Ten Thoughts On The Next Food Network Star [Season 5, Episode 6]

1) This week, the contestants are being flown to Miami, but before they get on the plane, they’re surprised with the JFK Jetblue Challenge. For anyone who hasn’t had the “pleasure” of going to JFK — the new Jetblue terminal is an oasis of heaven amidst a special section of hell. It’s brand new, shiny, and, as mentioned here, has some great food options. The contestants are each assigned a restaurant and must present a dish to fit in that restaurant. The winner will get his or her item placed on the restaurant’s menu. Alert! This is what we call a “food challenge” where the dish is all that matters. Your presentation could be the worst ever conceived and still win if you have a delicious dish that fits the menu. Call the presentation the tiebreak. The catch here is that the kitchen is airport-safe — ie: the knives are attached with steel wire to the counters. The judges here are Bob, Katie, my archnemesis Ted Allen, Jetblue’s head chef, a Jetblue pilot, and a Jetblue flight attendant.

2) Michael/La Vie/French — Michael first wanted to make an oyster dish but the airport kitchen didn’t have a shucker. Since he didn’t want to slice his hand off, he went with plan b, which was a poorly-conceived clams with bacon hollandaise sauce concoction. This does, in fact, answer the question if there’s something that bacon can’t do. It can’t improve hollandaise sauce. Who knew? Ambitious dish that he didn’t quite pull off. Tuschman puts it best with “10 degree of difficulty, 6 execution.”

3) Melissa/Piquillo/Tapas — Melissa points out that a tapas bar isn’t exactly her wheelhouse, which is family-friendly cooking. But, as usual, she grasps the concept of the judges wanting them to think outside their specific boxes. She goes with a chicken a la plancha with chorizo and potatoes. This dish was a really excellent sounding tapas option and the chef agrees. Again, she doles out background information as it becomes relevant. She had a live-in, Spanish-speaking nanny when she was growing up in Arizona, so Spanish was, in fact, he first language. I am on-board with Tuschman’s infatuation of her. If all the various background tidbits she’s giving us are true, she can carry a show with downhome, fun stories.

4) Jamika/Deep Blue/Sushi — Since she clearly isn’t going to make sushi, she decides to go with a seared tuna salad with an orange miso vinagrette. This was almost a good idea except I really couldn’t see it on a menu at a sushi restaurant. Especially not one that was trying to be a “Manhattan sushi restaurant in the airport terminal.” She starts out making a good point in her presentation saying that she hates heavy meals before getting on a plane. Then crashes straight through the wall by referencing airplane bathrooms right before the judges dig in. Not the best reference.

5) Debbie/5ivesteak/Steak — She gets the steak restaurant and decides to ignore steak entirely. She does a spinach salad. For a steak restaurant. Awesome. Susie asked her about the lack of steak and Debbie tried to get around it by saying not everyone wants steak at a steak restaurant. Then why would they go there, Debbie? Debbie also makes an unfortunate reference to “girls watching their waistline” which sets Susie’s InnerManhattan girl afire. “I’m tired of the idea that only girls care about their waistline.” Yeah, Susie — you should definitely get on every magazine marketed to women currently in circulation, then. Know what’s never on the cover of Esquire? “How to watch your waistline.” Know what’s on the cover of Cosmo every month? “How to watch your waistline.”

6) Jeffrey/Aeronuova/Italian — Jeffrey decides to make a bruschetta, which he thinks is a perfect European-inspired dish. His bruschetta is topped with a poached egg which impresses the chef because it fits on the menu in breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Jeffrey gives a presentation where he finally gives us a little piece of himself and his “No Borders” background. The problem I continually have with his presentations is he has this intense glare that he fixes on people while presenting and he gestures too much. Regardless, his dish was the winner. Everyone remember — eggs equal ratings.

7) The second challenge is for the five contestants to host a Miami beach party. They each have to plan two hors d’oeuvres, then prepare the food and host the party. The contestants, as a team, are to plan a menu, spend 60 minutes shopping for their ingredients with a budget of $1500, and make them in two hours. As the winner of the first challenge, Jeffrey gets to assign jobs and, by default, becomes the captain. He chooses host for him, bartender for Michael, head chef for Debbie, and sous chef for Jamika and Melissa. This really does seem like the best distribution of talent. Jeffrey is an engaging dude, Michael is over-the-top enough to keep the drinks flowing, and Debbie is a caterer. One knock on Jeffrey here is that he didn’t tell everyone to slow down on their insanely complicated choices. None of these things sounded cook and go and it seemed none of them, even Melissa, “got” the fact that two hours of food prep time isn’t that much. Normally I complain when judges hold things like finesse or technicality over people in timed challenges but this is different. They knew full well, even before menu prep and shopping, that their prep time would be limited to two hours and they would be serving a room full of people. It should have gone in to their planning and, by and large, it didn’t. See also: Dinner Impossible. Instead of addressing it and “taking ownership” of the kitchen’s problems, Debbie was very obviously only paying attention to get her dishes together and taking them to the judges.

