Last season we had a big format change - Alton Brown, Bobby Flay, and Giada De Laurentiis were "mentors," each with his or her own team of future Guy Fieri wannabes. The home audience got to select the winner, and it was Justin Warner who seemed the most worthy of a show on the Food Network. Ok, that was mean. Justin actually seems too talented to be on the Food Network. Apparently the network thought so too - after dragging their feet for months and months, Warner got a one-off prime-time special. The show was basically the same cooking travelogue that's been done before by Fieri, Rachael Ray, the Neelys, Alton Brown, and just about every other Tom, Dick, and Harriet on Food Network.
Yawn. Poor kid deserved better.
This season, they've decided to shake things up a bit more. Rather than coaching teams, the "mentors" are back behind the table with the rest of the selection committee, Bob Tushface and Susie Fogelson. And there will be focus groups who will attend the challenges and influence the judging. Finally, in the long tradition of stealing ideas from Top Chef, one of the eliminated FNStartestants will be invited back into the competition at some point closer to the finale. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The show starts off by introducing the Wannabes, one at a time, as they enter the cavernous sound stage that will serve as the setting for much of the competition. First in is a food blogger who has her own Internet cooking show, Nikki Dinki. I'm sorry, but her name makes me laugh. Her parents must not have liked her very much. Stacey is cute and low key. Then we get Russell, who looks familiar to me--was he on Rocco's Dinner Party? And Rodney Henry, Baltimore's own rock-n-roll pie man, owner of Dangerously Delicious Pies. I have a feeling he won't win this thing, but I'll be rooting for the hometown boy anyway. There's also Chad, who's tried out for the show three times in the past, and who refers himself as a "bbq Jew." His gray hair looks dirty and greasy, which is an automatic black mark in my book. Put a hair net on that, boy. Viet is a very accomplished chef who beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America, but he seems too introverted to be on television. And Danushka. Ah, Danushka, who is bound to be a source of drama for at least a few episodes. She's a icy Slavic former model with a rather imperious attitude. Right away, she rubs Lovely the wrong way, and vice versa. I think Lovely is going to be one of those style over substance people. That's not to say that she has style. There's also Chris, a successful restaurateur who seems a bit hyper, Damaris, a Paula Deen-wannabe, Peruvian princess Daniela, and Andre, he of the scary eyes and successful weight-loss story.
Giada walks in and breaks up the party.
Each of the candidates gets in front of the camera to tell their story in half a minute. Everyone is nervous - some more nervous than others. Stacey comes out talking about cooking "vintage items," which makes me wonder if she's just another Retro Rad gal that will get called a one-way monkey for her constant reinventions of meatloaf. Danushka is positively frightening. Her tone of voice is grumpy, and she admits that even her mom says she came out of the womb looking pissed off.
Lovely talks about making everything "glam." Why does food need to be glamorous? It just needs to taste good. But, yannow, obnoxious gimmicks work for Guy Fieri....
Once the pitches are filmed, Alton tells the group they will now be cooking a tasty bite for the selection committee. Each Wannabe must feature the lowly potato in his or her dish.
Once in the kitchen, Nikki promptly cuts both hands in succession, claiming that she doesn't have a time crunch when she's filming her own show on teh Innernets. While she bleeds all over the food, Danushka complains about everyone around her.
Tushface doesn't seem to get half of the presentations. He really doesn't understand Lovely's whole "glam" thing. The selection committee seemed to like her potato dish well enough though.
Danushka's Neo-Fascist theme was too bizarre for Susie and Tush, and Andre was too "closed-off." Also, his eyes are scary. Damaris presented an odd 30 seconds, but odd in a good way, and her potato dish was lovely. Nikki really wowed the panel with her "meat on the side" mostly-vegetarian pitch, but Susie called her on being a bit too cutesy. Daniela was a mess, but her potatoes were a "nice traditional dish" (not sure if that was meant to be a compliment or not). Rodney was intriguing. Viet's dish was "ridiculously good" but his personality was a bit low-key. Remember Amy Finley! And finally, Greasy-haired Chad set the focus group on fire (unfortunately, not literally) but his food was merely ok.
Eventually, everyone is done and stuffed back into the U.S.S. Delusional for the ride back to the studio. There they find the selection committee sitting at a long table that looks suspiciously like the Shrine of the Glowing Vagina from last season.
There are three left standing - Daniela, who was a big nothing, scary Danushka, and Russell. They're sent off so the panel can deliberate a bit more before deciding who goes home.
Next week: Burgers. Bobby Flay gets a chance to be at his critical best. Or douchy, whichever you prefer.
Posted on Minxeats.com.