1) I discovered a well-spring of awesome in Bob Tuschman’s Blog on Food Network’s website. My favorite post, so far, is the post defending Aaron McCargo Jr’s win last year. From his post: We each championed a different finalist. From what I could tell from the thousands of e-mails and postings, viewers seemed as equally split as we were between Aaron, Adam and Lisa. Everyone felt their favorite was the only reasonable choice. Ultimately, our final decision seemed the right one. Allow me to translate corporatespeak: I’m the director of programming and I wanted this guy regardless of the fact Adam was superior in every way. In fact, Adam was so superior we stole his pitch from the finale and gave it a random cute woman. I got a mountain of e-mail supporting Adam’s win, but I don’t care, it was my decision and he’ll stay on television for as long as I feel necessary to justify the decision. I’m in charge. I’ll mention ratings even though no one has any idea what Food Network’s ratings are.
2) The first of two challenges was a Chopped challenge. Each contestant was given two featured ingredients (a meat and a condiment) with the instructions to make a meal using only other ingredients that would found in an “Esquire Man’s kitchen.” Then the contestants then had a 60-second, on-camera presentation of their dish. The first on-camera presentation is a very telling moment for this series. Italian Brett’s was so bad that he absolutely was going to get cut this week without a drastic save in the second challenge. I’ve always had a hard time understanding why the first camera presentation is always a killer on this show. The contestants are filmed 20 hours a day, they do confessionals where they speak directly to the camera, but when they present food some always fall apart. Isn’t this something that should be handled before they’re chosen as finalists? Italian Brett and Mommy Melissa had no clue at all. Sassy Michael ran out of stuff to say with 20 seconds left and dumbly tried to stretch in to a minute by stuttering and repeating himself. Caribbean Jamika got a bad case of the tongue-tieds. Really, everyone but Brett and Debbie were either OK or had understandable mistakes.
3) Unfortunately California Eddie nailed this challenge. He got one of the easier ingredient draws (steak and beer) and made a great, off-the-cuff presentation. Asian Debbie also nailed the presentation. The biggest problem I saw in this challenge is only two of them “got it.” They were supposed to be making an easy meal that a guy could throw together with readily available man ingredients. At least two of them used cous-cous which is, generally, not going to be in an Esquire Man’s pantry. Fancy glazes and such are out, too. California Eddie did simple steak and beer. Caribbean Jamika, though she stuttered through the presentation, made a whiskey marinated steak and named it the suggestive “Seal The Deal” Steak. Eddie won the challenge. I hate his soul.
4) It’s only the second episode of the season and I’m really already sick of Bob Tuschman’s “I was really looking for you to tell me a story” patented critique of EVERYTHING. If anyone were ever to design a drinking game for TNFNS, “drink once” would be every time Tuschman says the world “story”. Drink twice would probably be when someone cries. Three times would be when Evil Bobby Flay makes an appearance.
5) The second challenge kept with the magazine theme as the finalists went to the Good Housekeeping main office. The challenge was to create holiday-themed food and (ugh) tablescapes. The winner received a spread in July’s Good Housekeeping. As the winner of the Esquire challenge, Eddie got to assign the holidays. He kept Valentine’s Day for himself and assigned out Mother’s Day to Mommy Melissa, Earth Day to Healthy Katie, Halloween to Sassy Michael, Mardi Gras to Asian Debbie, April Fool’s Day to Italian Brett, Labor Day to Throwdown Teddy, New Year’s Eve to Caribbean Jamika, and GROUNDHOG DAY to Dr. Phlox Jeffrey. Groundhog Day? Really, guys? Christmas, Memorial Day, Independence Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Cinco de Mayo are all still on the board and the call is Groundhog Day? I would ask the idiot who chose that day what, exactly, they’d expect out of a Groundhog Day meal. I’d expect a ham and cheese sandwich because NOBODY EATS A FANCY MEAL FOR F*CKING GROUNDHOG DAY.
