Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Next Food Network Star -Throwdown or Throwout?

From the harsh critiques of the judges this week, "I hated it!", you would have thought that some of the food this week was bad enough to be thrown out...

The 4 losers go to Las Vegas. Well, technically speaking, only 3 of them will be losers and there will presumably be one winner...eventually.

Each of them talks about their shortcomings and what they have to do to win. (Cook and not be annoying.) They get to Caesar’s Palace. They are shown to a garishly deluxe suite. They go to meet Bobby at Mesa Grill. He’s in chef’s whites.

Paula comes to have lunch with them at Bobby’s restaurant, although it doesn’t look like they’re really allowed to eat much. Paula tells a story about the bag lady. Sorry, that should be Paula tells the story of The Bag Lady. Bobby says, “Be yourself”. In Lisa and Kelsey’s case, that’s probably not great advice.

Paula offers this nugget of wisdom: Food is the one common denominator between races and religion. I think it can also be a divider. How about the divisions between people who drink soda and those who drink pop? How about pulled pork versus chopped pork? These fights can get ugly.

Lisa gets all emotional about being there with Paula.

Next morning (no big night?), they go outside to learn their next challenge is a Throwdown. In teams of two, they have to prepare their own signature dish as well as their opponent’s. They go to an outdoor kitchen where the challenge will take place. Also involved is Extra’s Dayna Devon, who will be conducting interviews during the cooking. She is looking seriously stretched.

Lisa and Adam are the first pair to go. They have to make cassoulet and macaroni and cheese. The clock starts. They have 75 minutes. They begin to cook. Lisa says Adam is always in chaos. Part of this whole thing is that the judges get to ask annoying questions, while the contestants are rushing to finish their dishes.

Paula asks Lisa about cassoulet. Paula says Lisa is so intense while she cooks. This is uncomfortable. The judges are throwing dumb questions at them just to bug them while they’re cooking. Really this is pointless.

The judges are impressed that Adam is trying to improve upon his macaroni and cheese by adding lobster. They’re kind of like children being told there are ice cream sundaes for dessert. Oh Goodie!! Lobster!

I can’t watch this. Rushing them and firing questions at them while they’re trying not to be eliminated is no way to tell if they can cook OR host. Of course, if they do a great job at both, that’s great. But honestly unless they’re throwing them right into an Iron Chef challenge (which reportedly takes hours and hours to film) this is pointless.

Lisa is cooking as fast as she can. Dayna comes in to interview them. She starts with Adam. Adam does really badly. He never looks at her. He never smiles. He even turns his back on her. She moves on to Lisa. Lisa is better. “I live everything I do.” “Cooking was my first voice.” (I actually like that line.) Dayna has a much more positive interview with her.

Susie asks him for a good cooking tip. He answers well. Time's up. Lisa does a dance. “I Vegas-ed it out,” Adam says. Paula tastes his macaroni and cheese. She hates lobster in mac and cheese, but she likes this. All the folks love it. Paula says she going to borrow his panko crust.

They taste Lisa’s mac and cheese, the point of which is to beat Adam’s. Bob says the flavors are muddier. Paula says she doesn’t like it all…’In fact, I hate it.”

Now on to the cassoulet. They taste Lisa’s. Paula says the flavors are wonderful, Bob says it’s masterful. Bobby says it could be the best cassoulet he’s ever had. Now Adam’s…which Adam says he added lots of different meats to. Bobby says Adam needs experience to make a good cassoulet. Bob says it tastes like “Johnny’s first cassoulet”.

It’s Kelsey and Aaron’s turn. His dish is stuffed pork. Hers is chicken parmesan. He says he’s going to think big. Kelsey says she’s going to use pork tenderloin instead of pork loin. Aaron does ok with his first questions from the judges. Kelsey sounds a bit rushed and tense. Then Bobby asks Aaron what chipotles (one of his ingredients) are. He didn’t know and Bobby wasn’t happy. Adam DID know.

Dayna comes out to Aaron. He smiles and laughs with her. He answers well and looks right at her. Kelsey sounds shrill and mentions cooking school. Bob frowns big time. Lisa gives Aaron a look and he realizes that he hasn’t started the chicken parmesan yet.

Dayna comes over to Kelsey. She admits that her pork dish is overdone. Bobby gives her the evil eye.

