Monday, June 02, 2008

The Next Food Network Star: Season 4, Episode 1

It's No Laughing Matter

Since this is the first episode of the season, we get a “preview” of what’s to come over the next nine weeks, including a lot of smoke in the kitchen, a lot of breaking of things, and a lot of falling on your bum. (Well, maybe that was just that one lady.) There’s a slew of guest judges, including many of your standard Food Network stars, but the highlight I think is Ms. Martha Stewart herself making an appearance. Plus, they go to Vegas, people cry, and someone walks out in front of the judging panel. Draaa-ma!

Cue the music and the flying stars. Hmm, the prize list for this show is shorter than for Top Chef. What’s up Food Network?

Opening scene of New York. I’ve got to get back there for a trip. They show the Chelsea Market, which is the home of the Food Network in Manhattan. If you know Manhattan, you know the Chelsea Market is near the Meatpacking District, which means it’s stinky when you walk around there. Anywho, we start to see the 10 contestants arrive and first up is Kelsey. Oh. My. Gawd. She’s like a living Barbie doll, isn’t she? She’s all blond, and perky, and little.

Kelsey is the first one in this meet-and-greet room and she’s all alone, but she keeps smiling because she knows the camera’s on her. She’s just hoping she’s not Punk’ed.

Next is Kevin, who I think really looks like the guy from “Felicity.” (Not Ben or Noel, but the roommate guy Sean. For you younger readers, I’m talking about the cop who reads minds on “Heroes.”) Kevin walks in and sees Kelsey and he’s not sure if she’s a contestant or a publicist because she’s just so perky.

Then comes 19-year-old Shane, who used to be a chubby kid. Kelsey thought she was the youngest contestant and is a bit bummed that this young kid beat her out on that claim.

Then we get a bunch of people that so far I’m not too excited about. They include the stand-up comic Cory, tall caterer Jeffrey, Jennifer the single mom, and Adam, an improv guy.

Then walks in Lisa. Ahhh, Lisa, every casting director’s choice for throwing a wrench into the mix for good TV. She walks in channeling Anna Wintour and with her wheelie bag, she also looks like a flight attendant.

Our group of contestants is rounded off with Aaron, the good guy from a bad neighborhood (who totally dresses too average for TV IMHO), and Nipa, the spice of color with her Indian cooking and bright clothes.

In walks Bobby Flay, and that’s when Kevin says he “wet his pants.” Kevin is my favorite so far because he totally cracks me up. He’s more funny than the stand-up comic Cory.

Along with Bobby, who’s now a permanent judge and host for the show this season, is our “dynamic” (<-- sarcasm) duo of Susie Folgelson and Bob Tuschman, both top Food Network executives which is why we can’t get rid of them as judges. They toast the contestants with champagne, but Bobby cuts the celebrating short by saying their first challenge is right behind curtain No. 1. Then we get shots of really, really stressed contestants. You’d think they’d be excited about their first challenge but they really look like they’re going to shit in their pants. And it’s the same look they keep throughout this first episode. If you were expecting any cocky standouts ala Marcel or Dale, you can forget about it with this crowd. (I want to note here that even though Top Chef is extremely popular among the food crowd for its kitchen creds, I still believe there’s room for the type of amateur or self-trained cooks like many of the contestants on The Next Food Network Star. For me, I feel like I can relate to them more because I would probably do the same if I were on this show. And you know I’ve tried!)

Finally, the man behind the curtain appears and it’s none other than Alton Brown and I feel like it’s a flashback of The Next Iron Chef. Adam is all giddy like a school girl. And I’m not just saying that. Those are his words.

Brown goes on and on about “culinary point of view,” which is a really important theme in this series that gets hammered into the contestants in seasons’ past. Basically, it’s the shtick for the show to grab viewers. Giada is the everyday Italian with the va-va-va voom looks. Tyler is the handsome frat buddy who keeps it ultimate. Bobby is the restaurant chef with the spicy flair and the grill. Rachey Ray is … what is Rachel Ray?

