Monday, June 30, 2008

The Next Food Network Star: Season 4, Episode 5

Someone’s on Very, Very, Very, Very, Very Thin Ice

Previously: They cook for the Coast Guard, Lisa takes a fall and so does Adam (but his was on purpose) and Nipa is tossed back into the ocean. Tonight: It’s the Bon Appétit episode and someone breaks a jar of sauce on the stovetop. Iron Chefs Cat Cora and Bobby Flay get critical.

We open with scenes of Adam doing pushups in his underwear. Shane is working on his hair a lot, but Aaron doesn’t have to worry about that. It’s mostly on the guys in these opening few seconds. Then they leave and arrive at the Food Network kitchen where there’s a row of cute little picnic baskets. In comes Iron Chef Cat Cora, whose hair looks really long and flowing. I think Shane is in love with her because she’s a strong woman that can wield a knife. (His words, not mines.)

Chef Cora says their challenge is to make something out of the six mystery ingredients in the basket in front of them. Then they have to describe the dish in front of the camera.

The contestants open their baskets and starts cooking. It’s a variety of things. For example, Lisa gets Japanese udon noodles, beets, ginger, lemon, chicken and scallions. Oh my gawd, that doesn’t look like udon noodles to me. You know, I think the same thing happened last year where Amy says she was making a dish with udon noodles and it totally didn’t look like it from where I’m sitting in my living room.

Granted, I’m no expert in udon noodles. But like I said last year, all the udon noodles I’ve ever had have been these thick, white noodles that remind me of worms. They’re typically served in a soup dish and the thick white noodles are comforting to eat on a cold day. But these noodles look a bit thin and hardly white, and Lisa’s making it into a cold salad. They actually look more like soba noodles, but I can’t really say for sure. Anywho, it bugs me when the Food Network tries to pass off like they’re experts in Asian ingredients but they don’t use the more common form of the particular ingredient. Aiiiiieeee!

Everyone works on their dish (Shane’s pretty fast with the chopping) and when they’re done, they’re all excited about giving these in-depth descriptions of their dishes. Then Chef Cora drops the bomb that they have to describe someone else’s dish. And Aaron is about to blow! He was all set to talk about his dish (he made a chocolate strawberry shortcake with his ingredients) and had all these witty lines ready, but now has to describe something he’s never seen before. Aaron doesn’t seem to be really good about going with the flow.

They each get 90 seconds and they come up in pairs. First up are Kelsey and Shane, who will describe each other’s dish. Kelsey starts talking and sounds good but doesn’t really say anything specific. She’s just keeps saying “it’s a burst of flavors.” Plus she thought the sauce had a citrus flavor but it was actually habanero peppers and she takes a big swig of water when time runs out. Chef Cora tells Kelsey that she needs to know her ingredients and be specific. Basically, what I said.

Shane opens Kelsey’s dish and he right away say it’s cod, and I’m like, man he’s good because white fish looks like white fish to me. It could have been halibut or sea bass but he zero’ed in on the fact that it was cod. He talks about the aroma of the saffron blending with the fennel and I’m like, this guy is good. His presentation got cut off just as he was signing off, but I’d say his presentation was pretty on the money, and Chef Cora agrees with me again (smile) and says she likes his energy and description of the dish.

The next pair is Adam and Aaron. Adam unveils Aaron’s dish and gets excited that it’s a dessert. He calls it a delicious Napolean when it’s a shortcake, but I guess it could have seemed like a Napolean because of the layering. He’s actually very smooth and talks a good talk, but he takes this massive piece of cake (I guess it tasted really good) and then he can barely talk or even sign off because he’s busy swallowing. I bet they did this right before lunch to see the will power of the contestants. Anywho, Chef Cora says he needs to anticipate the wrap up and not be busy eating on camera.

Aaron does his bit and he’s even worse than Adam with the eating. He tastes Adam’s dish of Napa Cabbage Salad with Turkey and he’s just eating for maybe 5 seconds. Make that more than 8. Oh wait, he’s still eating. Um, shouldn’t we talk about now Aaron? He finally says something about how he tastes mushrooms, apples, etc. when time runs out. Chef Cora calls him on the eating and not talking and how he needs to own the dish. And Aaron looks a bit agitated about how he doesn’t “own” the dish because he didn’t make it, and Chef Cora tells him too bad, because this is the Food Network and you have to be able to describe food no matter where it came from and who made it.

The final pair is Dallas Diva Lisa and Mom Cook Jennifer. Lisa starts first with Jennifer’s pork tenderloin dish, which she says is beautiful. Lisa is paying more attention to being friendly and having more of a camera presence given her critiques in the past. I thought she did pretty well identifying the ingredients. She even threw in talking about dredging the pork to lightly panfry. Chef Cora tells her she still needs to make eye contact with the camera and be more genuine. Ugh, it must suck to be called fake.

Jennifer starts talking about Lisa’s dish, which is the “udon” noodle salad. Jennifer thinks it’s linguine (see, udon wouldn’t be confused with linguine at all). Jennifer is falling apart because she’s not identifying any ingredients and all she’s saying is, “yum, this is good.” Jennifer’s disappointed in herself, and so is Chef Cora.