They show the judges glowering and they haven’t even tasted anything yet. Kelsey says she wanted to be innovative, so she put the pork on skewers. Bobby likes her sauce, so does Bob. He thought her chicken wasn’t moist. Paula says her chicken would make a little appetizer. Bob loves Aaron’s chicken parm. Paula says pointedly, “The thing I love about Aaron’s dish is that it’s so hearty.” She laughs.

Aaron piled his food high on the plate. Kelsey said she was trying to make a more refined smaller portioned dish. Vegas is becoming so fancy schmancy, she said. Paula loves his glaze. Bobby says Kelsey’s plate looks like restaurant food. Paula says it would have been better if it had been more generous.

Now listen, I am not a fan of Kelsey’s but just because she didn’t overload her plate is no reason to count her out. Count her out for her annoying personality and the fact that she has nothing original to bring to the FN, but not because she decided to portion her food daintily.

Bob is struck by how different the plates look. “Aaron’s was so colorful Kelsey’s was very pale.” He thought, ”Aaron’s was the more inviting dish.” Ahem, ahem wasn’t it Week One when I said upfront that Aaron was going to win??! Well, not exactly, but I didn’t hate him as much as the others. Actually this was my very first impression of Aaron:

, 31 years old. Hospital Caterer. He could be a sleeper. I like him. While these other people pretend to be cooks, he actually has a job COOKING and goodness knows hospitals need good cooks. Way to go.

I was okay there, but look what I said about Kelsey:
Kelsey comes in first (to the room). Cute. In college, she had her own cooking show.

But I WAS spot-on about the other two:
Adam – He says something about improvisational theater and 15 years experience in kitchens. That last thing is good. Wait a minute, it says Restaurant Server under his name! Not that that’s not a noble profession, but I thought he meant he had 15 years COOKING experience. Is he trying to get one over on us?

Yuck! Lisa, already I hate her. Big sunglasses. Her bangs are annoying, they're unattractively short. She says she owns “a fine dining” restaurant. Only people from the sticks call it that…

Bobby bids them farewell. They’re back in the eval room. They had to do many, many things at once, Susie says. They liked Adam’s lobster mac and cheese. Susie says it was the best thing he had ever made. Well, maybe because it was the ONLY good thing he’d made.

Susie asked Lisa if she thought that was the best mac and cheese she could have made. Lisa answers that she wasn’t going to sacrifice her cassoulet to take more time on the mac and cheese. Susie says she’s “SHOCKED” (that’s a bit strong, ain’t it?) that she didn’t put more effort into the mac and cheese, because of Lisa’s saying how determined she was to win this.

I think that’s unfair. Listen, Lisa is also no favorite of mine, but Susie should just give it a rest. Okay, so she didn’t like her mac and cheese. They all LOVED her cassoulet and 75 minutes is not enough time to do both well. (Even though Aaron managed to…he was my pick, remember.)

Bobby tells Lisa again that he can’t remember eating a better cassoulet. She scrunches her eyes and smiles. Susie says it’s a hard dish to make beautiful and to her credit, Lisa did. Bobby says Adam’s beans were all mushed together. It was like porridge, Adam interrupts. Bobby agrees. Ah, let’s get this over with. Get rid of Adam and Kelsey and let’s have Lisa and Aaron duke it out.

Susie browbeats Lisa some more saying she appears to be on a mission to win which translates to an intensity that isn’t very welcoming. Lisa says she was trying to her work done. Probably that wasn’t the right answer since being an affable host IS part of the work.

Bob says Adam seemed particularly ungracious towards Dayna when she came in. Maybe he was afraid if he looked at her she would melt. He acts surprised and, of course, says he was concentrating on the cooking and that’s all he was thinking about. Bob says personality and performance is fully half of what they’re looking for.

This is annoying. They tell him all season he can’t cook, then when he does cook halfway decently, they say he needs to show more personality. No, he just needs to show us his back as walks out the door.

Susie asks him for his “point of view” and for the first time, he has an answer - “I wanna teach America that good food is worth the time and effort it takes to make it yourself…It’s really like handmade stuff” - which has nothing to do with anything he’s made for the judges. Bobby does like the word handmade. I have one for you, Bobby – putz.

Bobby loves Aaron’s pork loin and said it was beautiful dish. Bobby is disappointed by the direction of Kelsey’s pork dish. She said she wanted to prove that she could do a fancier style of cooking.

Susie says Kelsey went for it at the risk of her point of view. Yeah, I agree. She should be making s’mores with the girl scouts instead of handling pork in Vegas.

Susie says her POV is teaching people basics and THAT was not basic, she harrumphs. LISTEN, the worst part was that her pork was overcooked and just wasn’t that good. Do I have to do the judging here too, people?!! Gawd!