Each contestant has to go in front of a camera and say his or her culinary point of view in one sentence. There’s a table with a bunch of props that they can use.

Jennifer is up first and she grabs a rubber chicken as a prop. Her point of view is “keep it simple, I don’t have all day.” Then she goes on about how she cooks all day at a restaurant and comes home to her daughter and really has to make something fast. Brown says she should have stopped at the first sentence, and I agree because then I would have less to recap.

Jeffrey grabs a slab of bacon and says he’s all about classical French training combined with soul food. “There’s going to be a lot of pig,” he says. Isn’t there always?

Aaron is going to teach us how to take herbs and with love turn out great delicious meals. Snoozefest.

Nipa is holding a really big ginger root. She says she wants to teach the world that ethnic food is approachable, but I think she’s specifically talking about just Indian food. Brown asks if she wants to redo her take (hint, hint) but she’s all, “No, I’m good.”

Shane is going for timeless techniques to make easy, at-home French inspired food without the attitude.

Adam is all about the humor and full-flavored comfort food. I have to say, he’s smooth in front of the camera. To show how smooth he is, he grabs a pint of white stuff and drinks it like milk. Too bad it was a quart of heavy cream.

Cory is holding a tomato and … freezes in front of the camera. As a stand-up comic, she would be heckled at this point. Get off the stage! Instead, there’s this awkward moment with Brown. Girl needs some new material.

Barbie Doll Kelsey wants to teach you to be comfortable in the kitchen with innovative twist. Then she spins a graduation cap, I guess to suggest that she has a brain.

My guy Kevin wants to bring romance back in the kitchen, and does some yoga mantra of cooking well, living well, loving well. I would have gone for his romance cooking line if he didn’t get all Deepak Chopra on me.

Lisa gets all dressed up in a chef’s hat and a flower, holding a stack of books. This looks like it’s going to be a mess. Then she starts talking about the three C’s, one is cooking the other is community service. WTF? Brown says he doesn’t know what she’s talking about and her message is not very accessible. She looks annoyed that Brown doesn’t get her. But he’s not the only one.

Commercials. If you want to watch food porn, that new Kraft Tuscan House Italian dressing commercial has some really beautiful photography. Everything looks so fresh and artistic. Unlike Red Lobster who’s now showing food that somehow all looks fake to me.

The contestants are back at the Carriage House in Greenwich Village, which is the same place last season’s contestants lived. Lisa is doing yoga, trying to cleanse herself of her horrible taping earlier. They all get into the same unmarked van they used last season.

At the Food Network kitchen, Brown tells them they’ll be working in pairs. They pull color from a pot and that’s how they’re matched. Kevin is standing next to Lisa and he picks grey. Then it’s her turn and he’s all like “please don’t pick grey, please don’t pick grey,” and sure enough, she picks grey.

The pairs have to make two dishes, each representing their individual culinary point of view, then they have to make a third dish that’s a combined effort of the two. Oh, and they have to do this in 30 minutes, which is like a Top Chef quickfire challenge, times three! I think that’s crazy to cook all that in 30 minutes, but the contestants get into their pairs to start mapping out a menu.

After they’ve narrowed down their dishes, Brown takes them shopping at the Westside Market, which I’m assuming is near Chelsea since Chelsea is on the west side of Manhattan. (See how I know New York?) Lisa is running around like a Chihuahua with a ticking bomb while Kevin is following her going, “I can’t believe I’m working with this crazy woman.” He ends up dubbing her the Diva from Dallas. Thanks Kevin. That’s what I’m going to call Lisa from now on, the Dallas Diva.

Nipa is standing in front of this huge wall of spice jars and she says she can’t find tumeric to make her dish, which is a curried potato side. So instead she just settles for curry powder.
Back in the Food Network kitchen, Nipa and her partner Shane are up first. So they start cooking. She’s making her curried potatoes, called suki bhakji, and Shane is making pork tenderloin wrapped with prosciutto. Shane voices in his interview that he likes to keep his cooking area clean. Cut to the scene of him blending his butternut squash soup and it splashing all over his face. He looks like a mess. You know what else is a mess? His pork tenderloin, which he cuts into and it’s raw in the center.

