Monday, July 21, 2008

The Next Food Network Star: Season 4, Episode 8

Vegas Odds: 1,000-to-1 on Whether This Episode Makes You Care

Previously: The final three are in Vegas for a throwdown, Paula Deen calls Lisa intense, Susie is still struggling over Aaron, Adam isn’t funny, but it’s Kelsey who is out. (And she agreed with the judges panel.) Tonight: Guy Fieri puts on a monster buffet, Adam is going down smoking, Lisa sings, and I think I just saw Diana Ross. Adam says “what?”

Opening scenes of clouds moving really fast against a Vegas skyscraper, and Adam is in his hotel bathrobe trying to wake up like an old man. Lisa is also in her robe blow-drying her hair while Aaron is already dressed and ready to go. They head to the Venetian hotel and they’re standing around waiting when a gondola comes floating under the bridge and just by the neon-white hair you know that’s Guy Fieri sitting up front. Oh, and Bobby Flay too. Lisa reminds us that Fieri is the winner from two seasons ago, but she says it like she was forced to say it, like she actually really didn’t know or care but someone had to vouch for Fieri’s star status.

Guy (you know, most people who’s first name is spelled G-U-Y pronounces it “Gee” like the French so not sure what’s up with Guy who pronounces it the way it looks) says the finalists have to do a 30-second promo written for them to promote their shows. They have to go to three different locations, and already Aaron is worrying about his camera presence.

Lisa looks all Hollywood in her sunglasses sitting in that white limo. She arrives at Aureole, the Charlie Palmer restaurant at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. (I always loved the name of the Mandalay. I would tell my friends that I would name my dog Mandalay if I got one.)

She’s greeted by Guy (or Gee) standing in front of this huge wine tower, which Guy says the “wine angels” go up and down every night to retrieve bottles for guests. So Lisa has to do her promo attached to cables going up the glass wine tower. I guess she’s afraid of heights, but it sounds like she gets a free ride without having to go to Disney World so I really don’t know what she’s complaining about.

She actually looks like she’s doing a Mission Impossible-kind of promo, with her all-black outfit. What’s throwing me off is she’s talking like she’s flirting with the camera, which I think makes her come off kind of slutty. She flubs a few lines and gets frustrated, and Guy calls time and says they have to make the best of it and let the judges decide how the promo came out.

Now we’re at Planet Hollywood with Aaron and Bobby Flay, and Bobby says they’re filming the promo right on the casino floor. Bobby does a quick demo of the script and he’s as smooth as butter, as usual. I mean, he’s a pro already. Then Aaron does the same, but he comes off a bit awkward, plus he has to talk and walk at the same time which is hard, I guess? But on his second try, he actually nails it and comes off really relaxed and friendly. Nice job.

They switch to the crap table (or is it craps? I know it’s not a crappy table) and Bobby gives directions again. Bobby is actually much more helpful in these promos than Guy, who comes off a bit unhelpful and borderline critical. Aaron, with Bobby’s help, nails this portion too after a few takes (even though it really looks like a cheesy commercial for Cache Creek or some other casino). Aaron’s so happy that he raises his arms in celebration, and oops, someone forgot to wear deodorant. Good thing they already stopped filming.

The last promo to be filmed is Adam at Bally’s Hotel. He’s going to work with two show girls from the Jubilee Theater, which Guy tells us is the longest-running show on the Vegas strip. Adam changes into a tuxedo, and he really looks like he should do a tap dance. A choreographer gives him a quick lesson on the steps (which is really just walking down the line with his legs matching the girls, duh). You’d think Adam would be smooth, but he comes off a bit forced and awkward. And again, after a few takes, Guy gives up and says they have to edit the promo the best they can.

The three contestants arrive at the Wynn Hotel, which looks amazing. It’s really magical with all the Christmas lights and everything. Guy’s there to greet them. What’s up with his white framed sunglasses behind his head? Does he have eyes back there? It’s kind of annoying me. But it may be because I’m tired from the weekend. (I later caught a glimpse of Guy’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives show and he had the same look with the white sunglasses behind the back of his head. Ugh, no wonder I don’t watch that show.)

Guy tells the three that they will have to make an over-the-top monster buffet to impress Wynn’s finest chefs and some Vegas entertainers. Plus, they also have to entertain the entertainers. (I’m really getting tired of how there’s equal emphasis on food and presentation. I mean, they’re already stressed trying to put together the food, what’s up with the personality tests? You don’t see this on Top Chef. I feel really cranky pants this week.)

