Monday, August 3, 2009

The Next Food Network Star Finale – Mel’s 4 Year Old Has The Best Line Of The Night - When Asked Who’s The Best Cook In The World? Nobody! She Says

We start by seeing Jeffrey who is “super excited” to have some time with his family. They look like they deserve better. Oh, relax, I’m just kidding…kind of. They do look nice. He says that, “Cooking is an amazing way for Isabelle (his daughter) and I to connect. “ His time would be better spent, I think, studying grammar.

We see Jeffrey practicing martial arts and “doing” real estate, which he started 7 years ago, after spending “his entire life” running his own restaurants. His family loves to travel and they’ve “always believed in the WHAT, not the HOW and right now” Jeffrey “needs to be The Next Food Network Star.” I’ve almost reached my treacle quotient and we’re only 6 minutes in and I haven’t seen even one of Melissa’s four, inevitably adorable, kids yet.

Oops, here we go...We're at Melissa's - Texas flag, horses, 4 tow-headed little girls and a blondeless (and hairless) husband. I’m sorry, I’m just trying to paint the picture…

Valentine (LOVE the name!) doesn’t bite when Mommy asks her who the best cook in the world is. (See my title for her answer. Priceless.) Charlotte, 3, seems pretty docile (Mel should have asked HER!) and Oceane and Margaux are 1 ½. I’m sensing a French theme here.

Oh no, she’s mentioning her mom again and how they cooked a lot when she was growing up. She says when she was 20 her mom passed away. Was this taped before the big reveal in front of all those big name food folks? We learn that her sorority sisters asked her to move in and they would pay.(?) This is getting pointless and worse…boring. Melissa does have this ability to go on about something and just lose you. OMG, if that’s not the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is. I think I’ll change the subject.

She happy, blah, blah, blah, that she gets to raise 4 young women. And NOW we see her cooking with a bunch of friends, doing good works, driving a minivan.

Back in New York now, Jeff and Mel are walking down the street. BTW, did you read that story in the Times, about how reality contestants are mistreated?

They enter the Food Network and go into the kitchen. Alton Brown (looking the worse for wear) comes out. If you’re going to bother wearing a tie, why wear it askew and more than a little loose? He tells them their last challenge is starring in a pilot presentation of their very own show. He says they’re going to be supplied with a director, who will “eke out” the very best from them and that director is Alton! Oh joy!

Alton meets them with each separately. He asks Jeffrey what his show is about. Guess what Jeff says? Yup,“Cooking without Borders.” He’s like a dog with a bone. He won’t let go of that goofy and pretentious idea.

He says a single ingredient will star in each show. Or does he mean recipe? Wait a sec. THAT is NOT a bad idea.

Alton restates his premise as this – Jeffrey will take an ingredient from another country and bring it back here and use it in a way that we would understand. Jeffrey, with a big grin, says, "THAT’S what I meant to say.” Alton WITHOUT a big grin says, "Yeah, but you DIDN’T." Ouch.

Alton says “Cooking Without Borders” almost makes him think “we’re just going to travel”. Jeffrey says something about bringing back paprika from somewhere and he felt like he was smuggling.

Alton says how about “Ingredient Smuggler” as a title? Good one, Alton.

OMG, he’s serious! I can’t imagine too many border patrol or TSA folks will be watching his show. OR maybe THEY WILL BE.

Mel comes in. Her idea for a title is “Cuisine Copine”. Alton says HEH? She says copine means best friend. He says we’re done. I hope he means that he’s done with that title. Oh good, it does.

He says he thinks of her as being about survival. She’s delighted and says that all of her recipes have to do with that. They do? Oh my, I think they’ve settled on “Lifestyle Solution”. Really? Dunno, but Alton thinks she’s really authentic.

This is sooo bad, that I can barely stand to watch anymore. I’m not kidding, the Food Network is not doing themselves any favors with this show, which is interesting because Top Chef Masters is getting universal raves. Oh, okay, I’ve only read it about in a few places, but all 3 of us do love it.

