Monday, June 16, 2008

The Next Food Network Star: Season 4, Episode 3

Brand Me Martha!

Previously: The contestants cook on a train and many were off track, including some raw eggs. Nipa walked out but not out the door. That was reserved for Kevin, who was eliminated because he was generic. Tonight: The Dallas Diva is frantic when she cooks, everyone goes ga-ga over Ms. Martha, and more contestants cry.

We open with scenes of Manhattan and those ugly double-decker buses carrying tourists. In the Carriage House, Adam says he has to be perfect after serving undercooked food two weeks in a row. People are still talking about the warning Nipa got for her prima donna fit last week. Even Nipa’s talking about it, saying it would be easy to have quit, but now she knows she really really wants it. OK, if you say so.

They go to the Food Network studios and they’re greeted by Bobby Flay, who’s standing in front of those silver trays with the coverings to unveil some fancy food at those fancy restaurants. Do people use those things anymore? Everyone knows the next challenge is underneath it so they’re all speculating what it could be.

Bobby says he wants to see more of their culinary point of view translated to food, and he’s found the perfect canvas—the plain, generic russet potato. Everyone’s excited about the potato, especially Nipa who goes all Bollywood with ideas for curried potatoes. I have a feeling all her dishes will involve some kind of curry. Not to generalize, but I’m just saying she should call herself the Curry Queen instead of the Spice Queen.

The contestants have 30 minutes to create something and then do a 1-minute presentation on tape for the judges. Go!

Everyone’s frantically cooking and talking about their plans for the potato. BTW, did you ever notice that Jennifer, the mom, talks like a baby when she’s on air? When she does her interviews, she’s fine. But I notice when she’s in front of the judges or speaking to the camera while cooking, she talks like a baby. Grow up already!

Dallas Diva Lisa is really frenetic in the kitchen. I wouldn’t want to be near her when she’s chopping vegetables, like right now. She’s a human food processor. Jennifer is adding a big plop of goo onto a pizza she’s making. It doesn’t look appetizing at all. Just all white. Curry Queen is standing around as the 30 minutes wind down. You know, she always looks so low-key during these challenges. Either Nipa’s dishes are so easy to make, or she has someone else cooking for her backstage because we all know the Food Network is hungry for an Indian food show.

Time’s up and they do their presentations in front of the camera. In comes Bob Tuschman and Susie Folgelson, and Bob tells them to be sure to tell a story about themselves.

Adam’s up first and he’s serving up cheese fries because he’s all about the comfort food. He does a good job talking about eating comfort food when you’re breaking up with your girlfriend and it’s actually quite funny. No surprise since he’s an actor. And the judges’ seem to like the bacon and fries, which Bobby notes are not raw.

With Kelsey, she’s like sunshine walking into a room. But with the judges, they all feel like she’s shining too bright. They’re like, where’s my sunglasses because this girl is too sunny? Susie actually calls her phony and her dish of potato au gratin is undercooked.

Jeffrey and Aaron both give similar presentations, meaning they both either stuttered their way through it all or really showed their nerves. While the judges’ felt Jeffrey’s home fries were bland, they really love Aaron’s bacon-wrapped potato. In fact, they always seem to like Aaron’s food, so I get a feeling that he must make some tasty dishes.

Then we have Nipa, who always seem to be sleep-walking IMHO. I have to say, her make up and hair looks pretty nice right now, giving her a really soft look. And her presentation is not bad. She’s talking about her Indian potato dish, some long-ass name that I can’t pronounce and were too many words to type in a few seconds. Tuschman says she needs to smile more because “she has a lot going for her.”

Shane is kind of boring and his dish tasted like paste, according to Bob. But not as bad as Jennifer’s grilled pizza with mashed potatoes which she says will be easy for kids to make to load up on carbs if they’re running a marathon the next day. (She actually didn’t say that; I made it up for her because that really is a lot of carbs.)

Finally, there’s Lisa. She’s all worried because everyone coming back from doing their presentations have been saying how the minute goes by fast, so she keeps her presentation short and sweet. Well, maybe too short because she’s all done talking about her crème fraiche and fresh asparagus dish when the floor director tells her to stretch it out. Lisa’s confused because she’s done and doesn’t have more to say, so we just see the time clicking away and the judges watching to see if the Dallas Diva is going to say anything else. She doesn’t and it’s all very awkward. Lisa is upset with herself and cries saying she doesn’t want 30 seconds of dead air to take away her dream. Dead air has killed a lot of people’s dreams and careers, baby. This is TV.

Commercials. Ugh, you know these commercials are always the same. It’s like the Food Network sold commercial blocks for the whole series to the same companies. They’re so repetitive, all you have to do is read my last two recaps and you’ll get the idea about the commercials.

