Monday, June 09, 2008

The Next Food Network Star: Season 4, Episode 2

Next Stop: Drama-ville

Previously: The contestants serve up dishes to a table of Food Network stars. In the judging, Cory was called dark, Nipa doesn’t care and Kevin is generic. But it’s Cory who’s the first to go home after she gets no laughs. And tonight: They’re all cooking on a train with the ex-Dinner: Impossible guy, and Nipa walks out on Bobby Flay. Oh, no she did-NT.

Cue intro. Did you notice how they have all these Food Network stars saying “Who WILL BE…” but when it comes to the end with Rachel Ray, she goes “Who DO YOU THINK is the next Food Network star?” Girrrrl, just follow the script.

It’s the middle of the night and (faux Sir) Robert Irvine arrives in the Carriage House, banging a pot yelling, “wakey, wakey” like he’s getting a bunch of preschoolers ready for the day. Turns out it’s 3 a.m. and the sleepy contestants assemble in a line to hear Irvine explain that he’s on the judging panel this week and they have to divide into teams of three to test their food knowledge.

They do the color thing and this is how everyone divides up:

Team Blue: Dallas Diva Lisa, Spice Queen Nipa and Young Shane
Team Green: Jeffrey, Cheerleader Kelsey and Kevin (who still looks like the guy from “Felicity.”)
Team Gray: Aaron, Adam and Jennifer (This team is so boring, like their color. Who picks gray for a team color?)

Their assignment is to visit specialty food shops that have been forced to open in the middle of the night by the Food Network so that this scavenger hunt can happen without any patrons milling around. They’ll be asked food questions and receive ingredients to be cooked later. If they get the answer wrong, they have to do some kind of food prep.

Irvine announces that the winner of this challenge will be featured in the Sunday magazine USA Weekend (which is inserted in most U.S. newspapers that I don’t subscribe to anymore because I read everything online).

Everyone scrambles because they were just woken out of bed, so that means no one has showered, shaved or brushed their teeth. It’s a madhouse in the bathrooms with I’m sure a lot of rushed personal hygiene, but the first team out is Team Green with Jeffrey, Kelsey and Kevin. Team Gray leaves next, and it’s poor Shane and Lisa of Team Blue waiting for Nipa, who sure is gathering up a lot of clothes.

First destination is Amy’s Bread. There a girl (I can’t assume it’s Amy) who asks Team Green about what two parts of wheat grain are removed to make white flour. They answer wrong, and the correct answer is bran and germ. So Kevin goes off to the bakery to start folding and rolling out bread in order to get past this stop.

Team Gray arrives and gets a question about what’s the double acting ingredient in baking powder, and surprisingly they get it right. (I didn’t understand the answer, and really, who really wants to know the double-acting ingredient in baking soda? Google it if you do.)

Team Gray chooses the brioche bread out of three ingredients and then heads off to the next stop, Alleva Dairy. Meanwhile Kevin is still rolling out bread when Team Blue arrives and gets a question about what gives pumpernickel its color. They answer molasses and it’s correct. I’m impressed. They choose the baguette and passes Kevin and his team.

At Alleva, Team Gray is asked how many pounds of whole milk are used to make cheese and they correctly answer 10 pounds. They dash off with some ricotta cheese in hand.

Kevin finally finishes rolling out dough and they leave with a loaf of semolina raisin bread.

Team Blue arrives at the dairy and gets a question about what cheese-making process involves pressing layer after layer of curd, and they answer cheddar, which to me doesn’t sound like a process as much as it’s an end product. Anywho, CORRECT! Shane actually says he learned that from the Food Network. My guess is from him. They rush off with the Danish blue cheese.

Team Gray is already at the Esposito’s Meat Market and they get a question that I finally know the answer! The guy asks what’s the main feed for the pigs that are made into Iberico jamon. (If you read my interview here, you’d know the answer is acorn.) Adam says as a waiter, he knew this answer because the restaurant he works at serves Ierico ham and so he often has to explain it to guests. He gives the right answer and they grab a strip steak as their meat.

Team Green, running last, arrives at the dairy for their question about the dye that makes cheddar cheese orange. I didn’t get the answer, but they’re correct and they grab the mozzarella.

