Monday, July 16, 2007

The Next Food Network Star: Episode 7

Previously on TNFNS: It was an Iron Chef challenge and Paul’s intimidated by Alton Brown, so much so that he states that plum tomatoes are from the country of “Plummy.” (Not his most shining moment, but a clip that will air again and again and again. Paul’s just lucky that the season ends next week.) JAG gets a flashback of the “you disappoint me” speech from his father, and apologizes. [[spoiler]] This is probably his easiest apology to date. [[end spoiler]] It’s goodbye to party boy Paul. Tonight: It’s media day with the final three appearing with Miss Rachel Ray. And before we head into tonight’s episode, we get the ominous music and a tease that there will be a new competitor (cut to shot of the closed swinging doors). Now that’s the way to do a preview, Food Network editors! I’m left at the edge of my seat! What’s happening? Are they bringing back Paul? Let’s watch and find out, shall we?

We get the parade of Food Network stars asking “Who will be the next Food Network star?” and then the flying glass stars making way to an opening scene of dusk in Manhattan. Gosh, I’m going to miss the sound of broken glass when this show ends.

Rory wakes up and she comments in her taped interview that she wants to win so badly, as opposed to Amy who just wants a few more minutes of sleep. Funny thing: They’re the last two women in the carriage house, so why do they still have to sleep on the top of the bunk beds? What, couldn’t they move into more adult beds? You know if I were a contestant, I would be rearranging the rooms after each elimination, giving more space to moi.

Amy says she came in thinking her selling point was the fact that she lived in Paris and knows French culinary techniques, but now she’s learned that her biggest selling point is that she’s a mom and “an extremely normal person.” Hmm, I didn’t think you were all that “un-normal” Amy. I have lots of friends who are moms who love Paris. (Just like my friend who contributes to this blog called “chez” Stella. Of course Chez Stella has been too busy being a mom to blog any recent posts since the beginning of this year! ;-)

JAG says he’s come a long way from a boy growing up getting beaten up on his way home to see what his mom was cooking. I don’t know what to say about that. How can you comment on a poor kid who gets beaten up just because he wants to eat his mom’s cooking? And why am I not surprised that JAG got into fights when he was a kid? He’s so scrappy.

The final three linger in the kitchen when up the stairs come Bobby Flay. We’ve seen Bobby so often that he might as well have been the head judge like Tom Colicchio of Top Chef . He’s followed by two young women dressed typically of working professional women in Manhattan: clean lines, solid colors from Banana, framed glasses to give you that smart but sexy look. (They’re Lisa Del Colte and Carrie Welch from the Food Network’s Public Relations Department, but really, they contribute so little to this episode you really don’t need to memorize their names.) Bobby says whoever wins this competition will have his or her own show, and will be under the wings of Lisa and Carrie, the spin doctors. Carrie tells them that the first thing is to always be positive. She’s saying this at the same time while having the most serious face I’ve ever seen. (It’s clear that she’s a graduate of the Susie Fogelson School of Marketing.)
The two take the contestants to the offices of XM Satellite Radio and tell them that they’ll be interviewed on the “Ron and Fez” Show. OK, so I don’t have satellite radio and I rarely listen to radio since I don’t commute in a car. So I don’t know Ron or Fez. I’m just hoping Fez is some cute fuzzy Muppet.

Amy is up first and turns out Ron and Fez are just two typical talk show DJs. No Muppet in sight. They challenge Amy to make something out of their tray of food, and I think they’re pretty generous to call what’s on the table food. It’s really junk food, mostly doughnuts and breakfast things, and a few apples and oranges. Amy grabs a bagel and some luncheon meat and cheese and puts it in the microwave. Ron and Fez are not impressed, but Amy throws in a plug for the show saying she will be doing more “fancy-shmancy” cooking on the show instead of what just came out of the microwave. I give Amy’s radio interview a B+. (We also learn during the interview that her husband is French, which explains the living in Paris and constant talk about French cooking.)

JAG is up next and for his challenge he slices up an apple with what looks like a pocket knife and cuts a doughnut in half. Then he drizzles orange juice over the whole thing. (Whoever came up with this radio challenge should be shot. It is so boring. What kind of food did they think people could create?) Let’s just cut to the drama. Ron and non-Muppet Fez ask what kind of show JAG wants, and he talks about his Latino-Caribbean cuisine and how that’s not represented on TV. He just opened the door wide open for the line of questioning focused on why Latin cuisine is not represented on Food TV. Fez goes in for the kill and asks if JAG thinks Latin cuisine is “misrepresented on the Food Network.” (I think he meant to say “not represented.”) JAG does a nice save and says it’s not represented as much as it could be, so that’s why he’s here. I give his interview a B-.