Bobby says her chicken parm basically stank too. He doesn't like that the sauce and the chicken were “so deconstructed that they weren’t even friends on the plate.” I guess he’s talking about the chicken being ON TOP OF the sauce instead of IN it. Again, is that a crime? She was just making it more delicate.

Bobby says, “It’s like the pork loin. You kind of took the guts out of it a little bit.” Kelsey grimaces. “I got obsessed with that metropolitan twist.” Bobby says Aaron’s chicken was cooked perfectly. (Aaron should forget to do things until the last minute more often.) Susie says Aaron is still struggling. He is?

Bob says when Dayna asked him a question he stopped what he was doing and it was just dead space on camera. Well, I agree that they have to cook and talk at the same time. But in that particular encounter I thought Aaron seemed comfortable…for once. Aaron said he’s still confused about how to approach it. Of course, he's confused. He has received absolutely no constructive help in appearing before the camera and he's never done this before.

Bobby is concerned about Aaron. He has a good sense of flavor, but “I just want you to know the ingredients.” Oh c’mon, he knew how to USE the chipotles. Yes, he probably should have known that they are smoked jalapeƱos, but all of us don’t cook with every known pepper under the sun…even though admittedly this was an easy one.

Bob says Kelsey seemed at ease with Dayna, except he hated when she mentioned culinary school.

Bob gives them a chance to evaluate themselves. Lisa says she needs to meld the professional side with the way she is with her friends and family. (A relentless OCD bitch?)

Adam says he needs to work on his organizational skills. Why do I think he’s been saying that since third grade?

Kelsey says she’s started to overthink things and that she needs to get back to cooking the way she likes to eat.

Aaron says he’s “one of them slow learners. I’m a C average, but I’ll make an A out of it.” I’m not sure that’s the defense I would have gone with. If his food hadn’t been so good, that might have earned him an out. But this week I think/hope it’s Kelsey. Didn’t I say that last week…and the week before and the week before that?

The judges talk. They say Lisa loses her charm easily. Aaron struggles in front of the camera. I liked the point last week that perhaps Aaron just does better with an audience. Why couldn’t they make his crew his audience and have him interact with them? That would be different.

We see a closeup of Kelsey looking 12 years old and about to cry. Bobby says what worries him is that she’s still so inexperienced and young, but that she is good in front of the camera.

Adam has a strange likability about him, says Susie BUT she feels like he’s learning on their dime. Yeah! Bob doesn’t trust his food passion. They bring them back in and Kelsey looks sulky already. Aaron gets the good news first and then Lisa.

Kelsey, Adam. Adam, Kelsey... You both have great personalities. But Kelsey, leave! (MY words.) YAY!! “I have a lot of work ahead of me and I can’t wait to get back.” Huh, get back where? To the Food Network or home to Utah? And THEN she says, "THIS is WHO should be here", gesturing to Adam. Wrong. Neither of you should be there. Kelsey prances away. “How lucky am I to have had such a big experience at the beginning of my career.”

Well, that was gracious. I’ll give that to her. Oh wait, I take it back. She says “I now know more than ever that I HAVE to be cooking on television.” That bothers me.

The three remaining look worried, not relieved. I guess we should be too, since it very well may not be Aaron getting his own slot on the Food Network.


Anonymous said...

I am puzzled by your remark: "Well, that was gracious. I’ll give that to her. Oh wait, I take it back. She says “I now know more than ever that I HAVE to be cooking on television.” That bothers me. "

What bothers you about that? She was gracious in defeat, and later said that she learned that she has to be on television. She's solidified a goal, a dream, from her experience on TNFNS. What is wrong with that, and how does that take away from one of the more gracious eliminations I've seen on reality TV?

Moreover, if you wanted to fairly recap this episode, you might have wanted to mention that your boy Aaron not only managed to forget about doing Kelsey's dish until Lisa telepathically (or, you know, with body language) reminded him, AND, he was absolutely abysmal when being interviewed. He not only came off as impatient if not rude when talking to Dayna, but he was incapable of working and talking. During the interview, he completely stopped cooking. One might think that the next Food Network start might be expected to simultaneously talk and cook at some point. Hmmm.

Andrea said...

I thought this episode was ridiculous. Much like being able to perfectly describe a dish on the spot that they didn't create. Why compete against signature dishes? Obviously if it's a signature dish, then it's their best work. Jeesh. I'm glad Kelsey is gone but Adam needs to go as well.

