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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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Fourth of July in January! Source: http://bit.ly/1vBHo6n

So, let’s just dive right into this: Resting Bitch Face.

Yeah, I said it.

And I still can’t believe that it actually made it into the episode. But I think it gave a little more insight into who I actually am.

I want to come off as a warm and friendly person, but I’m realizing that even if my intentions are there, my face doesn’t always show it. So I’m trying to work on that, because I really don’t want to come off as a cold heartless soul.

But aside from educating the world on resting bitch face, I really wanted to nail down the definition of my POV in this episode. I set out as the star de la mar, but in the past few challenges I haven’t really had much of a chance to explain myself.

In this competition, a culinary point of view is extremely important. I knew I had to work my coastal background into my concept, but I was very resistant to just being the fish girl.

Don’t get me wrong. I love seafood. 

But I love lots of other foods, too.

So to be pigeonholed into just making fish?

Come on.

Seafood is a big part of my culture and my culinary repertoire, but the food I cook is not solely from the sea.

So I can understand why people would hear “coastal cuisine” and think it’s too limiting. That it’s something reserved only for people who live on the coast, and not accessible to those in landlocked parts of our country.

That’s exactly why I really wanted to drive home my definition of coastal cuisine in my demo. It encompasses so much more than just fish.

Sure, I didn’t relate my dish back to Mexico and connect the dots to my POV, but I’m hoping I was at least able to clear the lens on what the heck coastal cuisine is, anyway.

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Ooh! A berry farm! NOT. But, tomatillos are in the gooseberry family… Jus’ sayin’, Source: http://bit.ly/VI94vO

At one point in the competition, Giada asked me what made coastal cuisine different from California cuisine. My answer is simple. California cuisine IS coastal cuisine. Just like food from New England, the Gulf Coast, the Eastern Seaboard, Florida, and the Pacific Northwest, California cuisine is just one example of what coastal cuisine is.

I took a look at the food from all these different regions, as well as the coasts of Latin America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and Asia.

While all of these cuisines vary greatly in their ingredients and preparations, they all share a few common threads.

The food is light, fresh, and simple, with flavors that pop.

Coastal cuisine is not dense or heavy. It is not low and slow. It does not stick to your ribs.

It is not extravagant, complicated, or pretentious. There is no sous vide or liquid nitrogen in the coastal kitchen.

Coastal cuisine is food that makes you feel light on your feet. It’s the kind of food I love to cook AND eat.

So without further adieu, my official definition of Coastal Cuisine is:

Food that’s prepared using simple techniques (grilling, steaming, fresh salsas, simple sautés, vinaigrettes, quick pickling, light frying, raw preparations) made with mostly fresh ingredients (lots of fresh produce, seafood, meats/poultry, dairy, nuts, legumes, and grains- locally sourced when possible), with bright, clean flavors (fresh herbs, citrus, soy, chiles, spices, fruity olive oils).

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New viewing party game: drink every time we run Source: http://bit.ly/VI94vO

When we picked cards, I was wishing, hoping, thinking, and praying that I would get a seafood dish. The butcher babe got a steak! But the fish girl wasn’t so lucky.

I was dealt the card of BBQ Pork with Onion Rings. You know, a nice, heavy, low and slow dish. So naturally, I had my concerns about how I was going to be able to tie it back to coastal cuisine.

When I saw pineapple in the (sick) pantry, I instantly thought of tacos Al Pastor: a Mexican pork slow cooked with pineapple and chiles, served as a taco. One of my all time favorites.

I saw the chipotles and knew that would be a great way to impart a slow cooked, smokey flavor in a short amount of time. I saw skewers and thought a kebob would be the perfect twist.

Down here in the summertime, we get together on the beach as much as possible. And someone, somewhere, is always grilling up something.

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Grill Master Chaser

If its not a hamburger or hot dog, its probably something on a stick. Kebobs are a perfect, easy eatin’ beach food.

I felt my dish was totally keeping true to my coastal cuisine:

The ingredients are fresh. I can’t grow pineapple in NJ, but tomatillos grow like weeds in my garden in the summer. I have three different varieties growing this year. I grow plenty of chiles, and cilantro too.

