Food Network Star Finalist, Aryen Moore-Alston: Student Spotlight

To say Aryen Moore-Alston is a bit of an adventurer would be like saying Auguste Escoffier was slightly influential in the culinary arts. Having spent her childhood in Naples, Italy and having since lived in Japan, Atlanta, Los Angeles and now Memphis, Tennessee, Moore, Alston has tasted, lived and loved many of the culinary capitals of the world through her wanderlust. Now, this Food Network Star contestant and Escoffier Online student has set off on a different adventure, one that has the power to shape her career and cooking passion forever. As a mother, scientist and, of course, successful chef, Moore-Alston has a myriad of influences that shape her food.

We got to catch up with her before the big premiere to hear all about what it was like working with culinary giants like Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay, how her travels have shaped her food and her hands down, absolute favorite dish to make. Tune in this Sunday, June 1 at 9|8c, to see Aryen in action.

Escoffier: You were raised in Italy and have since lived in Memphis, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Japan. Do you find that all the places you’ve lived creep into your cuisine in one way or another?

Moore-Alston: All of the places I’ve lived have had a substantial influence into my cuisine and the flavor profiles I create.  Once I’ve tasted something new or foreign to my palate and it just so happens to be delectable; I chase it and play around with it, until it becomes my own.

Escoffier: What influences your food the most?

Moore-Alston: I have a background in Computer Science, Mathematics and Japanese and I would have to say that that influences my food the most.  I’m a scientist, so I’m constantly researching ingredients, experimenting with new recipes and forming hypotheses on what things can taste like.  As a mathematician, I’m playing around with measurements, adding and subtracting ingredients to get the best combinations.  As a linguist (and a lover of all things foreign) I’m inspired by the world around us and how culture influences cuisine.

Escoffier: What would you call the style of food you make?

Moore-Alston: I would “call” the style of food I make “eccentrically epicurean.”  One technical definition of eccentric means to not be centered on the same point as another.  And as an epicurean, I’m totally devoted to that sensual experience one gets from fine food.  I want everyone who tastes my food to be transported somewhere…to that delicious memory or that amazing escapade they once had and with each bite be taken further and further away! 

Escoffier: What is your hands down favorite dish to make?

Moore-Alston: My hands down favorite dish to make is Pasta al Pomodoro (Pasta with Tomato Sauce).  Just the smell of simmering olive oil and garlic is enough to bring back all of my memories of being raised in Napoli, Italia (Naples, Italy).  It is my weekly staple and calls for ingredients that I always have on hand: pasta, olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, pureed tomatoes, salt, pepper and basil.

Escoffier: As a “self-taught” chef, why did you decide to try online culinary education?

Moore-Alston: I decided to try online culinary education because I have always wanted to attend culinary school but never found the time.  I used to joke that if computer science didn’t work out then I would move back overseas, become a chef in a small restaurant and eat bread daily.  I love being a student and learning, especially as it relates to food.  Education is very important to my family and I wanted to know the basics of culinary arts.  I believe that by knowing the foundation, it will not only make me a better cook but eventually, a world-class chef.

Escoffier: What Escoffier classes have you taken and how have they helped?

Moore-Alston: Presently, I’m enrolled in the online Culinary Arts Program at Escoffier and have taken Classic Cooking Methods, World Flavors: Salts, Spices and Herbs and am now in the Knife Skills and Classic Cuts course.  I can already see an improvement in my culinary knowledge and technique. I respect my ingredients more because I’ve now learned how to use them properly and taste them effectively and I’ve also realized that not all salt is created equally!

Escoffier: You currently live in Memphis, famous for its barbecue. What’s the best you’ve had so far?

Moore-Alston: Memphis is world famous for its lip smacking, wet or dry-rubbing, moist towelette hand-drying BAR-B-Q, so to tell you the best that I’ve had would be like telling my maternal grandmother that her pound cake is better than my paternal grandmother, with both of them standing in the same room.  Not gonna do it!  However, I make a mean barbecue sauce.

Escoffier: The judges on the show are some of the biggest names in food: Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis. Was it inspiring to be around such culinary greats? What did you learn from them?

Moore-Alston: It was electrifying to be around such culinary greats; I like to refer to them as GIANTS! Giada De Laurentiis is an exceptional woman and to see her carve her own path in the culinary world (while being a mother) is motivating.  I’m a mother as well, so it gave me a big boost of confidence.  Bobby Flay is an Iron Chef and a Master Chef, who has years of kitchen chef practical knowledge under his belt powered by years of television expertise with Food Network…for lack of better words, he knows what he is doing.  Alton Brown is a food scientist, culinary genius and for me, sets a high bar when it comes to broadcast excellence.  Every time Alton stepped in the room, his presence made me better.

Escoffier: Any great behind the scene stories from the show?

Moore-Alston: So as not to spoil anything or to give anything away, I will tell you this: one of us fell asleep in a closet, another drank tea out of a mason jar every day, one purred like a cat every time their hair was styled, another raised the vibration of the food, one of us simply called for salt and pepper, another arranged nuts in a line daily on a napkin, another lifted their hands in the air before every challenge, one of us did the snake, one of us likes Bloody Mary’s and one of us wound up doing the splits.

Escoffier: What advice do you have for current/future culinary students?

Moore-Alston: The advice I have for current and future culinary students is to dream big!  I’ve always been told that I’m a big dreamer and that I would go places because of it.  If you are pursuing a culinary education for nothing other than to be a better cook for your family then be the best cook your family has ever had.  If you’re pursuing a culinary education to one day open up a restaurant and cook for the masses then focus and believe in yourself and your abilities.  You can have and be anything you want…so go be it and be great!

Tune in Sundays at 9|8c to root Aryen on and see how the 10th season of Food Network Star unfolds.

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