Monday, July 14, 2008

The Next Food Network Star: Season 4, Episode 7

What Happens in Vegas Gets on the Air

Previously: Aaron gets friendly with the kids, Adam has Rachael Ray touch his food, Lisa’s disengaged and Shane is stressed out. So that means he’s the one to go home. Tonight: They’re in Vegas, baby, and there’s a throwdown. Bobby Flay wonders about using an ingredient someone doesn’t know and Paula Deen doesn’t like something.

Opening scenes of the Carriage House. Are they still in Manhattan? Why aren’t they in Vegas already? It’s the final four, and they’re all waking up and packing up for their trip. Lisa the Dallas Diva looks awful in the morning with her baggy eyes. Cheerleader Kelsey talks about becoming an expert. I hope it happens soon.

They arrive at the Southwest counter at the airport, all gathered around the ticket counter like a bunch of frat kids going like, um, you paying? No, you paying. Who’s paying? This is how you act when you travel on someone else’s dime. Then we cut to a limo and the final four are in Vegas, which is like Disney World but a whole city and not just several acres in Orlando.

The contestants are greeted by Caesar from Caesar’s Palace, and they move into their suite that really looks like some hip lounge. I could never sleep there because I’d always be looking for the DJ and my dirty martinis. Anywho, Adam is already in his bathrobe when Lisa finds a card from Bobby Flay asking the four to meet him at his restaurant, Mesa Grill.

When they go downstairs, they’re all worried that they have to do some kind of challenge at Bobby’s restaurant, but turns out all Bobby wants to do is have lunch and chat. Joining them is Paula Deen, who’s such a big star on the Food Network that they always bring her in to meet the final few contestants and never early on. I guess she doesn’t like big groups. And BTW, I notice Giada De Laurentiis has had a minor role this season after appearing on the first episode. Last season she was all over the place critiquing everyone. Ooops, Lisa just called Paula Deen her grandma. She probably is a grandma, but I don’t think she likes to be reminded.

So for lunch they’re actually having a nice, serious conversation. No crazy jokes from Adam. No pulled-from-his-sleeves challenges from Bobby. It’s a real heart-to-heart about how to survive this food business. Paula Deen tells them the story about how she was 42 years old and started her own lunch business known as “the bag lady,” and how she was committed to doing everything she could to make it successful. I never heard this story because I skipped the Chefography feature on Deen. Now I think I should have watched it because she probably did have a very inspirational life. I like these late-in-life success stories because it means there’s hope for me yet! Ha!

During their talk Dallas Diva is really quiet, and Bobby asks her why. She says she just can’t talk because she’s overwhelmed by the experience. You know, Lisa’s too emotional for TV. She gets overwhelmed easily and that just freezes her. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that she’s emotional and has feelings, but she needs to control them more. I don’t want to watch a show with someone who’s constantly crying. Or maybe that would be good TV?

It’s the next day and Bobby greets the final four outside Caesar’s Palace. He announces that there’s going to be a Throwdown (just like his show) but without Bobby surprising anyone, no helpers, and no days to plan or experiment in the Food Network test kitchen. They have to cook their signature dish and do their own spin on their partner’s signature dish all in 75 minutes. I think that’s crazy, but I think all the challenges have been crazy so far this season.

Since they’re in Vegas, Bobby says they have to also do interviews while they’re cooking with Extra host Dayna Devon. Watching them are the panel of judges, Bob Tuschman, Susie Folgelson and Paula Deen.

The first throwdown challenge is between the Dallas Diva and Adam Take Me Serious Gertler. Lisa’s signature dish is a cassoulet (a slow-cooked dish with white beans) and Adam’s is Mac n’ Cheese. (Remember, they both have to make their own version of the other person’s dish, so that means Adam has to make a cassoulet.)

They start cooking and Lisa says Adam is like chaos in the kitchen. But she’s like a food processor on high the way she cuts and dices like a fast-moving robot. The judges are asking them questions at the same time to throw them off. Paula calls Lisa “intense” but Lisa says she can warm up when she actually has her own show and doesn’t have to worry about doing stupid, jacked-up challenges.

The contestants also have to make their signature dishes fancier since they’re in Vegas, so Adam says he’s going to add lobster to his Mac n’ Cheese, which I’ve never heard of but am so tempted to try right now.

Commercials. That Kenmore Elite refrigerator is as big as my bathroom. Me sad.

I just saw Adam squirt Siracha hot sauce into his Mac n’ Cheese. Now that Extra blond woman comes over to interview Adam. He goes back and forth doing things and isn’t really looking at Dayna, which Judge Bob notices. When Dayna interviews Lisa, she’s really hyper and keeps talking and talking. Hey, I didn’t know Lisa had her own apron line?

Time’s up and Lisa does a dance. This is the first time I’ve seen her so happy after a challenge. Maybe she’s dancing because she didn’t slip and drenched her expensive blouse or no one cracked a bottle of sauce over her stove top?

The judges taste the food and they like Adam’s Mac n’ Cheese with lobster. Even Paula Deen says she usually hates lobster Mac n’ Cheese at restaurants but she really liked Adam’s. Susie says he rocked it, and Adam’s feeling pretty confident. And he’s really smiling a lot which I haven’t seen him do the last few episodes.

