Monday, June 25, 2007

The Next Food Network Star: Episode 4

Previously on TNFNS: The contestants cook at a New Jersey Nets game and we learn that Michael Salmon is over the top, Paul spins out of control, and Colombe is not a food expert, which means she’s not the next Food Network star, so she’s out. Also, Tommy’s head isn’t in the game, but that doesn’t matter since he’s out too during this double-elimination episode. And tonight, southern mom Paula Deen is helping the contestants make home-cooked meals for a bunch of Marines, and bust out the tissue because this elimination round looks like a real tear-jerker!

Oooh, up tempo music plays as we get a quick time-lapsed scene of the New York sunrise. Maybe the editors realized tonight’s episode is airing on Pride Day and they wanted to pump in some club music. And they also give us lots of shirtless men in the first few frames as we see Paul, Adrien, and Michael (eek) waking up at 5 a.m. There are only six of them left. They drag themselves out to the dining room and of course JAG, the former Marine, reads the note that sounds like it was written by a drill sergeant, telling them to prepare to meet at “0:700 hours.”

They all head out in the van, still half asleep, and eventually arrive at Fort Dix, New Jersey. That’s right, another episode in the city across the Hudson after last week’s episode at Nets Stadium.

Of course, everyone thinks JAG has an advantage having been in the military. We’ll see. They walk into a hanger and there standing with two military personnel is Giada DeLaurentiis, which is weird because she was a guest judge two episodes ago. (Is the Food Network running low on stars to pimp with Tyler Florence cooking at Applebee's and Rachel Ray gabbing all day?) I’m not the only one that thinks it’s odd seeing Giada II. Amy comments that she’s surprised to see Giada, and in some weird editing, follows that with “I just know this is going to be an extremely bizarre challenge” like Giada is the bearer of bizarre challenges.

JAG is already getting flashbacks of his military tour of duty. He talks about being around all the gear and how that’s making him feel uncomfortable. OK, if he starts to get all “Deer Hunter” on us, this is going to be a good show.

Giada tells them today’s challenge is all about creativity. They have to reinvent a MRE, which is the “meal ready to eat” or what looks like astronaut food. Sigh, I feel so bad that this is what we feed our military for all the sacrifices they make for us. Anywho, the contestants have 20 minutes to create a dish using the MRE ingredients and then do a presentation. Rory says this challenge is important because being a Food Network star means having to adapt to any situation. Yeah, let me see Paula Deen cooking with MREs.

JAG says he’s making a stew, which just looks like trail mix with water. Rory thinks her ingredients look like really bad TV frozen dinner, so not surprisingly, she’s freaked out. Paul is trying not to freak out like the last two episodes and is again talking himself into a chill.

Time is up and the judges visit the various station. Up first is Amy, who made chicken breast with mac and cheese, with two pieces of shrimp toasts on the side. The military guy says the shrimp toast tasted “shrimpy.” Isn’t that a good thing? That’s better than if it tasted “porky”? Hoo-RAH.

Adrien is up next and he took the pork rib dinner and sauteed it with pineapple and he took the clam chowder and added some roasted red bellpepper to make his “soup.” For dessert, he opened the pre-made packet of chocolate chip cookie and didn’t mess with it because it’s fine as is, in his humble opinion. The judges tasted everything and catty Giada is back because she says the cookie was the best thing.

The other contestants follow with JAG’s very spicy beef stew, Paul’s chicken and Dijon-cherry glaze that was very yummy, Rory’s cooked stew and sloppy-looking peach cobbler, and Michael Salmon’s mac and cheese with crumbled pretzel bits in it. Mike’s highlight of his taped segment describing how he did in this challenge: he’s worried because he said “MRI” instead of “MRE” during his presentation. Shocking!

In the on-the-spot evaluation, Adrien had the least flavorful dish (again with the bland food) and JAG failed with the presentation. (They are really following the Top Chef quick-fire challenges, even to the point of disclosing the least favorite and most favorite.) The winner is Paul, for both flavor and presentation.

