Monday, June 17, 2013

The Next Food Network Star 9 Episode 3 Recap

Welcome back, Food Network Star lovers! (What is wrong with you people?)

Two significant things happened in this episode: 1) Rodney did not make a pie; 2) Chad did not put BBQ sauce on anything. And that's all for this week, folks!

Oh, you want more? Ok, there's more.

This week, the Wannabes have to present themselves as food experts. Even if they really aren't. Bobby and Alton (Giada is AWOL, as are Tushface and Susie - this is getting better and better every week!) lay the bad news on the contestants. In front of them are black bags marked with a ?, each containing a mystery ingredient. The Wannabes have half an hour to prepare a dish with said ingredient, then be completely convincing when they tell Alton or Bobby about it during the tasting portion of this challenge.

Chad the BarBJew is wearing a cap that mercifully hides his greasy gray locks. He's got salsify, an edible root that has a flavor reminiscent of oysters, but he's calling it "sassifee," because, you know, root vegetables can be quite sassy.

Chris has bottarga, a cured fish roe that is one of Mario Batali's favorite ingredients. At least he can pronounce it. Damaris gets mango pickle, a spicy and savory condiment not to be confused with mango chutney. Russell gets arrowhead root, which is much more familiar as a dried powdered product, arrowroot, that has thickening properties much like corn starch.

Danushka, who promises us that she's really a fun person and that she needs to work harder on getting her personality out, gets dragon fruit, or pitaya, the fruit of a type of cactus. Viet gets umeboshi, a sour and salty Japanese plum, with which he is already familiar. Stacey's bag contains durian. She tells us she's encountered it with her dad (which seems like a random thing to tell us), and it tastes lovely, despite smelling revolting. Speaking of her, akaLovely gets the prickly Asian fruit rambutan, which is somewhat like a lychee. If you don't know what a lychee is, picture an eyeball made of fruit. Nikki's bag has a pile of cuttlefish, which are related to squid, and finally, Rodney gets bitter melon. Mmm...bitter melon pie!

Alton and Bobby divide the contestants, taking five each. Alton starts with Chris, whose salad tastes more of apple than of the fishy funky bottarga. Nikki's also made a salad and tossed some marinated cuttlefish in it. Alton likes the salad but thinks she didn't have to present it as if the cuttlefish were an afterthought. akaLovely - who is now the "party girl" - made a bread pudding with her rambutan and glams it up with some raspberry champagne sauce. Alton thought the sauce was overkill, and it seems pretty clear that he does not like akaLovely.

Stacey rambled a bit in her presentation, but her durian custard was yum. And finally, Rodney made a fruit salad with his bitter melon, serving the vegetable raw, which is risky (we just watched someone on Chopped get eliminated for using raw bitter melon in a dish). But he added some gin to the mix, presumably to make Alton drunk, and wouldn't you know it - it worked.

Alton thought that the dish gave a good indication about the way Rodney's mind works. I wasn't sure if that was a compliment or an insult. Rodney took it as a a compliment.

Over on Bobby's side, Russell's arrowhead root braised in bacon stock was overwhelmed by a pecan pesto. Viet made a tasty crab and avocado dish, but there wasn't enough umeboshi punch. BarBJew continued to call his vegetable "sassifee" which got him a smackdown from Bobby.

That blew any expert cred he might have had, and his sassifee hush puppies were too dense on top of it. Danushka's dish, a shrimp salad on slices of dragon fruit just wasn't creative enough and Bobby basically dismisses her. But he loved Damaris' vegetables with mango pickle, saying he could eat it all day.

Rodney and Damaris are the clear winners of the Mentor Challenge and will be given an advantage in the Star Challenge to come. But first, a commercial or ten for Buitoni. Honestly, I'm so annoyed by the Buitoni commercials (especially during the online recap), I probably will never buy that company's products again.

Finally, we get to the next challenge, which is a version of Chopped, but without Ted Allen. Boo. Instead, we get Alex Guarnaschelli as guest judge. Some consolation prize, but I guess it could have been worse. We might have gotten the great chef Scott Conant, instead.

Rodney's and Damaris' advantage, won in the previous challenge, is that they don't have to compete at all--instead, they will act as judges with Alton, Bobby, and Alex. Will they be douchey like Conant or nit-picky like Marcus Samuelsson?

