Monday, July 15, 2013

Next Food Network Star Season 9 Episode 7 Recap

Despite my feeling that there's no real standout "star," I find myself enjoying this season. Part of it may be the lack of sticks-in-the-mud Susie Fogelson and Bob Tushface - Giada, Bobby, and Alton definitely have the authority to make the decision without their help. Another part may be that challenges are getting a little more interesting. For example, this week's challenges.

Ok, maybe "interesting" is too strong a word.

The first one, the "Mentor" challenge, involves language. I have always been a proponent of having a large vocabulary. English is full of useful words for every occasion (mostly borrowed from other languages), and they should be utilized. Instead, the language-lazy tend to use the same handful of terms over and over again, mostly incorrectly. Case in point: "awesome" and "phenomenal," neither of which should be used to describe food. Or anything else that's not related to supreme beings or, um, phenomena.


Bobby is in the kitchen, cooking up a lovely dish of slow-roasted salmon with an ancho-honey sauce and a black bean tomatillo crema. It's a dish that's full of his signature Southwest flavors, from the sweet and spicy glaze, the smooth, rich, and earthy crema, the perfectly caramelized and tender fish, and the hint of lime that rounds out the flavors. Notice I didn't use "awesome," "sexy," "delicious," "incredible," or "wonderful," to describe that dish. And none of the Wannabes are allowed to use them, either. Hey pal (and pal-ettes) - you want to be on TV? Then you have to have a well-rounded vocabulary. You can't just stand there and make "ummm..." and "errr...." noises. (Russell, I am talking to you.)

So the challenge starts. Each Wannabe must taste Bobby's dish and describe it in sixty short seconds. Bobby will sound a buzzer each time a contestant uses one of the verboten words.

Rodney goes first. At this point in the show, we already know that "Pie Style" is a largely non-verbal state, occasionally punctuated by Tourette's-like exclamations of "sucker" accompanied by guitar strumming. And that's basically what Rodney gives us this time, substituting "dynamite" for "sucker."

Nikki used the word "delicious" once, but otherwise does well. Chad, on the other hand, does the opposite of well. He's reaching, and when he does come up with something to say, it's not interesting. At least he didn't say, "phenomenal" at any point.

Stacey tells a little story about her abuelita, and does a decent enough job despite barely touching on the flavors of the dish. Damaris has a whole laundry list of descriptive words, and her delivery is about as interesting as watching clothes dry. Finally, Russell rambles and pauses, as expected.

Bobby likes that Stacey told a story, and gives her an advantage in the next challenge.

As for that next challenge - it's an auction. What do auctions have to do with being the next Food Network star? Well, nothing, but the challenge does again involve that pesky vocabulary thing. Each Wannabe must create a dish that expresses his or her POV, and then describe it to a room full of potential bidders. The most enticing description can make even the most pedestrian dish sound incredible, and that's the goal here.

The Wannabes get an hour to cook. Russell is making things more complicated than necessary with his deconstructed egg sandwich, which involves smoking fish eggs. Unfortunately, the smoke is flooding Stacey's station, and she's worried that it will affect the flavor of her maple bacon cheesecake. That's the least of her worries; when time is up, her cakes are not set in the middle. Why anyone would choose to make something that takes nearly an hour to bake when an hour is all one has is beyond me.

Now the kitchen is filled with chairs - it has become an auction house. This week's focus group is a club of foodies that call themselves the "Gastronauts." They will be listening to the Wannabes' spiels and then bidding on their dishes. Apparently with real money, too, as the proceeds of the auction will benefit the very worthy Share Our Strength.

Damaris starts off the show with her green bean casserole, which she's gussied up with a Mornay sauce "hot tub," and shiitake mushrooms. The other Wannabes in the green room are impressed with the whole hot tub thing, and the bidding goes all the way to $130. The winner of the dish gets to eat it right then and there, along with Giada, Bobby, and auctioneer Alton. The consensus is that the dish is pretty gosh darn good.

Nikki's next, and she gives a strong presentation. Her wild mushroom pasta with shrimp goes for $130. BBJew Chad wishes his presentation were half as strong. He fills his minute with as many "ums" and "errs" as description, and uses the icky phrase, "explode in your mouth."

Despite this, his bbq poutine goes for $150. Putting crap on fries doesn't automatically make something "poutine," btw. And his combination of soggy fries, brisket, sausage, and bbq sauce is "lackluster," the only saving grace being the sausage. Which was commercially made.

Russell's presentation has the customary surfeit of pauses. He's now not only talking about deadly sins, but also a revolution of some sort. If he keeps up his snoozeworthy performances, however, this revolution will not be televised. His dish wasn't all that great, either, despite earning $150.

Stacey, of course, was pitch-perfect, if a little rehearsed. Her maple bacon cheesecake (which apparently set up fine during the wait between dishes) hit all of the right notes with the focus group, and they bid it up to $180. Because she won the first challenge, Stacey received an additional $10, which brought the final price of her dish to $190. The person who won the cheesecake seemed mighty happy that he made the investment.

Finally, we get some Pie Style. Rodney wants to do something completely different, so he comes out gushing that he's excited to be meeting astronauts because he wanted to be one when he was a kid. Then he pretends to get a phone call from Bobby, correcting him. "Oh, Gastronauts!" With 30 seconds left, he manages to describe his blackberry strawberry rhubarb pie, which earns $140 and much praise from the tasters. He has finally created a perfect pie. Must have been the bacon grease in the crumb topping.

And then we have the judging. Chad seems to have borrowed the pink pants that Stacey was wearing earlier in the show. Or maybe they were Viet's pants from a couple weeks ago? In any case, he looks silly. The panel compliments Stacey, who got an automatic win for earning the most money, and Nikki, who made the most delicious dish. Damaris and Rodney are also safe. That leaves Russell and Chad on the bottom.

After some discussion that there's been no growth from Chad, but there have been glimmers of stardom from Russell (who might not be as great a chef as he thinks he is), Chad is shown the door.

We may or may not see Chad back again next week. Last Chance Kitchen Star Salvation ends with Robert Irvine not declaring a winner between Chad and akaLovely. Instead, the clip cuts away to a scene from next week, where the person coming back into the competition is revealed. By the way the remaining five Wannabes cheer and clap, I'm thinking it's Chad. But we'll see.

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