Monday, June 11, 2007

The Next Food Network Star: Episode 2

Previously on TNFNS: The contestants cater a wedding in six hours, Nikki thinks Bobby Flay’s Calvin Klein suit needs a bit of cobbler, and Rory is dubbed “calamity Jane.” But it’s former swimsuit model Vivien and bald Seattle guy Patrick who are the first two to be asked to leave the carriage house. And tonight, Giada DeLaurentiis shows the contestants how to work the camera (and you know she knows how) and everyone vies for the cover of Bon Appétit. (BTW, this is the first TV show I’ve seen that pretty much gives away the whole show in the first 30 seconds.)

Flying glass stars shatter and we cut to the quick scenes of morning in New York (skyline, Central Park joggers, Union Square farmers market, and the carriage house).

“Nothing like morning breath,” we hear Colombe say. Gawd. This is not a good sign of a stellar show ahead. Wake up, Food TV editors!

Contestants are still sleeping in their bunk beds. Apparently, Amy likes to talk in her sleep (and to her invisible kids) and Rory is already voicing over that she’s the underdog in this episode because of her skirting near elimination last week. They head over to Studio B (for Ben!) and in comes Giada.

JAG, who’s probably just as tall as Giada, says in his taped segment “Giada is very hodda.” Just a reminder, this is the guy who “JAGs-up” his food.

Giada tells them their challenge is to “bring food to life.” Yeah, I’d like to see them bring that side of beef back to life. Now that would be magic. She tells them they’ll be doing their first taped segment, which brings an “oh no” from Nikki, who’s a bit concerned. (Nikki, did you realize you’re competing to be in front of the camera every week for six weeks?)

So Giada has broken down one of her recipes from “Everyday Italian” into nine parts and each contestant will have one minute to do one part of the demo. Funny, whenever I watch “Everyday Italian” I never feel a recipe takes more than maybe four, five steps tops. So this must be A Very Special Episode of Everyday Italian.

Amy, who was the team leader for the wedding challenge, seems to be in control again as she sorts out the index cards with the various steps and divvies them out among the other contestants. (It must be the mom in her. BTW, doesn’t her voice remind you of a young Katherine Hepburn? I bet you she’s a bit Irish.)

Then comes the tag-team demo and all I can say is what a train wreck. It’s like someone’s flipping the channels but it’s alwa
ys the same show but with a different host. First off is Rory, who’s actually very personable in front of the camera, but boy can she talk. Yada, yada, yada, and—ding—her minute is up and she barely finished dredging the chicken breasts. So in comes Mike Salmon who heats butter on a hot pan and creates a smoky kitchen. The smoke distracts him and he starts talking about cooking for your friends and family instead of focusing on the recipe. So far, no one is actually cooking.
So now the demonstration is really falling behind. In comes JAG, who should be competing, really, for “Top Chef.” He goes into sous chef mode and it’s like watching a line of a professional kitchen. He’s putting out fires. He’s cooking the chicken. He motor-chops the shallots. And he makes way for Colombe. Sigh, Colombe. She
s so sweet and innocent, it’s like watching your best friend cook for you on a Friday night. Rory says Colombe reminds her of Snow White, and that inspires the Food Network editors to play this sweet, cheerful music in the background. I really do expect to see an animated blue bird to come flying onto her shoulder. She’s doing really well talking, but like the others, she’s not moving the recipe along and that means the back up happens again. Will this chicken ever get cooked?

Paul comes in and puts out another fire. (I’m so surprised the smoke detector hasn’t gone off by now.) He starts talking about the spinach and then forgets what he was about to say about frozen vs. fresh. (I know how he feels. I’m always forgetting what I want to say when doing my “In The Kitchen” demos for this blog.) He’s thrown off and it’s pretty much downhill from there.

From one hottie to another, next comes Adrien who actually looks very confident in front of the camera. His experience with his local, public-access food show is really helping him now. But how big are his eyebrows? I just noticed that they completely circle his eyes. OK, not completely but pretty darn close.

