A 16th Birthday Party That’s Not So Sweet
OK, so the Next Food Network Star is off and running for the fifth time in New York and we get scenes of the upcoming season: Some military challenge (again), Miss Rachel making an appearance even though she probably doesn’t have any new shows with the network anymore, and did someone just get slapped?! Wow, this season’s contestants are really cutthroat.
So we find out that not only does the winner get his or her own Food Network TV show, the winner also gets a feature in the Food Network magazine (not Food and Wine Magazine) and an appearance at the New York Wine and Food Festival (not Aspen). All they need is some Glad products and Padma and we could be watching Top Chef.
Then we get the typical run through of current Food Network stars who asks, “Who will be…?’’ except Fieri has to jack it up by saying “Who’s got what it takes to be …” Stick to the script, Guy.
Opening scenes of New York (oh, did I tell you guys I’m going to the Big Apple around Labor Day? I’m so psyched.) and they’re playing a jazzier song this season. I like it. We jump into the contestants arriving, and this always makes me think fondly of “The Real World” early on when it was a real social experiment of society’s misfits coming together to give a little of each of themselves and not the hot-body-who-can-get-the-most-effed-up little program it is now. But that’s another channel.
Here we get Jen arriving first. She calls herself the modern-day housewife and the only good part about her being a housewife is that she’s married to some hot hunk.
In comes Jamika, who I’m going to call Jamaican Jamika just because it sounds cute and she’s going to cook Caribbean food. She calls Jen a Barbie, which isn’t too far off the mark. Then we get Katie from Philly, who’s a dietitian and a personal chef, and Brett, who’s a really tall guy who says he has a lot of energy and even more so when he’s on camera. I’m scared already for him.
Then we have Michael, who if you can’t tell already, is very colorful. He wants to pizzazz up the show, which if he really wants to do that then he shouldn’t use words like pizzazz.
More contestant arrivals: Eddie from LA but he looks more like he’s from London probably because I think he looks like the actor Alan Cummings; Melissa from Texas, a stay-at-home mom; and Teddy, who’s sporting a really orange shirt with big collars. All he needs is a Zoot suit and he’s all set for the animated version of The Next Food Network Star.
Rounding off the arrivals are Debbie from Los Angeles who’s emphasizing soul food and Jeffrey, also from LA (wonder if she and Debbie caught the same flight?).
Jeffrey finds a note on the dining table and it tells them to all get to the Food Network studio. They all act really shocked that they’re already having to jump right into the competition. Yes, I’m sure the Food Network selected you all from thousands of applicants so you can tour New York city and have facials with your new BFFs BEFORE competing. Ugh, what a lazy-ass cast.
They arrive at the shiny Food Network kitchen and in comes Bobby Flay (host and judge) along with the dynamic duo from every season, Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson (network muckity mucks). They actually look really dressed up, which gives a hint of the upcoming challenge.
We all hear the typical little snippets of what the contestants are thinking, things like “This is my once-in-a lifetime chance,” “I’m standing in front of Bobby Flay, my hero,” or “It’s make or break time.” Meh, if I were standing there I would probably be thinking “I wonder how many hours Bobby spends in the makeup chair?” or “Bob and Susie have been in their same jobs for the last five years, don’t they promote people around here?”
Bobby explains that their first challenge is to cater a celebration dinner for the Food Network’s 16th anniversary and they have just five hours to do it. They’ll split into two teams to create dishes for 75 people, including a whole litany of food stars like Giada DiiLaurentis, Alton Brown, Ted Allen, Masaharu Morimoto, and last year’s winner Aaron Big Daddy. (I call him Aaron Big Daddy because I can’t remember his last name and am too tired to look it up.)
Bobby assigns the teams, Green and Red, and gives them $1,200 each to shop. The challenge begins and they break into their teams to start planning.
At team Green, Brett becomes the natural leader because, well, he’s tall and loud. But he does have a take-charge attitude that I like. It must be all the banquets he’s had to plan at the hotel restaurant he works at. They all talk about what they’re going to make: Brett will make beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms, Teddy contributes a potato gratin, Jamaican Jamika plans a shrimp dish with mango, Melissa The Mom says she makes the best apple tart that her children just loves, and Jen is doing green beans. Can you hear the guests talking to their friends the next morning?
Co-worker: “Oh, how was the Food Network’s 16th anniversary dinner?”
Guest: “It was OK. I got to see Iron Chefs Morimoto and Bobby Flay.”
Co-worker: “But what about the food? What did you eat?”
Guest: “Beef tenderloin with potatoes, green beans and an apple tart.”
Co-worker: “Woah, green beans. Living the high life, aren’t we, Susie?”
For the Red Team, Debbie says she’s done catering so she becomes the team leader. Michael says he’ll do a tenderloin, Debbie throws out her crab cakes with a spicy sauce, Katie does a salad (she tries to dress it up with roasted beets and pomegranates), and Jeffrey is making something that requires something called “achiote.” He said what it was but I still didn’t get it. Is it a spice? Is it a way of living? Who knows. Eddie picks up the rear with his contribution of beignets.
