Ten Thoughts On The Next Food Network Star [Season 5, Episode 8]

1) Emeril’s been released from Fine Living Network exile? When did this happen? Why wasn’t I informed. This week is a cross-promotion with Julie & Julia, so the contestants will go watch the movie first. After that, they’ll use that inspiration to create a three-course meal for twelve “culinary elites” on a $1000 budget. Their meal will include a presentation on their culinary background, a live demo of one of their dishes, and presenting the dishes to the judges. The judges include the selection committee, Francois Payrd, Marcus Samuelson, Rick Bayless, John Besh, Tyler, Morimoto, both Neelys, Sunny Anderson, Anne Burrel, Alexandra Guanacelli, and Emeril. The sous chefs they’ll use for this challenge are, unsurprisingly. the contestants who were eliminated since they’ve gone to Miami — Katie, Michael, and Jamika.

2) I love to cook. I’m pretty good at it. I would be wetting myself presenting dishes to these twelve people. Not only that, but the best I’d be able to babble out would be “buhhhh, pile of cheese and sauce.”

3) The contestants go to the store to plan their menu. Melissa puts together a fantastic sounding french menu with ratatouille, potato torte, chicken, port sauce, and porchettes. Credit where it’s due — she’s not taking it easy. A full-out, French dish to bring right to the committee. Debbie’s Korean, you know, so she’s bringing her Korean flavors in her Soul-to-Soul style. Can anyone either confirm or deny that this is the first time she’s used this as her gimmick? I feel like I’d remember this. Jeffrey’s menu sounds good but he somehow only spends $317 of his budget. And he’s making a risotto? Caution.

4) Melissa goes first — and if they had an award for show for “smartest reality show contestant” she’d be a shoo-in. For weeks, she’s been doling out information based on life stories and she somehow saves the “my mom committed suicide” bomb for the penultimate week. That, friends, is some savvy reality TV. She even brought a tear to the eye of black-souled Manhattan Susie. Brilliant, brilliant presentation. The speech was so good it sounded professionally written from the sound-bites (The worst thing in life is not failing… it’s succeeding at the wrong thing) to the tear-jerking story about her mom. I can’t even express how smart this was. Bobby can’t believe this next level. Susie and Sunny are in tears. The French chef and the Neelys love her ratatouille. Her demo is on her chicken dish which is serviceable — good not great. French guy thinks the chicken is dry. On the other hand, her potato torte is received very well. The table doesn’t care much for the cheese and green salad on her dessert plate. But they say the cookie she included with the dish was the best thing of the day. Alexandra wants none of the cheese and greens but a plate of cookies. Seriously — who wants a green salad on their dessert plate. The group seems to love her overall.

5) Debbie — Her speech is not as deep or touching as Melissa’s but that was impossible to follow. Morimoto is staring a mudhole through her and I think he wants to ruin her. The only thing missing is a wink and glass of wine. Another appearance of Soul-To-Soul with almost no explanation. More on this later. Her appetizer was met with disdain. Her ribs were met with bleh because they are tough like Koreans like them. Is this true? Do Koreans like their meat tough? And, besides the point, who the eff cares? You’re not presenting to Koreans. Her demo is on her Asian pear eggroll dessert with a rum butterscotch. This was the moment I wondered exactly where an Asian cooking show would do well on this network. Again, more on this later. Her demo is very bland. Morimoto is still staring a mudhole. Pat Neely and Besh are also on board. One of the judges claims her eggroll dough is almost raw. Morimoto is staring at her. The Pat Neely is also is board. Her eggroll dough was almost raw according to one of the judges.

6) Jeffrey — Number two opening presentation talks about the first time he ever thought of food as something more than stuff to eat. Good stuff but not better than Melissa’s. His demo was on his seared scallop with green chile chutney appetizer. By far, the best demo out of the three. I felt like I could make scallops off that thirty-second, edited demo. The scallops are received well. The risotto not so much. At best it gets “the worst risotto I’ve ever eaten.” At worst it gets “insult to Italy.” Gina Neely gives it the pursed-lips, cocked eyebrow, really annoyed woman look. Not good. No one says why it’s bad. Just that it’s bad. I guess I’ve never had a bad enough risotto to just know what a bad one tastes like? His dessert dish — a chocolate mousse with a biscotti – is received much better. Alexandra loves it (unsurprising if you watch her judge enough shows. Bacon, eggs, or chocolate and Alexandra is a happy girl). Anne Burrell and Tyler both call it a perfect demo.

7) As we go to the elimination room, Bob tells her once again that she is constantly surprising. She admits that she was a little intimidated by who she was presented to (which, I think, it would be dishonest if she said otherwise). Bobby Flay seemed mostly baffled that Jeffrey made such a bad risotto when he had $700 leftover on his budget. He says Jeffrey needed lobsters. I agree! And I don’t understand. Jeffrey worked lobsters in to Groundhog Day but didn’t go for it here? Weird. Debbie seemed to be met with universal average for everything on this presentation except for “Morimoto Desire”. Even her “please save me” speech to the judges at the end was somewhat lackluster.

8) While I could go in to details about how I did a “punch it out” dance on the couch when they announced her elimination, I won’t. What I will say is something that dawned on me listening to Bob’s comments in the elimination room and the judges in the challenge. What in the world would Food Network do with an Asian-themed show? Debbie couldn’t make a solid Korean dish from a grocery store in MIAMI. If that’s the case, what chance does the 98% of the country that doesn’t have easy access to Korean/Asian ingredients have to make anything she does? Besides the point — white people have to do some serious work to understand how to make Asian food. In watching Asian themed (like Pad Thai) episodes of Good Eats I’ve learned one thing — I’m never, ever, EEEEVER going to make pad thai. As a lark someday, I might try to make sushi, but it’s not something I’m going to make every day. And, if I still lived in Upstate NY, I don’t even know where I would buy the ingredients. The idea of an Asian cooking show is tantalizing, but in reality, I don’t know if it sells well to an American audience — and I also don’t know that combining it with deep-fried everything southern style makes it any easier. And while we’re at it, what is “Soul to Soul”? I don’t even understand what it means. I get that southern food is “soul food” but where does Korean fit in to that. It’s a great buzzword but ultimately I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean.

9) Next week, we get the finale episodes which has the contestants film and pitch their pilots to the selection committee. I have the easiest time figuring out Melissa’s show. It’s got to be something like the Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller show, right? Or maybe the Gourmet Housewife? It seems like the direction she sees for herself is to help out working moms to get great meals on the table for her family efficiently. I would be interested to see if she can pull it off. This was Rachel Ray’s gimmick for a while but she branched off in to making things that kids would never eat — like everything with fried onions. This really seems like the winning show idea.

10) Primarily because I can’t figure out what Jeffrey’s show is going to be about. I love the idea of cooking without borders, but how in the world does that translate in to a half-hour television show? Is he just going to be a housewife tingler like Chiarello and Tyler and do laid back “how to entertain” shows? A few years ago, I would have guessed they wanted him to take over the somewhat-more-complicated, Molto Mario genre. But, there has been a solid movement in the post-Rachel Ray era to dumb down the Food Network. All the shows that display complicated techniques (Save Secrets of a Restaurant Chef) have generally been replaced with attractive people (Aida, Claire Robinson, Danny Boone) doing simple things. I like him, but I think he has a tough hill to climb next week.

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