You’re left with bland, off-tasting, mealy disappointments.

According to king of the food nerds, Alton Brown, “If they drop below 50 degrees F, a flavor compound called (Z)-3-hexenal is just going to flip itself off like a chemical switch … permanently.”

Ever meet someone who says they don’t like tomatoes? They’ve probably been eating them out of the refrigerator their whole life (or, they’re just plain crazy).

So then, what DO you do with all of the quickly ripening tomatoes sitting on your counter? Well, you have a few options. But first, flip them over and store upside down!

That’s right, stem end down, like this:

Cooks Illustrated magazine performed a test in which they left tomatoes out at room temperature, one batch stored stem-end up, and the other stem-end down. The stem-down tomatoes lasted for over a week into the experiment, while the stem-up tomatoes rotted much more quickly.

Why?

Cook’s Illustrated states that, “storing a tomato stem-end down prevents air from entering and moisture from exiting its scar, prolonging shelf life.”

Which, might be true, but I have my own theory. The tops (stem-end) of tomatoes always tend to be firmer, and less ripe than the bottom (blossom end). When the tomatoes are stored with the less-ripe side down, gravity forces the juices to settle away from the blossom end, keeping it from over-ripening, while helping the stem-end catch up.

How it works doesn’t really matter. What matters is, it works.

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tomato, tomahto

But ok, you still have tomatoes sitting on your counter about to go bad. I have a few solutions.

Slightly overripe tomatoes (not rotten) are perfect for making delicious Spanish tomato bread (pan con tomate). 

If you have lots of tomatoes to use up, your best bet is to make a simple sauce. Seed the tomatoes and pulse in a food processor until pureed but still chunky. Saute chopped garlic in olive oil, pour in the tomatoes, season with plenty of salt and pepper, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Toss with pasta, freshly torn basil and grated pecorino for some real good summer eatin’.

I like to make a big batch of sauce and freeze it in smaller portions (ice cube trays work great). Sure, canning is an option, but freezing’s easier. That way, you can indulge yourself on a frigid winter night when you just can’t seem to get tomatoes off the brain.

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I love my garden.

Of course, the best thing to do is eat up as many fresh, juicy tomatoes as you can while they’re still in season. Get your fill now, because in a few months, they’ll go back to being blah.

I’m working on lots of tasty tomato recipes to keep you guys happy for the rest of tomato season. Check back often in the next few weeks for lots of tomato love coming your way.

In the meantime, give these recipes from last season a try:

Pan Con Tomate

Grilled Panzanella

Open Face Tomato Feta Sandwich

Fairy tale Eggplant Pasta

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turn around, stick it out, show em whatchu got

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the band is back together. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Well, it’s all over. And, I didn’t win. Womp, womp.

But, hey, it’s ok!

When Bob Tuschman opened the red envelope and announced that I had come in third, Emma immediately ran over and threw her arms around me. If you watch my lips closely, you can see me whisper to her, “It’s all good!”

Because, it really is.

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It’s ALL Good. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

If you asked me a few weeks ago how I would feel coming in third place, my answer would have probably been “devastated.”

But surprisingly to myself, and to many others, I’m not.

Not even close.

Going through this competition was incredibly challenging, and watching the events unfold again each week was just as hard. Which is exactly why now that it’s over, all I feel is a beaming sense of pride and gratitude.

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When life gives you lemons, squeeze ‘em over seafood. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

There is just so much for me to be proud of, and grateful for.

Like, dude, I made a PILOT! And it wasn’t half bad!

I’m proud of how I threw caution to the wind, made an audition video, and actually got on the show in the first place.

I’m proud of how I handled myself, and how I brought positive attention to the Jersey shore, Atlantic City, Coastal Cuisine and girls everywhere who suffer from resting bitch face.

I’m proud of how I looked my fears in the eye, faced them, and overcame.

I’m proud of how much I’ve grown, and how much I’ve learned, in such a short amount of time.

I’m proud of how I stayed true to myself, and how I was able to put aside the competition in order to form true, meaningful friendships.

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She’s my FNS lobster. Photocred: emmafrisch.com

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to present myself and my food to the world.

And I am so unbelievably grateful for all of my friends, family, fans, clients and community for supporting me all along the way.

How you climb up the mountain is just as important as how you get down the mountain, and, so it is with life, which for many of us becomes one big gigantic test followed by one big gigantic lesson. In the end it all comes down to one word, Grace. It’s how you accept winning and losing, good luck and bad luck, the darkness and the light.

In case you were wondering, yes, that came straight from a perfume bottle.

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Bronze, baby. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Philosophy released their fragrance, Amazing Grace, right around the time my mom passed away, and my Aunt Angela, her only sister, gave me a bottle as a gift.

My mom’s name was Grace, and it was fitting, because she was the most graceful woman on the planet. And she was totally amazing, to boot.

The perfume is gentle, elegant and light, just like her. I wear it all the time, and the quote on the bottle is a constant reminder of how to carry one’s self when situations don’t always go in your favor.

Always move forward with Grace.