Get a load of this. They get asked a question a two by the editor of the Food Network magazine and Jeffrey says, “Doing a press interview, definitely gives me a taste of what’s to come.”

I DO NOT LIKE HIM with a mouse.

I do not like him in a house.

I will not watch him here or there.

I will not watch him anywhere!

Apologies to Dr. Seuss…but my mind is really wandering.

The funny thing is it looks like the interview is taking place in the children’s section of a library.

They finish their “long day” (it has seemed that way to me too) and Jeffrey and Melissa go out to celebrate “being the final two”. Jeffrey is rather smarmy as he says he’s amazed that Melissa is still there and that he thought she’d be gone in the first episode. For THAT remark alone, I want her to win.

Finally they make their pilots. Melissa goes onto the set with all the crew and makeup and Alton. She’s making “a rustic lemon onion chicken dish”. What’s a rustic lemon? Oh, never mind.

Melissa tells us she’s invented a four step chicken, where you follow four specific steps, but you can change the ingredients in each step and come up with many different dishes. Oh, you mean, like they do in that new-fangled fancy French cooking that’s been around for FOUR centuries or so? Yeah, hon, you really invented that! It’s called learning the basic technique and then running with it. Whatever.

I’m sorry, but that does take cojones! I appreciate a classic French culinary education. I have one myself, but I would NEVER pretend that I had invented something that La Varenne wrote about 400 years ago. I have to say that I still have no idea what her 4 step chicken is. I’m only guessing that she’s referring to a classic sauté. (Truthfully, I don’t know who first wrote about sautéing, but, I promise you, it’s in the founding documents of French cooking.)

Melissa’s show is called “Kitchen Survival Guide”. THAT sounds like it means how to get rid of stinky smells from a garbage can. Or how to get mold off of grout.

She starts fine, until she starts looking at the wrong camera. They stop and start again…a lot. This just shows why this is so dumb. Why SHOULD she know what she’s doing? Why should she know about close-ups and camera angles and whatever?

Oh, there she goes again, saying she invented the four step chicken. Of course, we never hear enough to know if she’s talking about the standard sauté. I’m supposing her four “invented” steps are:

  • Brown the chicken and remove.
  • Add the onions and soften.
  • Deglaze.
  • Add back in the chicken and whatever other stuff you want.

Voila, dinner!

I don’t like watching her taste the food and talk at the same time.

Jeffrey comes out. He’s annoyingly confident, but at least he doesn't pretend to have invented the sandwich. He’s making an Harissa Steak Sandwich With Sun Dried Tomato And Mint Mayonnaise. (Wait, can’t we cram at least one more super-trendy ingredient in there? How about achiote?)

He DOES chop nicely. Alton is grimacing, because Jeffrey’s not smiling at all and looks almost grim. He calls a tomato an onion, but on his last take he does okay.

Jeff walks off and he and Mel agree that they did their best and Melissa says it’s out of their hands now.

They’re back and about to tape the finale. Melissa comes out on stage first, in front of an audience after being introduced by Bobby. Her husband and little girls are there. What if she doesn’t win? I think Val will get over it, but Charlotte might be upset. Jeff comes out. They hug.

Susie says The Food Network lent them “the considerable talents of Alton Brown”. The other finalists come out and we have to waste time watching each one hug Mel and Jeff.

Bobby asks Jamika how it feels to be back. She says it’s like being back with a dysfunctional family. Cue the video tape and they’re off! We now have to watch a bunch of rambling scenes of the 10 finalists living together in the same house. I’d be watching Big Brother, if I was the faintest bit interested in this.

Brett calls people Bubba, Katie dances. Melissa talks about breast feeding twins. Eddie’s a big mouth. Jeffrey winks. Oh my, Bob asks Brett if he has any nicknames that they didn’t know about? Ok, you asked for it. Smarmface, Greaseball, Saccharine Smile, Sycophantic Toad…Oh sorry, you were asking BRETT, not me! Brett says they’re all wonderful people and he has no nicknames for them. Bobby is quite game as a game show type host.

