Monday, June 29, 2009

NFNS: Season 5, Episode 4

Always Remember to Say ‘Behind’

Previously: The contestants offer their money-saving tips, but Teddy is over-the-top. Jeffrey wins, like, three times? Teddy is sorry about his integrity, or lack thereof. Eddie is sent packin’.

Opening sequence: Whatever happened to the breaking glass sound effect with the music? It was oddly intriguing to me. Now they just play the cliché chef knife sound like “Top Chef.” Copycat.

Opening scene looks really early because I don’t even see the sunrise, but everyone’s getting ready. Jeffrey is doing some karate kick. That guy has long legs. Teddy is excited to being better. It’s always nice to start off your day with that resolve.

The contestants head to the Food Network Kitchen and there’s Bobby Flay already there. Jamaican Jamika is scared of Bobby and his domed platters. He tells them that he’s opening a restaurant in Connecticut this weekend called Bobby’s Burger Palace (everyone’s into burgers) and their challenge is to make the ultimate burger (hey, I thought that was Tyler’s gig) for his new menu.

They have 20 minutes to make a burger that reflects a regional cuisine. Go!

They start grabbing ingredients and then start talking about their ideas for burger. They all sounds pretty interesting: Melissa the Mom is making a Burlington, Vt. burger, Michael a Go-Go™ is making New York Italian burger, Jamaican Jamika is going New Orleans, and Debbie is making Cal-Asian with a Korean bulgogi twist.

What doesn’t sound appetizing is Teddy’s Pennsylvania burger that’s an homage to Amish country. WTF? Doesn’t that mean he can’t use electricity to cook it?

The Health Nut is actually making a San Francisco burger, which is my neck of the woods. And while when you think San Francisco you think crab and Italian influences, she’s going fresh market ingredients and turkey. Doesn’t remind me of San Francisco at all. The grill isn’t hot enough for her and since she’s using ground turkey, she needs to cook it through unlike beef that can be juicy and rare. So she throws the turkey burgers into the oven but still it’s not cooked through. She decides to serve it up anyway. “What can I do? Not serve a hamburger?” she says. I think to myself, hmmm, choice 1: not serve a plate and get major deductions, or choice 2: give food poisoning to the judges. Yeah, smart choice.

They each have to present to the camera and the judges’ panel. Melissa the Mom is up first and she is really on, with her story about college and chili and her Vermont burger with Vermont cheese. And she ends exactly at the 30 second mark. Perfect. Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson are nodding their heads in delight, and all the other contestants are like “oooh, you’re the bomb” when she heads on back.

Jeffrey is all nervous because he’s following Melissa, who did a great presentation, and he doesn’t have a story like Melissa. What? You don’t have any life experiences that involved California and burgers? So he just spends his 30 seconds talking about the flavors of his ingredients in his California burger with a Mexican twist. Susie says she’s not learning anything about Jeffrey’s personality. Bobby says the burger’s taste is sooo Jeffrey, the heat-sweet thang.

Teddy goes up next and tries to “be himself” and talks about Pennsylvania’s Amish country and their fresh produce. In the back, all the contestants are watching with their mouths open in shock at how poorly he does. Bob says he doesn’t like his energy. When Teddy goes back to the other contestants, Jamika tells him point-blank that he comes off like a game show host, which is actually a really spot-on description.

Debbie does her Cal-Asian thing and talks about Korean marinade for her burger, and it’s typical Debbie does Asian. It’s good but it’s now getting predictable like Jeffrey. Susie likes her presentation, though, but Bobby thinks the burger doesn’t have a strong enough Asian flavor. It’s so funny to hear Bobby Flay judging whether something tastes Asian enough.

Michael comes on and talks about growing up in New York and the flavors of Mulberry Street, which is Little Italy. He made a burger with fresh mozzarella and basil and Susie likes his energy and Bobby thinks the burger tastes good with classic Italian ingredients.

Jamaican Jamika is up next and this episode her hair is super curly. I don’t like that look. She’s calm like she usually is talking about her New Orleans burger, but it seems a bit like she’s trying too hard. Bob says it felt like a 30-second informercial. Bobby’s not digging the flavors in the burger.

Next up, Katie and her undercooked burger. She does a straight-forward presentation and doesn’t say anything about the raw meat she’s serving. But Susie notices it right away and is afraid to eat it. Smart woman. She questions The Health Nut’s cooking credibility.

They gather the contestants and Susie announces the bottom two: Katie (no surprise) and Jamika (fall from grace). Bobby announces the top two: Melissa the Mom and Michael. Then he names Michael’s Mulberry Street burger as the winner, and Michael gets all ferklempt.

In the back, the contestants look all stressed and Katie is upset that she knew her turkey burger wasn’t cooked. She gets teary as she talks about how hard she’s trying but the food gods aren’t helping her out.

Commercials. What’s with all the food at Walmart? Now they’re advertising steak. Don’t they sell housewares anymore?

