Monday, June 7, 2010

Next Food Network Star: Recap of Episode 1 Season 6

Season 6 of Next Food Network Star kicked off last night with a two hour premiere. The Food Network had been counting down the hours all day long via a running clock in the top right hand corner of the screen. I admit I bought into the hype and was downright giddy by the time 9pm eastern rolled around.

This year’s show takes place in Los Angeles. We meet the finalists one by one as they roll into their lodging, squealing and slinging luggage around.

Paul informs us that he knows he will win the competition which makes me instantly dislike him.

Herb is a personal chef and personal trainer which intrigues me since Food Network doesn’t have a chef that fits that criteria and I would certainly watch.

Tom is a big, shaggy dog of a man whom I instantly like because I like shaggy dogs.
He’s also been unemployed for 16 months so he probably needs the work.

Dzintra bears a striking resemblance to Sandra Lee and prides herself on being quirky. As the show progressed, it became apparent that “quirky” translates to “bizarre” in the eyes of her fellow contestants.

Speaking of look a likes, we have Brianna who could pass for Beyonce’s twin and considers herself a diva.

Doreen is sort of hard to peg down. Nothing stands out about her in her initial introduction and this will prove to be a problem later on down the road.

Aria is a cheerful and likable mother of a toddler. She puts said tot’s picture up immediately which makes me fear that she will sob throughout the show about missing her kid. I misjudged.

Aarti is Indian, very pretty and I love the jaunty flowers she wears in her hair.

Brad is sort of a non stand out personality wise although he later proves that still waters run deep (or at least they can cook). His trademark is his flat hat which belonged to his grandfather and is his good luck charm.

I like Das upon his introduction but soon it becomes obvious that Das really likes Das.

Serena is a lawyer, not a professional chef, so that makes me cheer for her. She’s also an Italian spitfire that will probably provide some spark to the show.

And finally there’s Alexis who seems sure of himself at the start but quickly falls apart.

The judges are the usual suspects. Bobby Flay, chef and network darling, Bob Tuschman, senior VP of Programming and Production and Susie Fogleson, senior VP of Marketing. Also, this year the finalists have a mentor in the form of network star Giada De Laurentiis.

There’s no rest for the weary and the finalists are rushed to the NFNS set for their first challenge. The challenge is to create a dish that explains who they are and their “culinary point of view”. The dish must feature chicken and potatoes and they have 45 minutes to complete it.

It’s a mad rush of pots, pans and furious chopping. Once their meal is done, a second part of the challenge presents itself: the finalists must present their dish to the judges in front of a camera.

The results are mixed. Aria blows the judges away with her presentation and her food. Tom seems genuinely miserable in front of the camera. Herb impresses with his presentation and his food. Das and Aarti both serve up raw chicken. Doreen fails to deliver on who she is. At the end, Aria and Herb are declared winners and Tom and Das are said to be the bottom two. The finalists are sent home (where apparently Herb makes them work out in their spare time) to prepare for the next challenge.

The next challenge also involves the camera. The finalists must write a script, choose a set and props and film a 15 second commercial with the assistance of a Hollywood director and Giada. This segment was rather long and became somewhat stale. Highlights were Paul seemingly impersonating the Sham-Wow guy, Dzintra hugging her fellow contestants and yelling “Have my babies!” when finished filming, another stellar performance from Aria and redemption for Tom who found his personality.

Next, the finalists are divided into teams with Aria and Herb being leaders and able to choose their teammates. Aria chooses Dzintra first for the gray team and gives her the dessert round which royally ticks her off. Alexis fears being chosen last and being stuck with dessert and-surprise!-his fears are met head on when Herb chooses him for dessert as the last member of the black team. The teams are commanded to whip up a meal that will be served to a Wolfgang Puck. No pressure.
As usual with this show, the contestants must shop for their ingredients which means that someone’s ingredients will be forgotten and something will go wrong. In this episode, there was no veal for Serena’s dish and Herb brought home frozen, bony salmon for Brad. Brad is ticked. In the meantime, Dzintra (who tells us repeatedly that she is preparing a dessert ONLY she can make) begins to have an issue with her eye. After repeated trips to the bathroom and a visit from a medic, she leaves the challenge to go to the ER. This leaves Aria and Tom scrambling to create the dessert which causes them to slightly neglect their own dishes.

Oddly enough, the food is not served immediately but rather the finalists go home and serve to Wolfgang the next day. While at home, they trash talk Dzintra since the majority of them feel they would have played through the pain rather than quit the challenge. Personally, I was more grossed out by the way she was rubbing her eye then touching the food but that’s just me.

So, the next day the cooks prepare to serve their food to the judges, Giada and Wolfgang. And lo and behold, who shows up but Dzintra? She’s not able to finish her dessert but she’s sure able to criticize what Tom and Aria have made. Along with each dish, the finalists serve up their 15 second promos for the panel.
Despite Aria’s appetizer not being sufficiently brown, Tom’s pork being dry and Paul’s salad being overdressed, the gray team won the challenge. The black team struggled with Doreen not having enough time to finish her soup and Alexis’s dessert being called “inedible” by Wolfgang Puck. Poor Alexis was nearly driven to tears. On the flip side, Brad’s salmon was highly praised by all judges especially Puck.
If he can come out of his shell and show some personality, he can be successful.

Aria was named the overall winner by the judges. It is clear that she can do no wrong at this point and the competition is hers to lose. Dzintra put the judges in a “pickle” according to Bobby Flay since she didn’t cook anything but had to discontinue for medical reasons. Maybe it wouldn’t have been fair to disqualify her since she did have a health issue BUT she certainly didn’t endear herself to anyone by acting embarrassed of the dessert that her teammates made in her absence likening it to “your egg being in someone else’s womb”. The judges allow her to stay though.

The bottom three finalists were Das, Alexis and Doreen. I felt pretty certain Alexis would be the one chopped and he was. He just never got up to speed and the harsh criticism from Wolfgang Puck clearly shook him to the core. Das and Doreen better step it up or they will be close behind him.

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