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The amazing and graceful ladies of Food Network Star Season 10. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Losing my mom to ALS was the biggest, most difficult test in my life, but it was followed by the greatest lesson. A lesson that so many people are never fortunate enough to learn:

Life can be gone in a second. So take risks, face fears, and always find the good in everything.

I looked in the mirror Sunday night and asked myself, “Am I better off now than I would have been if I had never done this show?”

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Never be afraid to get a little weird. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

The answer, without question, is yes. There is so much good that has come out of this whole thing already, and I am beyond grateful to have had the experience.

Food Network Star was just another test in my life, appropriately followed by yet another life-changing lesson:

Always be yourself, no matter who’s watching. Never be afraid to mess up, or to show your flaws. It’s what makes us human.

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Cowboy, UP! Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

And that’s exactly why the gourmet cowboy was able to take this one home. He didn’t win because he was perfect. He won because he allowed America to see his goofy side, his flaws, and his bare, “creamy” chest.  Perhaps, if only I had only shown my bare chest, I might have won instead. Sadly, we’ll never know.

But seriously, my cowgirl hat is off to Lenny for winning this whole thing. He is a born entertainer, and a very talented chef. He gave this grueling competition his absolute all, and I couldn’t be happier for him. Congratulations buddy!!

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Luca, quit being a Donkey! Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

As for Mr. Della Casa, he should be incredibly proud of himself, too. Having been eliminated early on, then battling through Star Salvation, and coming back stronger than ever, Luca proved to everyone that he was more than just dimples and an accent. He is as genuinely charming in person as he is on TV. And his “good guy’ factor goes up even more when he starts talking about how much he loves his wife and 4 dogs at home. And after finally meeting his wife Marcella in person last week, I can totally see why.

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So you’re sayin’ I get to eat the whole sundae?? Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

So, what’s next for me…

Well, first? A little break. I’m taking some much needed time for myself.

That’s right! Me time = good time, and it’s long overdue. Summers spent working at the Jersey shore are ALWAYS busy, but this summer has been especially nutty. I’m taking some time to center myself, tend to my garden, get back on my paddle board, and spend a few lazy days on the beach with friends.

But after that, I can’t wait to get back to creating new recipes, and of course, sharing them all here on toofullforschool.com. I would love to write a series of cook books, and heck, maybe even one day still land my own show. I have so many ideas and tips that I’m just dying to share. Stay tuned!

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Did Lenny really just refer to his chest as “creamy?” Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

But perhaps the most exciting project on the immediate horizon, is our kitchen. In just a few days, my hubs and I will be ripping out all the cabinets, floors, appliances and counter tops that haven’t been updated since 1987. And we’ll be replacing them all with a Chaser Gaffney Architecture design that’s gonna be straight up baller status. I’m pumped.

When the whole project is finished, it’s going to be the perfect back-drop for filming fun and informative how-to cooking videos. And who knows, maybe even Emma Frisch will stop by to cohost.

In the meantime, keep up with me by following this blog, and all of my social media accounts: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

To all of my fans that have supported me along the way, you know who you are, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Don’t be sad! This is only the beginning, and I can’t wait to see what other tests and lessons life has in store.

It’s ALL Good.

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Catch ya on the flip side. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Watch the finale

Watch my pilot- My Coastal Kitchen! 

View my Star Scrapbook

Top Moments of the Finale

Read Emma Frisch’s Recap

Watch our behind-the-scenes antics

Hear from myself, Luca and the mentors

A Letter to Lenny, From the Rebel (Justin Warner)

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thank you to superficialgallery.com for making this!

HOLY MACKEREL! (coastal pun completely intended.) I MADE IT TO THE TOP 3!!!!!!

All I can say is, WOW! What a crazy, crazy ride this has been.

Getting up in front of iconic celebrity chefs plus 2.5 million viewers to essentially make a fool out of yourself in pursuit of a life long dream takes, well.. It takes some cojones. (wink wink, that was for you, Reuben!)

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A cowboy, a texan, and Italian, and a Jersey girl. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Cooking and presenting on a reality tv show is a world different from doing it in real life.

The idea of being vulnerable, in front of millions of people, on national TV… It’s scary.

And there were times when I totally let that fear get the better of me. Remember this precious moment?!

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Howdy, y’all. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

But by the time I got to New York, I was just so sick and tired of being afraid.

My favorite quote of all time is this one from Eleanor Roosevelt:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Feeling inferior, just like being afraid, is a choice.

No one tells us to be afraid of heights, spiders, people, organ meats, or public speaking. We choose to do it ourselves, whether we realize it or not.

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Hips jutting out, hands moving like crazy. Yep, classic Coley Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

I had some rather irrational fears as a child, which you can read about in a post I wrote last October (killer recipe there, too!). But when you think about it, aren’t all fears irrational?

It’s scary having to make mistakes in front of the world, for everyone to see, judge, and ridicule. But I was tired of letting my fears consume me.  I made the choice to rise above, and just go for it. To just let go, relax, and be myself.

And guess what? It worked.

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Top 3, baby!! Owwwwwwwlllllllllllllll!!!!! Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

I’ve made a lot of mistakes – on this show, for sure – but also in real life. I mean, LOTS of them.

And really, who hasn’t?

