Right off the bat, Bobby begins: “Let’s just get to your first challenge.” Alrighty, then.
The final six are asked what their favorite brunch dish is. And they each respond:
Dom — smashed meatball eggs benedict
Eddie — grit-crusted steak
Jay — andouille sausage and potato hash
Arnold —egg wrap with quinoa and bitter green hash
Michelle — quiche two ways
Alex — chipped “beef” on toast with chorizo
And the trick, of course, is that they’ll be making those dishes. They had 20 minutes and the dish had to be made to-go. No utensils. Giada: “your portable brunch will consist of the dish you just mentioned, no last second changes.” Bobby promised the winner will be granted an advantage in the following challenge. They then had to present the dish directly to Bobby and Giada in the span of a minute.
When it was all said and done, the most notable comment was to Alex, whose dish was basically a chorizo soup with sliced toast as a sort of dipping utensil. Giada said it didn’t look pretty enough to be considered a brunch dish. Which is really quite dumb, when you think about it, because the finalists were hamstrung in that they had to make (apparently) a pretty brunch dish that was also portable and without utensils. By definition, brunch isn’t portable.
They ran into this issue with Eddie’s steak and grits and also Dom’s eggs benedict.
The winner was Jay and his andouille sausage and potato hash.
Immediately they jumped into the following challenge. “Executive Chef” Richard Blais took them outside to a food truck. He said, “Now we’re gonna see who can put together the best mobile offerings for a food truck throwdown.” The finalists were put into pairs. Jay’s advantage was to choose the theme for each team: burgers, grilled cheese, or tacos. Each person was responsible to develop one main dish and together they would create one side dish.
The second element of the challenge was for the teams to create a short video to attract people to the food truck. The teams had just three opportunities to create their video. From what I could tell, there was no editing. They had to make magic happen in one of three “takes.” But really, who knows. As with all the other 30-second or 1-minute presentations, the most that we the audience got to see was a selection of edited clips.
The following day, sixty Food Network fans were invited to visit the food trucks where they watched the videos and chose just one truck, one team’s food, to taste. That day, the finalists had just one hour to prepare their food.
Jay and Arnold’s theme was burgers.
Team Name: Asian Cajun Burger Boys
Jay — Cajun burger with praline bacon AND molasses mustard chip dip
Arnold — Asian slider with ramen bun AND Sriracha aioli chip dip
Jay and Arnold struggled to prepare their burgers in the allotted time. As all three teams prepared their food, Giada, Bobby, and Richard reviewed the videos. They noted that the two appeared to work well together and that the descriptions of the food was interesting enough to warrant a visit.
As for the food: the judges loved Arnold’s burger bun, Jay’s burger, and noted that the chip dips were unique and offered a pleasant side experience for anyone who chose the truck solely for the burgers.
Back in the studio: the judges couldn’t stop lauding the duo. Simple as that.
Alex and Dom’s theme was tacos
Team Name: Hot Slap Tacos
Alex — Hot Thai sausage taco
Dom — Chicken barbacoa taco
both — grilled Thai eggland and roasted corn salsa
Alex and Dom took their “hot slap” line to heart with their food, literally slapping each other during their video, which provided the judges with the biggest, heartiest laughs. Giada, Bobby, and Richard were hesitant, though, when it came to granting them points for their food given that both were making dishes that were notably hot.
As for the food: the judges found Alex’s sausage overcooked on the outside, undercooked on the inside. They enjoyed Dom’s chicken taco. All three agreed the salsa was, in the words of Richard, “missing that one ingredient that would bring it all together.”
Back in the studio: the judges said they loved the video but noted that using “hot” as a primary selling point was likely what turned so many people off. They loved Dom’s taco and didn’t like that Alex’s wasn’t prepared correctly.
Eddie and Michelle’s theme was grilled cheese
Team Name: Feed Your Soul Grilled Cheese Truck
Eddie — BBQ Pork Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Michelle — Mediterranean grilled cheese AND tomato soup
Michelle went on for a while about her kids, that she was stressing over this challenge but didn’t want to appear to Eddie as though that were the case. She mentioned her kids in the first challenge as well, so I couldn’t help but wonder at this point if there’s more to that than face value. As for their video, she elicited huge laughs from the judges as well as her fellow finalists due to an excess of finger-snapping, hip-shaking dance moves that didn’t seem to regard the concept of their food truck in any way. The judges noted that offering a side of tomato soup, the perennial side to any grilled cheese, would require that soup recipe to be an innovative one.
