Monday, July 27, 2009

NFNS: Season 5, Episode 8

The Seoul Train Has Left Miami

Previously: Melissa the Mom is frantic so she develops a strategy to speak slowly. Jeffrey gets bumped on the head with a boom mic but still comes off as vanilla. Jamaican Jamika is pissed and Bobby Flay wants capers. Then it’s goodbye to Jamika and her winning smile, which apparently didn’t work this time.

In this episode all the environmental shots are moving so fast, it’s like the editors are on speed. Jeffrey’s hair is especially bushy this morning as he takes his place on the hotel balcony to look contemplatively out at the beach. Melissa says she’s out-cooked everyone, but she still wonders if she can win. Um, Melissa, if you out-cooked everyone, then there’s no one left.

In reality, we’re at the final three, so it remains to be seen if Melissa can out-cook tall Jeffrey and Seoul2Soul (or is it Soul2Seoul?) Debbie. The three arrive at Emeril’s Miami Beach restaurant and act all surprised that Emeril shows up, which doesn’t really surprise me because, doh, his name is on the restaurant.

Emeril explains the challenge and, let me just say, this is the biggest product placement for the overly hyped “Julie & Julia” movie starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Any one who reads anything related to food has probably seen a mention of this upcoming film or seen the commercial or even maybe already went to one of the screenings. (I’m interested in seeing the film, but geesh, do I have to hear about it every day?)

So Emeril talks about his great friend, Julia Childs, and they show a clip of her on his show. He tells the finalists that the film is about one’s dedication to a dream or passion. With that theme, the challenge is to come up with a three-course dinner that represents their passion. They have $1,000 to shop and will be assigned a sous chef. They also have to present a live demo during dinner.

For inspiration, they go to a private screening of “Julie and Julia.” The three talk about how they can relate to the characters in the movie. Debbie connects with Amy Adams’ character, saying she was also in a dead-end job (aren’t we all?) until she decided to quit and run her own restaurant. Melissa the Mom compares herself to the great Julia Childs, saying they’re two peas in the pod because they both were Americans living in Paris, and they were both underestimated by those around them. Jeffrey relates to the movie because it talks about Julia Childs going to culinary school and Jeffrey loved learning about food at culinary school. He is vanilla, yeah?

They head off to a local market and start buying ingredients to craft their passionate dinners. Melissa is doing a French-inspired dinner with a lot of puff pastry while Debbie is going Seoul2Soul with braised Korean-style short ribs.

Jeffrey doesn’t really have a theme to his dinner, but it’s mostly seafood with some Mexican flavorings. He goes to the checkout worried he might be over his $1,000 budget and the total comes to $317. What’s sad is even after he realizes this, he’s not allowed to go shopping for more. I guess time ran out, or I guess once you check out you can’t go back in. So now he’s worried that his food might not be elegant or sophisticated enough because it’s cheap. BTW, Jeffrey’s hair always looks wet in this episode. It must be hot in Miami.

Commercials. Wii Sports. Why can’t you just go to the playground?

The finalists arrive at this beautiful private beach home. Looks like someplace P.Diddy once used as a changing room before heading to one of his famous South Beach parties. In the center of the huge empty room is a minimally dressed table, and the three go snooping to see who’s coming to dinner. There are many recognizable names like Chefs John Besh and Rick Bayless, and a plethora of B-list Food Network Stars like the Neelys, Sunny Anderson, and that spiky hair blond woman who’s always trying to teach you the secrets of a chef. The Food Network wattage gets amped up a bit with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto (you know he’s only going to say one word) and Ty-Flo.

The three head to the kitchen and standing there are the three latest rejects, aka their sous chefs. They’re each holding up the name of who they’ll be working for so Michael a Go-Go™ is there for Debbie, Health Nut Katie is there for Jeffrey and Jamaican Jamika is back for Melissa the Mom. There’s a lot of hugging and screaming, and mostly coming from Debbie.

Everyone starts getting down to prepping and Melissa gets busy making pastry dough for two of her courses. Then she channels Julia Childs again.

Katie asks Jeffrey how much he spent and after he tells her that he only spent $317 of his $1,000 budget, she tells him that maybe he can give them tips on throwing frugal dinner parties. Debbie is making her short ribs and Michael is worried it won’t be tender, but Debbie says to the camera that Koreans like to gnaw on their meat. And I have to say, this is why I’m not a fan of the kal bi because of the tough meat and the bones.

Debbie also focuses on Jeffrey’s risotto, saying it’s a risk because that’s the kind of dish that needs to be served up immediately. There’s a chance it’ll sit for awhile, but Jeffrey says he wants to go out of his comfort zone.

On Melissa’s side, it looks like she has a few mini crises to deal with as her orzo is super salty (and it looks like it was Jamika who salted it) and her potato tortes aren’t really golden brown so they could be undercooked. Hmm, wonder what Julia Childs would do now?