Commercials. Mercury Mariner. I bet this will be a prize for the winner this year. Oh, Oreo cookies. Do you like to split it and lick the center or do you eat them together? Discuss.

Shane and Nipa is up first, and they serve a table of Food Network stars, including Iron Chef Masuharu Morimoto, Giada DeLaurentiis, Sandra Lee, and the husband-and-wife team known simply as the Neelys (I don’t know their first names so I’m just going to refer to them as Mr. Neely and Mrs. Neely.) Of course, there are the three judges and Alton Brown.

Shane is really sweating in front of the judges, but Nipa does this weird thing where she falls on her sword figuratively by going on and on about how she couldn’t find tumeric and had to settle for curry powder. When they leave, Mr. Neely says the pork was tender and moist unlike the pork on display, which was the undercooked piece. Morimoto says he wouldn’t serve that uncooked pork to any human being.

Kevin and Lisa aka Dallas Diva are cooking. He’s making his French Kiss Onion Soup and she’s making poached salmon, which looks a mess when she’s pulling it out from the pot. Then they work together on a salad.

In front of the judges, Kevin does his thing about romance and Lisa starts talking, again, about her 3 “Cs” which include cooking and community service. But you know what? She always stops after community service and we never get to hear what’s the third C. Brown, who’s already heard this mess, wants to force the issue with the rest of the judges and he asks if they know what she’s talking about. Of course, no one does. Susie says Dallas Diva spoke in circles.

Adam and Jennifer are making potato gratin and honey-glazed carrots to go with their combined dish of meatloaf. Meatloaf in 30 minutes? They’re crazy. When they finally get done mixing all the ingredients for their meatloaf, they only have 9 minutes left to cook it. So they make their meatloaf into small individual-sized loaves and grill them on a griddle. In my neck of the woods, that’s called a hamburger.

Adam walks out to the judges and feels the cold, steely stare of Iron Chef Morimoto.

Commercials. Eeww, did you see that State Farm commercial where the woman is stuck at an airport working on her laptop and then this guy props up his stinky feet next to her? That has happened to me. And Pringle Stix is trying to bring back disco, people.

Adam talks to the table of stars about their “kitchen sink” meatloaf because they threw in all kinds of meat. Giada says the potatoes in the potato gratin were raw, but the judges like their personalities. Tuschman thinks Jennifer is appealing in the single mom tells a story about her daughter kind of way and Susie thinks Adam is a cool guy. Bobby wants to hangout with him.

Kelsey and Aaron are teamed together and they’re smart, making very easy to cook ingredients like salmon and an orzo salad. Of course, they have poor time management so they’re pressured near the end and some of the plating is a mess. They do their presentations and Barbie Doll Kelsey does her best to talk her way out of the fact that some dishes don’t have bread to go with the tomato soup like they originally planned.

Mr. Neely says Barbie Doll Kelsey was fired up and Sandra Lee felt she was real, prompting a quick retort from Giada who says Kelsey wasn’t real at all. Brown tries to save Giada’s comments by helping her out and suggesting Giada wants Kelsey to “tone it down.” Sure, whatever, says Giada. After the pep rally, Giada’s going to write something nasty in Kelsey’s yearbook.

Jeffrey is making deviled eggs, and Cory is making salmon. Is that the third salmon dish the judges are eating? What’s weird about Cory is she says she likes to cook with things that are trendy. So she’s making honey-glazed salmon because honey is so trendy now. Really, honey? Their combined dish is potato pancakes, or latkes to my Jewish friends.

Cory fucks up this presentation as well, stumbling her way and looking really stressed. Bobby calls her out on it and says why does she always look so serious when she’s a comedienne? He asks if she’s going to bring her comedy to the kitchen, and she says she will, but apparently not right now.

Mr. Neely says the salmon was too sweet while Brown says Jeffrey’s eggs were too salty. Tuschman and Susie comments on Cory, saying she looked tortured.

