Monday, July 09, 2007

The Next Food Network Star: Episode 6

Previously on TNFNS: Alton Brown talks about having a relationship with a stack of glass (ouch!), JAG is lost in his world of restaurant chefs, Adrien thinks the food he’s cooking may or may not taste good and Amy wants to go home, but not really, because she’s a fighter, like Paula Abdul. So who doesn’t fight? Adrien, who’s food expertise is put into question. BUH-bye. And tonight, it’s a mini version of Iron Chef America (yay, my favorite food show) with special sous chefs (they dredge in the rejects) and Amy’s overly confident, JAG smokes the kitchen, and Bobby Flay is upset someone’s not respecting the ingredients.

Flying stars and the sound of glass shattering makes way to new scenes of New York’s Washington Square, a yellow cab and Central Park joggers (yes, there really is no where else to jog). Then we get scenes of our final four contestants getting ready: Amy looks happy waking up from bed as opposed to crying Amy from last week; JAG folds some laundry; Rory is glamming up in front of the mirror; and Paul is doing some pushups with a ball (show off).

Amy has changed her tune and she’s saying a lot of people have given up a lot for her to be on the show so she better not embarrass them anymore and make their sacrifice all for naught. So she’s got the fire in her belly.

A flirty looking Rory walks into the breakfast table getting all cocky with “game on.” JAG is commenting in his taped interview that he knows he has to simplify his cooking style for the home cooks and that he plans to pull the rug over the judges, saying that once they see he’s changed his ways and is a less complicated man and they reward him with his own show, then he’s going to JAG up his dishes again. Oooh, sinister plan Mr. Lying on My Resume Re: The Military.

The final four gets into their maroon van and heads to the Institute of Culinary Education, and Paul gets all worried that the challenge would be to teach a class. Yeah right, that would just make for scintillating television. Instead, they walk in and see Iron Chefs Bobby Flay and Cat Cora (in their typical ice man-game on Iron Chef pose) and they all know what’s coming up in the next hour. Everyone’s a bit nervous about the idea of coming up with dishes based on a secret ingredient, except for one guy: JAG, the chef de cuisine at a restaurant. He’s all JAGged up (oh my, he’s got me doing it now) and he can’t keep his excitement contained in that little round body of his and he’s jumping up and down like a kid at Christmas morning.

Alton Brown (hey, we just saw him last week, he’s like on extra duty overtime express) welcomes the four in his Iron Chef voice that he does when he’s hosting that show. (BTW, I looove Iron Chef. I loved the original Japanese version with its silly English dubbing, and I love the American version, mostly to see the different chefs create unique dishes. I actually don’t pay much attention to the cooking portion but my favorite segment is when they present their dishes to the judges panel and I get to hear them describe their dishes and the ingredients. Aaaah, it’s better than sex.) Alton Brown explains that there will be two Iron Chef challenges with two contestants going head-to-head using a secret ingredient. They have to make three dishes in one hour (Iron Chefs typically make five). Paul’s all nervous that the secret ingredient will be something like sea urchin or calf’s brain. Paul, I don’t think they’re going to let you use expensive ingredients for this episode.

Iron Chef Cat Cora reminds for the non-Iron Chef America viewers that they’ll be judged, just like the actual show, on three categories: taste, presentation and originality. Bobby adds that unlike Iron Chef America where the top innovative chefs in the country create unusual dishes you rarely see on restaurant menus, he says the contestant must make dishes that reflect their culinary view and be accessible to the home cook. Ooops, going to be tough for JAG, the man of 27 ingredients.

Not only do they have to make three dishes, when it’s not their turn, they’ll be providing commentary to test their food knowledge. And to be sure they don’t write it off, Alton Brown lets them know the commentary portion will count for 50 percent of their score for this challenge. (Wow, this is the first challenge with sooo many rules.)

Before they enter into battle, they each will have a sous chef and in comes failed contestants Colombe, Michael Salmon (like the fish), Adrien and big boy Tommy. The final four loves it and they’re all cheering and screaming and even though there’s a counter between the two groups, you can sense that the final four (especially Rory and Amy) are so ready to jump the counter to start slobbering over the four rejects (oh, except for Colombe, the poor thing, nobody’s excited about her and she kind of looks like she doesn’t want to be there).

So each picks his or her sous chef. Paul goes first and not surprisingly he picks Michael Salmon, who is a whiz with the knife. Amy picks Tommy because she “loves his spirit in the kitchen.” Rory picks Adrien. And JAG gets left with Colombe.

