Monday, July 06, 2009

NFNS: Season 5, Episode 5

Healthy Food Apparently Not Yum-O

Previously: Melissa shows she can cook shoulder to shoulder (well, not exactly), and Ty-Flo likes to yell stop to Michael. Katie cooks raw and can’t deliver, and Teddy bums out Susie so he’s leaving since she’s a judge. Tonight: Everyone meets Rachael Ray, Michael is nervous, and Bobby wants someone to cook something. Anything.

So we must be half way through, right? Hope so. Can you believe there’s nothing else showing on Sunday nights? Can’t wait for “Brothers & Sisters” to start up again.

Food Network apparently spent a pretty penny for all the aerial views of Manhattan because we’ve got several lingering shots for the opening. I guess that gives us a better look at Michael a Go-Go’s red streak of hair that still stands up in the morning. Katie knows she messed up last week and wants this week to be her redemption. Let’s see how that plays out. They all march out and head to the Food Network kitchen, and Bobby Flay is already there to greet them.

Bobby says this is their mid-terms (yes, they are half-way through!) and they have to show their culinary skills and tell stories at the same time. And they’ll do it all before a camera. And not just one set up at the Food Network station, but live on Rachael Ray’s daytime show. Everyone laughs when they see Ray on the video. Don’t know if they’re all giddy with excitement or it’s that nervous laughter like they feel awkward around her and don’t know what to say, so they just laugh. I bet Rachael gets that a lot on the street.

Ray talks about her YUM-O work (I bet she trademarked that) and how she likes to cook for kids. She says their challenge is to turn a grown up dish into something kid-friendly. Yes, this is the dreaded kids challenge, so you can bet there’ll be munchkins for judges.

Bobby introduces some adult-like ingredients and gives an ingredient to every two contestant. So Jeffrey and Jamaican Jamika get tofu, and Jeffrey says he’s never cooked with it. How can you live in California and never cook with tofu? Melissa the Mom and Michael a Go-Go™ gets Brussels sprouts and Debbie and the Health Nut gets squid. (I think they’ve got the toughest of the three ingredients.)

They start grabbing ingredients and Katie starts cutting her squid, saying she’s going to marinate them in citrus and make a salad. She thinks this challenge is easy for her because she’s all about making healthy foods for kids. Katie, you have to make the kids eat it!

Debbie’s going to make her squid look like onion rings, which I think is clever. Jeffrey is making chicken nuggets out of his tofu (why haven’t anyone thought of tofu nuggets yet?) and Jamika is going to cut her tofu to look like corn and make what looks like a corn salad (kind of boring I think).

Melissa the Mom of course is all excited about cooking for kids and she talks about texture and how kids like the texture of mashed potatoes so she’s going to puree her Brussels sprouts and hide them in the mashed potatoes. (Does she always just serve her kids side dishes?) But then she says she also does a trick of putting a raw piece of the vegetable on the side, which I’m confused because doesn’t this defeat the purpose of hiding the vegetable in the mashed potatoes in the first place?

When time runs out, Bobby introduces the judges, which, of course, are three little kids (two girls and one boy). And one additional judge: Rachael Ray. That’s so weird that she was there all the time, so not sure why they had her on the video in the first place. So odd. I guess they thought the contestants would be all star-struck that they wouldn’t be able to focus on cooking so bring on the star afterwards? Anyone else notice how the Food Network treats Ray like the queen? Even more so than the Barefoot Contessa, and she’s a Contessa!

Each contestant come up to do a two-minute demo. Katie the Health Nut is up first and she’s being really animated and sounds like she’s right off of Sesame Street. She demonstrates using a hollowed-out yellow bellpepper to hold her citrus calamari salad and she throws in Yum-O for good measure. The kids think she’s funny and most seem to eat the dish.

Debbie does her demo, making squid rings, but as she’s talking she’s having technical difficulties with her products and then runs out of time. One kid eats her dish and so cute calls the squid an octopus. I guess all squirmy seafood is the same in a kid’s eyes.

Melissa the Mom comes in and does her mashed potatoes with a Brussels sprout puree with cream cheese. But I guess she’s talking so much she doesn’t realize that she’s running out of time so she never explained her trick about the raw Brussels sprout. The boy judge likes her presentation but Rachael thinks it’s weird eating the raw Brussels sprouts on the side.