For the first heat, Russell, Danushka, BarBJew Chad, and Viet battle first. Their basket has a theme--food one might eat at a sporting event. The ingredients they must use in their dish are: hot dogs, peanuts, cotton candy, and beer. The clock is set to 30 minutes and the Wannabes are off.

Viet, who may just be a genius, pops his dogs in the food pro and puts the resulting ground meat into a pot with beer and water to make a stock for ramen. Chad makes a bold move and eschews the grill for hot dogs and waffles, a play on chicken and waffles, although I'm not really getting that connection. Russell also dumps his ingredients in the food pro to make a filling for steamed dumplings. It sounds good until he throws in some tofu as well. And Danushka, who is a food purist who wants a hot dog to taste like a hot dog, makes a beer batter for her dogs.

Time's up! Russell presents first and tells the panel that the basket was in his wheelhouse of culinary sins, fat and sugar and whatnot. Unfortunately, he rambles on like he has more than a couple of minutes to explain his dish and runs out of time. Damaris tells it like it is.

Viet's dish was complex and refined, but he still needs to work more on his presentation. Alton didn't think he'd like Chad's wienies 'n' waffles and was surprised when he did. Bobby liked Chad's enthusiasm, but I don't recall seeing anything I'd call "enthusiasm." I think Bobby likes him because he's a fellow BBQ (really, grilling) guy. Finally, Damaris calls Danushka out on seeming like she didn't even want to be there, monkeys or no. Danushka doesn't seem particularly upset by this.

But back in the green room, Danushka claims that it was weird to be slammed by a fellow contestant. Viet and Chad insist that Damaris makes a good critic and that if she gets her act together can be real competition for them.

Next, Stacey, akaLovely, Chris, and Nikki open their baskets. The theme is kiddie food, and the contents are chicken nuggets, fruit leather, goldfish crackers, and apple juice. It's kind of appalling that parents voluntarily feed their kids this crap. It's no better than candy bars, soda, and frozen pizza. Stacey says that the back of her SUV is loaded with this garbage and that she's not ashamed to admit she's a soccer mom. Ok, then I'm embarrassed for her, especially since she made it sound like she's either a real slob, or she lets her kids eat stuff off the floor. She attempts to make a pot pie, but doesn't get it into the oven soon enough for her puff pastry top to cook through.

akaLovely continues with her new theme. The "party girl" is making bell pepper strips stuffed with mushed-up chicken nuggets. Mm mm. I won't be attending any of her parties, that's for sure.

Nikki's at first not sure that any of this crap fits with her "meat on the side" POV, but then she adds a shit ton of broccoli to the nuggets and transforms them into egg rolls. Chris gets all cheffy and deconstructs the nuggets, rebreading and refrying them, and serving them with a fruit leather gastrique.

Nikki presents first. In Rodney's first turn at judge, he dazzles us with his vocabulary.

Alex really likes Nikki's broccoli eggroll, too, and especially the fruit leather Sriracha dipping sauce.

akaLovely's "party" food was too sweet; Rodney really dug the "apple pie filling" on top. Apple pie filling? Alex thought it needed some soy or garlic to give it depth.

Apple pie filling?

Alton dings akaLovely for being too phony and too polished, as if she had a teleprompter built into her eyeballs.

Stacey's pie was raw, and she rambled on yet again. Last week she looked like a real contender, but this week she looks like a hot mess. Rodney wasn't into the raw pie.

Finally, Chris tells the panel that food saved him from his "broken life," and nosy Bobby wants to hear more. Chris confesses that he was a drug addict and alcoholic before he found Jesus cooking. Alton says we need to hear more of his inspirational story. Oh, please, no. No "Twelve-Steppin' in the Kitchen with Chris," I beg of you.

Time for judging - Alex Guarnaschelli gets to go home, and we're left with Bobby and Alton once again. They tell Damaris and Rodney they're safe, as are Chad and Nikki, whose dish was the best of the day. Chris and Viet are also safe, leaving akaLovely, Stacey, Russell, and Danushka on the bottom. Begrudgingly, through gritted teeth, Alton tells akaLovely she's safe.

Stacey had a bad day, but overall the judges really seem to think she has potential. Russell had a bad day, but he's worth keeping for another week or so. Danushka, however, has had three bad weeks. You know they want to keep her, to see if the hamster eventually finds the wheel again, but they have to let her go.

Next week: more of the same, but different.

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