They try Lisa’s Mac n’ Cheese, which she spiced up with a poblano chile. Bobby Flay says it’s not a traditional Mac n’ Cheese and the cheese flavoring tastes muddy (because she added goat cheese). Paula Deen was brutally honest and she says she didn’t like it at all. In fact, she says she hated it. Ouch. Honesty can cut like a knife.

Now the cassoulet. Lisa added duck confit for more flavor to her recipe since they’re in Vegas. Adam says it was his first time making it and he just threw in a bunch of different kinds of sausages for flavor.

Paula, probably feeling a bit guilty about hating Lisa’s Mac n’ Cheese, says the flavors are wonderful in her cassoulet. And yep, Lisa is near tears. Tuschman says it’s a masterful dish, and Bobby Flay says it’s the best cassoulet he’s ever eaten. Ever. That means everywhere in Spain. Everywhere in France. At every Michelin starred restaurant. Those must be some tasty beans.

For Adam, they all agree it tasted like bean porridge and Susie says it’s obvious a beginner made it. Double ouch.

Commercials. I hate shampoo that smells like you should eat it. So no thanks, Herbal Essences. Pack your fruity shampoo and go.

Next throwdown is Teddy Bear Aaron vs. Cheerleader Kelsey. Their signature dishes: Aaron’s stuffed pork loin and Kelsey’s chicken parmigiana.

Kelsey is taking the first few minutes thinking (and talking to herself) about how she’s going to Vegas-up her dish and Aaron’s pork loin. She decides to counter Aaron’s “Go Big” attitude and make petite, dainty food, like they serve at restaurants and charge you and arm and a leg for (that’s right Coi, you know I’m talking about you). Gosh, Kelsey sure looks small next to that pot of liquid.

Aaron isn’t really a multi-tasker. Whenever the judges ask him things, it seems to stump him or make him stop in his tracks to chat instead of cooking. Right now he’s making his pork dish and plans to make a whole bunch of sides. Um, Aaron, I would focus on finishing the two dishes before worrying about sides.

Bobby Flay asks Aaron what’s a chipotle, and I don’t really know how that came up and in who’s recipe that’s in. But I guess Aaron wanted to spice up the Vegas version of his pork dish by adding chipotle, but he doesn’t know what it is. Bobby throws the question out to the universe and of all people, Adam replies that it’s a smoked jalapeno. Who knew? Oh, I guess Adam did.

Adam and Lisa are more chatty as observers than when Kelsey and Aaron were in the peanut gallery. So Adam is interviewing that he thinks Kelsey is taking a big risk because she’s using pork tenderloin instead of regular pork loin in replicating Aaron’s dish. Lisa is yelling out time, almost like trying to make Aaron cook faster.

That Extra woman comes back and interviews the two. Aaron seems to tense up talking to the reporter, while Kelsey does the fatal mistake of talking about how she learned a technique IN CULINARY SCHOOL. Argh, they cut to a shot of a very unhappy Bob Tuschman, and Kelsey knew she slipped up and wishes she could go back in time. Bob probably wants to send her back to culinary school.

There’s 20 minutes left and Aaron hasn’t started his chicken parmigiana. And I don’t understand why Lisa is standing next to him and not saying anything but looking really stressed for him.

Aaron realizes that he paid so much attention to his signature dish that now he only has 18 minutes to make Kelsey’s dish. He starts pounding some chicken breasts and deep fries them. Just five minutes to go. Kelsey looks at her pork, and it’s overcooked. She doesn’t look happy. Paula thinks Kelsey nailed the interview with the Extra host, though. Just a minute to go and they’re all rushing, well mostly Kelsey.

For the tasting, Kelsey says she Vegas-ized her chicken dish by putting them on skewers. Huh? Really? Aaron made garlic cream sauce and spicy marinara to make the chicken parmigiana dish his own. Bobby liked Kelsey’s sauce, but he wanted the chicken to be part of the sauce. Bob agrees that the sauce was good, but wanted the chicken more moist. Paula thinks it would make a fabulous appetizer.

Bob really likes Aaron’s 20-minute chicken parmigiana, saying it was “soul satisfying.” Paula Deen says it was hearty, which means she’s glad she got a lot of it. (You can bet Paula Deen wouldn’t be happy with the serving sizes at Coi, either!)

Aaron’s pork loin is piled high with honey Dijon and a chipotle glaze. Kelsey described her pork as “fancy shmancy,” which I haven’t heard since, um, last season with Amy. Bobby Flay says Aaron’s dish is delicious while Kelsey’s dish looks like a restaurant plated dish, which normally would be good but goes against Kelsey’s everyday cook approach. Paula says she wanted more food from Kelsey.

Commercials. That Holiday Inn Express commercial about its new breakfast bar is pretty funny. Those guys are stupid funny. I actually would have sent bacon over to the girl because I think all girls like bacon, am I right ladies? I think the girl saying she likes yogurt is a lie.

Judgment time. The contestants never really got to gamble at the tables, huh? Well, they do a group hug but it’s mostly Aaron squeezing the hell out of all of them.