The team leaders and assistants go shopping, and Debbie is throwing all kinds of ingredients in the cart without paying attention to the budget. Michael looks at her like “I am with Driving Miss Crazy” and then Debbie can’t find the pastry she needs for Eddie’s beignets so she makes the “executive decision” to buy pre-made angel food cake and says they can dress it up my drizzling jam on top. Yes, because when I can’t find beignets on the menu, I immediately think angel food cake.
Brett’s team does better with the shopping and comes under budget while Debbie and Michael are busy throwing out ingredients from the carts so they can come under budget. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to what she removes, so you can tell already that Debbie will not be popular back at the kitchen.
Commercials. Dear Dish Network: No, I am not going to subscribe so you can come and put up some ugly-looking dish up in my apartment. And since when did Manwich Sloppy Joes become Jamaican?
Debbie returns to the kitchen, waltzing in like she did such a great job at coming in under budget, but already Jeffrey is complaining that he can’t find his achiote (because NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THAT IS) or any other of his top five ingredients.
Bobby Flay comes in and does his Tom Colicchio act. He chats with Jamika, who’s making Jamaican-inspired shrimp but she tells Bobby that it’s going to be served cold. I like Jamika’s thinking because she figures if she gets her dish done early, she can help her other teammates. I like Jamaican Jamika.
When Bobby visits with Teddy, he’s placing black truffle slices on his potato gratin, which I don’t know how they could afford black truffles with their budget. Bobby talks to Michael and he tells him that his style of cooking is “Global A-Go-Go,” and Bobby tells him to trademark that.
Eddie, who said he was going to make beignets until Debbie upended him with an angel food cake, is now making something called BLAST bowl, which is a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich without the bread. He’s definitely working under the theory that anything’s good with bacon.
Melissa the Mom is really turning out to be the problem child in the kitchen because she doesn’t understand how to use the industrial appliances, and her tarts are sitting out too long and that has something to do with the fat and how flaky it’ll turn out. Brett takes charge and everyone helps Melissa get the tarts ready for the oven.
On the other team, Katie can’t find any Dijon mustard for her salad dressing and Debbie says she’s sure she bought some, but she’s too busy with her crab cakes to help her look for it. Still not finding it in any of the bags, Katie borrows some from the other team.
The apple tarts come out and I’m just going to say that they look very, um … rustic? Yeah, go with that.
Commercials. The current economy has really sucked the life out of commercials. That Liberty Mutual and GM car commercials are so depressing. Thank God for Hershey’s. Yay, give me a kiss!
We get scenes of Times Square and then the contestants arrive at a restaurant called Butter. Oooh, what a cool name for a restaurant. Turns out the restaurant belongs to Alex Guarnaschelli, who has a show on the Food Network and also appears as a guest judge on other shows.
Other Food Network stars arrive for the party, including the network president Brooke Johnson (we usually don’t see her until the finale).
After the contestants set up in the kitchen and put the final touches on their food, we go back outside as Bobby Flay introduces the Green Team who will serve their food first. Bobby pumps up Brett a bit, you know, like how someone introduces you and says, “this guy is soooo he-larry-us, wait till you hear his stories.”
Of course, when Brett comes to the microphone, he is anything but funny, and a wee bit condescending to women. But luckily, the rest of his team picks him up, like Jamaican Jamika who’s really bright and sunny and talks about her shrimp cocktail with a jicama-mango slaw. Then Teddy, who actually isn’t that sunny and totally nervous talking about how his potato gratin is coming from the mind of a chef. Jen says she made green beans and leaves it at that.
Then comes Melissa the Mom. The same woman who was nervous and fretted about how her apple tarts will turn out comes out all confident and loud during her presentation. She’s all smiles and talks about her girls and you know those Food Network muckity mucks eat that shit up.
The stars go to the buffet line and there’s Nancy O’Dell from Access Hollywood. Brett puts his foot in his mouth and tells one of the stars about how they had limited space to work in the kitchen so don’t be so critical about their food. Of course, he would be telling that to Chef Guarnaschelli, who runs that very same kitchen. Yikes! She tells Brett: “Don’t talk smack about my kitchen.” But she says it in a good-natured fun way like she always does. Whew!
The stars eat and comment about the food. Bobby loves the apple tart, and even the guy from Ace of Cakes says he liked the dough. Anne Burrell calls Melissa “twitchy” and Giada says people can connect with Jamika. But nobody likes her shrimp, but they do like the slaw. Someone calls Jen’s green beans “ugly and unpleasant” and Teddy’s gratin would be magnificent if the potatoes were cooked. Giada says the mushrooms in Brett’s beef tenderloin were spongy.
Commercials. Red Lobsters, don’t you know you’re just polluting the air with your new wood-fire grilling? Haven’t anyone learned anything from mesquite grilling in the 80s?