We see the pilots. Oh no, we don’t. We have to see some more dopey scenes. Katie and Michael become best friends. Now may we see the pilots? Not yet. Melissa confuses Teddy for Eddie or maybe it’s the other way around. Alright, already, now? Nope, more questions from Bob. Then it actually is “pilot time”.

Melissa is up first.

We learn these are the four steps to her chicken:

  • Dredge and Sauté
  • Cook aromatics
  • Add liquids
  • Finish the sauce.

Ahem, ahem! Who told you about this a couple hundred words ago? And, yeah, calling it her invention is like me saying I invented the light bulb, everytime I turn on a light.

Bobby watches and nods. Susie loves her. Bob loves her. She makes a potato gratin in a muffin pan. Okay, THAT is not a bad idea.

Bob says he couldn’t have predicted that her flustered beginnings would turn into this. Susie says she learns something every 5 seconds. Bobby says HE loves the potato gratin idea in the muffin tins. (Great minds…Not Melissa and Bobby, ME and Bobby.)

Jeffrey’s pilot is next. Did he get a spray tan before the finale? He’s got such a tall forehead that it keeps disappearing off the top of the screen. That can’t be good.

Jeffrey is using harissa as his ingredient of the week. That’s a heck of a lot of harissa on that steak. He chops the onions really well and tossy tosses them in the pan (losing plenty along the way). Nobody does that like Michael. He is using way too much harissa.

I have to say, though, that this is not a bad recipe and he looks a lot better in this than he was ever allowed to look all season long. He continues and I am actually liking him. Is THIS what the judges saw all along that we never had the chance to see? Is it possible that he actually knows what he’s talking about?

SCREECH. STEP ON THE BRAKES. HOLD ON TIGHT! GIANT U TURN. In the last 10 minutes of this season. I don’t hate Jeffrey. I think he might even know something about food. I think that he may have a recipe or two that I would be interested in.

If they had given us this at the beginning, I would have seen something different in him all along. Between the two of them…okay, it did take me 8 weeks and 50 minutes to get here...I think Jeffrey SHOULD win. No kidding.

Who WILL win? I have no idea, but I will say Jeffrey, just because the tide had turned for Melissa and they want the buzz of an upset. Plus, I’m annoyed at her saying she invented French cuisine, but I dunno who they'll choose.

Susie says Jeffrey was flawless.

They each have one last time to defend themselves. Melissa, in an overloud voice, says she was the dark horse all along. She says something about comedy writing (huh?) and if you’re a good one, no one can steal your material and no one can steal hers and, pointing at her 4 children, no one wants to either. Hardy har har. Just stop talking! Melissa says her favorite choice would be if they both win.

Jeffrey comes to his feet and stands before the judges and pleads, “I was born to do this. Bobby, Susie, Bob my whole life has brought me to this.” (Jeff, don’t go all slick on me now.) He gives an impassioned plea for himself. The three judges walk off the stage to deliberate for the last time. How are those 4 little girls not getting awfully antsy?

I think Jeffrey is going to win. Let’s see. Susie says both are strong. Bob says Jeffrey has it all. Susie says Melissa has gained so much confidence. Bob says millions of women can relate to her. Bobby wants Melissa, I think. I think Bob is more in favor of Jeff.

And the winner is…They bring in Brook Johnson. Okay, and the winner is…They thank all the other finalists. And the winner is…We learn that the winner will start working on Monday on his or her new show, which will air in one week. (That’s actually smart, because we may still remember his or her name then.) FINALLY, we learn that the winner is…but, before that, any final thoughts? Bobby asks them. Melissa is grateful to be there and she thanks everyone. Jeffrey says it’s all unbelievable. And the winner is… (Listen if I have to sit through this, so do you.)

For real now…dramatic pause…MELISSA. Confetti flies. Jeffrey looks stunned. Melissa hugs the other contestants. Jeffrey looks like he’s gonna cry. Bobby talks to Mel with crestfallen Jeffrey in the background. He can’t say he didn’t have MY full support…in the last nine minutes.