But I’ve learned from those mistakes, and I’ve grown immensely as a result.

If we never made mistakes in life, would we ever learn anything at all?

Making mistakes is essentially how I taught myself to cook, and I always encourage new cooks to not be afraid of making mistakes. Chances are, if you make a mistake and royally screw up dinner, you will be SURE to never do it again. After hundreds of mistakes, just think about how great of a cook you’d be!

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The way you squeeze those lemons, babe. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Overall, I’m just really proud of how far I’ve come. It’s hard to believe that only a few years ago, I was down and out trying to find my way in the world.

During college, my mom was suffering with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and she passed away two weeks after my graduation, at only 48 years young.

I had no idea what to do with myself. I was completely lost.

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My Coastal Mama- see where I get my smile, and my love of seafood!

But Mom knew I had a profound love of food, and for Christmas the year before she died, she gave me one gift. It was the Culinary Institute of America text book, and she encouraged me to pursue my dream. I read that book cover to cover, and practiced the techniques at home. It took me a few years before I was able to muster up the courage to actually give cooking professionally a shot.

But one day, I decided to face my fear, and just go for it. And look at how far I’ve come.

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Pilot, Possible! Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

I can’t help but think about my Mom right now, and just how incredibly proud she would be.

She was the best, most loving, and supportive Mom you could ask for, and I’m so lucky to have had her in my life as long as I did. It’s crazy to think it’s been seven years since she’s been gone, but I feel her watching over me every day.

I have learned so much throughout this process, and I’ve grown immensely. For that experience alone, I am so grateful.

It isn’t over yet, but it’s out of my hands now. It’s now up to YOU, the viewers, to vote for who you want to be the winner.

And hopefully, that winner is ME!

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Geaux Nicole and Geaux Tigers!

But first, we said goodbye this episode to my beautiful friend Sarah. She made a killer run on the show, and should be equally as proud to have finished where she did.

Sarah seems to have gotten more harsh criticism during our run on FNS than anyone else, so I’d just like to say for the record, that she is one pretty awesome chick. Sarah is a wife, an amazing mom to two adorable boys, a bubbly, fun person to be around, and one hell of a cook. This girl was a private chef for some pretty high profile celebrities, so you know she has some tricks up her sleeve.

Looking forward to reconnecting with Sarah and my 10 other new friends over salted caramel affogatos and cronuts this week during the finale. This girl loves to eat just as much as I do, and that’s precisely why I like her so much.

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So long sweet Sarah. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

You can vote two ways, by going to  (Facebook log-in is required, I believe)

OR dial 855-547-8273.

Each way, you can vote up to 10 times a day, so if you have facebook AND a phone, that’s 20 times! Voting ends Wednesday August 6th at 11am, so get ‘em in while you can!

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drawn by my amazing friend and comic artist, @Drewtoonz, follow him on Instagram for some laughs

And while your at it, share this with your cousins, your grandma, your best friend, your mom’s best friend, your dad’s drinking buddies, your annoying coworkers, your weird neighbors, your goofy uncle… even your exboyfriends!

I’ve got some tough competition, and can use all the votes I can get!

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drawn by my incredibly talented brother and comic book artist! That’s The Invisible Robot, his girlfriend Daisy, and Lady Robotta- aka ME- in the back!

Tune in next Sunday at the same time, same place, to see if I make it all the way! Food Network, 9pm/8c. Be there!

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Rachael’s the boss, but I brought the hot sauce. Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

We started in LA, then conquered Vegas, and now it’s on to the Big Apple. This competition has taken me to a lot of places, but it’s great to finally be back on the east coast.

When we arrived in New York, I stepped off the plane and took a deep breath of the brisk, humid air. I immediately felt like I was home, and boy did it feel good.

First order of business: Eat more ice cream.

I’m noticing a trend in this competition lately, and I like it. I am totally cool with starting each day with ice cream.

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This milkshake brought all the boys to the yard. Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

The ice cream at Ronnybrook Milk Bar is a bargain compared to the last sundae I ate. But to tell ya the truth, this stuff actually tasted a little better. Maybe it’s because of the locally sourced dairy and fresh ingredients. But the fact is, the flavor of a creamsicle will beat out the flavor of edible gold leaf any day.

To my surprise, both Bobby and Giada had never heard of Philadelphia style ice cream before (Alton, of course, had).  How cool to be able to teach these cats something new! I actually hadn’t heard the term until I got really into ice cream making a few years ago.

See, I do this thing when I get obsessed with a certain ingredient or food. I’ll go through a period where I become completely consumed with learning about, creating and eating it. It’s happened with pizza, tomatoes, waffles, pad Thai, blts, browines, gnocchi, clafoutis, ravioli, chocolate chip cookies, pies, gratins, kale, seriously, the list goes on and on…

When I was going through my ice cream phase (which, lets face it, I’m still in), I learned that the two main types of ice cream were custard style and Philadelphia style. Philly style means there’s just cream, milk, sugar and flavorings. That’s it.  Custard style includes all of the same stuff, plus the addition of egg yolks. Because, you know, custard has eggs. Gelato, in case you were wondering, is usually made with even more yolks, and has a higher ratio of milk to cream.