Chef Cora names Shane the winner, which probably makes him love her even more (if only she played on his team). Everyone seems a bit surprised that he won, but at least it’s a happy surprise like “oh, that’s sweet the kid won something” as opposed to “are you kidding me, the kid won?”

The contestants line up again and this time Cat Cora introduces Bobby Flay. Just kidding! Host Bobby Flay again has left the building and looks like Cat Cora is doing all the hosting responsibilities in this episode, introducing Bon Appétit magazine editor Barbara Fairchild, who was that same woman last year. Also it’s the same prize as last year, which is a feature in Bon Appétit’s August edition. BTW, did you know Chef Cora is the magazine’s executive chef? It’s amazing how these Food Network stars have so many side gigs. I guess it doesn’t pay that much to just be a “star.”

Chef Cora stands near those shiny domes again with some mystery dish underneath. She says their challenge is to modernize a classic recipe, and they have to make it from “shopping bag to table” in 45 minutes. That’s kind of crazy if you ask me. I mean, sometimes it takes a long time for me from shopping bag to table because it’s a little like: unpack my bags, watch a little baseball, go surf the internet, clean the rice and start that going, watch a bit more baseball, start chopping some vegetables, find out why my neighbor is screaming in the hallways again, focus on cooking dinner, plate, take pictures of it if I think it’s worth blogging about, and then eat. Even then that’s probably and hour and a half on a good night.

The classic dishes the contestants have to reinvent is Beef Willington (never made it), Coq au Vin (like to order it but never made it) and Turducken (definitely never made this). Shane, as the winner of the first challenge, gets to pick the dish to make and assigns the dish to the others. They’re working in pairs again and he’s still with Kelsey and he picks Beef Willington, which Kelsey jumps with joy hearing because she thinks it’s the easiest of the three. Then Shane assigns Coq au Vin to Adam and Aaron and the Turducken to Lisa and Jennifer. Adam sounds like he says he’s making “cook in oven.” Funny.

So now the pairs have to shop and then cook their dishes at the Café Gray in Central Park, which I’ve never heard of but there are so many restaurants in Manhattan that there are probably many more I’ve never heard of. (I just did a Google search and turns out Café Gray, which was at the Time Warner Center near Central Park, has closed. Well there, I guess I didn’t really need to know Café Gray.)

At the grocery store, Jennifer is climbing the grocery walls and basically looks overwhelmed. Lisa says Jennifer’s kind of scattered and Jennifer says Lisa’s kind of bossy. This doesn’t sound like a good combination. You know who’s a good combination? Shane and Kelsey. They look sweet together and they’re both so nice. I like them.

Adam and Aaron, on the other hand, are having a train episode flashback where Adam didn’t listen to Aaron and he made runny eggs for judge Susie Folgelson. So Adam says he won’t be stubborn this time around. Still, he chooses to buy chicken breast with skin and bone on while Aaron says he should go with skinless, boneless breasts. They both buy the different versions of the chicken and I’m wondering if they plan on cooking together because it really seems like they’re both going in their own direction.

The contestants arrive at the (now defunct) Café Gray and it is the typical shiny new expensive-looking restaurants at that Time Warner Center (which for those who don’t know is fairly new and houses Thomas Keller’s Per Se, among other luxury restaurants). Aaron and Adam go first.

Instead of stewing a Coq au Vin, they’re marinating the chicken in bacon and red wine sauce and then grilling it with mushrooms. The contestants each have to make a side dish and Adam’s making polenta while Aaron is making a pasta dish, which to me already scream STARCH alert.

Adam’s grilling his bone-in chicken breasts and, naturally, it’s taking longer to cook so half-way through their time he throws on the skinless chicken. But you know, he’s cooking them with less time so it still might be raw. Oh Adam, you of the raw food reputation. I’m scared for you, and the Bon Appétit editors.

Aaron checks on Adam’s polenta and it doesn’t seem fluffy, so he starts adding chicken stock. Then they plate in a rush and I’m kind of worries about sweat splashes falling into the food. Also, the pasta is thrown into a bowl and they don’t even have time (or energy I bet) to even fix the pasta neatly into the bowl. It’s all dangling off the edges like they’re serving a children’s platter. Aaron calls it disgusting, and I agree. This is Bon Appétit, people!

Adam and Aaron make their presentation, and there’s a lot of Bon Appétit editors, including thee-of-long-locks Andrew Knowlton, who judges the Next Iron Chef America so you know he’s had some good food to critique. Adam jokes about how his first time making Coq au Vin was 10 minutes ago (everybody laughs) and Aaron comes off even more jittery and nervous next to Adam. Barbara Fairchild notes Aaron’s nervousness and Adam’s wittiness and Cora notes the strewn pasta. One woman didn’t like Adam’s egg-yolk yellow polenta and no one’s getting Coq au Vin from the grilled chicken dish.

Jennifer and Lisa are in the kitchen and Lisa is bossing Jennifer around. They going to make a deconstructed Turducken, so they cook some turkey medallion and make a stuffing with pre-roasted chicken and duck sausages. (I totally would have done a roll of some kind of layers of turkey, chicken and duck breast to mimic the Turducken theme of a small bird in a bird in a bird.) For the sides, Jennifer is making squash and Lisa’s making the stuffing.