You know, they don’t call us the garden state for nothin’.

The technique is simple. Marinate, skewer, grill. Easy, peasy.

The flavors are clean and bright. The chipotles give bold flavor to both the marinade and the salsa. Grilling the tomatillos, garlic and onions brings out their sweetness. The pork and pineapple are charred and caramelized on the outside, and super juicy inside. The salsa is acidic, smoky, and spicy.

I thought this was a perfect tie in to my POV. The problem was, I just didn’t communicate enough of that in my 3 minute demo.

Oops.

But 3 minutes is just so dang short. It’s really hard to get in everything you want to say.

But the judges liked my food, and that’s a big deal. My heart skipped a beat when I heard Bobby Flay say he “just wanted to keep eating” my kebob.

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Chris owe’s me a bloody mary after that cutthroat win. Extra pickled green beans, please. Source: http://bit.ly/VI94vO

I didn’t find my way into the top, but I was happy to have made one of the best dishes of the day. Christopher, who made the best dish of the day, was the one sent home. This was a little perplexing, but again, this competition isn’t just about food.

Christopher was without a doubt the best chef in the bunch. He knew it, the mentors knew it, we all knew it. Not convinced? Just compare his resume with any of ours.

He smokes us.

Christopher is originally from Philly, but has been living in New Orleans for about 10 years. I’m from Atlantic City but used to lived in Baton Rouge. So we had this interesting, bizarre connection, which gave us plenty to talk about. It’s a unique dynamic moving from the northeast to the deep south, one you truly have to experience first hand to understand.

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Turn down for… Al Pastor?

Want to try my Spicy Pork and Pineapple Kebobs? You can!

Whether you’re kickin’ it at the beach, the lake, the pool, the backyard, wherever, there is still time to make these for your 4th of July bash. The ingredients are all totally accessible, the method is super simple, and the flavors definitely won’t disappoint.

Make the salsa and kebobs in advance, and then grill em up when you get hungry. That way, you can spend as much time as possible getting turnt up with your friends.

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turns out, a food processor blade is also the international symbol for a hurricane. Stay away Arthur!

 

Spicy Pork and Pineapple Kebobs
6 Chipotle peppers in adobo, plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from can
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 whole pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
1 large red onion, peeled, layers separated, and cut into squares
skewers

Combine the first six ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour over pork and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight. If using wooden skewers, be sure to soak them in water for at least one hour. Place the pork, pineapple chunks, and red onion on skewers, alternating pieces, and set aside. Preheat a grill to high and be sure the grates are clean and well oiled. Place the skewers on the grill and cook for about 3 minutes on each side, until they are nicely charred. Serve with tomatillo salsa.

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these would be PERFECT for an LSU Tiger tailgate. Look at those colors!

Chipotle Tomatillo Salsa
1 pound tomatillos, husked
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
¼ white onion
2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo, (more for a spicier sauce)
1 teaspoon adobo sauce from can
1 tsp salt
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon honey

Preheat a grill on heat and throw the tomatillos, onion, and garlic cloves on. Cover and let cook, turning occasionally, until charred and blackened on all sides. Remove the skins from the garlic and put everything into a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and pulse to combine. Adjust seasoning as needed. Salsa can be made up to 2 days in advance.

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naked tomatillos

Tune in next Sunday night, as I try to lasso my inner gourmet cowboy, and it doesn’t go so hot.

Vote for me for Fan Favorite!

Top moments from this Episode

Watch a video recap of Episode 5 and a sneak peak of Episode 6!

Read fellow Season 10 contestant Emma Frisch’s Recap

Read Season 8 winner Justin Warner’s Rebel Recap

Read Christopher’s Exit Interview

Watch Christopher, Luca & Chad battle it out in Star Salvation!

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Mean muggin’ teacher’s pet Emma. That’s some world class acting right there. Source: http://bit.ly/1lR4iFi

What can I say, this past Sunday’s episode was siiiiiiick.

We took a gander at the world of social media marketing, each of us making both a solo selfie video, and a group viral video.

And in the viral video challenge, MY TEAM WON!