Next is big boy Tommy. He does this amazing feat where he disappears. That’s right, he walks off to the side of the camera to do some chopping. And Tommy’s pretty big so it’s really noticeable when half of him is gone. He also doesn’t have much to say and actually spends a few seconds near the end just cooking without saying anything. Dead silence is always such a ratings booster.

Amy, the mom, comes in and she’s very personable and does her thing before her time runs out. I really don’t get much out of Amy in this episode. I think she’s smart but the editors are not showing much of her. If she was on American Idol, this is when she would be complaining about not being featured enough to get the votes. And Simon would call her demo “adequate” but with no “X-factor.”

Bringing up the end of this tag-team mess is Nikki. She. Talks. Soooo. SLOW. Did she take a few capsules of valium before she went on the air? You know how people talk really slow like they think you’re slow and won’t understand her? That’s what Nikki is doing here. Of course, she doesn’t finish plating the chicken before time runs out. (Yes, they actually made a chicken dish, with some creamy spinach.)

Giada tells them that they have to stay calm despite the frenzied pace of TV. She gives points to JAG for “taking one for the team.” Wait till she hears that he called her “hodda.”

Right before their next challenge, Amy says in her taped segment that every time she walks into the kitchen, she feels like she wants to puke. Did anyone read the application? This is a cooking show? You have to cook food people want to eat, not want to throw up. Even though we can’t taste the contestants’ food, I’m taking a leap of faith that Amy’s food probably doesn’t taste that great. I’m just saying.

Giada introduces the food editor of Bon Appétit magazine, who tells them they’re going to compete for the cover of the July issue. The name of the issue is “the new way of grilling” and they have 90 minutes to come up with a dish that would appeal to Bon Appétit readers.

As everyone’s scrambling for ingredients to create their grilled dish, Tommy walks over to the table and starts picking up Fred-Flintstone-size steaks. Big surprise. Colombe says she’s thinking of some kind of lettuce wrap with skirt steak. Paul is doing a Rain Man impression and is pretty much talking gibberish here as he tries to get a handle of his ingredients, especially after tanking the on-camera challenge. Poor Paul, he was my favorite to win but now he looks like he’s going to self-destruct. At least that makes for good TV.
Rory is making her famous ribs that she typically cooks for five hours. But she’s making it in 90 minutes. You know, really all she did was rub the ribs with some kind of dry rub and then placed them in the oven. I wonder what she did for the remaining 70 minutes?

OK, that Salmon guy is throwing herbs into the grill to create a smoke. He thinks he’s being originally, but really all he’s doing is providing kindling.

Giada asks Nikki how she can cook in heels. Nikki’s all like, “girl, I always cook in heels.” And Giada’s all finger-snapping back, “I believe in comfort and I’m wearing my flip-flops.” Nikki says she’s making jerk chicken with some
crazy Jamaican accent. I think it’s a requirement that whenever you make jerk chicken you have to speak in a weird Ziggy Marley accent.

JAG is working on his dish and he suddenly goes into “Top Chef” mode and starts cooking a wild mushroom, Marsala, balsamic reduction glaze. He’s going to be sooo disappointed when Tom Colicchio fails to show up to judge his dish.

Time runs out and everyone packs up their food to go to the offices of Bon Appétit.

Commercials. How much do we love the Hilton Hotels travel commercials? I love the music with the guy singing. Who’s the singer? Anyone know? Hey, that’s a commercial for “Top Chef: Miami.” Geesh, Food Network will whore its ad space out to anyone, even a competitor.

Back from commercials, everyone arrives at Bon Appétit. They all wait in some boring room while each person goes before a panel one by one. They have 30 minutes to prep their food and then give a short presentation to the judges.