It’s the next day, and the contestants look tired and bored. They really are so out of it at this point. Katie the Health Nut talks about being a gymnast and how she’s still competitive, so she’s going to put more pressure on herself. Jamika on the other hand just doesn’t want to be robotic.

They arrive at the U.S.S. Intrepid, so you know this is the episode where they cook for our men and women in uniform. The color guards march in and right behind them is Guy Fieri, who’s hair still looks like fireworks, but without the red or blue. Katie gets excited because she says one of them could be just like Guy. True, if you spiked your hair and wore your sunglasses behind your neck.

Fieri tells them they have to make a homecoming dinner for soldiers coming home from Iraq and their families. They each have to make a comfort dish from the pot of ingredients that represent a particular region in America. I spot Hawaii right away and of course I see a pineapple in the pot. Fieri says they have to present to the audience and judges and he reminds them to be sure to tell a story, blah blah blah. Anyone who enters this contest should know already that they should have personal stories galore.

Then Fieri introduces an editor from USA Weekend and it’s the only time we see him so who cares. Basically the winner will be featured in this weekend’s USA Weekend magazine.

Because they’re cooking on a ship, they have limited space so they cook in shifts in pairs. First up are Teddy and Jeffrey.

Teddy gets New York, and the bucket includes apples and duck. He decides to make a BLT but with duck instead of bacon.

Jeffrey gets Maine and there are lobsters and blueberries. He’s totally stumped and spends a lot of time staring at the ingredients. Teddy’s worried for him, but then Jeffrey gets the idea of making pot pies with some kind of blueberry sauce.

Jeffrey’s spending a lot of time on his sauce, and then someone (a production assistant?) tells him he has one hour left, so then he starts scrambling to cook his lobsters. Then he basically throws the lobster with his béchamel sauce and just put pastry dough on top of the pans. I’ve seen pot pies cooked in ceramic bowls but this is the first time I saw it in a saucepan. It doesn’t look appealing. And when it comes out, it looks like glop.

Teddy’s dish, amazingly enough, looks really pretty. And he’s the first to present so he goes out and starts talking about his grandfather who served in WWII and then he loses his train of thought. Then he looks at his hand like he has crib notes but that still doesn’t help him. People seem to like the food, but nobody liked his presentation.

BTW, Guy Fieri looks upset. It’s weird how these Food Network stars think just because they’re not in front of the camera they forget that they’re still being filmed. It’s like Fieri only has that personality when he’s doing his show. Otherwise, he comes off really serious and doesn’t even crack a smile.

Jeffrey serves his lobster-blueberry pot pie and Susie calls it disgusting. Nobody wanted to eat it.

Commercials. That Dove silk chocolate commercial needs a condom. Talk about X-rated ads.

Melissa the Mom and the Health Nut are cooking next. Melissa gets New Mexico, which somehow means skirt steak, honey and chilies? She doesn’t usually cook with chilies, so she tries each one to see what it tastes like. Katie gets Georgia, and she makes a panko-encrusted catfish.

Melissa made a tostada with a mango salsa, and she’s super perky. What’s really odd is she’s still kind of perky when she’s talking about her mom dying when she was 20 and how she grew up in Tucson. She says skirt steak was a big treat for her growing up. Susie eats up Melissa’s presentation, saying she revealed more about herself.

The Health Nut presents her southern meal, and she talks about a cousin who graduated from West Point and how he’s in training and will go to the war in the spring, then she gets all choked up and teary. Then she talks about her catfish and sweet Vidalia greens and squash. Talk about a 360. Fieri liked her story that connected with the audience, and Bobby liked the catfish, but says Katie is in the middle of the pack and they can’t decide if she’s star material.

Jamika gets Wisconsin and that mean potatoes, sausage and beer. She decides to make a casserole but her potatoes aren’t cooking, so she puts them in a food processor. Being a chef, she explains that she already knows what will happen next, which is the texture of the potatoes will be all gooey. Not having a food processor, I never knew this. And that made me think, if Jamika already knew this, why do it? Why not just cut the potatoes more and try to boil them again? It’s like Katie serving raw turkey, you know it’s wrong but you do it anyway? Thus is life on Desperation Road.

Commercials. Jif, the girl making a peanut butter sandwich for her dad is cute and all but how about some jelly next time? It’s a classic, you know.

Jamaican Jamika brings out her dish and she says it looks like slop. “It is what it is” and she does her presentation all cheerful hoping no one will notice the food. She’s actually really funny and puts everyone in the party mood. Bob loves the presentation, and Guy actually likes the flavor of Jamika’s gloop, but doesn’t like the texture.

Michael a Go-Go™ gets Hawaii, my home state. And he hits the jackpot with kampachi (that’s a great fish), macadamia nuts and the ubiquitous pineapple. He’s cooking with Debbie and she gets California, which was just chicken, zinfandel wine and almonds. She decides to make a simple home-cooked chicken dish.