Since this episode didn’t contain any actual cooking, it seems to have been a bit controversial amongst fans. But truth be told, we had a BLAST filming it. Working with Emma and Reuben was a dream. I love those crazy kids. Or should I say niños locos?

Check out the video that made us champions:

In my selfie video, I started off at ease, but quickly got nervous trying to remember everything I wanted to say.  And as a result, I fell into my fake, trained broadcaster voice.

In this competition, that’s been the toughest obstacle for me to overcome.

You see, when I’m nervous, I try extra hard to sound like I’m not. So I overcompensate, and then it comes out sounding really put on, and not at all authentic.

If it sounds like I’m trying too hard, it’s because I am.

When I heard myself say the pantry was “sick,” it made me cringe. In part, because, well, yeah. IT’S A TERRIBLE WORD TO USE TO DESCRIBE FOOD!

But, in all honesty, it’s a word I use quite a bit at home around my friends. It’s just common vernacular in my circle.

However, I recognize that when referring to something that’s really awesome, “sick” is not a word commonly used or appreciated by a lot of people. So it’s something I reserve for use only around my friends, and those “in the know.”

When presenting myself in the business world, I put on a professional persona.

I mean, don’t most people conduct themselves differently in a business meeting than when out at a bar with friends?

Here’s the thing: I went out to compete on Food Network Star because I want this to be my career.

So naturally, I’m inclined to treat this more like a job interview than a night out partying.

But the network, and America, wants to see the real me.

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Low-key viewing party with Dad and Chaser. Not pictured: Ems and her delicious apple pie. For the record, my dad still can’t roll his R’s.

So what I’ve really struggled with is how to find that sweet spot between the Nicole I am in the professional world, and the Nicole – or rather, Coley – I am around my friends. How do I find the balance between being professional and polished, and being the sarcastic, opinionated, slang-talking person I am at home?

It was much easier for me to open up and be myself in the group challenge, because I was surrounded and supported by two friends, Emma and Reuben(cito). Working with them INSTANTLY made the challenge more fun.

Being able to collaborate took a lot of the pressure off, too. In other challenges, we aren’t allowed to consult with anyone about our ideas. You decide what you’re going to do, and that’s it.

I never realized how much I value other people’s opinions until put in a situation where I wasn’t allowed to seek them. It’s hard to have 100% confidence in what you’re doing without first bouncing your ideas off of someone you trust.

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Big win for team Rrrrrrrrreese’s!! Yay! Source: http://bit.ly/1lR4iFi

The friends I made while filming this show have turned into family. The Food Network Star family.  Going through a unique situation with a small group of people for an extended period of time forces you to bond, and to bond quickly.

I remember seeing everyone that first day, and just thinking, “WOW, look at all of us us! We are each a walking caricature of a stereotype.” A group of people as diverse as us would never come together to become friends under any other circumstance.

But we did become friends, and what brought us all together was our love of food, and our innate desire to share that love with the world. 

We were all anxious about who was going to be sent home, because the criteria for this week’s challenge seemed so arbitrary. While social media is a huge part of our world today, and something I enjoy doing (Hey look! I’m blogging!), I didn’t think the elimination challenge really gave any insight into who would make a good Food Network Star. It didn’t involve any cooking, or really talking about food at all. It was more like acting.

But this competition is supposed to be about getting America to see who we really are, and I guess that’s where I got confused.

I thought Aryen really put herself out there and shined in this challenge. It was the first time all season that I saw the real true Aryen that I knew behind the scenes.

…No, I don’t mean a weird hunchback lab assistant.

I’m talking about a girl who doesn’t mind getting goofy and poking fun at herself.

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these three.. I can’t even! Source: http://bit.ly/1lR4iFi

Aryen is funnnnnyy.

Sometimes, all she had to do was look at me the right way and I would crack up.

My absolute favorite memories from filming are from when we would all sit and joke around together. Aryen’s laugh is infectious, and we would both catch a bad case of the giggles after long storytelling sessions with Jackie and Tamar in the makeup chairs.

Was she a little hard to understand in the video? Maybe. But I thought she NAILED that performance. It was weird, funny, and a little bit creepy- everything that it was supposed to be, and more. I felt absolutely crushed for her when she told us it was her time to go.

But that’s the thing with filming this show. You form friendships with these people.