The contestants walk into a room where Bobby Flay is standing in front of all these products. Jars of sauce and stuff from the likes of Paula Deen, Emeril Legasse and Giada DeLaurentiis. Bobby tells the group that their challenge is to come up with a food product that they can brand and sell. Then they have to demonstrate its use with a dish for a group of 50 buyers from food stores all across the country … and a special guest. (But since we’ve seen the previews already, we know the special guest is Ms. Martha Stewart.)

They have 30 minutes to shop for ingredients, and I’m kind of shocked at how little time they’re given to conceive a packaged product and then think up a recipe to serve it with. I’m starting to think the Food Network just wants to see who fails more than they want to see who can excel. The evil bastards!

Adam is going for a smoking rub, but can’t find any wood chips. So instead he uses a trick he saw on the Food Network (see what you’ve spawned!) of smoking corn husks. Nipa, of course, is making a sweet and spicy peanut seasoning and apparently the main ingredient is cayenne because she talks about buying up all the bottles of cayenne in the store. Then strolls in Aaron who wants to make his apple-cider vinaigrette. He says his secret ingredient is … cayenne. Wait! Where’s all the cayenne? Aaron can’t believe the store is out of cayenne. This is like a really sick version of “Who Moved the Cayenne Pepper?”

Back in the Food Network kitchens, the contestants start cooking up their product selection of sauces, marmalade and such. Most of them seem pretty confident about this challenge, which is surprising given that none of them currently have a product on store shelves. Oh look, there’s Nipa looking bored again while cooking. Yawn.

Commercials. OK, these commercials are sooo boring, I want to talk about a really funny commercial. Have you guys seen the recent E*Trade commercial with the baby on the computer? It’s He-LARRY-ous! He’s talking about trading stocks and gets a text message and then a call from his girlfriend. The dialog is so funny and the baby is spot on cute! I love these commercials, but I saw them earlier on another station. The Food Network should get E*Trade as a sponsor so I can have some fun during commercial breaks. Can you get on that, FN?

Bobby is in the studio again. You know, Bobby Flay is really working this episode, unlike the first two. He’s been in every segment so far. Good hosting work, Bobby! Then the crowd of buyers strolls into the room where each contestant has set up a little table to do a food demo, like walking around Costco.

The buyers and judges walk to the various contestants. A buyer from Whole Foods thinks Nipa’s sweet and spicy sauce is too simple because it’s just sugar and cayenne, which anyone can mix together at home despite Nipa’s assurance that it’s a trick to get that “proper balance.”

Over at Kelsey’s table of All-in-1 sauce, she’s cooking up Sloppy Joe’s, or what she calls, Sloppy Jane. (Get it?) And Susie and Bob Tuschman are again overwhelmed by her sunshine. They think she’s overselling.

For Shane, a buyer tells him he needs to work on his product’s name, which has this stupid Cherri-Gac name but the g is silent (like gag, oh, not like gag, but should be). Lisa made an orange-basil marmalade and it looks delicious spread on those chunks of cheese.

Jeffrey sells his soul-food salt and when the judges try the fried fish that he sprinkled it on, they don’t say a word. But Jeffrey is selling up a storm, saying how even after they walk away, the flavor will sneak up on them again and say “Jeffrey” in this really creepy whisper. Can you see Bobby Flay waking up at night screaming because he heard someone whisper in his ear “Jeffrey. Jeff-reeeeey.” Scary.

The buyers leave, and everyone’s trying to guess who will be the special guest. Then in walks Ms. Martha and Lisa and Kelsey are having an OMG shitfest.

Ms. Martha walks around like she’s inspecting the troops, with her little plastic clipboard. She starts with Shane and his poorly named Cherri-gac, but thankfully for him Martha gets that it’s supposed to be a play on cognac. Still, she felt Shane’s dish needed a bit more salt.

With Nipa, she asked if there were peanuts in her sweet and spicy peanut seasoning, and Curry Queen says no. Ms. Martha thinks that’s misleading. Nipa is so overconfident that she interviews that she thinks Martha loved her presentation when it was so obvious that she didn’t.

For the rest, Ms. Martha thinks Jeffrey is a good salesman, Jennifer is boring and she loves Aaron’s apple-cider vinaigrette, mostly because she loves apple-cider.

Then she meets Lisa, who looks like she’s going to go into convulsions at any moment. She says she’s Martha’s biggest fan, and I believe her. Ms. Martha tries a bit of the orange marmalade and talks to Lisa about sourcing and organic food. Martha doesn’t say much and she makes me nervous how she dabs her lips with her napkin in that slow way like she’s planning how she can get out of this conversation without killing Lisa.

Kelsey, who’s also a fan but not as convulsive as Lisa, is worried because if she knew Martha was coming she would have made Beef Willington or a fancy pasta instead of her stupidly named Sloppy Jane’s. Again, Martha tries it and doesn’t say much, other than saying she doesn’t eat Sloppy Joe’s typically. (I don’t see why, Martha, they’re so comforting!)