Michael is taking out his fish from the oven on those huge trays and Debbie walks up behind him to check on her chicken. Then WHACK! Michael swings the tray right into Debbie’s eye, or probably more her cheek. She goes down and is hurting, but says she’s fine while Michael is all worried that he just blinded his friend. Michael tells her that she has to remember to say “behind” when approaching someone in the kitchen, and Debbie says she’s sorry that she forgot and that he’s a bumbling idiot. She really looks like she needs ice at this point. She says she hurts so much she can’t concentrate, and Michael a Go-Go™ is all frazzled because he feels terrible.

Which means perfect time to go make your presentation. He goes in and yells “aloha” and then starts talking about how relatives would bring back macadamia nuts to the Bronx and he would get so excited. I don’t believe him. Bob likes his personality and Guy liked his presentation. Bobby Flay says the dish looks like Hawaii and tastes like Hawaii.

Michael goes to the waiting room with the rest of the contestants and tells them that he wants to cry because everything went well but he injured Debbie. I’m sure everyone now thinks he sabotaged her and no one wants to be working near him anytime soon.

Debbie now has ice and of course she’s freaking out. She does her presentation and talks about growing up in the south and being raised Asian. But I don’t see how this connects with California. Bob starts telling the judges about how Debbie was whacked in the face, and again, Bob gets all the insider scoop from behind the scenes. I’m not sure if the judges really should take these things into account. Bobby and Fieri think the dish was bland and needed to be at a higher level.

In the back, all the contestants look dejected and talk about how difficult the challenge was. Geesh, what a bunch of sad sacks.

Commercials. State Farm really has some great commercials. Just saw the one with the cute little girl in the back seat. So sweet! They had that Michael Jackson commercial earlier with the “I’ll Be There” song. Just really emotionally-tugging stuff.

Judgment time. Susie does the spiel on storytelling, saying you can’t be a Food Network star without connecting to the audience. (Got it, think of stories about Aunt Bertha.) Then they critique each of the remaining seven, and it went like this:

Jamaican Jamika: Bob called her presentation delightful, but Bobby didn’t like the whipped potatoes and calls them unappealing. Bob says he was shocked the dish came from her.

Katie the Health Nut: Everyone appreciated how she didn’t jam health down their throats, but still wanted a blend. The soldiers thought she was the girl next door, but apparently one who keeps cooking raw food. Must be that raw veggie movement. Katie says she’s embarrassed and tears up.

Michael a Go-Go™: Bob says he’s fun and delicious in front of a live audience but needs to make friends with the camera (I guess that’s better than making love to the camera).

Jeffrey: Bobby thinks his pot pie dish was surprisingly awful coming from him. Bob likes his personality with an edge, but wants to see more.

Melissa the Mom: Bob thinks she’s getting close to finding the right energy for the camera. Susie, of course, loves how Melissa gets personal. They talk about cooking with chilies and Melissa talks about how she tested each one before cooking them and Bob is so impressed that a chef actually tries an ingredient before cooking it.

Teddy: Bobby says the duck-L-T was tasty, but his presentation makes him nervous. Teddy’s face goes from smiles to dejection. He is like a cartoon character.

Debbie: Bobby tried to be sympathetic about the kitchen accident but basically tells her to buck up and rise above the adversity.

Then Bobby turns to all of them and tells them that it’s time to grab the brass ring, reach for the gold, go for broke. Because basically nobody’s doing it right now.

Commercials. There sure are a lot of car commercials now. Hope that means the economy is getting better. Please?

Decision time. The judges name Melissa the Mom the winner. She’s like the one to beat now. Doesn’t she remind you of Sara Moulton? She’ll be featured on USA Weekend and is also safe, so she’s excused.

Also safe is Michael and Debbie. Debbie breathes a huge sigh of relief. Funny how both Debbie and Michael cooked together and now they’re safe together. Guess Debbie doesn’t mind that whack in the face right about now.

Susie excuses the remaining four so the judges can deliberate more. It was so weird right now when she said, “Bobby, Bob and I” because when you say Bobby followed by Bob really fast, it just sounds funny. Bobby Bob. Bob Bobby. Bubbly Bob. Bep Babaluba. I know, it’s these little things that get me through these hour-long recaps.

The three talk about how Teddy is fake and nervous and how Jamika’s dish was awful. But Susie can’t forgive Katie for serving raw food. And they’re starting to get bored of Jeffrey.

The four return, and Bob sends Teddy home right off the back. No discussion or explanation. It’s almost like residual from last week’s elimination because it did look like week Teddy’s food tasted good. Teddy talks about how he kept digging but he never found the real Teddy. I didn’t either, but then again I didn’t dig as hard.

Jamika says this is her wake-up call because she’s never been in the bottom. So she’s going to fight to stay. Can you see her and Michael in a fist fight? I’d pay money for that.

Next time: It’s near the end so you know what that means. That’s right, the live appearance on Rachel Ray’s talk show. Looks like Jamika freezes up and Bobby’s screaming like “cook something” into the TV. Bobby is bummed.

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

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