At Esposito’s, Team Blue of Nipa, Lisa and Shane has to answer the different parts of the meat, and Dallas Diva Lisa gives it a try and it looks like she got them all wrong except one. So they have to perform a task and they make Shane butcher chicken into eight parts. When he’s done, Team Green still hasn’t arrived so they’re still in second place and they grab the lamb because Nipa says she can easily make Indian food from that. Of course, the other items were a baguette and Danish blue cheese, which doesn’t really scream Indian food to me.

The first two teams are headed toward New Jersey when Team Green arrives at the meat market. They have to name the different cuts of beef and they get it wrong. (Correct answer is chuck, rib, loin and round.) Jeffrey volunteers to butcher the chicken, and when he’s done they’re left with the duck breast.

Commercials. Vegas has a new campaign called “Do Vegas Right Now.” What happened to “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas”? The new one sounds a bit desperate.

The teams head to New Jersey and when Team Gray arrives, there’s Robert Irvine standing on some train tracks. Here comes the train, so they know they’re all going for a ride. Irvine tells them that they have to prepare brunch with their ingredients and whatever else is in the pantry to serve 30 guests and the judges. Then they have to do a presentation because you know the Food Network is all about the show and tell.

The teams go in the order that they arrived. So Team Gray is up first. They have 45 minutes to prep their food and the team decides to make a savory French toast with eggs and herb ricotta and a grilled steak. Adam, the waiter, is in charge of eggs and he talks about poaching them, which Aaron is strongly against. Adam probably notices the trend of poached eggs going on everything, but Aaron has the practicalities of serving a large number of people at a hospital so he knows it’ll be a mess. They’re both pretty stubborn and it’s kind of like my brother and I when we were growing up and we would fight about how things should be done like who’s turn it was to rake up all the mangoes that fell from our tree. (It was like walking around a landmine of mushy mangoes around our yard.)

To appease Aaron, Adam decides to do the eggs sunnyside up, and even that Aaron doesn’t think is a good idea. (He thinks they should be scrambled, which sounds a bit boring to me.) In the meantime, Jennifer is cutting out bread pieces in circles for the French toast and Aaron and Adam thinks it’s too big. Basically the team is falling apart with everyone disagreeing on how things should be made. Aaron looks mad, and he says he wants to walk off the team right now. Aaron, I would wait for the train to stop.

Commercials. Already? And they’re all so repetitive and boring.

Tired of dealing with Adam and his eggs, Aaron focuses on his steak which he’s rubbing with a blend of cayenne and other seasoning. Adam cooked all his eggs in two batches and then plans to cut them into individual servings. But some of the eggs were cooked too close and they’re still runny, so he has to be really careful when cutting around the white to not break the yolk. Um, did you forget he’s on a moving train? Adam belatedly sees Aaron’s point.

When they plate everything, the ricotta thing they made to slather over the meat looks weird and of course the eggs are a bit runny, so Aaron says the plate makes him seasick and he’s on a train. Still, they prepare to go out and sell it.

Adam has the idea of doing a skit, like a train robbery. Aaron is all, “oh, hell no.” But Jennifer and Adam walk out first and start giving their presentation and then all of a sudden Aaron comes out saying something about a train robbery, but tying it to his bold flavored steak. It was very bold, but still not sure what that all had to do with a train robbery. Maybe he needed a cowboy hat.

Right away we get a clip of judge Susie Folgelson saying she got a raw egg, and she’s all like, “gross.” Bobby Flay says Jennifer’s French toast was kind of bland. (BTW, Bobby’s smiling less in this episode. I wonder if he’s not enjoying the train ride.) But they all have nice words for Aaron’s steak.

Next up is Team Blue with Shane, Lisa, and Nipa. Shane and Lisa seems to both defer to Nipa’s Indian cooking and she says she’s going to make a lamb kebob with six different spices. Young Shane makes a salad with blue cheese, romaine and figs while Lisa does a crostini-style French toast.