As for the food: the judges didn’t find Michelle’s peppers flavorful enough to warrant the Mediterranean label they were given. Eddie’s sandwich seemed one-note. Overall they were underwhelmed by the sandwiches and especially the tomato soup.
Back in the studio: the judges mentioned the poor sandwiches and the lacklustre soup. In a severely edited moment, Giada may or may not have said the following words, abruptly to Michelle: “are you okay?” To that, Michelle paused and then said that her heart was with her family because her son had a birthday that she missed, and she had never done that before. Giada acknowledged and validated her feeling, but also said that the job she’s effectively applying for is tough and that many times people don’t realize that until they’re in it.
When the crowd dispersed and made its way to the food trucks, based on the videos they’d seen, the Hot Slap Taco truck was left far behind. According to the judges, the crowd divided itself in half for either Asian Cajun or Feed Your Soul.
The judges and the crowd agreed the winners this week were Arnold and Jay.
To the remaining four, Giada told them that as they move closer to identifying a winner, for these challenges there is only a top and a bottom <insert gay sex joke here> and then sent them all away so they, the judges, could discuss. It’s sort of odd, when you think about it, that the judges routinely send the bottom few away. During their review of the challenge, the judges tell them what they found and we can safely assume they’ve come to some conclusions based upon it. From what I’ve seen so far, there’s nothing any of the finalists have said (going back to episode one) that would cause the judges to rethink anything. So there’s really no need for them to go away.
At this point, I’m thinking that it’s likely — in the parlance of Big Brother — Michelle self-evicted. The hint in the first challenge was subtle and it became a little more obvious during the second challenge. Finally, she hit us over the head with her preoccupation with her family just now. We see this all the time in reality TV and, to be honest, it’s one of the great reasons to even watch a reality show.
Here’s an example: I was sure that Kennedy Davenport had this past season’s RuPaul’s Drag Race all tied up. From day one, it seemed Ru was grooming her for a win and there was very little evidence to suggest we were all looking toward a finale that simply anointed her. Then, somewhere in the final few episodes, she had a conversation with Ru where she revealed that she regularly spends this huge amount of time caring for her disabled sister. Her father recently died and there was nobody else but her to look after… uh, her. So I spent the rest of the episode thinking to myself, “You know these queens, especially the winner, spends the entire following year traveling the world representing the brand, just like Miss America, and Kennedy Davenport ain’t gonna be interested or available to do that.” Later that episode, who goes home? Kennedy Davenport.
As for this season and this episode of Food Network Star, I’m glad they unabashedly used the word quitting and that they didn’t do the whole rigmarole of pretending Michelle was the one that the judges coincidentally felt hadn’t earned her place in any of the following challenges or episodes.
Eddie asked her in the green room: “Let me get this straight. Are you quitting?” And in the studio Giada said pretty much the same thing. Michelle’s response: “Yes, I’m quitting.”
Now, I don’t know how hard it is to get on Food Network Star, but I can’t help but imagine there’s someone out there thinking to themselves, “I’D STILL BE THERE!” Oh… how about Rue, or Rosa, or that girl who, way back in episode one, was apparently so talented that she couldn’t decide what to make, and then did it wrong? What about her?!
Bobby: “I don’t think this has ever happened before.” The remaining three stood there, unsure as to whether one of them would also be sent home. A little unnecessary drama. I mean, this ain’t MTV’s The Challenge where the partner gotta go home, too, just because so-and-so got caught fighting or cheating or was injured and had to leave.
Of course they were all safe. Of course.
All in all, though, a fun little mid-season twist. See ya’ next week! (Not you, Michelle).
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Improv" (season 11 episode 6)
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Food Truck Throwdown" (season 11 episode 7)
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Lifestyle Brand" (season 11 episode 8)