Luckily, my goofy food obsession actually helped me win this challenge, giving me an “advantage” in the next one. And that next one, was something I never saw coming: The Rachael freaking Ray show!!

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Hey, Rachael, Heeyyyyy! source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

Rachael Ray, like her or not, is an inspiration to anyone wanting to become the next Food Network Star. I always love hearing about people who come from nothing, make themselves into something, and continue to be kind-hearted and generous people. That’s what I always hear about Rachael. She is an absolute pro at what she does, and her poise and humility are something I try to emulate in my life.

I watched Rachael on the Food Network with my mom back when I was in high school. She taught me so many unique little tricks and tips. My grandfather was a big fan of her’s too, and one year he gave me a 30 Minute Meals cook book for Christmas.

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I miss Pop-Pop Genovese AND his pizzas

Actually, I’m pretty sure it was a regift. As much as he liked her, he just wasn’t the type to ever use a cookbook.

Anyway, he wanted me to have it because he saw my excitement for food, and wanted to encourage me to cook as much as possible. I remember him telling me one day that I could grow up to be the next Rachael Ray.

So to be here, in the final four on Food Network Star, is just…

Man, it’s just really crazy.

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“I’m really not sure why she would give sriracha sauce to a baby?” Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

But lately I seem to be on this roll where I have a  pretty decent performance and the judges like my food, but then I make some boneheaded move to mess it all up.

When I found out we would be making dishes to help out families, my first thought was, “Oh, we’re cooking for kids? Perfect. I can poison the little ones with a fiery hot sauce. Maybe, just maybe, one will even spit it out!!”

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Thank you @MaryMcG257 for making this .gif, so I can relive this moment over, and over again forever.

No! Come on, that wasn’t what I was really thinking!

What I was thinking, was about how Bethann is exactly like all the moms that come to me for help. They want easy, fun, healthy meals, that will be something both parents and kids can enjoy. Which is exactly why my lettuce wraps have become my most popular dish!

Now, I know better than to serve sriracha to a two year old. The sauce is actually meant to be served on the side, which I mention in the full video on Rachael’s site.

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my signature “large mouth bass” face. Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

Yet as a result, the dish had a little kick, and both Rachel and Giada said it wasn’t right for the Flagg family.

Womp! Womp!

But, after stumbling upon this comment, from Mama Flagg herself, on the Food Network Star Blog (umm, yep. I totally read that), I’m not so sure I agree.

Bethann:

My was the Mom of the Flaggs. I want to just say to Nicole, the spicyness for my 2yr old of course didn’t work well, but if they moved the camera over to my 5yr old. He REALLY LIKED it. He likes when I put spicy mustard on his cheese sandwiches and hamburgers. My husband and I loved the dish and I will try it at home, I’ll just keep the spicy stuff out for my yongest.

I was so happy to read this, because I honestly thought I had not only given them a crap solution to their problem, but also killed their poor baby’s taste buds. And while the latter may have been true, I’m really stoked to hear they actually liked the dish enough to want to recreate it at home.

All in all, I’m happy with my performance and the dish I made. It was an absolute honor to be able to cook for such a sweet family on such a highly acclaimed show, and with such a big Food Network Star!

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In the hot seat. Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

But once again, someone had to be sent home this week, and as usual, it was emotional.

What can I say, except, dang?!

Loreal is a force to be reckoned with. She’s chock full of personality, and is an artist both in and out of the kitchen. Loreal is an old soul with a child’s spirit, and even though she puts on a “tough girl” act, she is really just a sweet, vulnerable little lady inside. Loreal is always going to be who Loreal wants to be, whether you like it or not. And that has inspired me to try to ease up a little and try to show more of my true self to the world.

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The Butcher Babe in her natural habitat. Source: http://bit.ly/1uLfmdI

Be sure to tune in to next week’s episode, when 3 contestants  move on to create a PILOT for their own show!

And then YOU, the viewer, will get a chance to VOTE for who you want to be THE NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR!

You don’t want to miss it!

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We were greeted in NYC by Kenny, who took us on an EPIC walking food tour of the east village

Read Loreal’s Exit Interview

Vote for me for Fan Favorite!

Top moments from this Episode

Watch a video recap of Episode 9 and a sneak peak of Episode 10!

Read Season 8 winner Justin Warner’s Rebel Recap

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Viewing Party with the Genovese and Curcuru Cousins- so much fun!!

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Is picking teams ever really an advantage? Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Another episode of Food Network Star is under my belt, and I can’t believe I made it through.

This was easily the most difficult episode of the season, on so many different levels.

Welllllllll, except for that one part where I got to eat a bowl of ice cream that cost about as much as my car is currently worth. There was nothing difficult about that.

Walking into the poker room and standing in front of the mentors, I was gearing up for yet another tough challenge. But instead, this happened!? It’s no wonder I was giddy.

Seriously, when I heard I was getting to eat a $1,000 sundae I about lost my mind.

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Just hit the foodie jackpot. Source: http://bit.ly/1AbRSyn

It’s sort of hard to tell by my reaction, but I loooove ice cream.

