The 36-year-old Thomas Jefferson University Hospital executive catering chef from Camden, NJ took home The Next Food Network Star's fourth-season grand prize -- his own six-episode Food Network series.
"It wasn't an easy road," said Aaron after his victory. "I started doubting myself a lot. But I made it, I'm here, I'm a star. I wanted this so that everyone can know never give up on your dreams."
Aaron defeated Adam Gertler, a 30-year-old former restaurateur, server and actor from Philadelphia, PA, and Lisa Garza, a 32-year-old kitchenwear fashion designer and owner of Suze Restaurant from Dallas, TX, during last night's finale.
"This has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life," said Lisa.
"I learned so much about my weaknesses, as well as my strengths," said Adam. "To have come this far, it really just confirms this is the life I want."
The Next Food Network Star's fourth-season finale began with the three remaining finalists returning to Food Network's New York City headquarters, where they learned they'd each be creating a fully-produced pilot presentation for their respective shows. Each finalist would receive a production crew and would also have the help of executive producer Gordon Elliot.
The finalists would be using Rachel Ray's set on Food Network's main studio to film their pilot, which would then air in-front of a live studio audience and The Next Food Network Star's judging panel -- network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson, and Iron Chef America star Bobby Flay.
Before they began filming, each finalist met with Gordon to pitch what sets them apart from the other finalists.
Lisa had three show ideas -- Beautiful Basics, Pure and Simple and Fashion Feast -- each of which combined her simplistic approach to cooking with her enthusiasm for fashion. Gordon felt Beautiful Basics was her best idea because it was more accessible to ordinary people who would be watching her show.
"Meeting with Gordon made me really confident," said Lisa.
Aaron had two ideas -- Too Bold and Flavorful and Leftovers not Forgotten -- however Gordon wondered if there was an angle that used more of Aaron's personality. Aaron told Gordon that he often goes by the nickname "Big Daddy."
"You could do Big Daddy's Kitchen," suggested Gordon.
"I love that," replied Aaron, who added he was excited to have a show that reflected his own identity.
Adam had one idea -- I'm Always Hungry in Philadelphia -- and it would follow him as he did his own interpretations of viewers recipes. Gordon liked the idea because it separated Adam from the other finalists.
"The Internet gives me another angle that they're not doing," said Adam.
Lisa then began to film her pilot and immediately realized that the four-and-a-half minute timeframe she was given was not a lot of time, and she felt it was impeding her ability to connect with the potential viewer. Her disposition was translating to her pilot, and Gordon told her to have fun with it for the final take.
"I have to get it right this time or I go home a loser," said Lisa, who performed better with her last take.
"At this point, I feel very confident. But it could be anybody's game."
Adam stepped into the kitchen next, and his counter was setup with a computer screen so he could converse with a viewer via video conferencing. However he too hit a snag when he realized there were a lot of steps in the recipe he was preparing, which led him to believe he may have bit off more than he could chew.
To make matters more difficult, Adam found himself answering the viewer's questions while also trying to cook -- which threw him off his game.
"I'm having a hard time coming off as an expert, but also being humorous enough but not being too silly," opined Adam, who was still able to end the challenge on a high note.
"I've done everything I can do," he said. "It's out of my hands now."
As soon as Aaron stepped on set, he said he was "nervous and confused." However he tried to look as relaxed and comfortable as possible. Gordon suggested Aaron slow down since he was delivering his lines too fast.
"I don't know how confident I'm feeling right about now," said Aaron, who seemed to get the hang of it and be himself with his final take. While Gordon complimented Aaron for doing a "great job," Aaron wasn't so confident.
"It's over, and I don't feel like it was done right in my eyes," he said.
The three remaining finalists then met the judging panel and a live studio audience to see their pilots air for the first time.
Bob thought Lisa did a "really beautiful job" and he complimented the "depth and range of her culinary knowledge." Susie agreed that Lisa was "multifaceted" and did a "great job." Bobby thought Lisa was "unpredictable" and had a "lot of style."
Bob characterized Adam as a "joy to watch" and added he was envious of Adam's ease in front of the camera. Susie thought Adam had a "playful, fun side integrated with great expertise." Bobby said Adam did a "job well done" and also made the food he was preparing look appealing.
After watching Aaron's pilot, Bob was glad the judges and audience saw the "Aaron we love" -- whom he described as "funny, generous, big and bold." Susie called Aaron's pilot "awesome."
"You owned that," she said. "You created a world I literally wanted to be a part of."
The judges then deliberated their decision, and it was clear that each of the three finalists had appealing qualities.
"I think that any of the three of these can have a show," said Bob. "I think ultimately each of them is incredibly likable, incredibly intriguing. The question is to me, who can start tomorrow working on a show?"
Food Network president Brooke Johnson then revealed Aaron was the winner.
Aaron's new show -- titled Big Daddy's House -- will premiere on Sunday, August 3 at 1:30PM ET/PT on Food Network.
(Photo credit Food Network)
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