Commercials. It’s the Hilton commercial again where they draw a dragon between points A and B. I. LOVE. This. Song. I had to do some research and was able to find out that the singer is Michael Tolcher, who’s featured doing full and acoustic versions of the song (called “Voila”) on the Hilton site. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Tolcher has released “Voila” on any CD. I would so buy that song if it were on iTunes.

They move to the next challenge and Paula Deen arrives, and of course, everybody loves her. (Except me. I have to admit I can’t watch her show. She cooks with too much butter and fat. But she does seem nice though.) Paula gets right down to the challenge and tells them they’re going to be split into teams of two and each team has to make a home-cooked dish the soldiers listed as their favorites: lasagna, meat loaf, and chicken pot pie. (Mmm, I agree on all counts. I’d also add roasted chicken and chicken soup.) They have to cook the dishes for 75 soldiers and also do a three-minute presentation.

Since Paul won the earlier challenge, he gets to pick a partner and what dish to cook. And I don’t know why, but the editing made it sound like Paul said “Jag-JAG” when choosing his partner. But basically he just got one JAG, who is the perfect sous chef. He then has to create the remaining teams, and Paul does the typical girls and boys team, so that means Rory and Amy and Adrien and Michael. Paul has too much power it seems because he’s also given the responsibility of assigning what the remaining teams will make. Since he and JAG chose meatloaf, he gives lasagna to the girls and pot pie to the boys, thinking lasagna is easy and pot pie will screw one of the guys because he wants more bed space in the dorm and his strategy is to get one of the guys eliminated. Now that’s now playing nice, Paulie.

They start cooking and Michael is bossing Adrien around. Meanwhile, JAG and Paul are moving like fire with their meatloaf dish. Wow, Rory just described her partner Amy as “a little organized, a little snooty.” Then she calls herself a “party girl.” Yes, we all remember the low-cut sweater in last week’s stadium challenge. Anywho, Amy says that when you combine both of their personalities, you get a normal person. Amy goes looking for sugar, but turns out she wants brown sugar instead of “regular” white sugar. I think Amy may be a wee tad OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Paula comes in and Amy’s still bummed about the brown sugar. Oh. My. Gawd. These mini-crisis among these contestants are soooo boring. What? No brown sugar? Come on, give me some real tension!

Why is comfort food always so unhealthy? I just saw Rory pouring oil over her sliced garlic bread.

Paul and JAG are really working well together. You can tell by the way they’re singing together over the pot. Rory calls them the odd couple.

Another boring mini-crisis: Rory can’t get the pasta out of her industrial-sized boiling pot, and she needs to get the pasta out before it overcooks. She and Amy use scoopers to get out the pasta and run it under cold water to keep it from cooking further. Whew, another boring mini-crisis averted.
Now for some real drama: JAG is putting his and Paul’s meatloaf into the oven, but Michael Salmon and Adrien have already claimed the top convention oven for their pot pie, leaving only the bottom old oven for Paul and JAG. “You guys are closer to the ground anyway,” remarks Michael Salmon. Now that’s snarky. JAG is worried because the lower oven doesn’t seem hot enough, and he starts flipping out at the unfair situation he finds himself in. (You know, you’d think they could have complained to a Food Network producer who could have found them another working stove to even the playing field. But hey, that’s just what I would do in my whole philosophy of “speaking up instead of just taking it.” Life deals you lemon; I am so tired of lemonade.)

Commercials. Ugh, there are so few new commercials on this network, I just can’t comment on them anymore. Just go listen to Michael Tolcher’s beautiful, spirited “Voila” tune from

JAG is still stressing about the oven, so he panics and pulls out still raw meatloaf. Paul is now beginning to see the picture and he makes this funny line of how they can’t serve raw meat because “it’s not the Paul tartar show.” This is even more funny because of last week’s incident when Paul had undercooked hamburgers in the stadium challenge. So what happens? JAG says he has to deep-fry the meatloaf. As Scooby Doo would say, whOOOH? In goes the meatloaf into the deep fryer. Bacon strips that was laid on top are floating off and up, everywhere.