I was whisked away to Serendipity III and sat solo at a table, sipped a glass of prosecco (NOT cava), and feasted on an ice cream sundae adorned with real edible gold. When else would you ever get a chance to do this?

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I scream, you scream, I can’t believe I’m eating a $1,000 bowl of ice cream. Source: http://bit.ly/1AbRSyn

In Food Network Star, and in life, there’s almost always a catch. Seldom are things so good they’re actually true. Of course, in this case, there was a grueling challenge right around the corner.

I could go on about the difficulty of cooking an unfamiliar ingredient, about how I was in the weeds making ice cream, or about how I gave a shout out to my husband and the ACFD instead of connecting my dish to Thailand.

But, instead, I’m going to talk about something else.

Food Network Star has given me so many opportunities to do things I would never have a chance to do in my real life, and that is really, really cool.

I’ve not only had the opportunity to cook for celebrities and eat expensive desserts, but also to form friendships- real, actual friendships – with the 11 other contestants.

It is truly emotional and legitimately difficult to see a person go home each week. And the longer the show goes on, the harder it gets.

Of course this is a competition, and we all want to win. But we spend so much darn time together that it’s impossible not to get close. Especially when you all share so much in common.

It’s no secret that Emma and I have formed a pretty strong friendship as a result of being on the show together. Sometimes people just click, and Emma and I did right from the start. We are the same age. We both grew up in the northeast, but spent a good chunk of time during college in Louisiana. We listen to a lot of the same music.

We’re both recently married to two amazing guys. No, we don’t have two husbands each, I mean we both have husbands that are great.  But only one each. Never mind.

We both do yoga. We’re both half Italian. We both garden. We both blog. We’re both type A personalities. And although I have a little formal training, we both consider ourselves to be mostly self-taught cooks, inspired by our families, our travels and the people we’ve met along the way.

But as similar as we are, we’re still very different, and that’s exactly what you want in a friend. Similar enough to “get you,” but different enough to provide another outlook on life.

Emma is one of the smartest, friendliest and most thoughtful gals I’ve ever met. She is the kind of person I want to be more like, and I bet everyone that meets her feels the same way. Whenever I get caught up in the drama of the show, Emma is always there to remind me about what matters most in life (hint: its not a cooking show competition).

I was pretty hard on myself for not doing so hot in the past few episodes. I saw a little bit of negative feedback online and I beat myself up over it.

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Hand on the hip, RBF, you know I mean business. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

Emma has helped me to work through a lot of those weird emotions. And she taught me, through both pep-talks and example, that at the end of the day, none of that stuff matters. 

And she’s right.

What matters in life are the people, places and experiences that make us happy and whole. That’s it.

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Ribbit. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

I so admire how Emma has handled her exit from Food Network Star with the utmost grace and class. She has no regrets, and stands confident in her decisions to put on a Parisian accent, make interactive party food, and remind the world that we oftentimes sacrifice a life in order to satisfy a craving (see also The Importance of Rabbits by Thomas Keller).

She went home for being the leader of a team that came up short. But the bottom line is that she was the leader. She took the bull by the horns, and went for it, because that’s just how Emma rolls. She looks forward to the future, and pays no attention to the silly commentary from the peanut gallery.

Because, it doesn’t matter.

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The droves of friends, family, and community that have come out of the woodwork to show their support. THEY matter.

The little girls who look up at me wide-eyed and star struck, exclaiming how they want to cook just like me when they grow up. THEY matter.

The husband who reminds me EVERY DAY how cool this is and what a wonderful and blessed REAL life we have together. HE matters.

Walking away from this experience with solid friendships and important life lessons. THAT really matters.

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Headed to the city where dreams are made of. Source: http://bit.ly/1rySSsC

So as sad as I am to see my friend go, I can’t contain my excitement to be moving on to New York City, where we get to visit Food Network Studios, and go on the Rachel Ray Show.

I am still living out my biggest lifelong dream.

And THAT, right there, matters.

Read Emma Frisch’s Blog Recap & find out what her future holds!

Read Emma’s Exit Interview

Vote for me for Fan Favorite!

Top moments from this Episode

Watch a video recap of Episode 8 and a sneak peak of Episode 9!

Read Season 8 winner Justin Warner’s Rebel Recap

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This definitely happened. Yep. Source: http://bit.ly/1nAGKBb

Woah. A whole lotta stuff went down in this episode.

We arrive in Vegas, then Luca returns, I use a bunch of big confusing words, and the cowboy does a belly flop.

As much as I’d like to talk about all of these things individually, there is only so much I can fit into one bitty blog post, and I’d like to take this opportunity to get a few things off my chest.

The Great Ham Fiasco of 2014. 

What you saw on Sunday night was true. I told a fib. It happened. But what you didn’t see, was why.

I’ve been getting a lot of harsh backlash about my horrible, deceitful, lying ways. People feel they can no longer trust me, and I’ve spent the better part of the past week beating myself up about it.

In life, in REAL life, I am actually honest to a fault. Believe it or not, sometimes the truth can hurt people.