First up, Tommy and his Fred-Flintstone steaks. (I still get a kick at how my spell check recognizes Flintstone!) He walks in and everyone’s salivating over his meat. Those salivating include Mark Thomas, one of the magazine’s photographers (I want his job!); Kristine Kidd, the food editor; Barbara Fairchild, the editor in chief; and the rest of the Food Network judges: Giada, Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson. Tommy grilled a rib eye with brown sugar, which he says gives a sweet flavor. Brown sugar makes things sweet. Got it. I learn so much from these contestants.

After he leaves, the judges say his plate looked like a big brown nothing, and he’s trying too hard to show off his personality.

Second is Mike Salmon who is apparently the grill master. Must be all those years grilling for Macy’s demos because his chicken has the perfect diamond grill marks. He talks to the panel about his “herb-smoked infusion.” I am shocked at how these food editors are so impressed by burning herbs.

Amy brings in her chicken piard, which she explains are chicken breasts pounded flat. It’s a French technique, of course. But the judges can’t find the chicken because Amy buried it under a big fruit salad. The photographer said it looked like a farmer’s market exploded on her plate.

Adrien is stressing about his personality. So what do you do to demonstrate you’re personable? You use the phrase “what’s up?” Which is what Adrien does as he enters the room. He says he wanted to do a vegetarian dish because everyone always grills meat, so he made a stuffed bellpepper. It looks like it’s stuffed with a lot of grain because everything’s so brown, but he explains that it’s actually roasted corn and a whole lot of different hot peppers. This is his Motown Spicy Bellpepper. He’s confident enough to ask how it tastes, which was his first mistake. The judges all agree that it’s spicy. It’s not a good sign when all the judges say the same thing while writing on the piece of paper in front of you.

Colombe is feeling the pressure, especially since she doesn’t have any woodland creatures to help her. The hustling during the prep period has thrown her off, and she’s not quite prepared when she comes in because it takes her several tries just to introduce herself and her dish. Then she makes the mistake of calling her steak “flank steak” when it was “skirt steak.” Basically, she had problems with the English language. Giada is the first to point out that she misidentified the part of the cow. Colombe should have stuck with a vegetarian dish. (I have to say at this point that Giada is a bit catty. Sure, she’s all movie-star pretty in front of the camera, but she can change her demeanor with just a snap of the finger. And her criticism isn’t always buffered with positive feedback. I mean, later during the elimination round she tells Adrien that his bellpepper dish looked like someone ate it and then spit it out. OK, I have to admit I had the same thought, but I wouldn’t have put it in those words.)

Next up, JAG. He made a spicy grilled rack of lamb with caramelized salsa. It’s very beautifully plated. Too beautiful to eat? JAG keeps talking about his dish but he doesn’t think to serve the judges. Minor point. But all the judges feel like the dish is too complicated and like something from a restaurant menu.

Then the underdog, Rory, comes in with her baby back ribs. She’s serving it with grilled cantaloupe and a fresh parsley salad. Never heard of a parsley salad, and one of the judge felt it was like eating grass. Rory is definitely personable and funny. She walked off stage right when she should have gone stage left. So the camera showed her walking back with her plate. Oh, calamity Jane. You’re so cute.

In comes Nikki who’s speaking slowly and looks so serious, I was worried she was going to say something scary. July. Is For. Jamaican McCrazy jerk chicken, mon. A few giggles from the judges. She tells the judges that she used brown sugar for sweetness and a lot of different, bold spices. She says jerk chicken shows that she’s a little spicy but sweet at the same time. Bob Tuschman agrees about Nikki’s description of herself. But one of the other judges says the jerk chicken was more sweet than spicy. Another judge thought she was low energy. I know. You’d think with all the sugar she’d be more peppy.

Finally, Paul does his presentation. He made Colorado lamb chops with a citrus marinade, and he decorated the chops with those fancy French paper booties that Paul says represents fireworks exploding. Oh my, he just stopped to take a deep breath in front of the panel. There’s another one. He’s telling himself to breathe in and out, like this is some kind of Lamaze demonstration. The judges look afraid, like Paul’s going to hyperventilate in front of them. Paul knows he didn’t do well. As they go to commercials, he’s near tears over all the stress of screwing up.

