The Next Food Network Star: Chopped

The preview clip that they keep playing is Alton snapping “If you can’t cook and talk at the same time, shut up and cook.”

That sums up everything I have wrong with not doing a camera challenge every week with every contestant. Those who cannot cook and talk at the same time should be going home first, as that’s the main ability one needs to have to do a stand and stir show.

Ok, enough of my rantings. This week is the Chopped challenge, featuring Scott Conant, Alex Guarnaschelli and Mark Murphy as our guest stars and Chopped judging panel. Each team competes against their own team members, which means there is no immunity to be had this week. Do you hear that Josh? There’s no being saved from the bottom this week!

Three rounds, one per team. There will be no appetizer round and no entrée round–instead all three teams will be doing the 30 minutes on the clock dessert round. As an added bonus their dish presentation will be held to one minute, and that presentation needs to have a”tip” added into it, because cutesy cooking tips are how one proves “expertise in cooking” on television.

Up first, Team Alton. Then Team Giada (the only team with five members) and to close, Team Bobby. Let’s see how they do in the Chopped Kitchen, after the jump.

Justin from team Alton refers to the basket as the “opposite of a Christmas present.” Inside there are Hershey’s Kisses, Pancetta, Graham Crackers and Kumquats. All the contestants do well in their “unloading the basket to present the ingredients” section of the challenge. Judson tells us he hates dessert because it reminds him of being fat.

And with that, time starts now. Instantly we discover that the smackdown from Alton is directed towards Martie, who apparently cannot make a s’mores and talk at the same time.  Justin is melting his kisses inside the wrappers. When Scott asks how that’s working out for him, he announces it to be “acceptable.” Judson doesn’t want to admit what he’s making to the judges. Emily is baking cupcakes–when asked what she’s making, she calls it “an inspiration,” “Chocolate Fried Pancetta Delight.” The judges all repeat that back in unison and disbelief. Martie blames her slowness at s’mores making on her age and her inability to run. Mike Murphy demands to know why nobody is using a double boiler. Instead we’ve got Justin burning chocolate in the microwave, and Martie somehow failing to finish s’mores, the EASIEST DISH EVER. Meanwhile Justin is fanning the powdered sugar he just put all over his dessert back off of it. Alll righty then!

  • Emily made a chocolate cupcake with salted pancetta tossed in a chili graham cracker crust. Her tip is that chili enhanced chocolate. Scott calls his first bite the perfect blend of salty and sweet. Bob loves her energy this week.
  • Martie babbles on about her being old and liking old school stuff. Her babbling means she runs out of time and fails to add a tip. Mike instantly asks why this super easy dish wasn’t done in 15 minutes, and points out she practically did nothing with the ingredients. Susie points out the apologizing for herself just makes us feel bad for her. Alton comes down on her like a ton of bricks, and says he doesn’t buy it was about the “old school” thing, but that she just wanted to apologise for her age.
  • Justin’s presentation is AWESOME. It’s the stream of consciousness thought process as he opened the basket that magically includes Hershey Park, his melting of the kisses in their wrappers and his blowing off of the powdered sugar into a cohesive whole. Not that he ever actually says what this is he made. Bonus points: Scott loves the dish, whatever it is. Bob is “endlessly fascinated” by Justin and calls him and his food total originals.
  • Judson decides to invoke his grandfather to clear the salesman sheen from his speech. He also fails to include a cooking tip. None of this probably matters, since his cake is raw. Bob is fooled by the grandfather invocation though, so there’s that.

On to Team Giada. Their baskets include: Reese’s Pieces (proving this is the corollary to last year’s “sponsored by Hersheys” challenge), popcorn, coconut and Grape Soda. PURPLE DRANK. Martita calls this a torture basket. Ippy somehow thought he could become The Next Food Network Star without ever having to go on Chopped. FOOL. Martita poaches pears. Linkie is panicked since she’s the dessert chef that she won’t be good enough. Josh is useless as usual, remembering halfway through his cooking that his point of view is supposed to be “Asian inspired.” This somehow includes deep-fried popcorn. I’ve never eaten an Asian dish with deep-fried popcorn. Just saying. Somehow it is a surprise to Ippy that he has to plate all nine dishes before time is up. I am confused how this is a surprise.

  • Ippy alohas us as if this will solve things. He made tempura and popcorn, and his tip is that tempura is made with soda water. Mike Murphy calls him “rushed” but agrees in the end it was a good dessert. Susie likes him today.
  • Martita emphasizes her first generation status and announces she made Bunuelos with fruit and whipped cream. She forgot her tip though. Scott loves the food, but wishes she’s said that the first generation immigrant thing was Mexican, since us white people need to be told these things. Bob calls today a step back over all.
  • Linkie made a chocolate mousse. Her tip is to pour the chocolate down the side of the bowl to keep the eggs from curdling. Scott is impressed how seamlessly her tip was in her presentation. Alex almost demands more mousse. Linkie feels vindicated.
  • Yvan made bread pudding and caramelized popcorn and reduced the grape soda into a sauce. Mike is madly in love with the dessert. Bobby calls him not as upbeat as usual. Bob says he has to think of himself as being on the level as the stars in front of him.
  • Josh. The only reason he wasn’t in the bottom last week is because the rest of his team won the challenge, and man, does it show. His presentation is all over the place. It’s Danish! It’s Asian! It’s sushi! It’s his rock band! It’s healthy! It’s babbling! And it’s over time. He forgot his tip. Mike gives one for him–“Be careful eating this, because there are kernels in here and you could break a tooth.” Oof.