I don’t really see Nipa cooking her kebob, I guess they were easy because she’s just walking around while Shane and Lisa are scrambling. Lisa starts plating and she’s careful to ration out her crème fraiche to make sure she gets it on all 30 plates. Of course, she thinks she’s done when they discover two more plates and she’s already doled out all her crème fraiche. So with two minutes left, she quickly whips with a fork or spoon this small bowl of whipping cream. She’s like a whipping machine, but a messy one. The plate also looks a bit messy with glop everywhere. Nipa interviews that this was a lot more pressure than she thought and she doesn’t know if she’s ready for this. I’m thinking girl just sleep-walked her way through a challenge, so what does she have to complain about.

Commercials. PUH-lease, the humanity. Did the Food Network oversell this episode?

Now Team Blue does their presentation. Shane stumbles as he’s talking, and Nipa talks about Indian food, of course. Dallas Diva Lisa, surprisingly, is coherent. She talks about the journey through art of fine dining with beautiful basics. She thankfully got rid of her three “Cs.” And she does this neat adlib where she connects with what Nipa was saying earlier about hot and spicy and how they can calm themselves with the crème fraiche. Smooth.

Bobby Flay thought Shane was speaking too fast, plus he felt his salad was overdressed. Bob Tuschman says Nipa has a warmth about her but is too matter-of-fact. Robert Irvine makes this weird face like he’s choking, which I’m guessing means Nipa’s lamb was so spicy he’s choking for water. Tuschman agrees with me that Lisa was oddly simple and refreshing with her beautiful basics point of view. And Bobby likes her French toast.

The Green Team is last and they’re worried that people won’t be hungry after eating the dishes from the earlier teams. (But I think they actually serve each dish to different customers.) Kelsey’s making a duck salad with champagne vinaigrette while Jeffrey makes bread pudding and Kevin makes honey glazed figs crostini. He thinks it’s sexy. But Jeffrey’s doesn’t think fruit on a crunchy toast is sexy.

Jeffrey is looking for oil, and there’s only a squeeze bottle. Turns out Kevin said he would grab the oil before boarding the train, but he only brought enough for his dish. I have to say, Kevin was my early favorite because he’s funny but in this segment he’s really coming off as the clueless chef. He’s into his own world and really not working as a team. Plus, he tries to laugh off all the setbacks as nothing major.

For example, when they start plating, Kevin says they’ve done 30 plates until Kelsey recounts and only sees 20. She spots another stack of 10 off to the side. So they have to take the food off all the plates and replate them to proportion everything, but since they’re in such a rush, not every plate gets even distribution of the food. Kevin looks like, eh, no biggie. If I were in Jeffrey or Kelsey’s shoes, I would slap him across the face with a crostini.

They go and make their presentation, and I’m just glad we’re not heading into another commercial break. They say hello and then there’s this awkward pause. Finally they start talking about love, soul and happiness. Bobby Flay really looks annoyed during the presentation. I wonder if he’s grumpy because he had to wake up early to catch the train. He probably wishes he was out grilling somewhere.

Everyone likes Jeffrey’s Bourbon bread pudding, but the duck was overcooked and Kevin’s crostini was like candy with the sweet figs and honey. Bobby wants to talk to Kevin about his culinary point of view because he’s not buying the romance guy.

The train heads back to the station and the contestants all look worried heading into judgment.

Back at the Carriage House, they go in for their critiques. Nipa says she feels wiped out and that the challenges are harder than she thought. She wonders if she’d like being the next Food Network star. (Remember when Amy last year had similar misgivings and then she cried and eventually came back the winner?)

The judges do this weird thing where they talk in parts. Like Robert Irvine starts with one sentence, then Bobby Flay says the next sentence, and so on with Susie and Tuschman. It is all so very rehearsed that it’s kind of weird.

Here’s how the critique broke down:

Gray Team (Aaron, Adam and Jennifer). The eggs were raw but Aaron’s steak rocked. They also like Aaron’s entrance, and he confides that it was Adam’s idea and Susie calls Adam stupid for giving away a brilliant entrance to Aaron. Bob tells Jennifer to get more authority.

Green Team (Kelsey, Kevin and Jeffrey). The duck was overdone and the plating was off. No one’s buying Kevin’s romantic side and Jeffrey needs more passion.