Back from commercials, everyone’s waiting for the judges to call them. Paul is crying in the back and says he doesn’t want to go home. (I’d be crying too if I were caught in such unflattering camera light as well.)
They all gather downstairs with the judges and the Bon Appétit editor, who says she wanted the “wow” factor. She says she liked the presentation of Michael’s dish of grilled chicken. Again, they mention the amazing technique of burning herbs. Please. Kill. Me. Now.

They also like Rory’s ribs and liked the grilled cantaloupe. The editor names this dish as the winning recipe (really? Wow?). Rory almost bursts into tears. Everyone seems really happy for her because I think everyone really did feel she was the underdog. Bob Tuschman says last week she was “calamity Jane” and this week she’s the “comeback queen.” Bob’s not that great with original nicknames. (BTW, I’m starting to get why I’m not a big fan of the judging duo of Bob and Susie. Bob’s too calm and Susie always looks disinterested. I can’t believe she’s in marketing.)

Since both Rory and Michael were named the favorite dishes by Bon Appétit, they’re the first two who are deemed safe and go on to the next round.

Bob says the elimination is getting tougher, and tougher, and tougher. Um, this is only the second week, Bob, so it’s only getting tougher and tougher. Then Bob, Susie, and Giada take turns critiquing each contestant and it went something like this: Paul, he had too much energy like a Jack Russell Terrier and made the judges nervous; Adrien is warm and charming on TV but his food doesn’t taste or look good; Tommy doesn’t talk on TV which doesn’t help in a one-man show; Amy is a great storyteller but doesn’t follow directions (Giada dings her for not showing any grill marks, which I think is a minor point. Can you imagine if you were cut off a show because of grill marks? I bet Amy wanted to show Giada some grill marks); JAG is too complex and his recipe had 14 words in the title, which apparently are one too many words for the readers of Bon Appétit; Nikki’s jerk chicken had no spice or heat and she’s too “rehearsed” (that’s the kind word for it, I think “the walking dead” is a better description); and Colombe lacks authority and Giada calls her out on hiding behind the girly smile.

Then they name who will be going on to the next round: JAG, Amy, Tommy and Paul (who is sooo thankful). Colombe is also safe, leaving only Adrien and Nikki. (Hey, I thought Adrien did much better this week than last. Is he really in the bottom two?) Bob says that Adrien moves on, which means they have to say “good night” to Nikki. This show has got to have a better sign off. I mean, I’m not a big fan of “pack your knives and go” but at least it’s more original than “good night.”

Nikki says in her exit interview that she’s a fighter and she’s going to keep pursuing her dream. She’s probably also going to demand a refund from Toastmasters. The gang gives her a big applause as she leaves. Then everyone turns to congratulate Rory who’s going to be on the cover of Bon Appétit with her innovative barbeque baby back ribs. Yes, baby back ribs. Who would have thought to barbeque ribs? Oh wait, half of America does it every summer. Anywho, she’s nice about it so I guess it’s OK.

Next on TNFNS: Guy Fieri, last year’s winner, is the guest judge and he announces that two of them will be going home. (Geesh, do I really need to watch? Guy, just tell me who wins already.) And the contestants feel the pressure as Tommy calls home and cries, Amy gets into a fight, and Paul has what sounds like a health issue with his dish. If he gives someone food poisoning, I’m tuning in! (Oh, what am I saying? You know I’ll be watching either way to do these recaps. All you people who were watching the series finale of “The Sopranos” instead can thank me later for not giving away the ending. Or was that really an ending?)

Tomorrow: Check back to see what I would have done for the Bon Appétit challenge.

The Next Food Network Star airs on the Food Network at 9 p.m. Sunday and repeats at the same time Thursday. Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, no comments on your little blog here.

Wonder if everyone on Planet Earth agrees with you (highly unlikely) or no one is reading it (more likely?)