Finally, Team Bobby. In their baskets: Hershey’s milk chocolate bars, pineapple, pasta sheets and black lava salt. Team Bobby is probably the most ambitious with their dishes. They’re also the team that acts the most “Team like” which Alex finds suspicious. Eric is free forming things, which I guess is to make up for his inability to make things from scratch. Bob snarks that he’s surprised Eric didn’t grow the pineapple himself. Nikki apparently hates dessert. On behalf of the big girls everywhere, Fuck You. Meanwhile, Michele is having a total freak out because Giada is looking at her. In her defense, Giada is toothily smiling at her, as if she knows Michele is the biggest thing her team has to worry about, so she has to get into her head and take her down. Nikki somehow things not telling the judges her bread pudding isn’t set will keep them from noticing. Really? Like, I just don’t get that mindset. They’re GOING TO EAT YOUR FOOD. They’re GOING TO NOTICE IT’S RAW. Oy.

  • Michele’s presentation is filled with “ums” every time she registers Giada’s existence. Scott loves the food. Bob and Susie want to know what the hell happened to her usual bad ass self. Michele is blunt “She makes me nervous!” pointing at Giada. Bobby and Alton both run to Michele instantly with a “don’t let her get in your head!”
  • Malcolm made sugar and salt fried pasta and pineapple. Malcolm’s tip is not to fear flambe. Alex loves the food. Scott is concerned he’s not enjoying himself. Malcolm knows this isn’t him. Bob and Susie agree.
  • Eric emphasizes the handcraftedness of his Napoleon. He talks about his feelings when he opens the basket–the only one to do so other than Justin on Team Alton. The dessert he made LOOKS amazing. Bob calls watching him work fun, but eating the dish more fun.
  • Nikki somehow thinks she can sell raw bread pudding. I don’t care how good she is, and how good her tip is. Her food is RAW. Her presentation of her dish is ugly. Worst of all, her speech comes off totally scripted.

To the judging room!

It turns out Team Alton totally got screwed today, because his team would’ve have taken this challenge–if there was a winning team that is. Justin is singled out as having down the best of everyone. Martie is in the bottom. Bob gets on her about the age thing, pointing out that some of their biggest stars *coughPaulaDeencough* are gorgeous mature women *coughRachaelRaycough.* Also the s’more was WAY too simple a dish. Giada’s team is coldly informed the basket defeated them collectively. To the surprise of no one, Josh is in the bottom. Meanwhile, Bobby’s team was deemed “not creative enough” since they are “the restaurant bunch.” Some of them were good (Eric), some were not–ie Nikki. Susie is harsh–she has no sense of Nikki as a person, so how could she even begin to help her? Damn.

The Producer Camera Challenge this week is to answer a FAQ from the website–and since this is Grilling Week on Food Network, that question is about grilling! “If you don’t have an outdoor grill, what can you make?” 

Nikki’s POV from the beginning is “Girl on Grill,” so without even seeing the cooking or the tape, we know she’s going to be sent to safety first. Josh is once again babbling about Denmark and Asia and god knows what. Martie is running (finally) with Alton running right next to her, calling out tips to help her along. Nikki proves she has this is the bag by doing the aluminum packet of woodchips in with her food to get that “grill flavor.”

Martie needs more camera time. How many ways can I say this? There’s only so much Alton can do in one session. Meanwhile, Josh has done this before, so he thinks he can handle props, and Giada thinks she doesn’t need to give as much advice. Nikki has a great POV, but I already can hear Bob and Susie when they hear this “Girl on Grill” title. Food Network already has a subtle porny vibe when they soft focus on women making orgasmic faces while eating. We saw this reaction last year with Penny’s “High Heels In the Kitchen” idea. Bob and Susie were firm: No Overt Sex.

To the pitch room:

  • Martie. Oh good lord. Her bracelet totally got stuck on her grill pans and ruined her clip. Good thing they weren’t hot. Somehow, she managed to play it off. Susie loved the technique, but was disappointed that all the film was just that one technique of using hot grill plates as a faux panini press for meat, and nothing about food. She gets points for managing to make her presentation work despite the bracelet tragedy.  This is probably a good thing because her food is blander than bland. It was a tuna dish that needed more time to marinate than 15 minutes. Alton argues that Martie’s gift for genuineness can’t be taught.
  • Josh is as terrible and unfocused in his film as he was last time. Worse, he fumbles the script. It’s all sushi and Asian and Danish and babble-babble-babble. Giada argues he is finally finding his POV. Bob does love the food. Once again, he’s getting credit for being ambitious, but man, that video was bad
  • The gasp at the “Girl on Grill” title from Bob and Susie is audible. This is going to be the only thing that takes her down, because her video is miles better than Martie’s, and lightyears better than Josh’s. It’s also the first time we see personality from her. Nice to know when she’s comfortable with the subject matter she can turn it on. I have a feeling that if this was Chocolate week on Food Network, we might not have gotten such a rock solid minute. Bob LOVES it…except for the risqué name, of course. He says it will be “off-putting” to the viewers. Susie insists she’s still not natural. Bobby says “no it’s not emmy winning, but it did tell you who she was.” Susie seems unconvinced. Until, that is, she tastes the food. “YUM!” Bobby emphasizes that it’s the only one of the three dishes that tastes of outdoor grilling, and therefore the only one that met the challenge.