Jennifer is cooking her squash slices on the stove top and next to it is a duck confit that Lisa has set aside to get the oil drippings for the stuffing and turkey. Then Jennifer gets some kind of juice jar to make a marinade and I don’t know why but it looks like she bangs it against the stove top. I guess she was trying to loosen the top, but she did it so quickly that she cracks the bottle like she’s christening a ship and the glass and juice splatters all over the stop top.

Jennifer says the glass was kept mostly near the side, but because they can’t be sure, they had to throw away everything that was contaminated by the juice. That includes the squash and Lisa’s lonely duck confit leg. Lisa is maaaaad. But she says she’s trying to be more zen and not a perfectionist.

Then they decide to make a “veloute” which is a fancy French term for a white gravy sauce. Lisa gets it going but when Jennifer tastes it, she says it’s too herby but also says it tastes like a forest. She tries to “fix” it by adding milk and stock and doctoring it, and all this time she keeps saying “it’s too herby, it’s too herby.” And I don’t even think herby is a word. This look like a disaster and finally they decide not to serve the “veloute” because it’s too herby. So you know this dish is going to be dry.

They present their dish and Jennifer admits to breaking glass near the stove so that’s why there’s no squash side or gravy. Chef Cora is disappointed about all the kitchen mishaps. Susie feels their recipe is a cop out on the Turducken concept. BTW, whoever invented Turducken is one crazy chef.

Last up is Shane and Kelsey and they work so well together I don’t feel stressed, even though they are a bit stressed because that’s a lot of cooking in 45 minutes. Usually when I’m cooking, I’m just cooking for myself, but they have to cook for what looks like at least 12 people (and the long-haired god). They’re making cooked spinach topped with beef tenderloin and all sitting on puff pastry cups. Kelsey is making a side of roasted vegetables and Shane is making pearl onions.

They plate up and serve what Shane calls the “No Nightmare Beef Willington.” They say it’s an ode to their moms who had to suffer through making the traditional Beef Willington of their generation (our moms did have more time to cook). Shane does get a bit chatty so Chef Cora has to cut him off. When they’re gone, the Bon Appétit photo editor does say that the dish isn’t very appealing visually but Andrew “100 Brush Strokes a Night” Knowlton says it does have flavor. Bobby Flay (oops, I forgot that he did show up to eat and critique) says Kelsey can speak well about the ingredients but Bob Tuschman says he wishes she’d stop mentioning that she just got out of culinary school.

They’re back at the Carriage House. Once again, they look tired and defeated. They are a sorry bunch. The six walk down the stairs for their critiques and here’s how it broke down:

Kelsey and Shane: Bob tells Kelsey she’s too girly and needs more authority, and he wants her to stop mentioning culinary school. Got it, Mr. Obsessive. Susie says their dish didn’t look attractive, but Chef Cora says the beef was cooked perfectly and the flavor was good.

Jennifer and Lisa: Bob says it was hard to watch Jennifer’s presentation challenge. They also talk about the kitchen mishap and Lisa starts to tear up because she says she’s trying hard not to punch Jennifer in the face right now for ruining her duck confit. Susie says in the presentation Jennifer came out gang buster while Lisa still needs a bit more confidence.

Adam and Aaron: Susie says Aaron spent a third of his time tasting the dish in the first challenge. Bob says the flavor was good but didn’t have anything to do with coq au vin. Then he tells Adam that he’s here just on his personality because so far none of his food tasted good. He even says out loud that he seriously wonders whether Adam should remain in the competition has they head into the final five. Susie tells Aaron not to self-edit because he comes out nervous and not natural. Aaron says he wanted to say some kind of hoopty-ville in his presentation but didn’t think it would go over with the Bon Appétit crowd. Bob tells him to be all hoopty-ville on his bad self.

Chef Cora says Barbara Fairchild of Bon Appétit surprisingly did pick a winner to feature and that’s Shane and Kelsey’s No Nightmare Beef Willington (which I’m sure a food stylist will dress up better than they did). They’re both safe and they leave the room. I love those two kids.

Bob says Lisa’s skills and expertise saved her so she’s safe. Bobby says Aaron needs to bring his game together, and he’s safe to try one more time. They leave, leaving Jennifer and Adam. While Jennifer probably cooks better than Adam, I still want Adam to stay for entertainment purposes because really at this point, I think Kelsey is going to take it all even though she has the cheerleader reputation.

Bobby tells Adam that he’s on very, very, very thin ice from a culinary standpoint. Susie says Jennifer wasn’t skillful in exhibiting expertise. Bob says Adam moving on. Jennifer is gone. She goes up and heads straight to pack without saying anything to the others. What, no hugs? She’s gone and the threat of seeing recipes with carrots hidden in mashed potatoes or spinach in meat loaf is gone.

Next: It’s a spot on the Emmy-award winning (!?! I know, really?) Rachel Ray show, and Susie is uncomfortable. Lisa cries again. If you’d like a preview for next week’s episode, click on the video below.

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.

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