Though it is an element of every episode, this one in particular serves as a stark reminder that contestants have to be both good cooks and potentially great broadcasters.
Season five winner Melissa d’Arabian joined host mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis for week number two of Food Network Star, which opened with a leftovers challenge. Contestants had to take the leftovers found in a refrigerator and, within 30 minutes, create a dish using at least one of those items. They had to literally race each other to the fridges and pull out the items they want. Then they had to present the dish to the camera in 30 seconds.
While the contestants listened to the description of the challenge, Rosa spoke directly to the camera in a sidebar and committed to one of the pasta dishes in the fridge because “if I can get my hands on that pasta, I will own this challenge.”
She didn’t get it.
Michelle committed to chicken in order to make soup. “I’m golden, I’m gonna make chicken noodle soup. I make it for my kids all the time.”
She didn’t get it.
Sita committed to the chicken, too — and then she got it.
Eddie committed to a theme called “cheat day” for the second week in a row without really explaining to anyone in advance what cheat-day is.
To this viewer, Rue broke out in this challenge because she’s very consistent. Everything it seems has to have a South African influence. She made sadza, a Zimbabwean cornmeal cake, with kale in a peanut butter sauce.
As well, Jay, who wowed the judges last week, looked toward his New Orleans heritage and made a BBQ salmon hash.
Dom, who completely didn’t wow the judges last week, topped his leftover spaghetti with salsa fresca, a fresh tomato sauce.
Rosa, without her spaghetti, settled on a crostini which, to my ignorant palate, sounds like a canapé, an appetizer and not a dish. But she used full sized bread. So there. Too, she went back to the fridge and said the only protein left in there was a flank steak. Again, maybe I’m the dumb one but isn’t that an easy option for leftovers? Fajitas, burritos, well… anything Mexican. Wait…
Are there no Hispanic people on this show?!
Nashville's Arnold Myint: “Something that I like to make for my friends at home is grilled cheese and soup.” Using just the shredded cheese from the fridge he made a Texas Toast cheese sandwich with bacon and bell peppers, along with a red pepper soup. At the close of 30 minutes, he said, “I look down at my dish and I know it’s undercooked.”
Producers really stuffed a lot of information into this episode. No sooner had they announced the 30 minute window had closed when Arnold was called to present his dish, in 30 seconds, to the camera.
This is as much a show about cooking as it is about preparing to host a TV show. What’s interesting is the hosts are called mentors and not judges, which is inspiring, but it seems each person is expected to bring as close to a complete package as possible. The challenges, then, must represent the sort of “you’re not always in control of the situation” element that (apparently is) inherent to hosting a TV show that the contestants must learn to adopt.
So in this segment, the mentors evaluate both the food and the 30-second presentation.
Arnold straight up froze when the camera started rolling. He told the back story about hosting friends for a movie and guest mentor Melissa said it felt contrived, which I can understand. I suppose they’re looking for personality, or evidence of a personal relationship to the food, instead of inventing a scenario that we all recognize. That’s what contrived is.
In 30 seconds, she said, she’d like to hear “more about how you get the flavor into the soup.”
Arnold (to the camera): “Disaster. Not my best performance.”
Sita was classic. The adrenaline carried her for the introduction to her dish, which as she acknowledged, lasted just three sentences. I get the impression that everything moves so fast behind the scenes on this show that they really don’t have time to prepare. Or they’re psyched out so much, being in the moment, that they can’t think straight. Because they would’ve had to submit a video audition of some sort, right? Only a couple people seemed to handle this part of the challenge all that well.
Matthew, the star of episode one (though he was in the bottom three and nearly went home), spent his 30 seconds efficiently and was lauded for it.
Eddie was told his cheat day theme seemed a gimmick. Again, contrived. I get the impression he wants his Food Network show to be about eating bad even though you eat really well for six days of the week.
At this point I’m starting to wonder why we can’t just watch the 30-second clips from each contestant. For each one, we see a time clock in the bottom left corner of the screen that basically opens at 30 seconds and then closes at 00:00 with about 25 seconds of other people, and the contestant, talking about the presentation instead of just letting us watch it.
Rue talked and didn’t say anything about her food.
Alex, the sandwich guy, made a rice dish and everyone complained that it wasn’t a sandwich.
Emilia was told she seemed stiff and unwelcoming.
Michelle made pork chop noodle soup and everyone loved her.
Jay and his BBQ salmon hash wowed them. So far, he’s the one to beat.
Dom, who — let’s be real — is so cute, completely failed with his presentation, as he did last week, but they liked his food. The mentors questioned whether he really wants to be on TV and, in a competition like this, it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to ask. What’s sort of odd: when he’s talking into the camera, like any contestant on any reality show, there’s no problem. When they set him up as though he’s hosting a show, nothing.