Commercials. Bush’s Baked Beans has that creepy commercial with the talking dog. Is this 1959?

Back in the kitchen, Melissa’s orzo is still salty but luckily she has two other pots of orzo that hasn’t been salted yet so she combines the two to try to dilute the salt. Then she does a smart quick change in her menu and move the pastries from the appetizer to the entrĂ©e, to give it more time to cook.

The chefs and guests arrive and that Francois Payard looks really angry. Don’t they know they’re being filmed? Melissa is up first to present her dishes and do her demo. I have to say, Melissa looks really good with makeup and her hair looks fantastic for TV. She looks very sophisticated, matching the settings and elegance of the dinner.

She starts telling a story about cooking with her mom and her culinary dream, and she’s very composed and the story is well thought out. Then she drops in that her mom committed suicide and I’m like, woah, and she just goes on like she just mentioned that she got carded at a bar when she was only 16. Everyone is captivated by her story and a couple of them are dabbing away tears. This is such an Oprah moment.

Bobby Flay is impressed and says she’s like a different person, almost poetic. Then she talks about her first course, which is a ratatouille. One of the Neelys liked the texture and the vegetables were nicely seasoned.

For the main course, she serves her brick chicken with potato torte. This is the course she does her demo and she starts cooking her chicken using the bottom of a skillet to weigh it down instead of a brick. Rick Bayless thought she did a fabulous job with the demo, but the angry-looking Chef Payard says his chicken didn’t have the crispy skin and it was still overcooked. Sunny Anderson also held her hand up and said her chicken was dry too. Everyone loved the potato torte though.

For dessert, Melissa serves up what she says is her mandatory dessert at home: cheese with a green salad. This sounds really simple and not very creative, but she saved herself by adding an orange-cream porchette, which is like a pastry roll, and even Payard liked it. Sunny called it “banging” and John Besh calls her an artisan, which is high praise. Maybe she is Julia Childs reincarnated?

Commercials. Fruit 2 Day says it’s the new way of eating fruit. Yeah, if you like pulverizing it and shoving it into a weird hourglass-looking plastic jar. Me, I like my fruit straight from the farmers’ market!

We’re in the kitchen and Jeffrey is searing his scallops, and the sear looks really brown to me. Debbie is plating up her dishes and her catering experience is showing because everything looks perfectly uniformed. It’s her turn to present and for some reason she decides to come running out of the kitchen doing her two-hand wave.

Debbie launches into her story about parents immigrating to the South and learning to make Southern food and then how she learned Korean cooking from her grandmother. She’s always personable and gets a laugh from the crowd. Then she serves her first course, which is a chili-rub shrimp over a savory Southern corn salad. Rick Bayless wonders how the Korean side of things was blended into the dish, and Ty-Flo felt like it was something he’s had before. I guess it wasn’t the ultimate shrimp and corn salad dish.

For her second dish, Debbie serves up her Korean braised ribs over grits. Gina Neely says it tastes bland while some complain that the ribs are not tender. Chef Bayless says he doesn’t mind that it wasn’t fall-off-the-bone tender, and that saves Debbie for now.

She decides to demo her dessert, which is a deep-fried Asian pear egg roll. She demonstrates how to fold the egg roll and then fries it up, finishing it off with powdered sugar. People felt she rocked the demo but Chef Marcus Samuelsson points out that the dough in his egg roll was raw, which must have been so gross to eat. (I’m not a fan of raw dough, which is why I never grew up eating cookie dough.)

It’s Jeffrey’s turn to present and he looks really tall and handsome. I think he’s lost some weight while on the show. He talks about his passion and tries to talk about eating raw scallops for the first time. Then he demos the first course of seared scallop and to me it seems so elementary. I would be embarrassed to teach this crowd how to properly sear a scallop. But they’re all very attentive and give him good grades for making the demo simple and energetic.

Then Jeffrey serves up his risotto, and John Besh is already making a funny face when the plate is placed in front of him. Jeffrey talks about traveling to Italy with his wife, trying to make a personal story out of risotto, and all the guests are making weird faces. Ty-Flo takes one bite and has a shocked look on his face. Then the comments. Angry Francois Payard must be more angry after eating the risotto because he called it the worst he’s had, and that it was like soup. To him, he said it was like killing Italian cooking. But the worst comment comes from Chef Samuelsson who says it was like disrespecting Italy. He’s talking the entire nation of Italians coming after Jeffrey for making such a failure of a risotto dish.

To add fuel to the flame, Bobby Flay asks Jeffrey how much he spent out of his $1,000 budget and Jeffrey tells him $320 (he rounded up from $317 to make it sound more) and Bobby shakes his head in disappointment.

His final dish is his chocolate mousse dessert. Chef Alex with the long last name (starts with G) says it was delicious and in the end Tyler Florence says Jeffrey is easy to watch and he’d like to watch him cook.