Bob Tuschman says Vegas is a hot spot for food and entertainment, but also a place for high stakes. Susie sure has a lot of hair today, and it looks a bit messy more so than normal.

Susie says she’s surprised Lisa focused on her cassoulet and didn’t worry about making a good Mac n’ Cheese. She says her intensity wasn’t very welcoming, and it might scare off viewers. I agree.

Bob says Adam didn’t seem gracious to the Extra lady, and that he needs to bring back some personality. I can see why the contestants are always confused. No funny Adam. Yes funny Adam. No funny Adam. Yes funny Adam. Make up your mind already, my poor man Adam is having bipolar issues because of it!

Susie says Kelsey compromised on her point of view by going the fancy shmancy route with the dishes she made. Everyone loved Aaron’s cooking, but Susie says he still looks like he’s struggling with the on-camera performance. Bobby says he shouldn’t use chipotle if he doesn’t know what it is. And of course Tuschman points out to Kelsey that he heard her reference to CULINARY SCHOOL.

Now they each have to evaluate themselves and this is what they had to say:

Lisa: I need to meld my professional side with how I cook for friends and family. And maybe I should change my hair?

Adam: I need to work on my organizational skills and bribe the producers to make Paula Deen one of the final judges because grandma loves me.

Kelsey: I have to stop over-thinking the way I cook and just cook like I did IN CULINARY SCHOOL.

Aaron: I’m a slow learning but eventually I will get an A. And if not, then I’m going to get my bad self into somebody’s chipotle-loving face.

Commercials. Those guys are crazy for hot pockets. Eating it every day sounds dangerous to me no matter how real it tries to make itself to be. Plus, I bet they burn the roofs of their mouths all the time.

The judges discuss each contestant one by one, going over the pros and cons. Susie says Lisa doesn’t act real and have no charm. Bob says Aaron has “mad talent” when cooking but is struggling on camera while Kelsey is inexperienced but very good in front of camera. Susie says Adam has a cute and strange likeability but she feels like Adam’s learning to cook “on our dime” (which really means the Food Network’s dime). Bob doesn’t trust his food passion.

They bring the four back in the room, and Aaron looks really mad. Susie names the first finalist to stay and it’s Aaron, who now looks like he’s going to cry, then smiles. He’s a mad mix of emotions today. Then Bobby says Dallas Diva is safe and she looks like she’s ready for a fight.

The two leave the room, which leaves Adam and Kelsey. I like them both and even Kelsey’s perkiness has grown on me. I like her more than Lisa, but I guess Lisa’s food probably tastes better although I can’t say that for sure. Bob Tuschman says pretty much the same thing, saying they’re both likeable personalities but Adam moves on, which means Kelsey can go back to CULINARY SCHOOL. (You saw that coming, eh?) Kelsey congratulates Adam and says he deserves to be there, which is very gracious of her.

As she hugs everyone goodbye, Kelsey says she’s glad she’s leaving with the image as a nice person for America, and Aaron says he could have told everyone that. Awww. They all really do like each other at this stage. Although I noticed Lisa wasn’t really in the mix. In fact, I think she’s eating candy, maybe chocolate. Adam is interviewing about how the elimination was like his fifth, or maybe seventh, wake up call. He looks like he’s been crying. Aaron is dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief. See, even big boys cry.

Next week: The rejects come back as sous chefs, Lisa’s rack of lamb totally gets burned, and there’s a weird show with Adam as the ring master. And Susie says something happened that’s a first in the history of “The Next Food Network Star.” Yeah, I believe that like how I believe that it’s “the most dramatic rose ceremony ever.”

See if you can get any hints in the video preview below:

The Next Food Network Star airs at 10 p.m. Sundays and repeats at 9 p.m. Thursdays. Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.


Anonymous said...

Loved the recap, Chef Ben! (I'm the annonymous spinster schoolteacher poster who still feels bad about that...)

Anyway, my thoughts:

- I thought Paula was RUDE. I would expect her to say WHY she didn't like Lisa's mac n' cheese, not just that she "hated" it. Giada surprised me last season with her meanness to the newbies. Now, Paula is doing the same thing. They were both awful when they started out -- you'd think they'd have some empathy.

- I was really surprised they let Kelsey go, since she's done so well in all the previous competitions, and won many of the mini-challenges. The cynical part of me thinks they were just looking for an excuse to let her go, since they've picked the winner already. I would have watched a "culinary graduate" show.

- I like Lisa; she's so weird but cool. I would definitely watch her show.

Rock on, baby.

Chef Ben said...

Don't worry about it, anony. I was especially careful this week. ;-)

I agree about Kelsey, she was starting to grow at me, and she always was good about explaining what she did.

Anonymous said...

You give the best recap!vq

Anonymous said...

The judges fixed the outcome of this show so that they could pick Aaron. Let’s be honest, he blew it in Vegas and in all fairness should have been eliminated that very show. However, the judges decided to do something that they never did before which was to keep all three contestants. This did this ultimately so that they could pick Aaron in the end. Instead of smelling the aroma of food, I smell foul play!