I’m really kinda sorry I changed my mind, because now I’m disappointed. Oh well, as long as Michael stays put on Top Chef Masters…I’ll be okay.

This was a poor season. Why? Because when you spend more time complaining about a show than praising it, it obviously has a lot of flaws - one of which is not presenting - until the 11th hour (almost literally) - what the contestants were capable of. The challenges not only didn’t test their cooking and demo skills, they seemed to be designed to derail and trick and thwart them. That is why this is about The Next Food Network Star AS a reality show, and NOT about finding a competent television food personality.

But what’s the REAL lesson here? NEVER doubt your bookie.


DebCarol said...

If I had watched this show last night for the first time (and had not seen the rest of the season), I would have said; "Yikes, thank goodness I didn't waste my time watching this clunker every Sunday night. But sadly that is not the case. Now we will have a retread of 30 Minute Meals called Kitchen Smuggler, or is it Ingredient Survival ... no wait it is "Rachael Ray's Blonde Sis With 4 Kids Does Paris Without Borders".

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I think I was pretty good right from the beginning guessing Jeffrey and Melissa would be on top. I sometimes doubted him, but I knew she'd be either the winner, or close to it.

Her four-step chicken wasn't original, but it did do one thing that too many cooks on FN don't do-teach a technique. She's not bad, but she doesn't do much for me. I'm not interested in her show.

Then again, whose show have I been interested in?

This was a very dull episode. I was catching up on my vacation email while watching.

You're right that the show has little to do with cooking and presentation. It was about creating the typical reality TV drama. It is also about making sure that FN can create its own stars so that the network can make the most profit off them.

Kris said...

I wasn't happy with this season at all- and when it came down to the final 2 it seemed like the winner could have been called the lesser of two evils, the least painful to watch, the contestant I dislike the least, or something similar! But... I can't say that if Jeffrey had won I'd be happier. Sorry to say, didn't matter to me at all! I didn't plan on watching any new show by the winner, no matter who had done the winning. Here's hoping for a better season next time!

Side note- I had gone to a lecture/show and book signing for Alton Brown last year- he intimidated the heck out of me when he signed my book. Guess I do give the finalists kudos for having him as their director!

Thanks for letting me vent!

Corie said...

I thought Melissa's food actually looked good and I thought she presented it in a very accessible way. Ok - the "I invented it" thing was annoying, but she did have a good point. Jeffrey's show looked interesting, but if it's about the ingredient, we need to know a lot more about it.

It would be great if all of the contestent did a demo on the very first episode and then do the dorky challenges.

Did anyone else hear that Melissa's show has already been reworked and the title is "10 dollar meal". ugh.

Sheila said...

Did you notice anything weird with Brett in the background? That's his name, right? The goofy, April Fool's guy? He looked very peeved up on stage. Especially after they announced Melissa. Everyone else was smiling and being congratulatory but not April Fool guy.

I really hope next season they focus on showing their skills and strengths as chefs/cooks/recipe makers/whatever. But I don't know if that stuff sells anymore. Maybe people just want to see drama and chaos.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

I wanted J to win :| I liked the idea of new ingredients and preparing one dish with it. I'm tired of shows with shortcuts!

and - Melissa is on steroids or what!?!?

Emily said...

Ten dollar meal? That's her new show? That doesn't surprise me. I guess that's the direction FN is going. I'm thinking of Sandra Lee's Money Saving Meals.. I actually watched some of that today. :/

I'm rambling now. Great review as usual. I missed the show, so it's good to catch up.

Shays Rebel said...

Sue, you’re so funny! —At your sarcastic best. (I invented sarcasm.)

I did exactly what you did — as soon as Jeff’s pilot started, I turned on a dime. (Check your DNA. If there’s a “27” in the middle, we might be twins, tragically separated at birth.) Showing the pilots back-to-back was bad for Mel because she suffered from the comparison. Jeff made her look like a frazzled hausfrau doing her pilot from a double wide. All she needed was an ironing board in the kitchen. And that voice! No more Paulas! “Y’all, can y’all see my crack?” “Am I the only one gittin’ some, y’all?” Oh, shudduh.