Real, actual friendships.

And then one of you gets their dream crushed, and one of you gets to stay.

And it’s weird. Because you feel bad – really bad – but you’re also happy that it’s not you.

It’s a mind-boggling mix of emotions that only gets harder as the weeks progress.

Tune in next week as we get back to cooking, and celebrate the 4th of July- My all time FAVORITE holiday!

Questions? Comments? Leave em’ down below!

Vote for me for Fan Favorite!

Top moments from this Episode

Watch a video recap of Episode 4 and a sneak peak of Episode 5!

Read fellow Season 10 contestant Emma Frisch’s Episode 4 Rrrrrrecap

Read Season 8 winner Justin Warner’s Rebel Recap

Read Aryen’s super sweet Exit Interview

Watch Aryen, Luca & Chad battle it out in Star Salvation!

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Bobby really brought the Flayvor at Monday’s Bourbon Dinner! Great to see him outside of the competition

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Channeling my inner Lucy. So dramatic! Source: http://bit.ly/UaKFya

Cutthroat Kitchen is a gnarly game.

Need I say more?

Well, yeah… I guess I have a bit of explaining to do.

Before leaving to film Food Network Star, I had only seen Cutthroat Kitchen a small handful of times. But, nonetheless, I was excited to play. Last week I was called out for having low energy and not having enough fun. I knew, if nothing else, Cutthroat Kitchen would be a blast.

And it was!

When Alton told us we’d be making spaghetti and meatballs, I was really pumped.  I grew up making meatballs. In fact, they were the first food ever I learned how to make and master.

As a kid, my girlfriends and I would play on the beach and make “meatballs” in the sand.  Each of us watched our Italian moms make meatballs at home, so on the beach we would use our hands to form little balls out of wet sand and set them all in a row.

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my sister Andrea, cousins Lindsay & Jaimee, & me back in my sandy meatball days

Meatballs are a thing in New Jersey.  And they’re a thing within Italian communities all across America. And that’s because they’re a coveted Family tradition, with recipes being passed down from generation to generation.

So, why didn’t I make a fish ball?

Well, for that very reason. Spaghetti and meatballs is a dish that embodies my New Jersey Italian culture, and its a dish that my family would be so proud to see me make on TV. We even have a unique name for it, “biasta sugu,” which I knew would make for an interesting story in my 30 second presentation. It’s something I wanted to share with America, and this was my golden opportunity.

I learned my meatball recipe from my mom, who learned it from her mom, and I’ve changed and perfected it to my tastes over the years. The idea of making a non-traditional fish meatball just didn’t feel right to me.

Sure, I live on the coast, and I grew up in a fishermen’s family. But what people may not realize is that even fishermen don’t eat fish at every meal. In fact, the only tuna we had growing up came out of a can. The giant bluefin tuna my family caught were NEVER brought home for us to eat. Those bad boys were often sold to Japan for a nice chunk of change. If anything, we got to keep the bycatch: lobsters, scallops, clams, flounder, etc.

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Uncle Mark with the catch of the day

When my grandfather went away on long fishing trips (sometimes for months at a time), my grandma was left to raise 5 kids on her own. She did whatever she could to put food on the table, often making what she knew. And she knew biasta sugu. It’s what her mom made, it’s what her grandmother made, and it’s what my grandfather requested when he came home after months of eating nothing but seafood on the boat.

Biasta sugu is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods, because it brings back memories of warm family love. It’s flavorful, familiar, and filling; often with lots of leftovers to eat throughout the week (BONUS!).  It’s a family tradition, and I stand behind the meatball I made (which, ahem, for the record, Bobby and Jet both said was ‘moist and flavorful’) wholeheartedly.

The “gnocchi,” however, are an entirely different story. I do not stand behind those. At all.

So, lets talk about the pasta, or, the biasta as we call it.

HOW COULD YOU FORGET THE PASTA?!

You guys, I know.

I KNOWWWWWW!

It was SO DUMB. I couldn’t believe I was that girl who forgot the MAIN INGREDIENT!