Adrien is making his dessert, but all his frozen fruits are still in ice stage. He tries to run them under water, but Michael Salmon bosses him not to do that because it’ll dilute the flavor. So he says just leave them on the pan and hopefully it’ll be thawed by dinner time.

Time’s up. The finalists now have to make their presentations to the Marines. First up are Rory and Amy and they do some loud Military-shouting routine. They both work the girl element with the soldiers like some USO performance. Amy voices over that it helps that Rory is stacked. See, even other women notices Rory's breasts.

Then it’s Michael Salmon and Adrien. By the way, poor decision by Adrien in wearing a neck-high zipper sweater in a hot kitchen. Even I felt hot watching him (or maybe it’s the 60 degree evenings here in the Bay Area). Adrien does the nice gesture of thanking the soldiers first, and then talks about their chicken pot pie with deep-fried potatoes for a crust on top. After talking about their dishes, Michael talks about growing up during the Vietnam era. It was an uncomfortable effort that didn’t really go well with the crowd. Stop with the politics, Michael.

Commercials. Yay, they’re playing the Hilton Michael Tolcher commercial again. Have I told you guys to listen to this song yet? I’m going to make this guy a star if it’s the last thing I do.
Out comes Paul and JAG and Paul comes out and does some push-ups that gets the soldiers going. Hoo-RAH. They go over their dishes and throws in a whole bunch of hoo-rahs and huuUUH. (I don’t get that second grunt sound. Is that really a Marine thing?)

The soldiers chow down. The finalists interview their thoughts: Amy feels she’s getting closer to the end and she can just taste the prize; JAG is still upset about the oven (let it go, JAG); Michael Salmon thinks he’s swept all the challenges thus far and is in good shape of winning, which is really odd considering that he’s never won a challenge; and Adrien doesn’t feel good about his frozen fruit or this challenge.

The judges are eating together in a booth in the mess hall. Bob Tuschman loves the crispy crust on the meatloaf and so does Susie Folgelson and Giada. But not Paul Deen, who says the meatloaf is her least favorite. (She didn’t like the herbs inside.) But she did like the sweet potato mash Paul and JAG made for the meatloaf. Bob thought the pot pie was gloppy. And everyone realizes the frozen fruit is still frozen. And of course, Miss Everyday Italian doesn’t like the lasagna, which she says is average and doesn’t go “pow” in her mouth. Oooh, wait till Rory finds out. Then something will go pow in someone’s mouth, I bet.

They interview some Marines, and just like the Stadium challenge last week, the editors mix in comments that are positive and negative for everyone. Useless. Rory says in her taped interview that she’s worried that JAG is self-destructing with his constant venting about the unusable oven. “We feel that the whole Jekyll-and-Hyde thing that the committee has warned him about is happening right now.” Dun-Dun-DUH.

And now, prepare for the most shocking, sappy, tear-jerking rose ceremony ever! Oh, I mean elimination round.

All six finalists go down to meet the judges. Michael Salmon is feeling strong. (Foreshadow, guys.) Amy doesn’t like critiques where people are talking bad about her. (I agree. I like only good news.)

Giada asks Paul and JAG about the oven. JAG explains that they deep-fried the meatloaf, and the judges realized that’s why they liked it. (Who doesn’t like deep-fried food? Oh, me. That’s right. Forgot.) Giada says the Marines all loved Paul and JAG’s presentation. Giada says she wants to see happy JAG, and Bob Tuschman gives the harshest comment ever when he tells JAG that when he’s not smiling “you’re really unpleasant to be around.” Giada tells JAG not to lose his cool. JAG gets emotional talking about how it was difficult going back to the military after going through a lot when enlisted. And he almost breaks down. Giada gets sensitive and she apologizes to him that the challenge made him feel uncomfortable and then she gives him some really positive, supportive advice about dealing with situations and challenging his demons. Wow, gone is catty Giada. I give this critique an A+. Sensitive tone. Supportive suggestions. Upbeat conclusion.