First challenge is between Paul and Rory and they do those Iron Chef graphics that are pretty cool. I can really get into this episode tonight, there’s definitely a competitive air happening, at least from the editing. The two come through a curtain and give their attempt at looking like Iron Chefs (did Paul just give a weird smirk to Alton Brown?) and Alton Brown introduces the judges.

Now, if you watch the show regularly, you know there are three guest judges and Alton Brown sometimes gives them nicknames that play on their reputation. (Not always, but sometimes.) So he feels the need to do it this time for the four judges, who include: Bob “Ice Man” Tuschman (I agree, what a cold personality); Susie “Have a Hug” Fogelson (I don’t get that, does he mean she needs a hug, which I would agree with because she can be really cold, or that she always has a hug ready, which I doubt very much because I’ve never seen her hug anyone on the show); and the Iron Chefs Cat Cora and Bobby Flay (no nicknames for them; see what I mean about sometimes?).

The secret ingredient is revealed and Alton Brown goes into mach-4 Iron Chef mode with that scary voice and the karate-chop routine. The secret ingredient for this round is “striped sea bass.” Paul, apparently not a regular viewer of Iron Chef America, doesn’t get Alton Brown’s attempts to imitate the chairman during the secret ingredient unveiling and instead thinks Alton Brown is high on caffeine or something.

They’re off and running. Rory says she’s never worked with striped bass, but the recipes are flowing out of her mind (I hope she has a net to catch them). Alton Brown is already testing the commentators (JAG and Amy) by asking JAG whether it’s a wild striped bass or farm-raised striped bass. JAG says he’s not sure but he’s guessing wild. Wrong, as Alton Brown corrects him and says it’s farmed based on the distortion of the tail and fins. JAG comments that he’s so done with Alton Brown thinking he’s Mr. Professor of Food.

Amy starts commentating on Paul using panko today to bread his striped bass instead of regular bread crumbs. Alton Brown tries to stump her by asking her how they make the panko lighter. She doesn’t know, but instead of just saying that, she goes to the box and starts reading the ingredients. Alton asks again, and this time Amy ticks off the ingredients of wheat flour, yeast and glucose, so it’s actually more of a “bread product” than bread turned into crumbs, she says. The explanation impresses the judges, especially Bobby Flay.

Commercials. Another new Food Network show (again, so many many next Food Network stars I can’t believe the winner of this show will have much promotion money left to market his or her show) this one called “Glutton For Punishment.” Looks like some crazy guy, who’s charming at the same time, goes around the country doing stupid things to himself relating to food. It’s like “Jackass” meets “Ham On The Street.”

We come back from commercial and Amy reintroduces the show, Iron Chef America-style, and she’s really on top of her game this week. The intro is flawless and she even throws in at the end a martial arts pose and scary Iron Chef America voice for good measure.
Paul is making ceviche (hmmm, I probably would have done that too) and Rory is really focused on her cooking with Adrien. Oh, JAG is getting all JAGgy as he’s jumping up and down, again like a kid on Christmas morning (how tired are you getting of this metaphor?). Alton Brown asks him what’s up, does he have some great insight about kitchen stadium to share with the audience? And goofball JAG says he forgot what he was going to say. But at least he saves himself by noting that Rory is reducing some chicken broth and how you shouldn’t add salt in the chicken broth while reducing or else it’ll concentrate the salt flavor and you’ll end up with a salt lick. Or what I would imagine to be horse food.
Alton Brown comments that Rory’s station looks like a Texas tornado went through it. He counts down to the last 60 seconds. Paul is all excited about his ceviche, which he puts into a pineapple half (cute presentation) and he’s confident that he’s going to win this challenge over Rory. (Food Network editors loooove their obvious foreshadowing.)

Rory and Paul plate at the very last minute, and Alton Brown says time’s up. Applause, applause, everyone’s hugging each other, Paul does some weird dance, and then off to the judges’ table.

Rory presents first, starting with a pan-seared sea bass with sugar-grilled asparagus and fried leeks on top. The presentation is this oddly ugly yet beautiful dish. Ugly because the coloring is kind of all brown, but beautiful because it’s like a beautiful dirty lake. You know, it’s dirty inside but the tranquility of it all raises it to a new level of beauty. The judges are digging it. Bob can’t believe this beautiful dish came out of that messy kitchen.

Her second dish is striped bass wrapped in jalapeno and bacon and deep-fried in a beer batter. Again, the judges love it. Bob loves the beer batter idea and Cat Cora loves the flavoring. Rory comments on tape that Bobby loves her dishes too and she’s all excited.)
For her third and final dish, Rory made a striped bass Napolean with balsamic vinegar that she sliced thinly and then baked in an oven. Cat Cora says the baking probably was a bad idea for fish because it tasted tough. Bobby had high hopes for the dish, but he thinks Rory “over thought” the fish. But Rory is happy overall with her dishes.