The three have six hours to plan, prep and cook their monster buffet and a budget of $1,000—the most they’ve spent on any challenge. They run off to Whole Foods, and you know, I don’t know how many people they’re supposed to cook for. But everyone’s buying cartloads of food, especially Aaron who has two carts (much of it filled with cans).

Lisa buys a bunch of monk fish for a picatta dish, and as she’s organizing her cart, a package falls off as she rolls away. The cameraman takes a moment to zero in on the lonely package sitting on the floor of the Whole Foods. (BTW, you’d think Lisa would stop and wonder why the cameraman is no longer following her and why he’s focusing on a big brown package on the floor. … I hope someone found it soon because that fish isn’t going to smell pretty after awhile.)

They’re at the Tryst Hotel where they’re going to cook and serve their food. Guy introduces their sous chefs, which of course are the recently rejected Kelsey, Shane and Jennifer. The other three cheer when seeing their long-lost friends. They drew numbers to see who gets to pick first, and Lisa goes first by picking Kelsey. Adam chooses Shane and Aaron gets Jennifer.

Everyone starts cooking in the kitchen, and now I find out that they’ll be serving 50 guests. That’s a lot of people. Adam is making a lot of his own specialty food with a barbeque-smoke theme, so lots of chicken wings, pork chops and fritters.

Aaron is going with simple family-style food like sirloin bruschetta, orzo salad, chicken bow tie pasta. Lisa is going for her pretty foods of monkfish piccata, pork rack and twice-baked potatoes.

Adam is busy building a smoker with some chips he bought at Whole Foods and a couple of woks. He says that if he goes down, he’ll go down smoking.

Lisa realizes that she’s missing her fish, so now she’s in panic mode trying to come up with smaller portions of her fish dish.

Guy comes in for his kitchen visit (and he’s wearing his sunglasses which is weird because he’s indoors, but I guess it’s better than flipped behind his head) and he chats up Aaron. They talk about some boring thing about having too many pasta dishes. I’m really not impressed by Guy’s appearance on this episode. He doesn’t even talk to the other two finalists, although that could have been edited out because it was so boring. I’d go with that.

The contestants start plating, and they really didn’t show much of Shane and Jennifer at work. It’s mostly Kelsey and Lisa, and with good reason because it looks like Lisa’s pork rack is totally charred. Lisa gets busy by scraping the black bits off the pork and quickly dresses it up with some cherry tomatoes and bowl of marmalade. She’s a quick decorator. Must be the caterer in her.

The three stand behind the buffet stations waiting for the guests, and in comes a wedding couple, the cast of Spam-a-Lot, some pirates, some gondoliers, Joan River, Cher, Diana Ross (all impersonators, BTW), and supposedly a well-known entertainer named Danny Gans? (Never heard of him.) Also coming for the monster meal are the judges: Bob Tuschman, Susie Folgelson, Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri. Picking up the tail is a bunch of men in white coats. I’m assuming these are the Vegas chefs.

Lisa does her presentation first and she starts singing “welcome my friends to my beautiful buffet.” She has a really nice, deep voice with a bit of a country twang. I mean, she’s no Carrie Underwood, but could be a good Shania Twain impersonator. The crowd is impressed. And so is Bob Tuschman, who gives off a “wow” after Lisa’s done singing.

Then Aaron comes up and initially I thought he was cute trying to play this extremely shy and awkward, almost-Dustin-Hoffman-in-“Rain Man”-kind of character. But then it gets really strange and borderline psychotic when he starts calling people crazy and acts almost like a used car salesman. It’s not pretty, and Adam points out how not pretty this all is.

So you’d think after that Adam could just recite the alphabets and he’ll come off looking good after Aaron’s debacle. Instead, he just plays it straight and after a loud “hello VEGAS” he just starts describing his food. It’s all bland and boring.

The Vegas people start eating. One guy tells Aaron that he’ll give his food an eight, which Aaron replies “ouch” because he needs a 10. The Spam-a-lot knights seem to love Lisa’s singing, while Danny Gans says he felt uncomfortable listening to Aaron’s presentation.