Bob critiques Paul, and says he went from Jack Russell Terrier last week to “Best in Show.” OK, I hope this is the last of the dog analogies. Anywho, Paul gets compliments on both his presentation and food tastes.

For Michael and Adrien, the peaches were frozen (we know already) but the judges loved the crusty pot pie cover. But the presentation was awkward and Susie says the Vietnam reference was disingenuous. (She means he’s insincere, like a used car salesman.) Bob asks Michael for his culinary point of view, and Michael gives this weird answer about how his culinary point of view has always been a bit elusive. Leading Susie to say: “you mean you don’t know.” Michael has to back pedal and explains that his culinary point of view is to let the food talk and he’d just give a few behind-the-scenes cooking tips here and there. Oh, great. Let’s just have a show with talking vegetables and forget about this Salmon guy.

Adrien says he thinks he’s still around because he’s comfortable in front of the camera but doesn’t want to be out there like a “jackass.” (I think he was referring to Mike Salmon.) But Susie says she wants to see more of a jackass, which probably explains some of the really loud personalities on the Food Network (who will remain nameless).

Then the girls. Bob calls Amy rigid and predictable because of her organizational skills. Rory is nervous and gets teary eyed about being so close to being a star. Susie says she’s bubbly but superficial. Giada says they need to see the contestants undergo a soul-searching moment, which gets the waterworks going. Amy is crying and she says she’s found it really hard to understand the crossover between what’s private and public (reality show vs. her kitchen), and that it’s a lot to process. She concludes there isn’t a distinction between a public and private life, and that’s where all this becomes really. She breaks down, and then Michael Salmon cries (ugh, how disingenuous), and tries to get into the crying game and says he recognizes what they all need to do and that this is the most challenging of all the challenges.
The elimination. It’s obvious that Paul and JAG did really well, and the soldiers voted their meatloaf the most popular comfort food, so they are both safe and will continue on. Amy and Rory’s dish wasn’t popular but they gave a strong presentation, so they’re both saved. The four gets dismissed, leaving only Michael Salmon and Adrien.

Susie says they’re both extremely brave for coming out and putting things out for us, whatever that means. And she says that Adrien will stay, so Michael goes home. But of course, she messes the ending and says “you can both go” but says it in a way like, “I am so tired of both of you and I wish I could eliminate both of you. Just go already.” That’s not what she said, but that’s how it came off.

Next on TNFNS: Alton Brown guest stars and the contestants cook with their least favorite ingredients. Amy has a bleeding finger (or is that ketchup?) and they all do a demo by themselves and all I can say is Paul is flaming (and I don’t mean his cooking).

Tomorrow: See which comfort food dish I make for the men and women of our armed forces.

Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.


Susie said...

I don't know if you saw it but I think that JAG should have been sent home on this challenge for being disengenous. He breaks down crying about how tough the episode was for him because of the whole military connection but according to an expose in Military Times last week he made up half of his military background as well as part of his culinary training. He claimed he was deployed as a corporal in Afghanistan but according to military records he never was even deployed and was never a corporal. I wonder how the soldiers at Fort Dix who supported him now feel.

Chef Ben said...

Wow Susie, interesting back info. I wouldn't be at all surprised if all that reported by Military Times is true.

Rene said...

Like Susie, I've heard all the stuff about Jag's resume not being what he said. Interesting to see if they "have" to get rid of him because of it. Can't really see the NFNS being someone who would have lied about his background.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is the first I've heard of the JAG controversy. I think he's a great cook, but he seems to have too much of a temper. I wouldn't want to risk hiring him.

Chef Ben, I just found your blog and I'm LOVIN' it! Can't wait to read your thoughts on tonight's (7/1) show. Me? I'm really sick of the crying.