You've got your little blog using google's Adsense so you can make a little money on this. Ironic that you repeatedly chided Michael Salmon and google caught it and offered up recipes using salmon. Here's a suggestion: give all the contestants food-related names. JAG could be Food Jag; Tommy could be Tommy's Hamburger; Amy's Grapefruit Salad. I could go on and on but you already have.

Its interesting television, that's all it is.

Chef Ben said...

Dude, I haven't made any money off of Adsense so it's not like I'm making money off of my recaps. If you don't feel like reading it, then move onto another blog. Just like TV, you can just switch the channel. It's not necessary to make a comment about no comments. I have a counter so I know how many visitors check out the blogs each day. Thank you for your concern.

Wesley said...

Hey Dude,

I just found your blog a few days ago when I was trying to find out what happened on the second episode of Food Network Star. I don't have TV right now and none of my friends are watching. Your recap really helped me out; I don't know what I would have done without it on DVD? I don't think so.

Chef Ben said...

Hey Wesley, you're so welcomed! Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Whether there are comments or not has no indication of readership. And you're right, Chef Ben, instead of criticizing your blog, just move on. I think your blog will do just fine without the snarkiness from "anonymous." -- Gina

Ken said...

Chef, there are people watching TNFNS who don't have a pro's cooking expertise. Me, for example. I had never heard of tossing herbs on the heating elements to create an herb smoke for the food. I would have thought doing so would only fog up the kitchen and perhaps impart a nasty charred taste to the food. But, since I saw Salmon do it, I'm willing to give it a try (first on my outdoor grill in case things go south.)

I do like your blog, tho. I enjoy learning about food and cooking and seeing how much of what I learn I can translate into my kitchen.

You may have seen these before, but the movie director Robert Rodriguez has two cooking videos someone put on YouTube:

Sin City Breakfast Tacos


Puerco Pibil (Slow Roasted Pork)


Chef Ben said...

Ken, I'm not a professional chef. I just call myself Chef Ben as a joke, really, because this is my personal blog and it's like my kitchen so I can call myself whatever I want.

My comments about Salmon's herb idea is just my personal opinion about whether I think it'll work or not. I personally don't think it will, having accidentally burned herbs in the past and not necessarily liking the smell of burnt dried herbs. Plus, I don't think you can really infuse by just burning the herbs unless you cover it and smoke it.

Anywho, since this is my blog, I'm just posting my opinions as well as sharing my recipes and stuff. I don't expect everyone reading to agree with me. But I appreciate if people who disagree to at least be civil about it, instead of implying that I'm sitting here pulling in the cash from "my little blog."

Anyway, that's the last I'm going to say about this. I would be interested in hearing what you think about the technique of burning herbs on your grill. Let me know how it goes, really.

Anonymous said...

Hehe, what a long post! But, it was funny. Oh well, sad to see Nikki go. I could really go for some baby back ribs right about now. I think Gia's the shizz. I love how she says mascarpone cheese. So italian. Anyways, this show is great and I loved that it featured Bon Appetit magazine. You know why? Because I work with them silly! Anyways have you heard about their contest? You can win a trip to NYC to tour the Food Network studios or $1000 in All-Clad cookware. Check it out here • you can enter everyday if u like. You know you want to.

Anonymous said...

It's a nice and helpful recap of the show, but unfortunately your personality comes off as extremely snarky; I like gossip and witty remarks but, wow, that was too much even for me. Maybe Top Chef is more for you?

It's your blog, and you can say what you like of course, but comments are also personal opinion.

Khakie said...

I LOVED your recap. It was the perfect amount of snark and opinion mixed with telling what happened in the show. I think it's amusing people getting all uptight about what you say I know you wrote this forever and a year ago so I don't know if you are going to see this comment I just wanted to let you know that it was very amusing and I enjoyed reading it.

Single Guy Ben said...

Hi Khakie, I did see your comment. Thanks for the thoughts, I appreciate it! I'm currently recapping Top Chef (I guess the other anonymous guy would approve, ha!) and didn't think I could recap both Top Chef and the current season of NFNS. Check those out. thanks for reading!