Blue Team (Shane, Nipa and Lisa). Shane wasn’t happy with his dish, and Lisa had a nice French toast. But this was all about Nipa, who talks about making Indian food and then saying she doesn’t know if she really wants to do this. When Tuschman asks why the hesitation, she answers with “well, look at me.” (I think she was referring to the fact that she might not fit in with the Food Network family because she looks different that the other girls, which I think is such a cop out because if you’re coming in to shake up the existing profile of a network, then of course everyone’s going to look different from you. That’s. Why. You’re. THERE. So don’t use that as a crutch or excuse when you feel less than adequate.)

Bob says she doesn’t seem engage, and I agree because she keeps looking off to the side and never looks at Bob directly. Then she does this rude move and abruptly walks out while Bob is talking. All she says is “sorry, I can’t do this anymore” and leaves.

Commercials. Hey, those Alltell My Circle quick recaps are pretty cool. They do my recaps in 30 seconds. Huh, I guess I’m too thorough!

When we come back from commercial, they show Nipa walking out again because it’s just so good. It was hard for me to count all the dropped jaws and roving eyes. Everyone was shocked that this woman just left the judges in the middle of an elimination. It’s like Food Network suicide. The camera shows Nipa upstairs in the Carriage House pacing and wondering what to do next, saying she didn’t want to cry in front of everyone and now she’s just questioning why she’s there. And then downstairs the judges are saying how they’re rooting for everyone and the criticism is to help. But the fellow contestants try to explain Nipa, saying no one’s used to the constant criticism. As they’re talking, Nipa decides to wander back with her tail between her legs.

Then she breaks into this very heartfelt story about being an Indian girl and an immigrant to the United States who grew up different but would fall in love with food when she’d visit her grandmother in India. Wow, she really pulled a rabbit out of her hat because I can see Susie eating this shit up.

Robert Irvine, who’s probably bored with all this drama and just wants to get on to his next make-believe project, announces the finalists who will be featured in the USA Weekend spread—Lisa and Aaron. They’re both safe and they head upstairs, with Aaron promising to buy every single edition of USA Weekend when it comes out. (I’m sure that’ll make Allen Neuharth happy.)

Bobby then names the other contestants moving on: Kelsey, Jennifer (she always has a weird happy reaction), and Adam (he also has this reaction like he’s always shocked he’s moving on). That leaves Nipa, Jeffrey, Kevin and Shane. Bobby sends Jeffrey to safety. Robert Irvine sends Shane. The two go upstairs, leaving only Nipa and Kevin.

Now, this is where all the bets are on Nipa getting the boot because she totally disrespected the judges. But this is TV and they eat that drama up, so Susie announces that generic Kevin is going home. But Bob Tuschman says Nipa has been warned because any other Food Network star throwing a prima donna fit like that would probably have had their show canceled. (Robert Irvine on the other side didn’t have to worry about that, but he did have to worry about exaggeration.)

Kevin does the typical interview of how he’s shocked and how this isn’t the last we’ll see of him. I’m kind of sad to see him go because I think he would have been fun to watch, but now I’ll just have to rely on Adam. The show lingers on a bit as we see the contestants in the kitchen preparing dinner. So I guess they don’t eat until someone leaves, saving themselves from making an additional plate at the table. Nipa takes this time to apologize to everybody at the house. Maybe she’ll make some of her spicy kebobs for them as a peace offering.

Next week: They have to invent their own packaged food product. Ms. Martha makes her appearance, and Adam is on his knees. There’s more crying in the Carriage House.

Here’s a preview video of next week’s episode:

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.


David K. and Ann C.-K. said...

Hey Chef Ben,
Just watched the first two episodes and two things struck me...1) This show is much better cast than the latest Top Chef season. Almost every contestant has a unique personality and you can tell them apart. 2) I also like how they focus on each team's cooking from start to finish before moving on to the next team. Top Chef doesn't do that, and it's confusing.

-- David

Single Guy Ben said...

Interesting observation David. I agree that this group of cheftestants are more interesting to watch than the current Top Chef crop, but that may be more a reflection of how Top Chef this season is kind of bland. And the observation of how they focus on the food cooking from beginning to end at TNFNS may also be a reflection that they cook less than on Top Chef, with simpler recipes, so not as difficult to follow.