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Thanks to my father-in-law Dave for this little gem

Well, here’s my defense. The Food Network Star kitchen is about the size of a gymnasium, with pantry and cooking supplies scattered throughout. You don’t know where anything is, and you’re trying to keep track of everything you need in your head. I was very focused on getting the right ingredients for my “one hell of a meatball.” I’m proud of my meatball, and I wanted to do it justice!

I looked for the pasta early on. I didn’t see it, and time was running out. Feeling panicked, I said to myself, “OK, move on and come back to it.”  I ran around that kitchen like Usain Bolt trying to find everything I needed.

I heard Alton start to count down the final seconds so I sprinted back to my station. As soon as I landed, I saw the pasta in the other baskets and my heart sunk into the pit of my stomach.

“Ohhhh NOOOO!!!”

How could I let this happen??

I really don’t know, it all went down so fast.

But I did let it happen, and now, I have to deal with it.

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I found the pasta! It’s at the Margate Farmer’s Market

My first thought was to try and sell the dish without any pasta. Low carb! But I wasn’t feeling confident, and Alton kept squawking in my ear about how bad I’d screwed up on the whole no-pasta thing. Had I only grabbed a variety of back-up ingredients, I could have made pasta out of flour and eggs, or even vegetables.

But nope. Naively, I only grabbed the ingredients for this stupid meatball.

I scratched my head and looked in my basket.  Somehow, I’m going to have to try and make this work.

So I mixed together what I had: some breadcrumbs, pecorino Romano, chopped parsley, and eggs, until I got a dough like consistency. I rolled it out into logs and cut them into little gnocchi-like dumplings.

How would I cook them? Boil?

Ick, no.

I opted to fry them. Because, well, everything is better fried.

They came out crispy, but dense and oddly textured little nuggets. I threw a few of them on a plate with a meatball and called it spaghetti. I was pretty embarrassed to serve something so bad and to call it something that it really wasn’t- to Bobby Flay and Jet Tila of all people! But, this was Cutthroat Kitchen, and I didn’t really have another choice.

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Just look at all this pasta!

I was disappointed in myself for not picking up pasta, but I was proud of how I overcame the obstacle and made the best of my resources. In the last episode, Alton talked about turning liabilities into assets, and it was something that really stuck with me.

Life isn’t perfect. It never turns out the way you think it’s going to, and there will always be things that go wrong. You can either let them destroy you, or you can take matters into your own hands and figure out a way to make them work.

Losing my mom to ALS when I was 22 was the saddest, most devastating thing that’s ever happened in my life. But over the years, I’ve learned to channel that experience into inspiration. I could go on and on about how it helped me overcome many obstacles, and how it pushed me to get to where I am today. But I’ll save those details  for a later post.

Sometimes we make mistakes in life. Sometimes tragic things happen with no explanation. But life goes on, and you have to make the best of the cards you’ve been dealt. Even if it means bluffing a little.

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Oh no, they killed Kenny! You bastards! Source: http://bit.ly/UaKFya

Which brings me to Kenny. I was particularly sad to see him go, because he always helped me keep things in perspective while on set. It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the whole grandiosity of this show, but Kenny was always there to bring me back down to earth. While many of us were agonizing over the details of the competition, Kenny was in the other room taking a nap.  He is an incredibly smart and successful businessman, but he doesn’t take life too seriously. He has a great sense of humor, and is always quick to poke fun at himself.  I like people like that.

It’s very difficult to balance a life of hard work and success with having fun and keeping a laid back attitude.  It’s something I’ve struggled with a lot in not only my real life, but especially during my time on Food Network Star. It’s not an easy balance to find, but Kenny totally has. I doubt he even realizes it, but he’s been a huge inspiration in trying to channel more of that balance into my life.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode, when we head to YouTube HQ to make some rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreally funny viral marketing videos.

Read Kenny’s super classy Exit Interview.

Watch a Recap of Episode 3, and a Sneak Peak of Episode 4

Read Emma Frisch’s Episode 3 Recap

Season 8 Winner, Justin Warner’s Rebel Recap

Watch Kenny battle Luca and Chad in this week’s episode of Star Salvation.

Top moments and photos from this episode

VOTE FOR FAN FAVORITE!!

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the many faces of Coley, once again, courtesy of Dave Gaffney

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