Growing up, my parents taught me to always be an honest person. My Dad raised me with the logic that lying would always get me in more trouble than if I told the truth, no matter how bad it was. When he found a pack of cigarettes in my purse when I was 16, I didn’t tell him I was holding them for a friend. I fessed up to my “cool” new habit, and while he was upset, he didn’t punish me. Instead, we had a long heart to heart about the dangers of smoking, addiction, and why it’s a really bad idea.

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Honest influences, Mom and Dad

I always appreciated this approach to life, and it taught me early on that lying, especially about important things, is never a good idea.

After Sunday’s episode, it seems that I have not only disappointed my fans, but I lost the trust of many viewers simply because I chose to verbalize a different word for prosciutto.

My presentation was well received, and the judges loved my scallop with romesco sauce. The fact that such a boneheaded mistake is causing such a negative reaction is absolutely gut-wrenching. How could I be so STUPID?

Well, let me walk you through my thought process.

In the mentor challenge, Giada was giving us great advice about how to better describe food to viewers. One thing many of us struggled with was the fact that we didn’t quite like the food we were eating, so it made it difficult to describe in a hunger-inducing way.

Giada said that if we don’t like what we’re eating, sometimes its OK to tell a little white lie in order to get a point across to viewers. 

It wasn’t until later, of course, that I realized she was  referring to opinion and not giving permission stretch the truth about facts. But this stuck with me, as advice from people I look up to often does. Which is exactly why I held on to what Bobby said to me in episode 5 (Knott’s Berry Farm). He told me that I missed a golden opportunity to take the audience to the coast of Mexico.

This time around, I was hell bent on taking them to the coast of Spain.

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A variation on the dish- with crispy prosciutto sprinkled over the top

My idea was to play off of one of my most requested party dishes, scallops wrapped in bacon. I would sear up some scallops to get them nice and caramelized on the outside, then wrap them in serrano ham, instead of bacon, to provide that salty contrast to the sweet scallop. And then to cut through the richness with some acid, and to add a smokey element, I wanted to make a killer romesco sauce- a Catalonian staple made from roasted peppers, tomatoes, garlic, nuts and bread.

I was pumped to make this dish, and got to work quickly. But here’s the thing: In our pantry, proteins aren’t labeled. Chefs are expected to know what chicken, shrimp, beef, etc. look like. The ham was also not labeled. It was simply a dry cured ham, sliced thin, wrapped in paper and plastic wrap, without a name.

My assumption was that it was prosciutto. It looked and tasted like it, and it’s the most common of all the dry cured hams.

Hmm… So if I say I’m using prosciutto, I’m afraid the judges will hammer down on me for using an Italian product when I’m trying to sell Spain. But then I remembered what Giada said about it being alright to tell a fib in certain situations to embellish a story. So maybe I could just say its serrano ham, the Spanish equivalent, and it won’t be a big deal. WRONG.

I’m not saying that it was Giada’s fault I lied. At all. I take full responsibility for what I said. I just want people to see where I was coming from.

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A mad dash for ingredients. In the FNS kitchen, ya snooze ya lose.  Source: http://bit.ly/1nAGKBb

In fact, I never really looked at is as a lie, more of an interpretation. After all, the mystery meat had never actually been confirmed to be prosciutto.

When I commented about the party goers not being able to tell the difference, it wasn’t at all meant to be a dis to them or their intelligence. In fact, I give viewers a lot more credit than some (I know you know what viscosity means).

I said it because it would be really hard for anyone. In this dish, with all the other flavors, it would be nearly impossible to tell unless you were maybe some sort of ham guru with an incredibly discerning eye and palate. Well, ok. Maybe Alton and Giada are totally just that.

Right after I graduated college, I worked at a gourmet Italian market in the area. We sold all sorts of high end meats and cheeses, not just of the Italian variety, and I was in charge of educating customers about each.

So lets talk about what the difference actually is.

You see, prosciutto and serrano ham are very similar products. Of course, there can be slight differences between the two, but both are simply versions of dry cured ham. Prosciutto is Italian, and jamón (Spanish for ham) is Spanish. Jamón serrano, or serrano ham, tends to be a bit dryer and denser in texture, with a slightly more pronounced flavor. The methods of production are slightly different for each, but even within each category they can differ quite a bit.

There are many different producers of each, and depending on the breed of pig, ingredients used, and method of curing, they can vary greatly in shape, size, color, texture, and flavor. It would make more sense to differentiate the characteristics between different brands, as both prosciutto and serrano ham serve as more general terms.

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pants on FIRE. Source: http://bit.ly/1nAGKBb

Think about it like this. Champagne, prosecco, and cava are all essentially the same thing: sparkling wines identified by the regions the are produced in. Yet their flavors can vary greatly depending on the producer. Two bottles of champagne can taste very different, just like two types of prosciutto can taste very different.

There are some really bad prosciuttos out there on the market. Cheap, nitrate-laden, poorly made versions that are a far cry from the acclaimed prosciutto di Parma, which is heavily regulated in production. There are even some incredible, artisinal proscuittos being made right here in America, like those from Iowa company, La Quercia. Their prosciuttos are absolutely fantastic, but can look very different from Italian varieties. The same goes for jamón.