Now it’s the Red Team’s turn to serve up their dishes, and Jeffrey and Katie are trying to “prepare” the angel food cake. Funny how it was Debbie’s idea for dessert but she’s no where near it when time comes to making it. It really looks awful, almost like bread pudding because I guess angel food cake doesn’t slice easily (I don’t know because I’m not a fan of the cake). And Katie, throwing on mint doesn’t always make a dessert pretty.
In front of the guests, Debbie goes first as the team leader and the girl can talk. Must be the southerner in her. She talks about fried chicken and not making kim chee (what? I love kim chee!) and yada yada yada. Giada loves the yada. Ha!
Jeffrey talks about his zucchini dish as an explosion of citrus with the creeping heat of red chili. I hate it when chili creeps.
When Eddie goes up to speak, he looks so dang serious. Maybe it’s because he wanted to talk about fluffy tasty beignets but now he has to talk about bacon and lettuce sitting on half a tomato. I’d be depressed too if I had to present that dish. The guy is so boring it’s like a train wreck that you can’t turn away from.
The judges get some food, and I think Katie just told Ted Allen that eating her salad would be good to help him with No. 1 in the bathroom. TMI on the buffet line!
The stars talk about the dishes, and everyone loves Debbie’s personality and they like Jeffrey’s zucchini dish. Chef Guarnaschelli says Katie’s contribution was just piling some vegetables onto a plate (well, she did have to roast the beets) and that the swiss chard looks awful. Of course, Susie says the angel food cake was an embarrassment and this time I have to agree with her. Everyone can tell it’s store bought and they question the credibility of the chefs behind the idea.
BTW, did you notice Aaron Big Daddy only said one thing during this entire segment? I think it had something to do with the beef tenderloin. I haven’t watched his shows and I can’t believe the Food Network renewed it for another season.
Commercials. What is that Lion King ride? Oh, Busch Gardens. Are you guys still open?
The contestants head into the judgment room, which this season actually looks a bit brighter and cheery. Eddie looks so serious it almost comes off like he could care less.
Bob Tuschman starts off by talking to the Red Team and you can tell he’s reviewed the tape because he knows all about Debbie’s overstuffing the carts then unstuffing them then pretending like she did such a great job with the budget. He gives her a stern lecture (or maybe it just looks stern because of his expression) about credibility. Basically, Food Network doesn’t like liars (that means you, Chef Robert Irvine. Oh wait, not you because you’re still on the network, never mind!).
Susie talks about being embarrassed again by the angel food cake and Bobby says as the leader one has to take the buck because it has to be stopped or whatever that saying goes. Of course, Debbie immediately apologizes. But to me, it’s not really taking ownership if you say it only after you were just told you should take ownership. But whatevs, because Tuschman loves Debbie’s crab cakes so you know she’s not leaving.
Here are the thoughts on the rest of the gang:
Michael: People think he’s funny and want to see more of him.
Katie: Salad was a throwaway dish and she lacks authority.
Eddie: Came off like he was doing a Powerpoint presentation. Tuschman calls him a student council president when he really wants a cheerleader. (Don’t we all?)
Jeffrey: Made a great presentation that got Bobby hungry.
Brett: Soggy mushrooms in his beef tenderloin and soggy personality to go with it.
Jamaican Jamika: Refreshing slaw but bad shrimp on top. Still, she has a lovely way about her.
Melissa the Mom: Winning tart (although Tuschman calls it a “cookie”) and winning personality, but needs to self-edit for Anne Burrell’s sake.
Jen: Not sophisticated enough for the Food Network.
Teddy: Raw potatoes in the gratin and needs to calm down and relax.
Commercials. Doesn’t that guy in the Marshall’s commercial (“Bjorn,” the fashion designer) look like Michael C. Hall from Dexter?
Bob Tuschman says since this is a team challenge, usually they’d declare one team the winner. But apparently some of them sucked so bad that they couldn’t name one team that shined all around, so instead they highlight three people: Jeffrey, Michael and Melissa. Then overall the winner is Jeffrey. The judges don’t say any more about why they’re great and instead just excuse them from the room.
The judges also don’t say much about the rest of the group as they learn whether they’re safe or not. So basically the people who are safe include Jamika, Teddy, Katie (who cries “tears of joy”), Debbie and Brett. Leaving just Eddie and Jen, and since it’s too early in the season to create any dramatic tension, the judges just rip the band-aid and send Jen home.
And can I just say, who was it that predicted Jen would be the first one to go? Hmmm, I wonder if it could just be an insightful food blogger and dedicated recapper? LOL.
Next: Giada wants the contestants to bring the holidays to life, and Eddie is stoked — or as excited as any corporate powerpoint presenter can be. Brett and Melissa gets into a fight in the judgment room and someone’s going to cry.
The Next Food Network Star airs 9 p.m. Sundays (and repeats at the same time Thursdays) on the Food Network. Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.
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Monday, June 08, 2009
A 16th Birthday Party That’s Not So Sweet