In part two of the episode, contestants were tasked to create a baked item that’s inspired by the world of desserts but can also be enjoyed as a savory dish, like chorizo bread pudding, or lasagna cupcakes. They had 90 minutes to cook and create a display to show off the food.
Michelle made a boreg, which she described as an apple turnover except with cheese.
Emilia made a shrimp and chorizo polenta cake.
Rosa made an apple, fig, and sausage tart.
Eddie made Caribbean chili-stuffed corn muffins with avocado cream. It was in his back pocket, said he’d made it before. Also: “cheat day” is no more.
Alex made a banh xeo crepe, which he made sort of sandwichy.
Dom made a timpano pasta pie, basically pasta, meat vegetables and sauce inside a pastry shell, and it looked insanely delicious.
Rue made a bobotie meat pie, and samosas. Again, looked delish.
Matthew made a southwestern kale galette, plus a raspberry ginger syrup with bleu cheese ice cream.
Jay “used to speak in this food show called ‘Back at Café Dumond’ and he said those words probably fifteen times more this episode. Certainly it explains how he became so comfortable on camera. He made sausage-stuffed beignets, which is like a piece of sausage stuffed into a biscuit shaped like a donut hole or those doughy chicken balls you sometimes get at the Chinese takeout.
Arnold made a turkey meatloaf cupcake with a potato whipped cream on top, and also a princess cake and cake pops. His table was superbly decorated. Eddie: “Arnold is fabulous.”
Emilia pretty much undercooked everything, and her presentation table was terrible. Anyone watching this show, at this point, is thinking she's going home.
Sita made a shepherd’s pie cupcake.
A number of guest bakers came in to evaluate their food and presentation, along with real Food Network Star Alex Guarnaschelli.
The guest judges pretty much did a lap around the set stopping at each contestant’s display table sort of like they were at a flea market. Then the mentors came around, picked up a serving and ran off to some high-top bar tables and chatted about the food and the contestant.
They all loved Arnold’s turkey cakes.
Bobby: “This is a real cool concept.”
Melissa: “I love that Arnold poured so much heart into this.”
Giada: “He just nailed it.”
Mentors, in their private discussion, went deep in their criticism of Emilia. Me: She’s going home.
Eddie told his story about creating the chili-stuffed corn muffin. Something about making it as a prank for a friend and realizing he’d landed something good. Clearly he has a leg up here. Me: He’s gonna win.
Matthew: “Hello, Miss Guarnaschelli. You are a beast.” Quote of the night.
Winners this week were:
Not Eddy Arnold.
Others “strong enough to stay in the competition”:
Giada: “Sita, Emilia, Matthew. One of you will be leaving us. So give us a few minutes to discuss it, and we’ll call you guys back in.”
Then, kinda similar to the Untucked episodes that accompany RuPaul’s Drag Race, the bottom three joined the others where they could discuss everyone’s chances of losing, or winning. As with last week, Matthew took over the show. “I think they made a mistake,” he said, adding something about how he doesn’t care about the judges’ opinion. Eventually he stormed out of the room when everyone, Sita among them, called him on it. He stressed that his food is good, clearly underestimating the other half of the Food Network Star criteria.
Mentors said Emilia’s food wasn’t great but she’s made good food before. They feared she’d never break down that wall between her and the screen when she performs.
They liked Sita, but noted that she’s 0 for 3 when it came to food, “which at this point is not good.”
Giada said that Matthew had delivered good food “whereas Sita has not,” and that he performed well in the mentor challenge. Bobby: “I don’t know if we can get him to pay attention and take direction.”
Here’s where things got weird.
Mentors brought the three contestants back. Giada said, “Sita you’ve struggled with the food part of this and that’s obviously an issue if you want to be on Food Network and so…”
Matthew smirked. And he held that look for a long time.
Bobby, looking toward Giada: “He’s just immature.”
Giada, to Bobby: “Can I change my mind? I just changed my mind. That reaction is the determination of [inaudible] should go home.”
Then she turned to Matthew: “I’m sorry, Matthew, but you’ll be leaving us this week.”
There is no way – NO WAY – that he just smirked at them. He had to have said something, and it must have been offensive to either Giada or (my guess) Sita. He said a lot of stupid things this week and they were really more thoughtless than anything. Sort of like that kid who just talks and hasn’t yet learned to think about the potential reception of his words yet.
So it turns out this show won’t just suddenly morph into Matthew, the Food Network Star and I can entirely understand why. For some reality shows it’s perfectly honorable to develop a character that will outlast the quality of your work. When you’re on a show with the stated goal of identifying someone that the producers and crew will hope to work with beyond the life of that season? That character better be a pleasant one.
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Food Star Food Festival" (season 11 episode 1)
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Savory Baking" (season 11 episode 2)
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Trendy Dinner" (season 11 episode 3)