FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: “Trendy Dinner”

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As we’ve seen for two weeks now, these episodes can be cut in half: the first preliminary competition doesn’t necessarily influence the decision the judges will make at the end of the episode, and then a second challenge will directly influence the contestant sent home.

The theme for this episode is food trends. In the first challenge, contestants are tested as much for their photography skills and the visual presentation of their prepared dish as much as they are the taste. One thing neither Bobby Flay or Giada De Laurentiis mentioned in their description of this challenge is that the food their preparing is of smaller size than normal, a “tray of food” that they can photograph after it’s prepared.

 

Emilia, who faced elimination last week, made Thai red curry mussels.

Rue, whose personality shines because she continues to lean on her Zimbabwean heritage with every dish, made Thai eggplant in a tomato ginger sauce.

Rosa, the “first generation Italian American,” made polpette di carne, a/k/a Italian meatballs.

Dom made an eggplant parmesan with basil pesto. As with last week, there’s something so endearing about his presentation to the camera. In fact it makes his hesitation during the live presentations to the judges so surprising.

Former NFL’er Eddie made seared scallop with “mojo” sauce, mojo being a Cuban sauce. The episode opened with a number of the contestants identifying Eddie as the one to beat so far.

Jay of New Orleans made a grilled steak with roasted purple potato and chimichurri. To be clear, these are like appetizers they’re making. Later when they start plating these foods, they’re all bite-sized hor d’oeuvres more than anything. It’s almost as though one of the two hosts stressed it when they introduced the challenge on camera at the same time that the other one sneezed. Or maybe something more subtle, that only a video editor might catch and feel it necessary to delete. Like a burp. That’s the only way I comprehend how completely on-point these guys are with something so vaguely described from the beginning.

Michelle made a deconstructed ratatouille, on a teeny little piece of pita bread.

Arnold didn’t even get to tell us what he made before we learned his dilemma: by the time it came to plate his dish(es), all the plates were spoken for. He was left with bowls, and “I’m got gonna stick a crostini in a bowl,” he said. “I decided to flip the bowl and make the base of the bowl the plate.” He made a Korean BBQ grilled shrimp crostini with apple slaw.

Sita, who the judges seemed very interested in sending home last week, made these fascinating sweet and savory fried chicken skewers. She added, “I have a sauce that will knock your socks off!” I’ll tell ya, these skewers looked… interesting. Big fresh strawberry pieces alongside small bites of fried chicken.

Alex, the sandwich man, made crab cake sliders with sambal remoulade and rocket radishes. As he described it, the “slider” part was clearly secondary. The irony now is that, while he’s a self-proclaimed “sandwich man,” he made sandwiches only on the first episode of the show. Also: immediately after that description, the deep booming background music came forward and Eddie announced (to the camera only) that “Alex made a critical mistake because you can’t see the inside of his sandwich so all we know, it could be air in between two pieces of bread.”

 

Of them all, the judges like Dom’s eggplant parmesan with basil pesto. In fact, they chose whose dishes they would test based only on the photographs the contestants took of their food. Two photographed so poorly that the judges didn’t offer to taste the food itself. The bad news there was for Alex and his mini-burger bun mystery sandwiches and Ru’s Thai eggplant. They both really didn’t look appetizing.

The judges liked dishes from Eddie, Jay, Arnold, and Emilia, but weren’t quite so hot for offerings of Michelle (though they were critical of the presentation from the latter two), Rosa, and Sita, of whom they acknowledged time-management was an issue specifically. Sita had time to just include the “knock your socks off” sauce with one of the two dishes the judges tested.

The second part of the episode took up 3/4ths of the time. Dom, winner of the first challenge, won the right to choose his team for the second challenge and, by default, the remaining team as well. The chose a team made of all the men, further entrenching the idea among everyone that the men are frontrunners so far this season.

The second challenge, then, included five courses and each member from every team took ownership of one. They were tasked to create the “opposite of comfort foods.” Each course of the team meal had to incorporate one of these five “anti-comfort foods”: burnt, slimy, stinky, incendiary, and raw. The appetizer must be raw, the soup slimy, the burnt salad, the stinky entrée, and an incendiary dessert. Guest judges this week were Geoffrey Zakarian and Sunny Anderson. They had 45 minutes.