Paul presents next and he’s talking about pool party food that’s cheap, to go with his show idea of “Party Planning On A Budget.” His first dish is the ceviche with pineapple and Bob says he thought of summer right away when he saw it. Susie is impressed by his explanation of his culinary view. But Bobby goes back to the food and says it needed more seasoning (salt I bet) and fellow Iron Chef Cora agrees.

For the second dish, he baked striped bass with blackberries and chives. Again, flavor is an issue. Bob says other than the blackberries, he didn’t taste anything. Susie says nothing except “just OK.” (Ah, we see why you’re a judge, Susie, for your insightful observations.) Bobby says “if you come to cook in my kitchen, the first thing I would do is send you home with a spice rack.” Yay, take-home door prizes at Bobby’s house!

For his third and final dish, Paul fried striped bass with panko with caramelized onions and balsamic vinegar. This dish has more flavor, but the burnt caramelized onions ruined it. Paul comments that he thinks he got a score of “85” (that’s a B for you, BTW, Paul) and he’s hoping the other people will get “84.” So he’s hoping for a close race. Yep, hope is so important for you now Paul. So important. (My attempt at foreshadowing.)

Commercials. People are using their Visa to pay for a cup of coffee or a doughnut. Are we getting so lazy that we can’t carry cash anymore, or is a cup of coffee getting so expensive that you need to charge it? Discuss.

Now it’s Amy and JAG’s turn. Amy’s all nervous that she’s going up against the guy who loves Iron Chef and is the fastest cook she’s seen. Don’t get all insecure on us again, Amy. Alton Brown lets the two know that their secret ingredient is chicken. (Oh, Iron Chef did this challenge before.) You can tell JAG’s all disappointed that he didn’t get sea urchin or calf’s brain. He’s all like, “I can do a hell of a lot of things with chicken, but chicken? It’s simple and they don’t go good together.” Don't go good together with what? Vegetables? Spices? Barbeque sauce? How do you cook regularly with chicken, JAG? I guess we’re about to find out.

They grab their chicken and get to their counter. JAG, who’s the fastest cook ever, doesn’t seem to be cooking so fast. He’s basically writing out his menu with Colombe looking on just waiting to do something. Amy’s running back and forth with chicken and gets Tommy carving out the thighs and legs.

JAG gives Colombe potato duty. Both regular and sweet. He figures that’ll keep her busy for awhile and out of his way.

Rory commentates on JAG’s planned menu. Paul is checking out Amy’s plans as well, but he’s already nervous about commentating for Alton Brown who’s about to call him out on Paul’s food expertise. He tells Alton that Amy’s making a Moroccan stew, and Alton asks what’s Moroccan about it. Paul just repeats that Amy’s cooking the stew with fennel and some spices that he didn’t get. The judges are not impressed, and neither are the people of Morocco.

Alton Brown then picks on Rory by asking her whether JAG (who’s sprinkling some flakes on his chicken) is using red chili flakes or pepper. (It’s obvious that it’s red chili flakes because of the color and size and that he didn’t have to grind them.) Rory tries to show that she’s smart by saying chili and pepper come from the same pepper family. Wrong, corrects Professor Brown. Rory then tells us that her strategy for commentating is that if she doesn’t know the answer, she’s going to be sarcastic and quick-witted and hope she can joke her way out of it. So this is when she does her “kids stay in school” public service announcement and we find out that she dropped out at aged 16.

Amy’s dicing some onions and I can see on her fingers some dried blood. I can’t tell if she cut herself (which she’s done before) or if it’s chicken blood. Either way, it’s not very appetizing watching her with messy hands. Don’t these people know how to handle poultry?

Paul’s getting grilled by Alton Brown again, this time on a can of tomatoes that Tommy is opening up for Amy’s dish. This is how it goes:

Alton: “Paul, what’s in that can?”
Paul: “Tomatoes.”
Alton: “What kind of tomatoes?”
Paul: “Plum.”
Alton: “Where are they from?”
Paul: “Plummy.”

Ah yes, the country of Plummy, just south of Turkey and east of Chicken by The Sea.

After some help from Alton to read the label, Paul struggles to say that those tomatoes are San Marzano tomatoes from Italy. All the judges look mad at Paul.