I think it was the chicken that Kelsey put on skewers, not the pork. Her pork tenderloin was sliced thin and stacked.

Anonymous said...

I (and my husband too!) thought the "I HAVE to be cooking on television" was weird. That's the problem with this show, the people want to be on tv. Which isn't necessarily bad, but I think some of them want to be on TV more than anything else. Cooking is just how they do it. If Kelsey was in to hair styling, she'd be trying to get on a hair cutting show, or something similar.

And Aaron is only 31? I thought he was mid-40s. He seems way older than me.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I'm still shocked by Paula Deen saying, "I hated it." It seems so unlike her to be so blunt.

Nancy said...

It seems to me that the judges expect more from the contestants than the do from the "Stars". For instance they criticized Kelsey (I think) for talking about a "burst of flavor" and not describing the flavors when I have heard Giada say "a burst of flavor" about a zillion times.
After watching some of the entire 4minute episodes on "Rachel" I realize just how the editing can make or break a contestant and it makes me wonder again why I watch this.
What happend to Amy, the winner from last year? Did she have her six episodes and now she's history?
I love reading Food Network Musings and all the comments.

Sue said...

Oh, DM'05,
Not to sound cranky, but it's just the whole thing of young people wanting to be famous before they've actually done anything. Rather than making a television career the critical part of her goal, wouldn't she be better served by cooking for awhile and getting some real world experience? Then maybe she would have something more to talk about than cooking school.

Granted this show is at least one step up from Tila Tequila or living in the Big Brother house, but being famous for being famous is getting a little old. I'm beginning to agree with one reader's comparison of Kelsey to Tracy Flick in Election, except I'm not sure she's that bright.

And this was my mention of Lisa nudging Aaron about the chicken:
"Lisa gives Aaron a look and he realizes that he hasn’t started the chicken parmesan yet."

PLEASE, do yourself a favor and don't ask for MORE detail.

Sue said...

Hi Andrea,
Yes, you’re right about the chicken. Her pork WAS that little pile of stuff.

How about having them do something really amazing like demonstrating their signature dishes, as if they were actually doing a cooking show? Oh wait, that would make too much sense because that’s exactly what the prize is, demonstrating their recipes on television. I’m with you. Jeesh!

Thank you Amy!
So I wasn’t crazy…I agree with you completely.

You know that’s not a bad idea about the other reality show opportunities for Kelsey. She would probably make an adorable dog groomer.

Hi Shortie,
Do you think someone told Paula to be edgier? Maybe she had lunch with Anthony Bourdain that day…If I cared about any of these contestants (if it had been Dale, for example), I would have been appalled. I’m just impressed that she didn’t say “I hate YOU” instead of “I hate IT.”

Good point Nancy.
Plus they gave Giada time to find her footing. She gets better with every episode (except when she uses mixes). Her television skills are a million times better than when she started. But, of course, she was qualified to begin with.

There’s a wonderful interview with Amy Finley on the FN website. http://www.foodnetwork.com

She sounds very down to earth and she makes a lot of sense when talking about why SHE chose not to do more shows.

I LOVE having you as a reader.

Tracy said...

This show bugs me on so many levels. I agree that criticizing Kelsey based on portion size was ridiculous.

I agree that they expect more from these contestants than their hosts, like the tasting and describing challenge. Have you ever watched Guy Fieri on Diners Dives & Drive-ins? My husband likes that show. Guy takes a bite and has a few catch phrases: "that's money" or "that's off the hook." He is hardly descriptive.

Emiline said...

I finally watched some of the show. I watched the last 30 minutes of this one. The thing that sticks out in my mind, is Aaron not knowing what chipotles were. I thought everyone knew what chipotles were.
You get some pretty snarky comments on here. I don't think I could defend myself against these people.

Sue said...

Hi Tracy,
Yeah the good thing about TNFNS is that always a lot to write about. The bad thing is that it's ANNOYING.

I like Guy. I'm glad I didn't watch Food Network Star when he won or maybe I wouldn't. I think he has chops and let's face it, with his white spiky hair, it's hard to take your eyes off him when he's on the screen.

Hi Em,
I'm just impressed Aaron could SAY chipotle.

Pretend you're baking a cake and talking to your mother and watching the Iron Chef in the background. QUICK, tell me what an ancho pepper is. Right now, no thinking!!! Well?!! Could you do it?

NO ONE is snarkier than I am, so I can take it. Just remember, "You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note."