It’s Top Five Week at the Food Network Star. And I’m with Arnold–holy sausage fest. This is the first time in 11 years the Top Five has been all guys. I wonder if that’s why Star Salvation did a 180 last week and now has only women left, after working so hard to rehabilitate Matthew. Not that they’re rejoining the competition yet. We’ll have to live with the sausage fest for at least another week until the production can hopefully reintroduce a woman and course correct this.
Meanwhile, for both our mini challenge and our main one, the goal this week is branding. The show has a branding challenge around this point every season, which is why Dom’s shock at the idea he has to brand himself makes me question if he did his homework before coming here. Everyone else has a good idea towards what their brand is, if not their entire global branding strategy already mapped out in the head ready for editing.
The mini challenge is to make a recipe that would work for one of those on-line recipe clubs that are the latest fad in home cooking. (I should know. I have a Blue Apron invite in my inbox.) Alex, who has been badly struggling, finally nails a challenge with his slogan “A Whole World Between Two Slices of Bread” and a tasty burger. Dom’s “Newest Authority on the Italian Kitchen” slightly offends Giada (check that laugh!), but he finally nailed a presentation for the first time, so she forgives him. Arnold is less clear on his brand and one note on his flavors. Jay and Eddie are actually the worst of the group, with Jay sounding rehearsed for the first time, and Eddie nearly crashing and burning.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Holiday Helplessness
It’s Food Truck Week. No one actually likes Food Truck Week, but as long as Food Trucks remain a popular staple of lunch goers in major metropolitan areas (a fad with a slightly longer lifespan than, say, cupcakes), Food Network Star will have Food Truck Week.
But before we get to the food trucks, our top six have to make brunch. They name their favorite brunch dish before learning that they just committed to making it “to-go” style (for Food Trucks!) Well, five of them name a brunch dish. Alex names “chipped beef on toast” which is Diner Breakfast, a totally different category.
Most figure out how to edit their named dish into finger food. Dom is too literal to manage it, and actually poaches an egg, despite the “no utensils” rule. Giada can’t get her mouth around it, and Bobby nearly demands a napkin. Michelle starts a hallmark of this week–she screwed up the basics (no salt), so she just starts whining about how she wants to be home with her kids. Maybe she can bring Alex’s “baby food” version of chipped beef when she goes. In the end the only contenders are Jay and Eddie, and Eddie failed to bring the flavors, so this time Jay takes it. I feel like this may be the story of the two of them for the rest of the season.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Food Truck Mow Down
With seven contestants left this week, we’re at the halfway point of the season. It is about this point traditionally where our All-Star mentors began to fail to show up for work in earlier seasons. This wasn’t such a big deal when there were three of them–in fact it allowed nice changes in dynamic as we found ourselves having an Alton and Bobby as Bros episode, or Giada and Alton as tolerating each other episode. But with only two Stars now running the show, if one doesn’t show up for work, that means having to go through a segment hosted by someone solo.
That’s exactly what happens this week, as Giada is forced to host the opening challenge sans Bobby. The producers realize she’s not so good at this, she can’t hide when she doesn’t like a contestant, for instance. So they give her Duff Goldman as a partner who steps up and does the actual hosting duties. (She doesn’t seem to like him much either–that hug was awwk-ward.) The challenge–to make a “kicked up pizza,” in Duff’s words–and then present it to him, Giada and Darin Harris from the terrible pizza place CiCi’s. Apparently CiCi’s will feature the winning pizza.
One would think after six weeks of these sorts of challenges, nailing these one minute presentations would have gotten easier. But Arnold only does so by accident, Dom and Michelle both fail at their time management, and Alex and Emilia both wither under Giada’s fake smile that does not touch the hatred of them in her eyes. This leaves only Jay or Eddie to take it, and Jay’s pizza came out underdone. Eddie will have his dessert pizza served at CiCi’s, and we won’t give too much side eye at Harris who seems to have never heard of the concept before now.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Midterm Improvising
We’re running a little late this week with our Food Network Star recap, due to the holiday. I’m not sure this is the worst thing in the world, since we still have quite a bit of chum left in the waters at this point. We’re down to eight contestants left, at least four of which are in various stages of circling the drain. It’s just a matter of what order they go home in.