JAG is grilling chicken and of course, all the chicken skin is burning. It’s causing a lot of smoke, but he assures everyone that the burnt skin will be coming off. (I don’t get it, if he’s going to take off the skin, how does the charring really affect the taste?) Alton Brown comments about how Iron Chef America always uses those fake smoke to enhance the lighting like some rock concert. But today the fake smoke comes courtesy of JAG’s burning chicken fat. All the judges look like they’re suffocating, and of course the smoke alarm goes off, which gets all the judges into a frenzy with three of them standing up clapping sarcastically and Iron Chef Cat Cora sitting down giving the two thumbs down. Bobby yells: “JAG, way to grill.” Bobby, you’re a riot.

Rory commentates that all the hullaboo over the smoke alarm is distracting JAG and he may fall behind in his cooking.

Commercials. The wig-wearing M&Ms are back and they’re still creepy.

Back to the kitchen, JAG removes the burning chicken from the grill. Speaking of crash and burn, Paul is trying to do the welcoming to recap what’s happening for the home viewer and it’s like watching a slow crash off the side of the road as he’s messing up his words and trying to do it again and again. He keeps trying to read his notebook with his script, but it’s just not helping. Oh Paul, let’s just move on already.

Rory, on the other hand, is giving Alton a recap of what dishes JAG is done cooking, and she misses an ingredient in one of the dishes which Professor Brown has discovered by doing a surprise walk-over. “You didn’t tell me about the bacon,” he says to Rory as he walks off with disdain. Rory flips the cute girl switch on and says to him: “I didn’t have time (to tell you), you’re always talking all the time.” Oooh, this creates a buzz among the judges who are coming to Alton Brown’s defense by putting down Rory’s sad attempt to be flirtatious.

Alton Brown gives the 60-second warning. JAG’s busy chopping chives and red bell pepper. Amy’s tasting her stew and loving it.

Amy is up first at the judges’ panel. Her first dish is her Casbah Lollipop, which is a chicken wingette made to look like a drumstick by pushing up the meat to the end of the bone. She spiced it with some cinnamon and smoked paprika. It actually is a very elegant presentation. Cat Cora loves the cinnamon, reminding her of her mother’s cooking, but both she and Bobby Flay agree it needed just a tad bit more flavoring.

Her second dish is Family-Style Stuffed Chicken with Mushrooms and Goat Cheese served with fingerling potatoes that’s been cut thin and sauteed in butter to become crispy. She says she used crimini mushrooms to make the dish with ingredients you can find at the store. Bob thinks it’s like a Sunday Night Dinner, and Susie is loving it. Again, another very pretty dish presentation-wise.

Her final dish is the Moroccan Chicken Stew. Cat Cora thinks it’s a home run, and Bob feels like he’s gone to the Casbah. All the judges give her positive comments, and Amy now feels like she can win this thing.

JAG presents his food to the judges, and he tells the judges about his attempts to do his Latino Fusion style but make it simple for the home cook. His first dish is his grilled chicken and goat cheese won ton with bacon and shallots with balsamic vinegar. The vinegar overpowers the dish, so much so that even Susie Folgeson has a hard time talking. It sounds like her throat is all puckered.

JAG says in his taped interview that he’s not used to people “dogging” his food. JAG, you’re so street. Mean JAG is starting to come out.

For his second dish, he wanted to experiment with chicken soup the way his mom would do. So he said he made a Caribbean chicken soup with white bean and cilantro. Bobby wants to know what makes it Caribbean. He goes back and forth a bit with JAG trying to get the Caribbean elements, and in the end JAG admits it’s not really Caribbean but just chicken soup with white bean and cilantro. Susie notes that she got a big piece of charred chicken skin in her soup, and JAG apologizes. In his mind, he’s so ready to leave the studio and cry.

The last dish is a grilled chicken with saffron cream sauce. Bobby’s asking him about his approach to simplicity and JAG says he just doesn’t want to overwhelm the home cook. Cat Cora is not digging this dish, saying the saffron sauce is too overwhelming. Bobby says he thought for sure JAG would crush this competition. JAG says he held back for the home cook. Cat Cora says that even if he has just four ingredients to use, he has to make the most of them. JAG is about to burst into tears. He’s disappointed that two chefs he respects are dogging his food. He feels like he got the “I’m disappointed in you” speech from his dad. Gosh, I hope the Food Network psychologist is on hand to deal with JAG’s breakdown.

Back from commercials, JAG does break down and he’s in his top bunk crying about how he had to sit and hear the judges say his food stinks. Paul is there comforting him, trying to get him back in the game. JAG is crying that he should have been true to himself. Yes, that’s a lesson we all can learn from you, JAG. Be true to yourself.