See this description from Wikipedia:

Jamón serrano: (also known as jamón reservajamón curado and jamón extra): “ordinary cured ham” from white pigs, fed with a mixed diet of authorized commercial compound feed. The words serranocuradoreserva and extra are just marketing terms and do not reliably indicate quality, which can differ markedly between different brands and is not easy to recognize.

Unlike Serrano’s older, more sophisticated cousin ibérico, serrano is not regulated in quality. Jamón ibérico is much more expensive, like prosciutto di Parma, as the production is highly regulated and can only be made from black Iberian pigs.

“But how did you think you could fool Alton and Giada?!”

The thing is, I wasn’t trying to.

I had honestly misinterpreted Giada’s advice and made a hasty decision that seemed logical at the time. I’m still a bit perplexed as to how Mr. Brown was so quick to identify that my ham was not, in fact, serrano, based on sight alone, and from a distance nonetheless!

I don’t discredit Alton’s food authority for a second. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, and the guy is a BOSS. There is no doubt that he knows his stuff. Same goes for Giada. I know that homegirl knows her prosciutto!

But because even different prosciuttos look different from one another (prosciutto San Daniele is often darker than prosciutto di Parma), it is really hard to determine the country of origin from sight alone.

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Sure, props make sense. Source: http://bit.ly/1nAGKBb

Overall, looking back, I see that it was really just poor judgement on my part. Bottom line, they aren’t the same thing, and I shouldn’t have pretended they were.

Hindsight is always 20/20.

I made a decision thinking it would prevent me from being criticized for not being authentic to Spain, but it instead, it actually caused even more trouble and made me seem like less of a food authority.

EPIC FAIL.

I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes on this show. Forgetting the pasta was a knucklehead move. Bombing on the green screen challenge was brutal.

But this wasn’t a weird breadcrumb gnocchi or an awkward performance. This was something that actually caused people to question my integrity, and to no longer trust me.

It was never my intention to mislead people, or to do something that would ever discredit my food authority on national television. I have a history of over thinking things to the point of self sabotage, and this was a perfect example. Sometimes I just need to get out of my own way.

I want to extend my sincerest apologies to anyone who has lost their faith in me as a result of this whole debacle. I am disappointed in myself, and all I can do, as I did on the show, is promise to never, EVER, make a mistake like that again. Moving forward, I hope that I can regain some of the trust I lost this past week.

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Chris was always quick on his feet! Source: http://bit.ly/1nAGKBb

But before I sign off, this blog wouldn’t be complete without saying a few words about my buddy Chris.

As I mentioned before, one hour just isn’t enough time to really get a feel for all of our personalities. Chris, without a doubt, wins the award for class clown. He was alllllways cutting up and cracking jokes behind the scenes, making all of us keel over in laughter. His impressions of people were priceless! He brought a light element to the group that I totally missed when he was gone.

Chris had overcome a lot of big hurdles in his life to get where he is today, and it was incredibly inspiring to hear his story. Not many people are able to pick themselves back up after hitting rock bottom, and especially not able to reach the level of success that he has. He should be so proud of all his accomplishments. And even though he didn’t win Food Network Star, he still got very far, and heck, this guy won on Cutthroat Kitchen! Ya can’t win ‘em all, CKY!

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It may look like a lot of drama on screen, but in real life, there’s actually no “beef” between any of us

 

Tune in next week as we embark on the toughest culinary challenge to date!

Vote for me for Fan Favorite!

Top moments from this Episode

Watch a video recap of Episode 7 and a sneak peak of Episode 8!

Read fellow Season 10 contestant Emma Frisch’s Recap

Read Season 8 winner Justin Warner’s Rebel Recap

Read Chris’ Exit Interview

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Lobsters and clams, so just clap your hands (photocred: EMMA!)

This was a pretty rough episode for me. No way around it.

So let me break it down with the best Western cliche I can think of: John Wayne Style… Err, I mean Clint Eastwood.

The Good

The silver lining to Sunday’s episode was without a doubt having Emma Frisch & her posse over for a night full of coastal cuisine and the usual Brigantine high jinx.

It was great having Emma, a bunch of friends, lobsters, and lots of rum to help soften the blow of having to watch myself absolutely bomb on tv.

But even though my performance was horrendous, there was a little golden nugget tucked away in that commercial.

I introduced the world to Coley.

I’ve been going by the nickname Coley since I was a baby. But it’s a name that really only my close friends and family call me, not something I go around introducing myself as. But more and more I identify with being called Coley over Nicole. I’ve never really been a Nicky (although I’ve gone by Nic in a few circles). Coley is a little more unique, a little more playful, and it just feels more fitting to my character.

Nicole is my serious business persona. Coley is the down-to-earth, goofy person I am inside. Nicole can have resting bitch face, but Coley always looks happy! Observe the difference:

Emma and her awesome husband Bobby arrived in town mid-afternoon on Sunday. Chaser and I came straight from the beach and greeted them with sandy hugs and Italian subs.

Soon we were joined by Emma’s twin, Dimity, her husband Nolan, and friends Shanti and Steve. We headed over to Casa de Pullella for an impromptu dinner and to watch both FNS and the Atlantic City fireworks, which had been rescheduled after a stormy 4th of July.

