We've made it to episode 8 and, first off, Giada acknowledged this is the first season with an all-male top 5.
In the first challenge, the contestants were tasked with building a meal package that could be shipped to the recipient member of a culinary membership club, something that a home-cook could easily prepare once he or she receives it. They had 30-minutes and, as well, they had to consider their personal brand.
Here was a fun juxtaposition: Dom, in a surprise to nobody, said he’d never thought about what his personal brand might be. Quick camera pass to Arnold: “I hope to have a global brand. It’s everything that I’m about.” The winner of this task was told he would earn an advantage in the following challenge. Once the food was cooked, they were instructed to tape a 1-minute presentation.
Jay – blackened cod over grits. As for his brand: “I wanna make people hungry for Louisiana food.”
Dom – chicken Milanese (chicken cutlets) with arugula red onion salad. His brand: “Growing up in Staten Island we all thought our mothers made the best chicken cutlets. Is that a lifestyle brand? I dunno.”
Arnold – Thai peanut chicken salad lettuce wrap. His brand: “My brand is that of easy home entertaining.”
Alex – Kofta Burger with harissa sauce (basically a hamburger with Mediterranean spices). “My brand is a world of flavor between two slices of bread.”
Eddie – Caribbean shrimp salad. As a personal trainer, Eddie mentioned that the box in a culinary membership club is similar to the meal plans he provides his clients.
As they cooked, Eddie ran into an issue with his sautéed shrimp. He was hoping to form a crust on it, but added to much lemon juice which just made it all steam. Alex suggested this challenge would be difficult for Arnold in particular, given that his presentation had been of such importance on previous challenges.
As far as presentations, shockingly (I mean, if you’re not sitting down…) Dom hit it out of the park. Arnold was unhappy with his presentation and Eddie, because he was so unhappy with his dish, performed worse than expectations and far worse than the other four.
For the next challenge they were given 45-minutes to create a dish that represents their personality, their brand, as it regards one of the following holidays: Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Halloween, 4th of July, and Thanksgiving. Once the food is cooked, they were to create a 2-minute holiday themed video.
In descending order, the winner of the first challenge chose which holiday he would like to cook for. The winner of the opening challenge, then, was…
Alex – 4th of July. Cornmeal crusted catfish po’ boy with celeriac remoulade.
Dom – Christmas. Branzino marechiaro oreganata (which is “sea bass with a seafood stew and toasted herb breadcrumbs on top”)
Jay – Thanksgiving. Boudin (ground pork and chicken dressing) stuffed quail with cranberry bourbon sauce.
Arnold – Valentine’s Day. Chocolate framboise wontons with a bourbon berry sauce.
Eddie – Halloween. Pork chop with pomegranate blood sauce and candied ginger.
Damaris Phillips (from Southern at Heart and winner of Food Network Star season 9) showed up just as the 45-minutes concluded and told them that she’d be guiding them through the video portion of the challenge. And did she ever! As viewers, we were privy to just the first of two takes that each competitor took. So basically we got to see the one where they were each winging it and got as much wrong as they could. She sat before them the entire time – again, we don’t ever see an entire 2-minutes or 1-minute or however long these video presentations are – and provided advice directly after that first run through. Let me just say, there was something simply brilliant about this.
After a commercial break the finalists and their videos were presented to Bobby, Giada, as well as Damaris, Food Network GM Bob Tuschman and Sr. VP Marketing & Brand Strategy Susie Fogelson.
According to Jay, “Dom does a better job talking about the food than anyone else here, but the video… it’s not great.” And that pretty much sums it up. As the video presentation began, I was convinced that this whole business of “you only get two shots at it” was completely untrue. I figured they must be editing them, splicing the best parts of each video to make one great – or, maybe, better – one.
Nobody really slam dunked this one. Dom returned to his familiar self, Eddie dropped the ball, Arnold (apparently) used too many big words, and I don’t entirely recall Jay or Alex’s so… that’s gotta mean something.
The judges sent them away so they could discuss in private, where it became obvious to me that Dom is related to either or both Bobby and Giada. The bigwigs in the executive offices were all “we think Eddie is electrifying on camera,” and they were like, “meh.”
Bigwigs: “Dom looks scared on camera and for me that’s a no-go.”
Bobby: “But he did really well in the previous challenge.”
Bigwigs: “We can only judge them based on this one.”
Giada: “I have to agree with Bobby on this one.”
The finalists come out where Giada acknowledges that their decision was not unanimous. She then tells Alex and Jay that they are safe. So there were just three remaining, and the finalist who went home this episode was Dom.
Oddly enough, he performed better and, on the merits of his own performance, deserved to stay more this week than all the others when he should’ve gone home. Now ain’t that just like a reality TV show?
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Food Truck Throwdown" (season 11 episode 7)
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Lifestyle Brand" (season 11 episode 8)
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Live TV" (season 11 episode 9)