The contestants are back at the Carriage House waiting to face the judges. Man, they look like they’re being called to the principle’s office. They all think they’re the ones to go. Well, then this will be a pretty fast season if they all went, wouldn’t it?

When they face the judges Tuschman, Susie and Bobby, Susie goes on and on again about having a breakthrough personality and unique culinary point of view. Then they start with the critiques and here’s how it broke down:

Aaron and Barbie Doll Kelsey were the favorites, but Tuschman says Kelsey can come off as an over-caffeinated cheerleader (I bet Giada passed him that note to say). Aaron needs to get a personality.

Adam and Jennifer. The judges really don’t have much to say at this early stage other than Adam is funny and Jennifer needs to “focus, focus, focus,” according to Bobby. Um, focus on what?

Kevin and Lisa. Dallas Diva’s point of view is baffling, and Kevin’s romantic view needs to be distinguishable from all the other love doctors in the kitchen.

Cory and Jeffrey. Their food was the worst of the group, and Cory is too dark for a comedienne.

Shane and Nipa. Bobby says Nipa’s sense of confidence is surprising, and I’m pretty sure he means it in a bad way, like she’s borderline cocky. But he doesn’t come out and say it. Susie tells Shane that he needs to put his best forward and then she makes him cry when he has to talk about putting a piece of himself out for display every time he cooks. And he even looks to Bobby for empathy and Bobby just nods his head to end the awkwardness. Then Susie says, “I’m sorry,” like she has to take a break because maybe she’s going to cry? This is the most crying I’ve seen in the first episode in years. Awwwwk-ward.

Commercials. In the State Farm commercial this annoying woman goes around asking people how much of a deductible she should have. Lady, just go with $500.

Back in the judges’ room, Bobby announces who gets to move forward, and they’re Aaron, Barbie Doll Kelsey, Jeffrey, Kevin, Jennifer and Adam. The six are excused and they breathe a sigh of relief upstairs.

That leaves Nipa, Shane, Dallas Diva and Cory. Bobby gives Nipa the first pass, and she leaves the room right away without him even excusing her. Then Shane gets the pass, and he’s about to burst into tears. Then that leaves Cory and Dallas Diva, and I hate to give it away but at this point I already knew Cory was leaving because in the previews at the top of the show there were future scenes of Lisa falling on her bum (yep, she’s the one). So I knew Cory was a goner, and even though Tuschman calls Lisa’s personality overpowering and rigid, it’s Cory who’s sent home for her unhappy performance as a standup comic doing food.

Next week: Robert Irvine is the guest host and Food Network execs are cringing at this episode already. (Irvine’s contract was unceremoniously not renewed from the Food Network earlier this year when he allegedly was caught making up stuff on his bio.) The contestants cook on a train and everyone looks angry, especially Susie Folgelson, who has to eat a raw egg. And at the judges’ table, Nipa walks out for some unknown reason. Maybe it’s to get her Bobby voodoo doll that she left behind. Here's a video preview ...

The Next Food Network Star airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. and repeats on Thursdays at 9 p.m. on the Food Network. Check your local listing, and go to the Food Network site by click on the banner below and vote for your fan favorite. (At this point I would say vote for Kevin.) Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.

NFNS Giveaway Drawing Closed

Today was the last day to enter the NFNS giveaway on my blog and the chance to enter is now closed. Go to the original post in the comments section to find out the lucky winner!


Anonymous said...

Believe me dude... Aaron has a personality .. he just seems a little overwhelmed and nervous. I know this dude and he's a creative guy that has a large following in South jersey/philly food scene.

His salmon sandwich was the favorite - his cooking credentials are real and hopefully he'll loosen up some over time.

Unknown said...

I'm Chinese and even though Nipa's confidence irks me, I'm really rooting for an ethnic winner this year. Every year it's some chef who struggles to put a new spin on simple, classic American or French cuisine. The fact that the Food Network is lacking an Asian/Middle Eastern star is distressing.