The last is Adam, and he asks if it’s all right for him to sing to her? Huh? I didn’t know Martha was taking requests? Adam pulls out a harmonica and does this blues song about meeting Martha. He falls on his knees at the end, and I have to say it did make Martha giggle, so there’s that.

Ms. Martha is now in the roundtable with the judges and she gives short reviews on everyone. Mostly she’s saying “not bad” a lot. She doesn’t rave about anyone in particular. It was a very short critique I think. But you can tell she’s like Oprah of the food world because Bobby Flay can’t stop thanking her and touching her arm.

Commercials. I switched to the Tony Awards on CBS and they’re doing a tribute to Rent, which ended its long run on Broadway this past season. I. Love. That. Musical. Especially that song, “Seasons of Love.” Thankfully I taped the tribute and will watch it again tonight.

Judgment. The contestants are tense and all of them think they’re going home as they walk down the stairs to the judges’ room. They get their critiques and this is how it went:

Tuschman tells Shane that the soup tasted wrong and he needs to show more passion. He’s too careful and thoughtful for the Food Network.

Bobby tells Adam that he liked that he didn’t cook anything raw this time and that his BBQ rub was OK but nothing he hadn’t tasted before.

Susie tells Jennifer that her mashed potato grilled pizza wasn’t working. She also thinks Jennifer is a little self-conscious and is always apologizing about her food. Tuschman says a Food Network star has to be authoritative.

Bobby tells Lisa that her presentation in the first challenge was too short but buyers liked her marmalade. Then she gets all teary eyed thinking about meeting Ms. Martha. Oh, PUH-lease, someone hand the girl a tissue.

Bob gets Nipa, and she asks her first whether she’s up for a critique or if she’s going to go ballistic and storm out of the room like last time? She says she’s going to stay, and Bob tells her that her potato dish was delicious but her product was too simple. He also says she has low-energy. (See, I told you.)

Susie tells Aaron that his honey scallion bacon-wrapped potato could be his signature dish, but his presentation lacked any personal stories.

Jeffrey looks like he’s wearing black lipstick. I’m not kidding. His lips look so perfectly dark and smooth. Anywho, Tuschman tells Jeffrey that he seems to shrink in a crowd and he needs Jeffrey to be Jeffrey. And Jeffrey concurs.

Susie tells Kelsey that her potato au gratin wasn’t very good and Ms. Martha didn’t like her Sloppy Jane’s. But she hits Kelsey hard by telling her to be less Miss Sunshine because she’s coming off too rehearsed and verging on being annoying. Ouch!

Commercials. Patty Lapone just won a Tony for her reprisal role in Gypsy. She’s giving this hilarious speech about how it’s been almost 30 years since her last win (for Evita, of course). She’s so great.

Decision time. Adam wins the potato-presentation challenge (he was smooth). The buyers chose Lisa as the winner with the best product. And Martha chose her personal favorite and that’s Aaron’s apple-cider vinaigrette. All three are safe and are excused. Then Nipa and Shane are declared safe and they leave too, leaving Kelsey, Jeffrey and Jennifer.

Kelsey looks down, and Bobby asks her what’s wrong? She talks about how she’s passionate about food and food television and how she applied for The Next Food Network Star after seeing season 1, and how she applied every year. (Tuschman says in his blog that they basically took her in this year because she kept applying. I guess that’s the trick, wear ‘em down!) Then she starts crying because it breaks her heart to think that she’s coming off forced and unnatural. I feel kind of bad for her because she does seem really sincere. And can she help it if she radiates the sun? I think not.

Bobby tells her that she has raw talent and if he were her producer, he’d work with her so he asks her to stay. Which of course makes her cry more and she promises to work harder, and then goes upstairs and cries some more because she was called annoying by Susie. The others give her a group hug and say, “you’re not annoying.” That’s so sweet. They lie, but that’s still sweet.

That just leaves the two Js—Jennifer and Jeffrey—and I could tell at this point that Jeffrey is going home. Because even though he seems really nice, he is pretty boring. And you know how the Food Network loves the mom cooks! I’m right as Susie tells Jennifer she’s staying. She also breaks into tears, probably from all the pent up frustration and tension, and Jeffrey has to end up comforting her.

Jeffrey leaves graciously, telling everyone it was an awesome experience. He later interviews that if you get beaten down in life, you grow stronger and taller. That says a lot because he’s pretty tall already so he must have been beaten up a lot as a kid.

Jennifer goes upstairs and runs immediately to her bed to pull out a photo of her daughter and starts bawling. Wow, did the Food Network forget to run psychological analysis on the contestants before they arrived in New York? Because these people are on the verge of nervous breakdowns.

Next week: Tyler Florence is the guest and he’s going to teach them some basics, Iron Chef Michael Simon is also going to get them to cook for the Coast Guard, and looks like we’re going to finally see Lisa’s infamous preview fall in the kitchen. It’s a doozie. If you don’t believe me, you can watch it in this preview video:

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.

No comments: