The Next Food Network Stars

Guy Fieri has become the Food Network's biggest star, while offending foodies by promoting lowbrow favorites like BBQ sushi. He talks to Rachel Syme about taking on the haters.

Sunny Anderson

SHOW: Cooking for Real, How’d That Get on My Plate?

COOKING BACKGROUND: Anderson ran a soul-food catering business in New York City, Sunny’s Delicious Dishes, after spending years in the music industry cooking for her famous friends. Sunny also spent some time at Hip Hop Weekly Magazine as the food and lifestyle editor.

WHY SHE MIGHT BE THE NEXT GUY: Anderson’s laid-back attitude and laissez-faire stance toward using measuring tools echo Fieri’s style, though it’s really her down-home stories about her dishes and her Fieri-esque colloquialisms that give her show its flavor. And her polished pastel outfits beat Fieri’s skeezy-bowler look any day.

FIERI FACTOR: “Let’s hit that with a little salt.”

Aaron McCargo Jr.

SHOW: Big Daddy’s House, The Next Food Network Star (Season 4)

COOKING BACKGROUND: McCargo got his start at 13 as a junior volunteer in the Cooper University Hospital kitchen. Then he worked at a host of New Jersey restaurants, doing everything from casual food to fine dining, before he won The Next Food Network Star 2008. Recently he served as the executive chef of catering at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

WHY HE MIGHT BE THE NEXT GUY: McCargo makes real food for real men, the show’s titular big daddies. While he’s clearly less of a frat boy and more of a nice guy than Fieri—he started out in a hospital, after all—his staccato delivery and no-frills, bold-flavored recipes show you that even manly men can get excited about daikon radish.

FIERI FACTOR: Double-ear bling.

Aida Mollenkamp

SHOW: Ask Aida

COOKING BACKGROUND: Mollenkamp has worked at a gourmet deli, California Pizza Kitchen, the Hotel Bel Air, and CHOW.com. She received her formal training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and she spent several years shuttling between Florence and Paris before graduating with a grand diplôme in 2004.

WHY SHE MIGHT BE THE NEXT GUY: Nobody chills with the proverbial kids like Aida. She out-hips Fieri by whipping up Italian- and French-tinged dishes perfect for the type of impromptu dinner parties hipster foodies probably have all the time. Her girlish charm is offset by a dorky Man Friday, who reads off viewers’ questions from the Internet, which Mollenkamp answers while chopping, frying, and tasting.

FIERI FACTOR: Snazzy backing track.

Alex Guarnaschelli

SHOW: The Cooking Loft

COOKING BACKGROUND: If Guarnaschelli’s credentials were a food, they’d be made of truffles and pâté. The daughter of a respected cookbook editor, Guarnaschelli studied under famed American chef Larry Forgione, then spent seven years in France working at the Michelin three-star restaurant Guy Savoy, and the Savoy affiliate La Butte Chaillot, before returning to the States and making a name for herself in Manhattan and Los Angeles. Currently, she is the executive chef at Butter in New York City, where she cooks greenmarket-inspired food.

WHY SHE MIGHT BE THE NEXT GUY: Sure, Guarnaschelli’s delivery doesn’t live up to Fieri’s pep, but the classic recipes she cooks are ones you might actually want to make at home. Like Fieri, she methodically teaches basic skills, like breaking down a chicken, that are worth knowing and applicable to a wide variety of culinary situations.

FIERI FACTOR: Technical prowess.

Anne Burrell

SHOW: Secrets of a Restaurant Chef

COOKING BACKGROUND: Burrell has an amazing set of culinary bona fides. Aside from her formal training at the Culinary Institute of America and the Italian Culinary Institute, she’s got plenty of practical training at a one-Michelin star restaurant in Tuscany. Burrell famously worked as a sous chef for Mario Batali on Iron Chef America, and for Lidia Bastianich at her restaurant Felidia.

WHY SHE MIGHT BE THE NEXT GUY: Burrell’s practical recipes look tasty and unusual, but it’s her off-the-wall delivery that makes her show unique. Burrell talks to her garlic, gyrates while she massages steak, and giggles, grunts, and waves her hands in the air as she carefully assembles culinary masterpieces. Not even Guy could compete with her enthusiastic delivery.

FIERI FACTOR: Spiky bleach job.

Claire Robinson

SHOW: 5 Ingredient Fix

COOKING BACKGROUND: Robinson learned to love exotic foods and spices in college, but her cooking career didn’t really begin until she decided to attend The French Culinary Institute, from which she graduated in 2005. In addition to working as a private chef, she has served on culinary production teams for shows on the Food Network and PBS.

WHY SHE MIGHT BE THE NEXT GUY: The best thing about Robinson’s show is its simple concept of cooking with five ingredients or fewer, which puts her one up on Fieri, who makes baroque dishes such as tempura-fried avocado halves filled with seafood salad. Her at-times excessive perkiness could shame Fieri’s any day of the week, as could food-porn-riffic tendency toward effusively complimenting her admittedly delicious-looking results.

FIERI FACTOR: Effusive self-compliments.

Melissa d’Arabian

SHOW: Ten Dollar Dinners, The Next Food Network Star (Season 5)

COOKING BACKGROUND: Before she won the most recent season of The Next Food Network Star, d’Arabian spent a year at sea on the entertainment staff of two cruise lines, then went on to work as a live-in-cook for a family of seven in order to pay her way through business school.

WHY SHE MIGHT BE THE NEXT GUY: Fieri doesn’t focus on budget like d’Arabian does, but he does dole out personal touches, like adding tortillas to a frittata, to his audience, just as d’Arabian’s deceptively simple dishes come with a judicious pinch of her personal tips on how to cut costs and add zip to that box of couscous, keeping her dishes tasty, cheap, and funky.

FIERI FACTOR: Secret ingredient tips.