Next up is Michael a Go-Go™ and he’s making tomato soup and uses the Brussels sprouts to make these cute fried puppets. He realizes that he’s repeating himself on camera and in his mind it’s a crash and burn situation. But he drew a happy face and that always does the trick, right? The boy judge says the food wasn’t fried enough. BTW, this boy talks a lot. He’s the only one speaking most of the time. The other girl might thrown in a “it’s good” now and then. Plus, all the kids seem to be good about trying the dishes. They should have gotten more picky-eaters.

Jeffrey comes on and talks about making spaghetti with his daughter but his son likes chicken nuggets, so he’s combining the two to make a tofu nugget pasta dish. He starts talking about breading the tofu like a beach scene with the tofu jumping in oil and then swimming in breading. It’s kind of overkill in my mind because I think the kids get the concept of breading a tofu. But that kills his time.

Last is Jamaican Jamika and she’s really even keeled. In fact, it’s almost lackluster in emotions. She talks about cooking for her nephew, CJ, and she makes her corn salad with tofu bits. Although she spends a whole lot of time playing with the corn husk. Cute for the kids, but she starts to run out of time. Rachael Ray looks more bored than the kids.

The contestants return and Rachael give them each a brief summary. She pretty much gives positive reports to everyone except Jamika, who she says needs to learn to cook and speak at the same time. Jamaican Jamika has really dropped to the bottom after weeks on the top. What happened?

Commercials. Meatloaf, the singer, is singing for A-1 steak sauce being poured on a meatloaf. Where was this synergy back in 1989? BTW, Meatloaf is still weird.

Rachael Ray tells the contestants their next challenge is to do a live demo on her show, but this time they have to think of an adult version of a popular kid meal. And they have to work in teams. I don’t think working on teams are very fair for a cooking demo on live TV. Already you’re nervous and then now you have to worry about sharing the spotlight with someone else. This is a disaster cooked up by the Food Network producers, I’m sure.

The teams are the same as this morning, so Katie and Debbie are working together to adultify chicken nuggets and mac and cheese, Michael and Melissa are doing tomato soup and grilled cheese (I’ve seen this done on fancy restaurant menus all the time) and Jamika and Jeffrey are teamed to redo hot dogs and baked beans, which sounds more like camp food than kid meals.

The contestants head off to shop for their groceries and of course Melissa the Mom is manic while Michael is drifting every where, Katie is pushing healthier choices on Debbie and Jamika and Jeffrey are playing the passive-aggressive game with their menu planning.

Back at the studio, they have an hour and a half to prep their demo. We get a little bit more about what they’re planning to make and Michael is doing something with lardon, which sounds really bad for you. This is the kind of things I avoid on a menu.

Jeffrey’s awkward relationship with Jamika continues in the kitchen. I can’t tell why they’re not getting along. Jeffrey’s friendly enough and Jamika used to be really confident in her cooking. But it’s like Jamika shut down this episode and is on cruise control and Jeffrey just wants to work by himself and just doesn’t want to deal with Jamika. Anywho, they’re making baked beans with chorizo and shrimp. Debbie and Katie get nosey and look over to ask what they’re making and when Jeffrey and Jamika tell them in their lackluster way, Debbie and Katie lie and says “oh, that sounds terrific.” Sabotage.

They had back to the apartments and Jamika is having a little breakdown with the girls. She’s all worried about her presentation, and Melissa the Mom and the Health Nut are trying to support her, but all Jamika can do is cry saying she feels like she’s coming up short on the recent challenges. She says she wants to hear the crowd cheer her name. Honey, we all want that. I have a tape recording of applause on my iPod right now.

Commercials. This woman in the Special K commercial is hungry and her stomach is growling really loud. That happens to me at work sometimes even after I eat breakfast. What’s up with that?

It’s the next morning and the contestants arrive at Rachael Ray’s really orange studio. They’re all nervous, but when Ray comes to greet them and ask how they are, they all say they’re doing great. Rachael asks the pointed question of whether they all got along in their teams and the camera zeroes in on Jamika and Jeffrey, but they lie of course and say they got along peaches.

The show starts and Ray introduces the judges, who are sitting back stage watching. Melissa the Mom and Michael a Go-Go™ are up first, doing grown-up grilled cheese skewers and tomato soup with lardons. They have five minutes to do their presentation, and Melissa goes off and running doing most of the talking because she’s demonstrating a mornay sauce first. Melissa brings up her kids again and Susie for some reason just eat that shit up. She’s already nodding her head like Melissa’s the bomb. You know who’s not the bomb? Michael. Suddenly he’s all quiet just doing nothing, and then he starts to make weird yummy sounds, you know, like Mmm good. Bobby yells at the TV: “cook something man!” He’s so frustrated at Michael, who’s not doing anything.