8) The party seemed to be a disaster. The contestant’s dishes were not quick to plate which led to the food being crushed as soon as it came out of the kitchen. Debbie, the person who was supposed to be the head of the kitchen, took no initiative to do anything except make sure her own dishes were perfect at the cost of everyone else. The service was so bad that EVIL FLAY!!!!!!! went back to the kitchen to ask just what the f*ck was going on. I don’t understand how it took Debbie the entire time to do her own food, other than she was doing her level best to sink the team because she is an evil genius. Near as the editing showed us, Debbie did nothing for the entire party other than lord over her own dishes. Then I recalled that every team challenge she’s been involved in led to one of her teammates being eliminated (Teddy, Katie, Jen) because she sinks teammates and makes everyone think it’s anyone but her fault.

9) Watching the elimination room theatrics, I start to wonder if Debbie even knows she’s extremely evil or is really just unaware of how she seems on camera. You can’t be totally removed from the chaos in the kitchen when service is breaking down and really think you did a good job, can you? I mean, I understand these shows are edited to highlight certain angles, but it really seemed like she did nothing for the entire party. She never did anything resembling “head chefness” in the kitchen and she certainly did nothing to get any extra food out the door. And what did the two hour time limit even mean if she got to do her own prep for the entire party? It appeared that the other contestants finally noticed what Teddie and Katie learned the hard way — Debbie is a terrible teammate who only cares about making herself look good at the expense of everyone else. So, she got the best dishes because she spent the time required making them. Everyone else was worried about the party actually being good. And she has the balls to stand there and tell the judges she thinks she did a good job. Can anyone really be that clueless?

10) I immensely enjoyed the entire suite turning on Debbie and finally seeing her for what she really is after I’ve been barking about it for three weeks. It was very vindicating. The selection committee also now seems aware of her personality which makes me very happy for next week. But, for the second straight week, they make a sickeningly unfair elimination and send Michael home after a week where he was given a job and excelled at it. His personality was absolutely correct for that situation and, yes, I’m sure that Mobster they showed who called Jamika his “little lambchop” was put off by it and made a lot of homophobic comments to his buddies. But, that shouldn’t be Michael’s problem. Susie’s misremembering of his quote “I can’t do this in front of the camera” when he actually said “my problem is the camera, not crowds” as an excuse for his elimination is, again, transparent. Those are two very different things. One can be addressed and one cannot. And, for my nemesis Ted Allen to say “he did some stuff in the kitchen and then went out and partied” is also horribly unfair. He did what he was supposed to do — make easily servable hors d’oeuvres that could be quickly put out the door. All of the other dishes were judged unfairly because Supervictimasian got some indeterminate amount of time to work on only hers while everyone else quickly turn out double the number. And, somehow, she stays. Again.

Final Thought: I never thought Michael was going to win but he didn’t deserve to be eliminated this week. He did what he was supposed to do — he was a bartender whose job it was to make sure people had a good time. That kind of over-the-top personality is going to rub some people the wrong way. But, if the majority of the people were upset because the food wasn’t coming out fast enough, the two people in the front had to take the job of keeping the crowd happy. The kitchen staff failed the competition. The head of the kitchen, who ignored all the other dishes for her own, was entirely to blame. To keep her around again was a joke. My friend Mike, after the first episode when she put the captain’s stamp of approval on store-bought angel food cake drizzled with chocolate syrup, said that if she was kept again in a clear situation when she should have been eliminated that we could write her down as the preselected candidate to win. Well, it happened. For the judges to use an offhand comment Michael made when he was running around like a crazywoman because his kitchen staff was failing and use that as your elimination justification is a transparent joke. But, since this week’s show was specifically edited to turn the audience on her, I don’t think she’s going to win anymore. I think she’s going to get cut next week.

The final four I picked from the beginning is intact. But, the show absolutely should come down to Jeffrey vs. Melissa. Jeffrey makes fantastic food an has an engaging personality that can fool an audience in to thinking they can make this stuff. Melissa has a wealth of personality and has a lifetime of homey stories that are straight out of Good Housekeeping. Neither Jamika or Debbie are even in the same ballpark. They’re barely in the same game. I originally said I expected the elimination order from here to be Melissa, Jamika, and Jeffrey. Now I think it’s going to be Debbie, Jamika, and Jeffrey.