Sunday was the epitome of what Coastal Cuisine is all about. Casual food with friends and family. Lots of locally caught fresh seafood, a little bit of meat (because, you know, some people are allergic), and lots and lots of veggies. Eating outside/on the beach is optional, although always preferred.

Lobsters and clams. Warm fingerling potato salad with bacon and long hots. Heirloom tomato panzanella with Shanti’s homemade bread. Apple cake with toasted meringue. Pasta with mama Pullella’s pesto. Pulled pork. Sweet Jersey corn. Zucchini gratin. So. Much. Butter.

Aperol spritzes, rum punches, and beers.

I wish every night could be as good as this one, but I guess that’s what makes nights like these so special in the first place. They don’t happen very often. So, when they do, they are to totally be cherished. And thanks to all these EMMA-zing pictures Emma took, we’ll always remember how special this night actually was.

Well, minus the whole struggling and being embarrassed on national television part. Yeah. That leads me to …

The Bad

Well, for starters: my performance was bad. Reaaal Bad.

I held my breath and absolutely cringed when I watched. It was like reliving that brutal moment all over again.

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RBF or just concentrating? Source: http://bit.ly/W0GAxN

There’s really nothing more to my poor performance other than the fact that they threw me a giant curve ball and it truly had me stumped.

I felt like a total goober trying to get those lines out. I was not confident in the script I had written, and I was letting the whole scene psych me out.

Your mind can be a dangerous place. Sometimes negative emotions can snowball and have the opposite affect on what you are trying to achieve. I know that in order to be the next food network star I need to project a fun and upbeat attitude all the time. I can’t let a stupid challenge like this get me all flustered.

You gotta be cool, man. Always.

But in that moment, I became so frustrated that I was unable to project anything other than nervous, awkward energy.

I was really, really disappointed in myself. Afterwards I thought of a gazillion different ideas that would have worked infinitely better than my “drier out here than death valley during prohibition” joke.

(crickets)

It was super lame, and I was trying way too hard.

I knew it then, but I couldn’t come up with anything better in time. So I just went for it, and hated every second.

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Hey girl, just be yourself. Source: http://bit.ly/W0GAxN

I walked away from this challenge with one big giant lesson: Stop taking all of this so seriously.

Stop taking life so seriously.

What’s the point? You’re going to die some day, and then that’s it.

I didn’t go out for this competition because it seemed like a fun thing to do. I did it because I want this job reeeaal bad.

So if I don’t win, is it the end of the world?

No. It’s not.

Having so many wonderful people around me Sunday night was a great reminder of just that. I already have a thriving business, a loving husband, a supportive family, and the best friends a girl could ask for. Winning Food Network Star would be a great bonus. But I’ve really already won in life.

So it’s about time I stop worrying so much, and let myself just be Coley.

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Typical.

The Ugly

Being critiqued and seeing one of your friends go home is never a barrel of monkeys, even when you’re the winner.

But this was my first time on the bottom, and boy, did it suck. And on top of it, mi amigos and former Rrrreece’s teammates Reuben and Emma were stuck there with me.

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Thank you sweet baby Jesus, I’m safe. Source: http://bit.ly/W0GAxN

Reuben and I clearly had the worst commercials, but I still don’t really understand what the big fuss was about Emma’s.  It was adorable! Her commercial was informative and funny. I thought she nailed it. But I’m not a Food Network Star judge, and therefore my opinion is null.

Giada spoke some real truth to me that night. And coming from her, I really took it to heart. I’ve learned to present myself in a certain manner in order to be taken seriously as a chef and a business person (Nicole). But Giada was telling me that I’ve already gained their respect in those departments. It’s time to let go, and show them who I really am at heart. Coley!

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Reuben in the little kitchen, priceless! Source: http://bit.ly/W0GAxN

As relieved as I was to be safe, I was so bummed that Reuben wouldn’t be joining us in Vegas.

Reuben is a kind, genuine soul, and we developed a sibling-like relationship while filming. His hotel room was right across from mine, and he was always the first thing I heard each day. He would come out into the hallway to hug, kiss and greet everyone good morning. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

Reuben is a big ball of Cuban energy, and often drove me up the walls with his pre-coffee early morning chatter. I was quick to shush him, but would then run over to give him a hug and rub his head like a little brother. Reuben has a great sense of humor, and is quick to call me out on my “Coley problems.” I’m always up for good- natured teasing, so we got along just fine. And as Reuben knows, I can certainly dish it right back with the best of ‘em!

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Just change the H to a C, and the second L to an E…

LA- its been real. But we’re goin’ to VEGAS BABY!!!

Bring it on.

Vote for me for Fan Favorite!

Top moments from this Episode

Watch a video recap of Episode 6 and a sneak peak of Episode 7!

Read fellow Season 10 contestant Emma Frisch’s Recap

Read Season 8 winner Justin Warner’s Rebel Recap

Read Rrrrrreuben’s Exit Interview

Watch Reuben, Luca & Chad battle it out in Star Salvation! Who’s going to rejoin the competition?! 

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