Tuesday, August 17, 2010

And The Next Food Network Star Is...Hah! You Have To Read To The End

The Next Food Network Star - Iron Chefs and Finale

Is there a problem when the last couple of weeks of The Next Food Network Star were actually more entertaining than Top Chef?

Normally, I object to TNFNS because of its odd mix of not-really cooking, hasty media challenges by contestants (who seem ill-prepared for them) and surprisingly personal remarks by judges. “Grow up!” (or something to that effect) comes to mind.

The penultimate TNFNS was excellent, partially because I thought it would be hopeless. The final four were taken to Kitchen Stadium and they had to compete using secret ingredients in front of an all star Iron Chef panel – Morimoto, Cat Cora, Michael Symon, Bobby, of course, and Bob and Susie. While Herb and Aarti cooked, Aria and Tom had to do the on-the-floor reporting for Alton who fired questions at them.

Both Herb and Aarti have pleased the judges with their “culinary point of view”. Aarti, from the beginning, has wanted to make Indian food accessible to the American kitchen. And Herb has lately arrived at his healthier version of the Latin cooking that he grew up with. Both did just fine in the Iron Chef kitchen. Their secret ingredient was shrimp. The judges particularly loved Aarti’s food. All the dishes are here.

Tom, as a floor reporter, was very comfortable, chatting with Alton and getting the scoop on what was going on in the kitchen. He knew what he was talking about. Alton threw a few (REALLY BASIC) questions out and Tom did fine.

Aria was the other one doing commentary and she never took it seriously. She had no clue what was going on or that she was supposed to be finding out. AND Aria didn’t know what paprika was made from. That’s just sad.

Then the contestants traded roles and Aria and Tom cooked while Herb and Aarti did the talking. Aria and Tom got bacon as a secret ingredient. (The four of them did have things A LOT easier by having such easy-to-use secret ingredients.)

Aria basically blew her chance by giving up at the beginning and saying, “I’m making family style food and if they don’t like…TOO bad, that’s who I am.” She didn’t use the bacon at all inventively. She just threw it on the plate as an afterthought And none of her dishes came out particularly well.

For serving, Aria just put stuff in the middle of the table and the judges had to assemble their own dishes. I must say I’ve NEVER seen THAT on an Iron Chef challenge.

Herb was very appealing as a floor reporter. He had a lot of energy. Aarti was hopeless. She didn’t think she’d be good at speaking off the cuff and so she wasn’t. (I could talk my way out of a paper bag, but I’d still be planning my menu long after they dimmed the kitchen stadium lights.)

The judges predictably didn’t think much of Aria’s food. They felt the same way about Tom’s food, except he brought a tremendous energy and creativity to the challenge.

Tom was determined to wow them and to do something different. But there was a reason that no one had ever made what he made before. THEY WERE REALLY BAD IDEAS. He made a bacon cake. Think crab cake, but no crab, just bacon. Actually, a crab cake WITH bacon would have been fabulous, but this a dry mess of a thing.

Another dish he made would have been perfect for a bull mastiff. He took huge hunks of bacon and cooked them like individual steaks. They couldn’t be cut through and they certainly couldn’t be chewed. BUT it was different. Not edible, but different.

Plus HE EMBRACED the challenge. He didn’t rail against it like Aria and just do whatever he wanted. Tom was very appealing this week.

The end comes to the Iron Chef episode and Aria gets the boot, which was a VERY fair outcome (as opposed to the abomination on last week’s Top Chef).

The finale of TNFNS was also well done and not the usual grating annoyance that it has been. It’s interesting that I felt that way, because Rachael Ray directed the three finalists 3 minute pilots.

It could have been brutal, but she was helpful and direct. You see? I have NO problem with RR, as long as she’s not slinging her 9999th version of hamburgers. I like her as a host.

There must have been A LOT more than a few hours coaching and work that went into the pilots, because all three, at the end, looked professional and pretty well done, while the scenes they showed at the beginning of the tapings were pretty messed up.

Herb, for example, was floundering mightily until he taped pictures of his family to the camera and just pretended he was talking to them. (ALL that would do for me is to help me imagine eye-rolling and deep sighs. I’d RATHER be talking to no one.)