6) The presentations on the second challenge were equally terrible. Only two stood out. Phlox Jeffrey’s aerobics to relate Groundhog’s Day to lobster was something to behold. I like the fact he just totally ignored the holiday and went with lobster. For the first time in recorded history, someone on a reality show has actually watched past episodes of the reality show. He clearly knew that lobster forgives all transgressions. Also, Caribbean Jamika has also watched past episodes as she put together spicy collard greens and cornbread appetizers. Making only appetizers and sides for New Year’s Eve is the right way to go AND she related it to herself. Savvy on both of their parts. I’ve already picked Jeffrey as one of the final two but Jamika is very much a contender.
7) A lot of the other presentations were terrible. California Eddie rambled on and on about loving his girlfriend and the first time he made the meal. This marked the episode’s appearance of Evil Flay as he gave Eddie a withering look and impatiently tapped his pen with an awesome amount of “why is this tool wasting my precious time” in his face. I understand, Evil Flay — I hate him, too. Also, apparently Eddie has no idea how to spice his food as this is the second dish he’s delivered that “had no flavor.” Note to chefs: you can impress a girl by putting rose petal in their food but Evil Flay will have none of it. This challenge also revealed that Eddie does well with short and to the point presentation. When given time to ramble, it gets uncomfortable.
8) Italian Brett was a character to behold. Mommy Melissa was running around the kitchen during the challenge like a maniac. Brett and Throwdown Teddy offered to help her, which she gladly accepted. After totally falling apart in his presentation (April Fool’s, he started his presentation by “quitting the competition”) he knew that probably the only way to stay alive here was a major, television-friendly heel turn. After offering his help, he then turned on her in the judging and said she couldn’t finish her plates on her own without help. Bold strategy, sir. Though it didn’t work, we here at JEI salute you.
9) Speaking of the judging, it occurred to me how out of touch Tuschman seems in this show with what people want to watch. I mean, he obviously is not considering the ongoing popularity of the network — but at one point right before eliminating Brett, Tuschman talked about his likability. Likable? In what world is condescending to women, stereotypical Italian guy “likable”? The guy offered help to Melissa and then tossed her directly under the bus. He stabbed the woman in the back and then turned to Throwdown Teddy with an “amirite, man?” and didn’t even get back-up. It’s a beautifully stereotypical reality show move, but not something that makes one “likable”. Additionally, Tuschman has this odd idea that California Eddie is going to come across as something other than corporate-packaged. He’s not. That’s what he is. Everything he says sounds like he’s reading a poorly-written script. And the story thing. We get it. Jeffrey didn’t tell a story about his made-up Groundhog Day lobster dish. He’s a chef, Bob. Every dish he makes doesn’t have a story. Making a up a fake story is worse than having no story. The story was “I got a stupid holiday so I ignored it and made something with lobster because no one who makes a lobster dish ever gets eliminated.”
10) Here’s the thing everyone needs to remember about this show. It really has nothing to do with the quality of the food they make or the stuff about their team. It’s ten people making a ten-week pitch to the Food Network’s VP of Programming and VP of Marketing. It’s not merit-based. If it was merit-based, Asian Debbie would have gone home last week for taking point on a terrible meal that featured ground-up, store-bought angel-food cake. It’s not a mistake that the person who had the least pop in their presentation went home. We already know the duds. Healthy Kate, California Eddie, and Sassy Eddie will be the next three to go home in some order. Then probably Throwdown Teddy and Mommy Melissa. The top three are going to be Dr. Phlox Jeffrey, Caribbean Jamika, and Asian Debbie. Two of them have great personality, poise, and camera presence. The other has a little less personality, poise, and presence but fills a market the Food Network currently has no representative to.
I actively ignored the “THAT’S QUESTIONING MY INTEGRITY” teary moment by Mommy Melissa because it seemed too staged. Stop it. Don’t give me fake emotion.