They end with Rory and she gets the question of whom she thinks she matches up better with for the final two. Rory says it’ll be easier to beat Amy, so she would rather be matched up with her than with JAG who may get the “cultural” vote. I think that’s a broad generalization on Rory’s part that JAG will corner the Latino vote just because of his ethnicity. Anyway, her interview borders on the potentially sensitive racial vote discussion, as well as the smackdown on Amy the Pushover. For her challenge, Rory does a weird fortune cookie, honey, apple mush that she calls Asian nachos. Ha! Courting the Asian vote, Rory? She gets a D (which I bet is not her first).

The three head back to the Food Network studios where they meet Matt Coppa, the entertainment director of Star Magazine. Isn’t Star like the Enquirer? WTF? They couldn’t get any food writer from the New York Times or even bring back the Gourmet editors like they keep bringing back the same guest judges? Anywho, there’s also a photographer who’s going to do a photo shoot of the three.

Coppa interviews JAG first and asks him what he thinks about the two other remaining contestants. JAG catches on that this may be a trick question and doesn’t want to mess up like he just did on the radio show, so he diplomatically says that they’re all winners. Throughout the interview, JAG has this weird persona where he looks uncomfortable sitting there for an interview, like he’s at the principal’s office. He’s also very reticent to talk about his past, trying to steer away from too many personal questions and just focusing on the food. He’s off to the photo shoot and of course you know he hams it up for the camera and says he loves the taste of stardom.

Rory’s turn to interview and you can tell Coppa has a crush on Rory, leading off with the question that she’s an attractive woman and whether she thinks she’ll be taken seriously as a chef despite her good looks. I initially thought this was a slightly offensive question from Coppa (and as a former journalist, I consider it a stupid question), but now I think maybe he’s playing stupid and trying to throw Rory off with a sexist question. Rory gives the typical answer that looks shouldn’t make a difference in cooking, and then she goes off and does the sexy model poses with her “rack” of meat. This segment is wrong on so many levels.

Finally, extremely normal Amy talks about missing her family and finds inspiration from her working mom. BTW, Amy totally got a terrible stylist for the shoot because she has some weird hairdo that almost looks like her curls are shaped into horns. She doesn’t look normal at all.

Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelson and Bobby Flay meet with the PR spin duo and Matt Coppa of Star Magazine for a debrief. The PR duo gives Amy high marks on the radio show, JAG was too laid back, and they say Rory screwed up in the interview, falling for all the traps like dishing on her fellow competitors. The judges ask Matt for his thoughts, and he loves Rory, of course, who he says has a lot of life. JAG sidestepped questions and Amy is the most poised and genuine. Basically, this first 15 minutes of the episode are so boring that I apologize for even recapping it with such detail.

Commercials. Snapple Earl Grey tea. You know what? I brew my own iced tea every week and sometimes use Earl Grey with Lavender. So why do I need this?
The three finalists meet Bobby who tells them they will be demonstrating their signature dish on a live taping of Rachel Ray’s talk show. And you can tell Bobby is pumping up Miss Rachel Ray, who is treated as the queen of the Food Network (with probably Emeril as the king). Bobby says “there’s no one bigger than Rachel” and calls her “the fabulous Rachel Ray.” Yawn.

They all go to the green room and Amy interviews that “we just get settled in and then you hear that voice.” Of course, she’s referring to Rachel Ray who comes in to meet the three. (I know what Amy’s talking about when she says “that voice.” On the weekends I set my television to automatically turn on to the Food Network because Rachel Ray’s 30-minute show is on in the early hours and that voice motivates me to get up out of bed just to change the channel. Awww, come on, tell me you don’t agree. Hey, who threw that bottle of EVOO at me! ;-)

Miss Ray tells the three that she’s not going to give too much advice, but then goes into telling them about talking about their culinary point of view and to be sure to tell stories because anyone can cook—pointing dramatically to herself. (I have to admit, her self-deprecating manner is appealing.)