The opening round for today’s episode feels like a leftover from last week–another “switcheroo” scenario. This time everyone contestant is given one of their favorite ingredients to cook with, only to see it taken away and given to their neighbor. (I suppose that’s no worse than having an entire car full of groceries given away.) The good news is that after going through a more extreme version last week, no one melts down this time, though it’s telling which contestants ask their neighbors for advice about the ingredient they got, and which ones don’t. At presentation, the dishes are then flipped back, and the contestants are asked to taste and critique the dish their neighbor made with the ingredient they know so well.
Some of them pick up right away that the real skill being tested here is describing a dish where they are the authority on the main ingredient. Others aren’t so quick off the mark. Arnold gets so offended that Emilia gives a bad review of his dish (while using fabulous descriptive words) that he insists her dish is also unimpressive, only to receive a double whammy fail that the judges not only disagree with his assessment, but also pan his ability to describe the dish to viewers at home. Meanwhile others, like Alex, fail to be authorities on their own ingredient. (Seriously, if you put five spice on your list of favorite ingredients to cook with, do your homework and know what those five spices are.) Rue takes the win for both cooking one of the best dishes of the day, but more importantly for her eloquent description of Jay’s offering.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Conscious Uncoupling
It’s the Fourth of July episode, and the contestants were clearly pre-warned of that. Despite the fact that this was pretaped back in May or thereabouts, several of them have red white and blue accessories on. Giada robotically declares Fourth of July to be a “classic American holiday where we celebrate with picnics all around the country.” So those decades of Food Network calling this the biggest grilling holiday are just lies then?
No, it’s because there’s a picnic basket prop out on the floor. But this “picnic” nonsense is really just to pick teams via napkin color, before they get to the “cook out competition.” This turns out, is the main competition of the day. The teams are:
- Team White: Jay, Michelle&Rosa: Two front runners&one not.
- Team Red: Dom, Rue&Emilia: Struggle Team
- Team Blue: Eddie, Arnold&Alex: Two memorables& a forgettable.
Bobby and Giada send them shopping at an unbranded supermarket that will most likely be their local Whole Foods. Then it’s on to Will Rogers State park for the actual cook out. But first, more hawking of the Branded German Engineering fleet of vehicles of last week. Food Network Stars in reasonably priced cars!
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Teams Red White and Blue
Our finalist travel to the studio in a fleet of branded white cars. But not cars big enough to capture three people in one shot, like they used to. Those SUVs are just not the trendy thing any more. And “trendy” is the name of the game today. The first challenge: photographing food. Thirty minutes to make a dish, and then snapping a picture like one would for posting on-line. Note that the word “Instagram” is never mentioned, despite being the clichéd place people post their food pictures, just generic “social media.” Someone must have turned down the chance for the branding opportunity. Perhaps it’s just not trendy.
Since many of these chefs are either food bloggers or have been pushing themselves on social media for years, most of them are confident in their ability to master this challenge. Those who are less confident are those who are already circling the drain–Sita, who would have gone home last week if not for Matthew’s well time smirk, and Emilia, who couldn’t smile if they paid her. I am amused that the contestants aren’t given cameras to take their photos, just smartphones, with the logos covered up. Branding opportunities, people! They’re just not trendy.
But of course, not just the picture will count–there’s also taste and the contestant selling their dish to Bobby and Giada, by telling a story about it in a 30 second improv. The judges call up the dishes in order by best looking photograph to worst. Eddie gets picked first, followed by Jay, Dom and Arnold. Emilia gets picked last. (Alex and Rue don’t get picked at all.) Of the top three, Dom was most improved in presentation, so he wins a leg up in the main challenge.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Short Lived Trends
Giada and Bobby are accompanied by a pair of refrigerators when they meet up with our contestants this week. Not to worry, the fridges aren’t here to shill any products (other than their brand.) Instead they’re filled with leftovers. With prep stations up and down the sides of the room, this is setting up to be a two challenge episode. (Note I didn’t say there was immunity involved. There’s not.)
Here come the “I’m a mom!” claims of being able to do this, and the self-assured comments of the contestants, completely missing the point that this is not about the dish as much as it is presenting the dish to camera. To that end, Season 5 winner (and mom) Melissa d’Arabian is here to judge, but her focus isn’t on the dish they come up with.
She tries to tell them the critical thing to winning this show isn’t the dish as much as it is the describing of it to the camera. Not that anyone is listening, since they’re all busy creating dishes in their heads and assuming they’ll get the ingredient they want. (Spoiler alert, most of them won’t.) Time speeds by as all of them attempt to put a dish together. After all, the important part is the presentation to camera.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Savor Your Baking