FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: “Food Star Food Festival”

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Twelve contestants walked into the Food Network kitchen where hosts Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis stood before them.

Bobby: “Welcome to Los Angeles and Food Network Star. Congratulations to all of you.”

Giada: “We have to find the one person who has the perfect combination of great cooking chops and a personality so engaging that you deserve your own show on Food Network.”

… and then they were on their way!

It’s season 11 of Food Network Star and — no big surprise at this point, because every reality show gotta have a Nashville connection, it seems — this time we have our own homegrown contestant in Suzy Wong’s House of Yum proprietor Arnold Myint. It seems like when you know that you know someone on TV that the eye just gravitates toward that person. All the more reason for an O&AN recap, because I’m assuming that’s what we’re all gonna do this season.

So these potential Food Network stars are all lined up and rarin’ to go when they learn their first challenge: create a 30-second video to get across their unique culinary identity.

Immediately. Like they all had to do it right then and there. I don’t know about you, but I’d be like, “uh, didn’t we all just say our hellos?! Can’t we go hang, get a draank, start dishing on each other based on pure aesthetics?”

Well, turns out, that’s the second part of the challenge: Before they got started, Giada said, “You always hear that first impressions are everything, so after each finalist makes a presentation, we’re gonna ask each one of you for a one-word description that instantly pops in your mind.” Dang.

They went in this order…

ROSA Graziano — an Italian deli food truck owner from New Jersey, cooks southern Italian food. Her only critique was, “maybe not everyone knows what southern Italian food is.”

ARNOLD Myint — you know who he is. “I’m here to take the culinary and entertainment world by storm!” he said. “During the week I am the king of the kitchen but on the weekend I’m all queen. That’s drag queen, baby.” Critique: it was too prepared, rehearsed, informercial-like.

SITA Lewis — used to be a culinary producer on a national TV talk show. Half Black, half Italian = Italian Soul. Critique: good energy but what does Italian Soul really mean?

JAY Ducoteis — food blogger, radio host from Baton Rouge, ambassador for Louisiana cuisine. Critique: Giada said, “I got excited just listening to you.”

MICHELLE Karam — Armenian food blogger, husband is Latin. She said she wants people to feel like they’re part of “my family.” Critique: authentic and intriguing.

Dominick (a/k/a DOM) Tesoriero — operators of NYC’s first and only mac & cheese food truck. Super cute (but that’s just me). Seemed nervous, said he was nervous, everyone noticed he was nervous. Critique: don’t be so nervous.

EDDIE Jackson — former NFL player from Houston, food truck owner specializing in “Caribbean grille.” Everybody went on and on about his big muscles and how fit he is, yet he didn’t even mention it once. Critique: talk more about your food, which means I’ve forgotten what he actually did say.

EMILIA Cirker — culinary instructor and food blogger from Washington DC. Remember that part about how each contestant had to come up with one word? The producers have directed us to Matthew (coming up soon) three times now. He’s spot on, calling her “stepford.” He’s gonna make for some good TV, obviously. Notice how we’re not talking about Emilia?

CHRISTINA Fitzgerald — executive chef at a wine garden in St. Louis. Back to Matthew again: “mundane.” Critique: work on what you’re passionate about.

MATTHEW Grunwald — 22-year-old food writer, TV chef and “a chef in a restaurant” from Arizona. Everyone takes their turn telling the camera they want him out. If I was them, I would too. But this is reality TV, so he’ll make top 5. I mean: providing he can boil an egg. Need more evidence? The show went to commercial during his critique, then came back and went through it all over again. Critique: “you were just throwing stuff at us.” Need to be more concise.

RUE Rusike — private chef from Zimbabwe, now Brooklyn NY, affinity for southern African cuisine. Critique: went way under 30-seconds. “Want to know more about you.”

ALEX McCoy — chef and restaurant owner from Washington DC. Critique: you were talking but you weren’t smiling.

After all that, the hosts were like, “now it’s time to create the videos.” But… what did they just do?! Apparently that was all just 30-second introductions? Anyway, off camera they had to make these videos that they were told would be screened at a “Food Network” event the following day. Something tells me that event is called “The Taping of the Second Half of Food Network Star, Episode One.”

The next day, at a winery where the “event” takes place, they’re joined by more judges for the day: a couple Food Network execs, along with the deputy editor from People magazine. The cooks had one hour to cook something representative of their unique style for 100 guests.

Jay made a “maque choux” which is apparently a big meaty jambalaya. Emilia talked about mixing two unique flavors and chose a pork lettuce wrap with peanut sauce. Christina, who was bragging earlier about how she can make anything, couldn’t stop complaining about how hard it was to cut vegetables. Arnold made seared tuna and nicoise salad: “it’s full of color, levels, texture, it’s full of flavor… much like myself!”

Rosa made arancini, Italian rice balls. There’s something about her I like. I think it's the attitude. She’s fun. Dom, who choked earlier, made poached shrimp with caponata. Sita made an “Italian soul mac & cheese.” Eddie made chipotle shrimp with an avocado cream sauce. Michelle made something that she called Mediterranean mezza trio. Rue made Mozambican shrimp curry. I don’t know about you but every single item in this paragraph sounds de-frikkin’-lish.  

Alex made a Choripan sandwich with pork belly. Matthew made a Hamachi with poblano pineapple chimichurri. I don’t know what half those words mean, but on TV it looked good.

After another commercial, the chefs lined up before the judges, with the crowd of 100 in back, where they all screened the 30-second videos and the judges took their turn on each of them.

Alex — Good video. Bad food.

Rosa — Good video. Bad food.

Rue — Bad video. Good food.

Arnold — Bad video (“cheap eats? Or how to entertain?”). Good food.

Emilia — Bad video. Good food.

Jay — Good video. Good food.

Dom — Bad video. Good food.

Michelle — Okay video. Okay food.

Eddie — Good video. Okay food.

Christina — Bad video. Bad food.

Sita — Good video. Bad food.

Matthew — Bad video. Good food.

 

The judges were impressed the most by:
Jay
Eddie
Arnold

 

In the bottom three were:

Matthew
“What is your brand? What is your food?”
The judges liked his energy but didn’t like that it seemed unfocused. They commented that the video made no sense and he rambled but the food was great.

 

Dom
“You looked conflicted in front of the camera. You need to give us some star power.”
They were more concerned about his presentation on camera than anything, that he didn’t seem to present himself in a way that will make for a successful TV star.

 

Christina
“You want to cook all types of food but you have to deliver on that promise.”
The judges understood that she’s passionate about all food, but they wanted her to take one style, one element, and show them she’s a master of it. She was too busy telling them she’s good at everything, That she couldn’t prove she was good at anything.

 

In the end, they chose to send home… Christina.

I can’t argue with it. Matthew is the Omarosa, and Dom is the underdog. For those reasons alone, they have to stay. Christina, I noticed during the last conversation before the sent her home, seemed like she was prepared to argue with them on the point that she needed to choose one thing and be exceptional at it. She said something like, “that’s the problem. I like everything.” We can all assume now that she understands that liking everything = blandness on TV.

Back to the real story.

Matthew. He’s young, attractive, and can’t stop talking. Producers even gave him the last word for this episode. If they remain this enchanted with him, they may have to cut the season short, or just rename the show, Matthew: Food Network Star.

 

 

See also:

FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Savory Baking" (season 11 episode 2)

FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Trendy Dinner" (season 11 episode 3)