Ten Thoughts On The Next Food Network Star [Season 5, Episode 7]

1) As we return to the predictable final four, we are still in Miami. Your guest host for the week is Next Iron Chef winner Michael Symon. The first challenge this week will put each competitor in front of a live camera to do a four-minute demo on a Miami morning show. What the competitors don’t know is that the crew will be sabotaging them. This is a fun sort of cruel.

2) The good. Debbie — they took away utensils and swapped her fish with chicken. It annoys me to no end how good she was at this challenge. She improvised utensils (beating an egg with a microplane) and changed the recipe to a chicken dish on the fly, encrusting the chicken instead of the fish and turning it in to a real dish. It kills me to admit that she won this challenge easily. Jeffrey — technical difficulties with the sound. First his microphone went out, then he had to deal with a poorly placed boom-microphone, then had to deal with a handheld. This is definitely a spot where his completely balanced personality came in handy. He just dealt with everything as it came up and was like “no problem, man” — at one point managing to hold a knife and talk to the host at the same time.

3) The bad. Melissa — the host totally sabotaged her presentation by screwing up her name and adding ingredients to her dish. This is a pretty good example at what happens when someone can’t handle a presentation going wrong. Debbie’s crazy, fast-talking energy comes screaming back when she gets put off her game. Although, her segment did yield the best line of the episode: After the host screwed up her name for the fourth time, she asked him if this was a joke, to which he responded “no, I’m bad at hosting TV.” Jamika — bad time cues and a bad cameraman. Another case where we got to see what happens when a contestant doesn’t react well to things going wrong. She quickly got annoyed with the entire situation and was snippy and standoffish with the host. Not good. Being annoyed can’t come through on camera.

4) The second challenge is, unsurprisingly, Iron Chef themed. Each contestant will have 45 minutes to prepare a fish dish paired with a shellfish for the Red Lobster woodfire grill menu. Each contestant may only use the woodfired grill as their cooking implement. As the winner of the of the first challenge, Debbie gets first selection of fish. The twist here — after each contestant has selected their ingredients, Bobby Flay and Michael Symon decide to take away their selected ingredients and replace them with stuff outside their wheelhouses. The clock stops 3:30 in to change ingredients. I’m surprised they’re using a food challenge as their elimination challenge. Usually they like to have the flexibility of eliminating anyone.

5) Debbie — Her Korean ingredients were taken and replaced with Mediterranean ingredients. If I’m giving her anything, she consistently remains the easiestgoing under pressure. The dish she presents specifically leaves out one of the ingredients (capers) which she tries to lie her way out of by telling them it’s in the dressing. Then, backing of of that when she realizes she’s lying to three chefs she goes with “I unintentionally forgot about them.” EVIL FLAY IS NOT AMUSED!!! The rest of the judging committee seems relatively unimpressed by her dish. Not a home run, barely even a double by the body language.

6) Jamika — her Jamaican pineapple flavors were replaced with celery root. Jamika, again, did not react well to the roadblock. When being asked about her plans, she told Bob that she was “pissed.” Bob rewarded her with a stern look. She’s so shut down and surly. This is the second challenge in which her rage just leaked out and went everywhere. The dish wasn’t menu quality and this, for the second time, seems like the end for her.

7) Melissa — her citrus flavors for the fish and scallops are replaced with habenero peppers. This is a rough ingredient. Habeneros are incredibly spicy and severe and it takes a skilled hand to make them not blow your face off. Especially hard in this situation is using an incredibly hot pepper for a chain restaurant dish. She marinates the fish in habenero and turns some more of them in to a sauce. She delivers a dish though that Flay, Symon, and the Red Lobster chef love, showing again that she has an incredible knack for cooking even with ingredients she’s totally inexperienced with. In this challenge, she was calm, positive, and a joy to watch. She took all the input from the first challenge and used it here.

8) Jeffrey — always gravitates to a southwest theme, so he gets Asian flavors. It seems like he has no idea what he’s going to do for most of this challenge. Amazingly, he figures it out about half way through and delivers the winning dish. The chefs seem incredibly impressed that he took a whole new set of ingredients and delivered something they loved. Definite winner here and safe for the week.

9) This is the point in the elimination room where the selection committee asks the contestants what they’d do with their own show. Jeffrey gravitates to the “cooking without borders” thing which Susie and Bob immediately start branding in to “lifestyle choices” and other such things. Great job for him choosing a marketable tagline. Their concern is that his zen balance makes him vanilla and boring, but he’s safe. Melissa, also, has clearly put a lot of thought in to her career on this network. She says she’s going to have instant credibility with the working mom with kids set and it’s a very extensible brand. Debbie is also the only one of them who looks like she’s starting to smell it. She was fired up to defend her position and her brand. Bobby loved it. I think he’s in to her as the winner right now. Oh, and in case you didn’t know — Debbie’s Korean.

10) I’m very happy to see Bobby lay in to Debbie for being a liar and a cheat. It was refreshing. She blatantly lied to their faces when asked about leaving out an ingredient and that’s on top of all the other lying she’s done every week before they noticed. When this is pointed out, she cries. I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. Every week. When they ask her what she brings to the table, she says she brings Korean. If she wins this, they will have ignored a stunning number of character flaws in favor of bringing in an Asian star who is, at best, the third best person remaining.

Final Thought: No surprise here as Jamika gets kicked off for being too surly. She definitely deserved to be kicked off this week. The selection committee seems to absolutely love her, though, so I expect her on Food2 somewhere in the near future.

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