Finally near the end Michael does get playful as he lets Melissa feed him a skewer, and the three judges just crack up like Michael is the funniest man on earth. I don’t get it. It was cute but not fall on the ground laughing funny. Bob Tuschman says they’re both very likeable personalities, but they didn’t look like they were having fun during the demo. Bobby does like the food and says it was well seasoned.

Debbie and Katie the Health Nut are up next and they do a soy-dijon chicken tender with baked shrimp mac and cheese. Debbie starts off by making the cheese sauce and she says she has to use soy because she’s Korean, like that’s a rule. And Bobby comments that he knows she’s Korean already, but she always make that statement but don’t follow up with what does it mean in the cooking. I agree. It’s like she’s labeling herself.

Then they switch off to Katie, and it was pretty seamless and well choreographed. But once Katie starts doing her part of the demo, she doesn’t look up and that’s what the judges notice. They do end on time and they’re very happy with their presentation. But when they go back all happy, it totally gets Jeffrey and Jamika worried about their presentation.

Commercials. What’s the 50 million pound challenge? That guy at the drive thru window is intimidating.

Jeffrey and Jamaican Jamika are next. (You know, I feel like I nicknamed Jamika Jamaican Jamika for fun but she really hasn’t cooked much Jamaican dishes.) They’re making Spanish hot dogs and sweet baked beans, and Jeffrey starts off talking about his kids or something about his wife. I’m not really sure because he’s talking fast. But he’s the only one talking and Jamika is standing next to him almost like Vanna White. But she doesn’t even smile, she looks super serious. The judges are confused about what’s going on and people are saying things like Jeffrey’s hogging the spotlight or Jamika has shut down. All true. They run out of time and don’t really finish plating their dish, and all the judges in the back look so disappointed and frustrated. This was the worst presentation of the three, and everyone knows it. What’s worse is the judges eat the hot dogs and baked beans and don’t like it.

Rachael catches up with the judges back stage and gives her thoughts, but it really doesn’t matter since she won’t be joining them at judgment table. Back on her show, Ray announces to the contestants that the surviving five will move on to next week’s show which will be in Miami. What’s with this traveling show? Why can’t they stay in New York? They so want to be like “Top Chef.”

Commercials. Big Daddy’s House is coming back for another season. Did anyone watch the first season?

It’s judgment time and they’re all nervous going down to the judges’ room. This week pretty much any one of them could go. Well, except Melissa because she’s now the front runner and she knows it.

They go through each team and this is how it broke down:

Katie and Debbie: Katie needs to engage with the audience more and her chicken tasted dry. Bobby wants Debbie to go beyond her Korean-ness. She cries a bit.

Melissa and Michael: Michael bummed out Bobby because he didn’t show his personality and Melissa explained her raw vegetable theory of how kids like crunchy things like apples. Bob loves that tip and wished she shared it, but I kind of think it’s a stupid tip because crunchy Brussels sprouts are no way like crunchy apples. Bobby asks Michael what he sees when he looks into the camera and he replies “the depths of hell.” A wee bit dramatic, aren’t we? He also calls the camera “judge-y.”

Jamika and Jeffrey: The judges go back and forth about who’s at fault in their failed presentation, the scene-stealing Jeffrey or the shutdown Jamika. Jamika is at a loss and says she’s had a tough week and her confidence’s shot.

The judges announces who will stay (notice they don’t say winner of this challenge?) and first to stay is Debbie, whom Susie says needs to “bring it.” Then also safe is Melissa (of course) and Jeffrey (probably the only safe bet for the guys).

The bottom three—Katie, Jamika and Michael—are sent back upstairs so the judges can talk behind their back. When they go up, Katie starts crying about how she had so much fun this week and still can’t get the judges to love her.

The judges are frustrated by Jamika, who checked out this week. Susie questions whether Michael is really star potential when he has a fear of cameras. Bob thought Katie’s demo to the kids was hard to watch, although I thought it was OK.

The three return and Bobby tells Michael he’s safe and then Susie sends Katie home. Jamika acts really shocked and there are hugs all around. Katie says the judges were looking for a certain person, and it wasn’t her. So why did they make her a finalist? This is the dilemma of a reality show. But the former gymnast says she still has gold in her sight. Or is that quinoa that she sees?

Next week: They’re in Miami, and Ted Allen is hosting a cocktail party. Someone’s food is sloppy, and Melissa plays the diva.

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
Episode 4

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