The judges try Lisa’s burnt pork, and Guy says the pork is dry while Bob Tuschman says his is really moist. A bunch of the other guests are raving about Adam’s food, especially the Banana Foster dessert. You know, not to take anything away from Adam, but I wonder how much Shane had to do with the quality of the food coming out? I think Shane is always an expert chef, so I wonder if he really helped make sure Adam’s menu was executed well? Hmmmm.

The three are now at Caesar’s Palace (how many hotels do we have to visit in one episode?) and it looks like it’s the next day because they look like they’re just waking up. They arrive at the elimination room to meet the panel of judges, which includes Guy Fieri this week.

The judges watch their promo and do a critique of the buffet menu and here’s how it went down:

Aaron: His promo was surprisingly polished and engaging, and Bob Tuschman says he had “winner’s energy.” But he took a big risk in his performance for the buffet and he bombed. Bob was also bored with the level of food that Aaron turned out although he liked the crab cakes.

Lisa: The promo looked better than when she was taping it but it still seemed a bit awkward. Bob gets all “Dr. Phil” on her and says her biggest competition is herself. Susie compliments her on her voice and Bobby thought her food was incredibly elegant, although Guy reminded everyone that he got a dried piece of pork.

Adam: Susie says his promo balanced his sense of humor but Guy thought he didn’t seem prepared during the buffet presentation. Bobby tells him that his bone-in pork was declared the winning dish by the Vegas guests, which gets Adam a bit ferklempt because he feels vindicated that real chefs (including Bobby Flay) like his cooking. Bob says Adam this week settled all questions about whether he could cook or not and Adam feels awesome.

The three are excused while the judges deliberate and you can tell that everyone has their favorites. Bobby likes Lisa as the total package, and Tuschman likes Adam while I bet Susie likes Aaron. Guy doesn’t really count since he hasn’t been judging from the beginning, so I actually thought it was unfair for him to comment on the fact that Adam is inconsistent when he’s never seen Adam when his cooking was bad.

The judges do that stupid thing where they say they want to take a piece of all three and mold it into the perfect Food Network star, but you know that’s not going to happen. At this point as they go into commercials with previews of what’s coming up and Bob says something about doing something “we’ve never done in the history of this show,” that’s when I knew it. They’re going to wimp out and send all three to the finals.

So basically, when we come back from commercial, that’s what Susie tells all three, and of course all three are excited because they rather compete against two other people than risk the chance that one of them has to be sacrificed to get to the final elimination.

That means all three goes back to New York for the final episode. And if you feel cheated that no one has been eliminated, leaving no one for Adam Roberts to interview for his exit show, then wait to you hear about next week.

Next: Gordon Elliot is working with the three finalists, and you know what? We find out who wins on Sunday. But I’m so confused because the last few years America voted for the winner. So if there’s no balloting on the Food Network site, then how are we supposed to choose? How can they announce the winner next Sunday? Shouldn’t there be another week of voting? And don’t give me any crap about this being a “live” show. WTF?! This is cranky pants, signing off.

Here's a preview video to see what I mean:

The Next Food Network Star airs at 10 p.m. Sundays and repeats at 9 p.m. Thursdays, but the last episode is this Sunday and then I will have my Sunday nights back for some peaceful watching of THE BEST SHOW IN AMERICA, “Mad Men” on AMC. Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.


Anonymous said...

Great recap as always, Ben.

One thing you missed though - FN has stated right from the start that this season the decision on the winner will be made in house only, no viewer vote. There is a separate "fan favorite" vote, but the decision this time for the winner will be in the hands of the Tusch, the Fog, and Bobby.

After the vox populi destroyed the FN narrative last season by choosing Amy over Rory (whom TPTB seemed to really want), FN is no longer going to trust the unwashed masses with the imporant task of choosing the person who they think can best attract the desired ratings in the desired demographics for their corporate advertising masters.

Amanda said...

Hmm - actually, I know a few "Guy"s and they all pronounce their name "GUY", not "GEE"...

Anonymous said...

Spinster Aunt says: Great recap, Bennie Boy!

And yeah, it's been proclaimed from above that we heathens are not qualified to pick TNFNS. I'd vote for Lisa, but what do I know?

Chef Ben said...

Hey, why am I the only one that missed the disclaimer that America will not be voting? Was that announced in the first episode or was that on the Web site? I guess it doesn't matter. The silver lining is that I don't have to recap a results show! LOL