Monday, July 20, 2009

The Next Food Network Star Episode 7

This week, the final four are still sweating in Miami and Iron Chef Michael Symon has been flown down to give them this week's challenges. The man just won a James Beard award - isn't he better than this?

You have every right not to be impressed. The "Miami Morning show" turns out to be Looks cheesy to me (viral videos and links to Perez Hilton) but perfect for the Next Food Network Star!

What our wannabes don't know is that their coffee has been replaced by Folger's crystals each demo has been rigged for disaster. As if they don't bring enough disaster on their own.

First up, we have Debbie, who is making crispy catfish with edamame succotash. Except her catfish is really chicken and there are few utensils in the kitchen. But there is a big tool named Dave. Unperturbed, she rolls with the punches and delivers a near-flawless performance.

The judges are delighted.

Next we have Melissa, who has to deal with dorky Dave meddling in everything. He initially introduces her as "Debbie Lee" and proceeds to get her name wrong every time he mentions it.

Despite the asshattery, Melissa attempts to create her "signature dish"of tapenade caviar with potatoes. When she says that the tapenade is made from olives, capers, and anchovies, Dave announces that he hates olives. Then he wants to "help" her.

Dave dumps in a bunch of tabasco sauce and, lucky him, gets to taste the resulting mess.

Jeffrey's demo has many technical difficulties involving the mic. First it's his body mic not working so they lower a boom into his face. He says "no problem" and keeps talking about his gorgonzola, caramelized pear, and arugula grilled cheese. Dave continues to be "helpful" by stating the obvious.

They take the boom away and give him a hand mic, which he has to juggle along with his chef's knife.

Despite the issues, Jeff takes it all in stride. Sad to say, no online hosts were hurt during the taping of this segment.

Finally, we have Jamika, who gets the wrong time cues and an over-friendly cameraman who gets into her personal space. She's not happy and does most of the segment with her head down and a grimace on her face.

After all is said and done, the judges judge: Jeffrey needed to engage the other people on the set more (would stabbing Dave count as "engaging?"); Jamika lost her sense of fun and seemed too serious and perturbed; Melissa was too frenetic and spoke too fast when stressed. But Debbie took control of her situation, was "brilliant" according to Tushface, and wins the challenge.

The next morning, the wannabes head down to the Eden Roc pool where they once again find Michael Symon, this time with four woodfire grills, four workstations, a fully-stocked pantry, and a dude in a chef's coat.

Ooohh! So much better than TGI McFunster's or Crapplebee's! That's Chef Michael LaDuke of Red Lobster, btw. I know, you're impressed. Bet you didn't know they had chefs!

The challenge is to cook a fish + crustacean/shellfish combo using the woodfire grill. Maybe it will be featured in one of the Red Lobster commercials they play during every fricken commercial break. You know, the ones where they show impossibly tiny "lobster" tails being tenderly brushed with some sort of mucilaginous goo while being sensuously licked by the flames of a carcinogenic wood fire grill.

Umm, Pizza Hut?

Because Debbie won the mini challenge the day before, she gets to choose her fish first. And she takes Tilapia. Why??? Melissa was smart enough to take Arctic char, Jamika chose mahi mahi, and Jeffrey took barramundi.

The wannabes get 45 minutes to create their dish, but after a few minutes, this happens:

Because this episode is all about screwing with the wannabe, the judges throw in an extra challenge.

Jeffrey insists that he cooks "without borders" but we always see him running towards Mexico (he'd ace a Taco Bell challenge). So the judges take away his chiles and give him Asian ingredients in their place.

Jamika is making a dish with pineapple; that is taken away and replaced by two big celery roots (right - like Red Lobster has celeriac on their menu).

Melissa is doing a dish with multiple types of citrus.

She says "bye-bye" to the lemons and hello to a big bowl of habaneros. And of course we saw this coming from a mile away....

In their stead, Debbie gets jars of capers, olives, and anchovies so she can add a Mediterranean touch to her dish.

Jeffrey claims to be "totally panicking." Melissa decides to take things in stride and throws some habaneros on the grill to temper their heat. She wants to make something spicy enough to please Bobby Flay, but mild enough for the happy homemakers to cook up as well. Debbie plays along with the challenge and opts to make a chermoula marinade and a fennel-orange salad. But Jamika - she's just annoyed. And Tushface unwisely teases her about it.

Finally, after the allotted 45 minutes is over, the judges get to taste the results. Debbie forgets to use one of her new ingredients...

And, surprise! she lies about it. First it's "they're in the vinaigrette" and then "oh, I didn't get capers, only olives and anchovies." Why do these people not remember that everything they say and do is on tape?

Melissa was complimented on the mildness of her chiles, the good wood flavor, and her surprising calmness under pressure.

Jeffrey pulls off a dish that manages to have lots of great sweet and savory flavors and not be Mexican-inspired.

But poor pissed-off Jamika is told that she didn't embrace the challenge.

That's how I feel about Guy Fieri.

Later, we see the wannabes congregate in the Miami Blue Room of Doom. Tush asks Jeffrey what he plans to do on the Food Network. Jeff goes on blahlblahblahwithout bordersblahblah but is interrupted by Bobby Flay who says he'd like to see more borders than the one made of razor wire between the U.S. and our neighbor to the south. Tush says he is a "zen master" but all that calm can sometimes seem too "vanilla."

Bobby was excited to eat Jamika's "Jamaica me crazy" dish but found it had none of the expected Caribbean spice profile. (But you know if she had jerked the fish, he would have complained that she does the same thing too often.) Symon pointed out that she got snippy with Tush (which he secretly applauded), and Fogelstein says she doesn't want to see "dour and sour."

Melissa is praised for using habaneros with restraint, but was also reminded that she was a bit frantic in the live demo challenge. Symon says she needs to prove that she can be the expert. Melissa defends herself by saying she'll have instant credibility with moms and housewives because she's one herself. She's pretty intense when she says this.

Finally Debbie is re-scolded for missing the capers. She attempts to lie her way out of it again but Fogelstein reminds her she's already tried that tactic. When accused of regularly trying to not be totally accountable, Debbie turns on the waterworks and acts hurt. The judges are unmoved.

After the criticism, Fogelstein announces that Michael LaDuke liked Jeffrey's dish best and that a version of it will be featured on the menu at Red Lobster. The three female wannabes all give a sigh of relief and offer condolences to their comrade.

Jeff is safe, but one of the girls has to go.

It's pretty obvious that they were least-pleased with Jamika this week, so it's no real surprise that she was cut. She's been hot and cold the whole time, and it's a wonder she made it this far.

Next week - the three remaining wannabes battle to the death! Well, one can dream.