The four go down to face the judges. Basically, everyone loved Rory’s flavorful food and her real food for real people. And Paul’s food was not as flavorful. Bob talks about their attempts at commentating, and they both got it wrong with no food information and too many silly jokes. Paul says he has a disadvantage because he didn’t go to culinary school. (You know, you don’t have to learn about ingredients at culinary school with all the food shows and food magazines around.) They both try to make excuses, but Bobby Flay reminds them that this is the Food Network and food’s the most important thing. (Hey, that’s like Simon Cowell saying American Idol is all about the singing talent.)

Between Amy and JAG, the judges give a “close to perfect” grade to Amy and they pile on the praise. JAG, not so much, and Susie can tell he’s down. She says it’s hard to watch him this way (maybe she’s afraid mean JAG will pop up again). Bobby Flay says again that they were all positive that JAG would have crushed the competition, but now wonders if he became overwhelmed. JAG apologizes again.

Amy is named the winner, both in the cooking competition and the commentating. Bob asks again if she still wants to leave like last week, and Amy says emphatically this time that the answer is no, she wants to stay. Bob says he’s glad she stuck around.

They send Amy off as the winner of this challenge. Soon after, Rory joins her, leaving Paul and JAG to face more questions. The judges can’t decide who should go so they each give them a few seconds to state why they should stay.

After the commercials, Paul goes up first saying he demonstrated that he’s an entertainer and that he’s smart, can think on his feet, and has controlled his freakish side. JAG speaks from the heart and says all he can offer is what they see before him, all verite. But he says he loves food and that’s all what he’s about.

The judges send them away so they can discuss, ala Top Chef. They go up and tell the two girls that no decision has been made and they had to plead for their lives. The girls are shocked, prompting Amy, in typical mom fashion, to say, “Holy Macaroni.”

In the judges room, they say JAG is the most passionate about food. Bobby says he’s either really passionate or will win an Academy Award.

They bring the two back in and Bob says that this is officially the hardest decision they have to make, compared to every week in the past when he’s said that this was the hardest decision they faced. Whatever Bob. Susie delivers the news that the next person moving on to the next round is JAG, sending Paul back to West Hollywood.

Paul doesn’t seem surprised, and although he seems extremely disappointed, he tries to leave with some grace. It’s a sad goodbye and he hugs Amy, who’s crying her eyes out. JAG is saying he’s the closest friend he ever had. Paul says in his interview how JAG told him he loves him (I’m sure in a very bro-mance kind of way) and Paul says same here. Paul says he’s learned that it takes a lot of hard, long work to be a Food Network star.

Next week, Miss Rachel Ray finally makes her appearance. Well, more like the final three makes an appearance on her show and they all cook something. JAG is seeking redemption and he works the audience. And we’re all getting closer to the public voting for the Next Food Network Star. Are you ready?

Tomorrow: See what I would have done in the Iron Chef America’s striped sea bass challenge.

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

8 comments:

ArtfulSub said...

That was very long but I'm glad I read it all. Will check out what you would have done. I just re-lived a Top Chef challenge at my blog.

Not surprisingly, I think I'd have won!

as

Chef Ben said...

Yes, I think this recap was a bit longer than usual, mostly because of all the details into the Iron Chef challenges. There just seemed to be a lot more happening in this challenge than others. And check back tomorrow, because I had to do three dishes of my own just for this!

sabrinasmom said...

ben, i haven't scrolled down yet, but bless you if you have done updates on all of the episodes of the next food network star. i have been in the philippines for the last six weeks. i missed top chef too, but i now they always have marathons!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't believe that of all the ingredients for the Iron Chef challenge they chose chicken...boring! -- David

Chef Ben said...

Sabrina's mom, this is your lucky day (or month since I've been recapping this show for awhile). Just click on the "Food TV Recaps" labels on the right of my blog to get all the recaps of the show from the first episode.

David, I agree chicken is boring to watch. But it actually can be very challenging to give a simple, everyday ingredient and see how the chefs can make it amazingly interesting. Like I said in my recap, this same chicken challenge was done by the real Iron Chefs and I remember they came up with some really creative dishes. I personally eat chicken a lot so getting more ideas for this ingredient is helpful. But yeah, the bass was more fun to be creative, which is why I chose that as my challenge for the "What I Would Have Done" part of my blog.

Anonymous said...

Nice recap!

Mrs. L said...

There are many blogs that do recaps, but yours are far and above the best. I honestly haven't watched a single show, but I know everything that is going on which is cool (and I agree with you about those freakish M&M's!)

terila said...

I love long recaps and yours are very informative and entertaining. I enjoy that sometimes you catch things that I missed ... and your humor. :)

I'm rooting for Rory!!