The other guests give more feedback, with a lot of people feeling like Melissa served up the best food. Chef Morimoto, like I said, adds just one comment and that was that he liked Debbie. John Besh also likes Debbie’s personality.

Backstage, Jeffrey is squirming already because he’s still feeling the anger over his risotto. Too bad. I love risotto.

Commercials. Brooke Shields says she’s growing lashes but it totally looks like false eye lashes. If she’s really growing her lashes, she should show them without mascara so we can see for ourselves. But I have a feeling her lashes are always long.

It looks like the next morning and the three finalists are all dressed up waiting to go to judgment. When they walk in, there’s more talk about the “Julie and Julia” product placement. Then the critique:

Melissa: Her pastries were the best thing they ate all night, but Bobby wanted to see more in her demo. She admits that she gets intimidated and that frustrates Bobby even more because he thinks she has so much to offer but she holds back.

Jeffrey: He did a great job with his presentation but the seafood risotto just didn’t work. Susie asks why he didn’t spend all his money, and really, Jeffrey has no answer. His predictability may be his downfall.

Debbie: She comes off comfortable and energetic, but her food had issues (ugh, uncooked dough) and not much flavor. Bobby wants to taste more Seoul2Soul than just hearing about it.

Commercials. The Food Network just showed a promo on “Julie and Julia” and then it was followed by a commercial of the same movie! Now I may not watch it out of protest over this over-saturation!

Back in the judgment room, Bob Tuschman asks each finalist to say something about themselves that the judges might not know but might help them in sending them to the finals. Melissa says she gives instant credibility to the working mom market (she already said that), Debbie says she’s human and she understands the entire population of America (then she should run for president) and Jeffrey says he’ll always deliver on good food.

The three are excused and the judges talk. And of course, since we’re one week from the finale, they’re all talking about how difficult a decision this is. And I guess it is a tight race, and maybe they should just leave it up to America like American Idol. But now, they talk some more about Debbie and Jeffrey starting out strong and staying strong, but Melissa the Mom has shown the most improvement over the course of the series.

Then they bring the three back, and without much fanfare or back story, Bobby Flay sends Melissa the Mom into the finals, and of course she’s excited and grateful.

So it’s either Debbie or Jeffrey, either a girl-girl finale or a boy-girl finale. Susie sends Jeffrey to the finale and Debbie is out, and you can tell on her face that she felt cheated even though she thanks the judges.

Debbie packs up and then hugs the two finalists who stole her spot, and she says that she showed the real Debbie. And as she turns to leave and partially cries at the same time, she waves with just one hand this time because the other one is holding her broken heart.

Next time: They’re back in New York for the finale and they each have to produce their own pilot. Melissa gets confused about which camera to look in and Alton Brown gets snippy when Jeffrey calls a tomato an onion. Who do you think will BE the next Food Network star? Here's a promo of the finale episode:

The Next Food Network Star airs 9 p.m. Sundays (and repeats at the same time Thursdays) on the Food Network. Check your local listing. Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.

Previous recaps:
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7


mc said...

I think Debbie should have been in the final. Her plates looked the best and she always looks comfortable or at ease in front of tv. I felt the producers are still not comfortable or ready for an asian woman to carry a food show on her own just yet. Too bad. At this point I don't even care who wins. However, I do have to say I enjoy watching Guy's roadshow about diner food and Adam's Will Work for Food.

Anonymous said...

About the much could Melissa and Debbie have spent? Certainly no where near $1000. Melissa had veggies, flour, butter, chicken, cheese, a little fruit, a little chocolate, a little bacon, herbs and orzo? Take away the cheese and it is hard to see her getting to $300. Same with Debbie, grits, short ribs, fruit, wrappers, shrimp, veggies. I mean it is hard to spend that kind of money on such common ingredients. Where was the decadence? I'm guessing the ladies bought way too much and Jeffrey was closer to serving most of what he bought (not that that is always good).

Single Guy Ben said...

MC, I agree Debbie's plates looked great, but I guess it was the taste that didn't sit well. I mean, who would want undercooked egg rolls? And I don't know if it's true the Food Network isn't ready for an Asian face because Bob Tuschman has consistently said that Debbie was "camera ready."

Anonymous, I didn't even think about Debbie's and Melissa's budgets, but you're right! None of their dishes were necessarily using very expensive materials either so they probably spent closer to $500. But poor Jeffrey, he should have went with Bobby Flay's suggestion of banging it with the lobsters!

a said...

Several times Debbie had integrity issues and I think that hurt her, plus the fact that she bragged too much about being Korean but cooked American Southern food. I've had it up to here with the southern comfort. I live in the south and I'm not into the food. I can't see me caring to watch an Asian woman cook Paula Deen. But I would love to watch an Asian woman cook modern Asian.

Single Guy Ben said...

Yes, modern Asian! I would love to watch a show like that. Food Network, are you listening?