Aarti Sequeira is living the foodie dream. The winner of Food Network Star season six, Sequeira went on to host her very own Food Network Show, Aarti Party, as well as author her own cookbook, Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul. She’s appeared on a dizzying number of cooking shows and assured the world of her talents by winning Chopped All-Stars.
Getting to this point, however, was far from easy. Dubai-born Sequeira’s entrepreneurial journey didn’t even start in the kitchen. A journalism graduate from Northwestern University, Sequeira began her career behind the camera. It took a long time for her to discover her passion for cooking, and even longer for her to build that passion into a business.
Sequeira took the time to discuss the fascinating path she took to land where she is today, as well as share her insights for all the aspiring food celebrities out there to do the same.
You started out as a producer on CNN. What took you out of the newsroom and into your first restaurant job at Lucques?
When I was in New York, I was on a track. I knew exactly where I was professionally and where I was going. When I moved to L.A. to be with my husband, I found that it was hard to get work. But when I thought about it, the real reason it was hard is that I lost the hustle, I lost the appetite for [being a producer]. When I was in journalism school, one of my instructors said, “if you ever lose the fire, then you have to get out of it.”
That’s when I started cooking. It’s been in my blood. My mom loves it, my dad is a huge foodie, my grandmothers were amazing cooks. Cooking is practical and healing at the same time. I found that when I followed a recipe, I could transform something raw and ugly, like an onion, into something beautiful, like a French onion soup. I found that the passion I had for news, I now had for cooking.”
What was it like getting scouted off of YouTube and onto Food Network?
When I started doing the YouTube show it was just pure joy. My husband [Brendan McNamara] was the director. After a while, a woman at [online food platform] Good Bites saw my YouTube channel and apparently said, “I can make that woman a star.”
I started shooting cooking videos for them. I remember thinking, “holy cow I would do this for free.” It was a moment where everything slowed down and I realized this is what I want to do.
When people told me to try out for Food Network Star, I thought there was no way that they would pick me. When you’re in the spotlight, you feel like all people want to do is look down on you. It was definitely a leap of courage and faith. And then they picked me. And when I won, it was incredibly validating.
What advice do you have for all the food bloggers and YouTubers out there looking to become the next Aarti Sequeira?
If you want a cooking show, well, just make one. It is easier than ever to set up a camera in your own home and film yourself. Learn to edit too. That helped me a lot.
My big advantage in doing Food Network Star is that I had basically already done the job. I had been doing it on my own for 9 months. I had the on-camera experience and the kind of recipes people were looking for. I knew the kinds of lines and film cuts that Food Network was looking for.
For food bloggers, I blogged because I needed an outlet to talk about what was going on in my life and in the kitchen. It helped me figure out what my point of view was and what made me different as a chef. There’s a lot of copycats out there and you have to figure out a way to separate yourself. The only way to do that is to get yourself on a regimen of blogging 3 times a week. You just have to do it, and do it, and do it. I spent years of just writing and shooting and editing and blogging before going onto the Food Network.