They showed the pilots in a studio with Bob, Susie and Bobby, hosting an audience made up of Food Network aficionados, who looked like they’d been sent in from Central Casting. You had the pretty girl, the youngish shirt-sleeved guy, another pretty girl with the part in her hair much too far over, lots of different ethnic types, plus no one too old, too large or too NOT well-dressed.

This focus group had good things to say about all of the finalists, but Tom seems to have captured the most enthusiastic attention. While the other two were pretty well-turned out, Tom rolls into his pilot looking schlumpy as usual…which actually didn’t bother me or the audience.

He seemed very authentic and he IS wearing a (poorly) fitted jacket for the finale. Tom had the best line of the night on his video when he takes his chicken over to the oven and says it’s ready for the big dance. That’s probably NOT from the chicken’s perspective, however.

And Tom’s sign-off was great; “I’m big chef. Don’t be scared. It’s YOUR kitchen.”

You know who he reminds me of? A much less professional, less skilled and less accomplished Anne Burrell. He has the same bull in a china shop demeanor, constant good humor and eagerness for good eats.

We’re nearing the end of the finale. I’ve been an Aarti fan since the beginning and I find myself in the last 10 minutes of the show rooting for Tom.

The selection triumvirate give it away that they’re not going to pick Herb. They find him MUCH improved, but they think they might be taking more of a chance on whether he could continue to improve. That leaves Tom and Aarti.

Aarti started out strong and had some road bumps along the way. Tom started out catatonic and had a powerful finish. Which way to go???

In the seconds before they unveil whose picture will be on the wall with other Food Network notables, I want Tom to win. I think he would be enjoyable to watch.

Who is it? It’s…Aarti. I can’t be unhappy. She’s charming and, most importantly, her food is good and, according to the judges, many times REALLY GOOD.

I have to say, though, that Tom has really grown on me. And if those pretty focus group folks have anything to say about it, I think the Food Network will find a place for him.

For the first time this season, I actually remembered that there was an “after party” on the Cooking Channel. I set my TiVo to record it after the finale and when I went to watch it (the after party), it was a show called Unique Eats. What the hay?!! I really wanted to hear what Sunny had to say. Was that me or them? Did anyone else have that problem?


Java Joggers said...

I was rooting for Tom, but Aarti was my second favorite.

Did you watch the Food Truck show last night? Oddly entertaining :)

DebCarol said...

I was rooting for Aarti all season but for some reason, at the finale, I was rooting for Tom or even Herb to grab the prize. But I do love Indian food and Aarti seems to make it accessible, so I def. will watch her show and download a few recipes & try them. Knowing FN, I am waiting for Tom and Herb to have their own shows anyway . . .

Anonymous said...

I saw the results on the after party a week ago! Tom wasn't there but Atari and Herb were.

Emily said...

I watched a marathon of this on Sunday and it was really entertaining! I haven't watched TNFNS in a long time. And yes, it was better than Top Chef.

It seemed to me that Aarti was the favorite in many of the episodes, so I wasn't surprised that she won. I would happily watch either of them.

Nic said...

I wanted Tom to win, also. I can't see watching Aarti. She just doesn't keep me interested.

Cynthia said...

The after-party show came on an hour later. I just watched for 5 mins though. I am thrilled for Aarti! Can't wait to see her first show tomorrow at noon!

P.S. I haven't forgotten you.

Anonymous said...

excellent coverage!!
Hey I know it's not yet hit the Food Network big yet, but I will soon be featuring some great gluten and dairy free recipes I've developed on my blog. Just a friendly nod to your gluten free or dairy free readers...The kicker? Vegan gluten free caramelized banana pudding that I PROMISE tastes betther than the "real thing"...stay tuned!

Chef Gulzar said...


excellent coverage!! Great job!
Thanks for sharing this.

James Parker….
Chef Gulzar masala TV

Melanie said...

I also wanted Tom to win, though the spoilers were right again. Aarti's recipe looked disgusting and Herb is just too unhinged for me.

And I had the same problem with the after-party not recording. What a ripoff!

Tracy said...

I was rooting for Aarti all season. Plus, anyone who serves the Iron Chefs the best food that they've had in any season of the show deserves to win.

I liked TNFNS better this year than I have in the past few seasons. They got away from outlandish challenges and gave the contestants a chance to shine.

My Tivo missed the after party too. Bummer.

Sue said...

Thanks everyone. Interesting comments. It's funny how Tom got so popular in the last few episodes. I don't think we've seen the last of him on the Food Network.