A Buffet of Opportunities

While other cooking reality shows offer a cash prize, a-year job as executive chef under the tutelage of a renowned chef or some seed money to open a new restaurant, The Next Food Network Star gives contestants a chance to star on his or her very own TV show ---a window to a seemingly endless buffet of opportunities that could lead to cookbooks, house wares, and other ventures.

"A whole career is at stake," Food Network star Bobby Flay said. "It's like Disney World. There are so many things now that revolve around food."

Perhaps the most prominent Food Network star to date is Rachael Ray, who went on to craft deals for spin-offs, including her flourishing line of 30-minute-meal cookbooks, linens, knives and canine kibble. All of those deals add up to a reported $18 million a year for Ray, but, according to the L.A. Times, the network doesn't get a dime.

To ensure that the Food Network is getting a piece of the action, the network is partnering with the winner of The Next Food Network Star.

"We are much more proactive and calculated about how we use our assets, particularly our talent," said Susie Fogelson, vice president of marketing and brand strategy for the network. As for the winner of the competition, "We're partners in everything."

Last night, the fifth season of The Next Food Network Star kicked off with a new brood of hopefuls vying to become the Food Network's next big thing. This season introduced the following 10 finalists: Brett August from Washington Heights, New York; Katie Cavuto from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;, Melissa d'Arabian from Keller, Texas; Teddy Folkman from Alexandria, Virginia; Eddie Gilbert from Manhattan Beach, California; Jen Isham from Orlando, Florida; Debbie Lee from West Hollywood, California; Jamika Pessoa from Atlanta, Georgia; Michael Proietti from New York, New York; and Jeffrey Saad from Los Angeles, California.

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