Every season, the judges say the same thing about somebody – she’s really improved week by week, whereas so-and-so has remained pretty much the same. That’s not fair; Jeff started OUT better than Mel. What they did to him was not right.

Oh, well…

Sue said...

I LOVE your show title. It’s kinda perfect. And now I can’t help thinking of Mel as a (blond) RR relative. But honestly, and don’t tell anyone I said this, I find Rachael Ray a lot more entertaining (AS LONG AS she’s stepped away from the kitchen) than listening to Mel drone on and on. WHO isn’t interested in listening to RR tell us how to remove elbow wrinkles or make crafts out of empty pens?

Welcome back to food tv land!

Your predicting skills are awesome and I don’t think you were even contacting bookies, who favored Jeffrey at the beginning and pegged Melissa for the win.

Yes, you’re right her 4 step chicken thing isn’t a BAD technique. It’s a classic, but how dare she claim credit for it! AND no way do you have to dredge whatever it is before you saute it.

Yup, this was about the drama of becoming TNFNS...not about the qualities needed for decent cooking instruction. How silly of us for thinking anything else!

Hi Kris,
Yup, all true. The problem is that no matter how good the contestants are, they won’t be allowed to showcase their skills anyway. They need to be able to run fast, chop quicker and think on their feet just as much as they need to know how to cook.

Interesting story about Alton. He does seems rather patronizing. Not to repeat unsubstantiated gossip (oh who am I kidding, here I go), but a commenter told me a while ago that Alton was giving a talk and some fans had a question about some food or other. After he THOUGHT they had left, he said to the person he was with that they were so heavy they shouldn’t be worried about food anyway. Putz! Even if it’s not true, it kinda sounds like it could be.


Hiya Corie,
Melissa's family and friends obviously think she can cook. It’s just too bad we saw precious little of her food until almost the very end.

Yes, you’re right, that’s the first challenge they should have done. And would it kill them to give them a little coaching too?

Yeah, I saw the preview of 10 dollar meal. Why did we have to waste our time listening to Alton come up with that stupid concept, if they weren’t even going to use it?

No, Sheila, I didn’t notice that.
I was too busy watching Jeffrey weeping in the background. Actually, he wasn’t crying. He looked too stunned!

Let’s not hold our breaths that we’ll be the beneficiaries of any new cooking tips next season. Drama and chaos describes very well what they’re after.

I’m sorry for your pain. I felt it too…for the 9 minutes and 15 seconds that I wanted Jeffrey to win. I guess that’s why it took me a shorter time to get over it.

I don’t think Melissa is on ‘roids, BUT I wish her foundation would match her neck color better. You know, Kelly Bensimon has the SAME problem. They need to call Bobbie Brown in for a cosmetic intervention.

That’s exactly what I thought...that she and Sandra Lee will become the budget Barbie twins.

Don’t you dare watch Sandra Lee. You’re too young and I don’t want your innocence fooled with!

That’s what I love about blogging – finding all the like-minded people out there. I’m glad I’m not the only one who completely didn’t get Jeffrey (and it wasn’t MY fault, we saw nothing worthy to GET) and then had a change of heart when we saw him actually cook something and talk about food.

My twin brother would be very interested to learn that there was another one of us. Did your mother drink a martini a day while she was pregnant with you? That’s more proof than a DNA test.

A double wide?!! You are too funny. I wanna be related to you.

If you want to talk about unfair, let’s not forget how Jamika was completely hijacked when they took away her pineapple concept, mid-scoring and mid-eye-removing, not to mention irritating her with nit-picky questions.

Anonymous said...

I watched the whole shebang, and all I can think of is "for goodness' sake, if they put these non-food professionals through that kind of boot camp, can't they teach their own flippin' hosts to say "vinaigrette" and "balsamic" correctly?" Half of them butcher even basic terms...

By the way, I watched Melissa's $10 show Sunday, and I think the kitchen survival concept would have been better.