Whether it was that argument, the strength of the video itself, or the food, it doesn’t matter. Nikki is sent back to safety before the judges even deliberate, leaving us down to Martie and Josh. Susie argues that Josh’s recipes are interesting. Bob says that his food POV could be great. But both agree his personality just isn’t what they’re looking for at the network. Meanwhile Martie’s personality has garnered major points, with Susie even comparing her to Paula Deen. The problem is, she hasn’t actually proved herself able to cook yet.

Given the choice between good food, but terrible on camera personality, or good on camera potential but no proven food skills, they’ll go with TV ability. Josh is finally gone after three weeks of being the bottom of his team. Thank god for that.

Next week- Teed Allen! Fashion Week! SQUEEEEE.


4 thoughts

  1. I usually take a peek one or two times per season, at this, the very weakest of food competition shows. Often, in past years, I have seriously wondered why the vetting in front was so poor. This season has some folks, however, that have serious potential. Justin should be hired whether he wins or not. The young man has it. He can cook; he’s got a fresh cooking perspective, and he’s a ton of fun to watch. There are 2 or 3 others, if not more, that would have creamed the competition in many other seasons. I do think doing a Chopped was a legit competition, however, because part of being one these tv cookstar franchises today is to be able to stand up in competition with each other in some timed screwball cooking throwdown, though I would have liked something more appetizery to be a bit fairer.


    1. I consider NFNS a different sort of food competition show from say “TopChef” or anything with Chef Shouty McInsulterpants on it. It’s not about the best chef. The best chef routinely gets sent home halfway through for lack of camera skills. It’s about the best Food Entertainer.
      They aren’t successful every year. (Season three particularly was a nadir.) Some years they find talent that isn’t quite ready yet, who they’ve been farming out to cooking channel. Sometimes they find a great show idea, but not the right person to star in it (The concept behind “Ask Aida” for instance was originally pitched by runner up Adam Gertler in season four.)
      I’m not going to say there’s not real potential this year–and from several contestants. But I wouldn’t totally diss this show completely. It’s not Top Chef. It’s not all about the food. It’s a far more narrow thing they are looking for, which is someone who can be used to make more of your Foodertainment sausage.


      1. I agree with your take on the show. I just have seen several seasons when I would not have watched any of the contestants, including the winners on anything. This year they simply have more camera ready folks, fewer cringe worthy. And Justin is already pretty entertaining. Interestingly a couple of the contestants had already competed on Chopped previously, not that it seemed to help them. I have never been overly sold on the two judges, particularly Bob, who is so smarmy. But this year, I also think there is an interesting dynamic between the 3 chefs about what it takes to be a star. Flay, who is the best cook, is also the most generous personality, though this is his least interesting show. Giada would be forgettable, except she drips charisma in a way that the sum of her parts far exceeds any one of them–is it true that she spends an hour a day sharpening all her teeth and bleaching them while velcroing her neckline to the very spot no male can keep his eyes off it, just an eyeroll at Flay and Brown step on the rung of the ladder to signify she is out of their class?, and Alton, the Mr. Wizard of cookstars, seems to have the most focused idea, the most quantifiable idea of what these folks need to do to succeed–though it is only Justin that brings out the best in him, the sense of humor that allows a viewer to put up with his serious nerdiness.

        I would watch more this year, but Sunday is already a viewing roadjam for me, especially with NBA playoffs. And right now, believe it or not, The Killing, is gobsmackingly good, halfway between Kafka–the recent scenes of Linden locked up in the psych ward with the well meaning, utterly horrifying, grinning know it all psychiatrist interrogation about her horrible childhood and the last case she was institutionalized while investigating, epitomizing the bad waking dream she has been sent to inhabit like purgatory–and the urban corruption mystery, essential elements of the Wire and 2/3 of all LA noirs, miniturized to be sure, melodramatized just enough to work as the story’s backbone, while I find myself muttering aloud, “Stan, Stan” after every scene Rosie’s poor put upon dad enters into.


        1. They’ve had some bad seasons, no doubt. I know I keep harping on Season three, but (especially coming off the season where they found Guy Fieri) it really did encapsulate everything that can go wrong with their old format when casting isn’t up to snuff. Season five wasn’t much better though, with Bob getting hung up on Jeffrey (who ended up on Cooking Channel), and the win ending up defaulting to the painfully unwatchable Melissa. The last two seasons, the winning contestant had been obvious since the halfway mark, so I’m hoping that if nothing else this “teams” format will keep the conclusion from being too forthcoming so early.


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