Rachel Ray opens her show, which I’ve never watched. Backstage, the production manager Veeda is taking Amy to her mark. And I have to say, this Veeda person is great at pumping up the guests before they go on stage. She’s playing with Amy and encouraging her. I want my own Veeda with me every time I’m about to speak in front of an audience, which is basically never. So no Veeda in my pocket for me, I guess.

Amy is up first and she’s making an egg dish baked in ramekins. She loses me because first, she says the words “fancy-shmancy” twice and she already said it once earlier in this episode and that’s already her limit. Then she says something that sounds like “ca-ca” and I ask myself, did she just talk about poop? But she’s referring to some fancy-shmancy French term for the technique of baking eggs in ramekins. Anywho, she throws in butter, cream and parmesan cheese with the eggs in the ramekins. Oooh, that is sooo French and will kill you if you eat this every day. She makes some prosciutto and says another term that I don’t know as well. Sounded like “pepperon,” and something about the Basque region of France, which is close to Spain. Oh hell, it basically looks like a hash and she throws it on the side of her ramekins with the eggs and it looks like she doesn’t know how to plate her dish because half the pepperon or whatever is in the ramekin and eggs and the other half is falling all over the side. I don’t know. I didn’t really like this demonstration from Amy. I thought she seemed relax but I just got lost with the food information. She should have stuck with making a good French omelet.

Later backstage, Amy is all emotional that she was able to complete all the challenges on this show and that she’s gotten this far. Wow, she sounds like she’s already done and ready to leave now that she’s completed her goal of finishing all the challenges. What, you don’t want your own show Amy?

In the teaser right before the commercials, the Food Network editors give us more about the ending, offering up a clip of Bob Tuschman talking to someone about “rumors.” Ooooh, can it be something related to JAG and all the talk about his military background? You know, I only heard about it through the person who commented on one of my earlier posts and I never really looked into it that much myself. But I bet that’s it.

Back from commercials, Rory is up next with Miss Ray. She starts talking about “blue-collar cooking” and about her cowboy boyfriend. She’s talking a lot and you know what? She’s hardly talking to Miss Ray, who is just standing on the side like some assistant. Miss Ray has to force herself into the presentation by asking Rory questions about the steak that she’s making. Anywho, she’s grilling steak and making what she calls “chuckwagon potatoes” that are for the cowboys in her life. It’s filled with potatoes, bacon and butter and it looks like a potato salad but she’s just mixing them up and placing them on a tray and roasting everything in the oven. My arteries are hardening just watching all the red meat and butter used in this episode. Rory makes her typical sugar-grilled asparagus and she finishes off her dish with smoked cheese on top of her potatoes that gets Miss Ray all hot and bothered. Oh boy , Rory just added more butter on top of her meat. She then high-fives Miss Ray and feels like a winner.

Break for commercials and the ominous voice says “the competition takes an unexpected turn.” During the commercials, the Food Network does this weird promo where they just show the words of a quote with Paul’s voice over saying “I’m going to win. I’m going to win.” What does this mean? Why Paul? We know he’s gone so he’s not going to win. Am I right, and is he coming back? Or are the Food Network just rubbing salt in Paul’s wounds? Now that’s just mean.

Finally JAG is up with Miss Ray and he’s all scary-nervous back stage. But once he’s in front of the camera, he’s a total ham and he’s busting out his “EVOO Red,” which he says is olive oil with some kind of seed. I don’t know what it is but he says it’s the poor man’s saffron. He cooks some Spanish onions and then adds lobster. He’s basically doing a stir-fry. Right now he’s waving something called “culantro” that looks like big-leaf cilantro. Miss Ray asks where she can get it because she’s never seen it at her market, and JAG doesn’t really answer her. Eventually he says that you can just replace it with a bit of cilantro. Now he’s adding broccolini. His demo is going so fast and as usual, he’s using all sorts of ingredients, ooops, more butter from him. He adds some pasta to everything and tosses it, and he really cuts it to the very last seconds of his five minutes to finish and plate his dish. The last-minute rush drives the audience wild.

Rachel Ray does a debriefing for the judges, but she basically says that she loves them all and it’s going to be a hard decision for the judges. Susie is beaming like a proud mom saying she’s happy they all did so well.

Off to commercials and the ominous voice says there’s “a revelation that changes everything.” Forget about the commercials, let’s get back to the show.

So it’s the evaluation and elimination round. This is the final one and the last person will be eliminated before the remaining two go up to the public vote.