 

And it all fell in line like this:

Women

Raw Appetizer: Rue, who made a steak tartare with bone marrow. The judges found it bland, and unintentionally cooked.

Slimy Soup: Michelle — cream of spinach soup. The judges loved what appeared to viewers as a near last minute addition of grilled octopus tentacles.

Burnt Salad: Rosa — burnt fennel with lemon vinaigrette. Judges hated it.

Stinky Entrée: Sita — crabmeat and veggie penne. In her presentation, she said the words “heart & soul” too much. Judges had to ask what her stinky elements were and, to the camera after the fact, she seemed as though she’d failed because of it. You get the impression, then, that they were time-limited with their presentation of the food. No mention of it to the audience, though. Judges didn’t detect anything stinky about the dish.

Incendiary Dessert: Emilia — spicy mango napoleon with torched meringue. The judges loved it.

 

Men

Raw Appetizer: Alex — a tuna crudo (which is apparently another way of saying “raw fish”) with yuzu, daikon radish, and coconut oil. Judges liked the food, not the presentation.

Slimy Soup: Jay — chicken and okra gumbo. He knew it wasn’t good and tried to sell the dish via his presentation. The judges loved the presentation, still didn’t like the food. Later, they took him to task for it.

Burnt Salad: Eddie — burnt citrus and pistachio salad. His description included a lot of “um”s, proof that they maybe should have rehearsed a bit going in. Somewhere in the middle of a sentence, Giada just cut him off (“thank you, Eddie”) and he walked away. There had to have been a time limit. Later, Giada said it was “probably the most disappointing dish you’ve given us so far.” Uh, no. It had to have been.

Stinky Entrée: Dom — roast chicken with stinky polenta. Judges loved it, and acknowledged his presentation: “notice how he was trying to walk away?”

Incendiary Dessert: Arnold — spiced hot chocolate with bruleed banana gingersnap. Judges loved it. “Classy, elegant, I’d bathe in this.” Not using the word “incendiary” seemed a problem.

 

Arnold had lobbied for the salad immediately upon the start of the competition but, when it seemed nobody else could do it, he was tasked with the dessert.

Before they completed their tasks, competitors were critical of Eddie’s salad items not being burnt enough, the likelihood that Rue’s steak tartare might unintentionally cook once it’s placed over a warm item, Sita’s time management, and that the time necessary for Jay to prepare gumbo exceeds their allotted time. All items that came back to bite them with the judges.

Overall, the judges agreed the men’s food was better and the women’s presentation was better. Don’t forget, this is a show about becoming a television star alongside your food. They said, then, that there was no clear team winner and that they’d have to critique them individually.

A bit of a letdown, yes? Reality TV is all about the debatable injustice and that moment that flips the entire competition for an individual who gets sent home, when they look back at the close of the episode and say to the camera, “… but I didn’t do anything wrong!” and it would be true. That’s what makes it all so fun for us at home.

People who did best in this challenge:
Arnold
Dom

The winner:
Michelle

Those who did well enough to come back next week:
Emilia
Rue
Jay
Alex

Bottom three:
Rosa
Sita
Eddie

The judges deliberated and, when the three were called in, they basically said, “Eddie, you did well the last couple weeks, so you’re safe.” Uh… no. Part of their discussion was that he may have coasted during this challenge. You’re supposed to make him sweat a little. Make him think that he could go from top to bottom and out in the span of one episode. So he walked away and all the drama was gone.

There was no way Rosa was leaving. Sita had to go.

She popped in the green room where the remaining contestants were hanging out, and said a quick goodbye and the show was over. It was that fast. She didn’t get to ceremonially place her apron on the cutting board like on MasterChef, or pack up all her wigs like on RuPaul’s Drag Race, all the while ruminating about what might have been.

You’d think it was the end of the season. Have you noticed that these reality competition shows really aren’t good with endings?  They all tend to crown a winner and, within the span of a minute, the shows over and we’re watching the news.

If that’s the case on episode three, I can’t help but picture the finale: Bobby or Giada will crown a winner in a mad dash for the door as the other reaches to flick off the lights and pull the studio door closed behind them.

 

 

See also:

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

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

FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "4th of July Cookout" (season 11 episode 4)