The critique goes something like this: Rory didn’t do well on the radio show because she dissed her competitors, but she was very down-to-earth on Rachel Ray even though she ignored Miss Rachel. Still, the judges are worried about her inconsistency in cooking. For Amy, they thought she did well on the radio interview but was back to her old French snobbery on Rachel Ray with her demo filled with too many fancy-shmancy terms. Amy tells the judges that she really is the Gourmet Next Door and not “snooty French girl.” And finally, JAG. He’s the best cook of the three, but the most raw when it comes to his TV skills. Bobby calls him “unpredictable,” but says that JAG captivated the audience on the Rachel Ray show, and Susie says she wants to “flipping” learn more about JAG. And this is where the foreshadowing goes into full gear as JAG says it’s difficult to talk about his past and how he just wants to focus on the future.

What? Commercials again? The ominous voice in the teaser says this time: “If you think you know what’s going to happen next, think again.” Damn you ominous voice, stop being a tease! And stop with the commercials. Just get on with it.

Susie does this weird speech about how she’s all choked up over how brave the three finalists are. Whatever, just tell us who’s going home.

Bobby tells Rory she’s the first to be named a finalist, which is a surprise that it’s now between Amy and JAG because I really thought Amy was the front-runner. Bob Tuschman names the second finalist as ... Oh. My. GAWD, it’s JAG and Amy’s gone. What? JAG, the Jekyll and Hyde of TNFNS? Amy’s all teary-eyed but glad that she’s gotten this far.

Wait, there’s some big block lettering on my television. Hold on while I go read it. It looks important. “Several months ago,” blah blah blah “Food Network learned” blah blah “misrepresented facts” what da? “JAG.” The block letterings go on to say that JAG had said he served in Afghanistan and graduated from culinary school when in fact neither is true. These were the rumors that have been posted for the last few weeks on the discussion boards and apparently have now risen to the level of the Food Network and its crack background checking team.
So apparently the media has been asking JAG about these discrepancies in his background since the show started airing, but JAG hasn’t been very upfront so the Food Network flew him out to New York to get to the bottom of everything.

Cut to JAG in a plain, light blue shirt coming out of the elevators and into the Food Network hallways. He’s voicing over about how it’s awesome being in the final two but it comes with a higher-level of scrutiny. There’s press and people going into his personal life, he says. JAG enters a room and Bob and Susie are sitting there waiting for him.

Bob talks about the rumors circulating and says they’re giving JAG the chance to clear the air. JAG says it’s very hard to talk about because this is something he’s dreamed about all his life. But basically he fesses up that he never graduated from culinary school and he never went to Afghanistan. Bob looks very sympathetic but Susie looks like she’s not buying any of this contrite demeanor from JAG. In the end, JAG says he’s withdrawing from the competition. He says he can’t continue because he may not be mature enough to meet the requirements to be the next Food Network star. And ironically, that may be the most mature thing he’s done all season.

Susie says some weird thing about how unfortunately they will be happy to accept his resignation—like it was all up to him. Bob says that JAG will have many more doors open up to him. Hugs are exchanged and JAG does his “what if?” interview. And then he walks away wearing sunglasses and a cap like he’s going to try and avert the damn paparazzi outside, who’s dogging him like Lindsey Lohan coming out of rehab.
Cut to Rory, who says she got a phone call saying she needed to fly to New York. There she meets Bob and Susie waiting for her in the studio kitchen and she’s told JAG has withdrawn from the competition, and her mouth totally drops and you see even more of her teeth, if that can be any more possible. “I don’t even know what to say,” is all she can say. Bob says she’s got a new competitor and Rory turns around and in walks ... AMY! Yay, our snooty French girl is back! Rory’s all “hi honey” and they exchange big hugs, right before they realize that they’re now going to have to duke it out to win the viewers’ votes. Bob says Amy was an awesome competitor and glad she’s back. (I really felt they made a mistake and it really should have been between these two in the first place. I think the Food Network producers were taking the easy route in trying to do a boy-girl finale.)

Next week, it’s the season finale. What? We only have two days to vote? Guys, go online and go and vote now. (And don’t let me influence you, but I already voted for Amy.) In the final episode, all the contestants are back and we get behind-the-scenes footage and I’m sure it’ll all be very boring as we just wait to see the crowning of Amy’s “Gourmet Next Door.”

What I Would Have Done: My Signature Dish
If I were on the Rachel Ray show, I’d probably make as my signature dish my favorite Korean-style Ma-Po Tofu. I listed this as one of my three signature dishes in my TNFNS application (the other dishes were my sticky chicken and Asian-style steamed fish recipes). I consider this ma-po tofu dish my signature dish because it’s simple and easy to make, which is what I would have emphasized on my show, Cooking With The Single Guy—simple but interesting recipes for the single person looking for something quick to make after coming home from work. But it’s also my signature dish because I took a traditional Chinese recipe and added a twist to it with the kim chi. So I’m all about combining ingredients that people wouldn’t think about if it weren’t for me. ;-)

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

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

JAG is an idiot. And Amy should have told the producers to stick it, thereby immediately ending the show. I wouldn't hire any of the final three to work in my kitchen, let alone host a food TV show.

Alison said...

Hey Ben,

As always your re-cap has me laughing. I was already anticipating your blog the second JAG's jig was up. BTW, Amy's 'fancy-schmancy' signature dish is Eggs en Cocotte. "En cocotte" just means "cooked in a casserole," but, like most things, sounds a lot more impressive in French. The topping is piperade, a Basque dish (and the name of Gerald Hirigoyen's fabulous Basque restaurant in San Francisco: www.piperade.com If you haven't been, I highly recommend it.).

Until the season finale!
-Alison

Jaime said...

I agree with you, the final two should have been Amy and Rory in the first place but I still can't see any of the finalists having a cooking show. They are all pretty bland.

Mrs. L said...

I would go insane if I had to listen to "that voice" wake me up every morning....argh!
I too, anticipated your post when I heard about Jag leaving. I'd vote for Amy, though I'm not really fond of any of them.

Anonymous said...

Of all the recap blogs I read (and I read them all), yours is by far the funniest! Great job!

JAG is a liar, even though I found him more fun to watch, so I'm glad he's gone. He dishonors all of our fighting men and women.

I voted for Amy.

Anonymous said...

Loved your recap! I was totally shocked as well when Amy got the boot. As the show concluded, I then began to wonder if the Food Network purposefully picked JAG as one of the finalists in an effort to capitalize on the controversy and create a little additional buzz. Just seems odd that it took up until the second to the last episode for the FN to hear and act up on the rumblings re: JAG's background.

Anonymous said...

Sofrito!

Chef Ben said...

Alison, thanks for the French culinary lessons! Makes so much more sense now (although I still think Cocotte sounded like ca-ca).

Mrs. L., don't worry, I only use Rachel Ray's voice to wake me up on the weekends, not every day. I would go crazy.

Anonymous, I've also read several "conspiracy" theories saying the Food Network wanted to capitalize on the controversy and that's why they kept JAG till the end. But in actuality, the show is filmed in late January (I know, because those were the dates the application form said you needed to be available for filmming) so it's a possibility that they didn't hear the buzz about JAG until they started promoting the show. But I'm sure the controversy didn't hurt!

Thanks everyone for reading my recaps. It takes a bit more work because I have to watch the show more carefully. So it's nice to know someone's reading them. It helps me keep on going as we get to the home stretch! :)

Tracey said...

I got the impression throughout the season that the producers were setting JAG up to win. Every week, no matter how bad that kid mucked things up, he got to stay.

I think Paul should have been in the final two, he was my favorite.

Seth said...

My little back woods mom and pop cable doesn't carry the Food Network !!! But I loved the Korean Ma Po Tofu. I've been throwing pickled turnips and stuff into stir fry but always thought it was weird. I guess I'm not the only one. Reading this made me go snack on my new tub of kim chee.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone have a hard time voting?, It only allowed me to vote once over the 3 days.
I just think The end seemed to scripted, as if they sent Amy home and had JAG go through all that Just for a ratings ploy. Why would they Keep Rory? We are missing something! Some where between filming and editing they are not showing us all the Facts, they must seen something great in Rory to have brought her along this far and they must have sent Amy home fo some reason as well, we just are not getting a chance to see it. and the JAG thing Wow they really made him look bad. Don't they do background checks for these shows? could the whole thing have been staged by Food Network? It just seems weird that they would bring Amy back after she has asked to go home. If I was in Rory's shoes I would be pissed, she has stayed out of all the drama, from what we have seen yet is being drug into a bunch more between a liar and a women who has asked to go home and cries about her family all the time

Anonymous said...

I've just discovered your site and your analysis of each episode is an amazing labor of love. I look forward to reading your conclusions on the final yesterday (22 July) evening.