Monday, June 2, 2008

The Next Food Network Star - Episode 1: "Star Quality" Subtitle: Do I have respect for Sandra Lee, now?

Well, everyone's favorite "Top Chef" rip off premiered it's fourth season last night. I'm kind of confused as to why they keep making this show, since it's obvious all their choices don't last that long on Food Network, except for Guy Douchebag, but I guess he fits in well with the douchey personalities of most of the other "chefs" on the network (more on that later). Actually, I guess they keep making the show because I keep watching it just to snark about it, so, well-played, Food Network, I guess. I will begrudgingly give you this round.

It's kind of hard to get a good read on the contestants at this stage, except for the ones Food Network wants us to know more about, but I'll give you my brief overview.

Kelsey - seems cute and bubbly, but it's kind of annoying. I guess she would be good to attract a younger viewership, especially with a good food on a budget-thing, kind of like the awesome, yet defunct Dave Lieberman.
Kevin - bringing romance and fun back into the kitchen? What does that even mean?
Shane - guy who lost a lot of weight. He'd be good for a show about healthy eating, especially cooking and eating to lose weight, something I think is incredibly important. He's a little young, I think, is a 45 year-old overweight housewife going to listen to him to make food for her family? Probably not. Besides, he want to do simple French cooking, not healthy food.
Jennifer is the token single mom who wants to show us how to make food for your family. I think this is a good idea, too, hopefully she can be more legitimate than Robin Miller. I think she said she was an actual working chef, though, so I have high hopes for her.
Cory is apparently a comedienne and has a degree from France (perhaps a "degree" like the one Sandra Lee obtained?)
Jeffrey - makes soul food and comfort food, I don't know that there's a need for another show like this, we already are subjected to Paula and the Neely's, do we need more? Do Not Want.
Adam - does improv and is a restaurant server who apparently owned a restaurant at one point (?). WTF? If you owned your own restaurant, how do you go back to being a server?
Lisa - has scary eyebrows.
Aaron - he's from NJ, baby! Young boy who came from nowhere and now cooks at a hospital. Admirable. I like him.
Nipa - blatant attempt at FN trying to diversify the contestants, although an Indian cooking show would be cool. I don't know how much I like her, though, she seems kind of cocky. Regardless, she'll probably get pretty far in the competition, based on all the flak Food Network gets about not having any "ethnic" cooking shows.

So, onto the actual challenges. The first one was to sum up their Culinary Point of View in one sentence for the camera, using props, if necessary. Alton Brown then critiqued them on their performance, which, if the contestants had any brains at all, should be taken without argument and followed to the letter. All in all they actually did surprisingly well, except for Cory, unless they edited out a bunch of retakes and degeneracy. I can't believe Cory, the stand-up performer did so badly, but I guess it was foreshadowing of what was to come. The best part of the whole challenge had to be Lisa explaining her CPoV and everyone going WTF?, including Alton. Then, when he called her on it, she responded with something to the effect of, "it's a shame Alton didn't understand what I was talking about," as if it's his fault for being an idiot. Yeah, maybe you should listen to the guy who already has multiple show on Food Network before you get so pissy, eyebrows.

For the second challenge, Alton had them draw colors to pair up into teams of two. Each team had to prepare three dishes, one by each of the contestants that represented their CPoV, and one dish that was a collaboration of both of their CPoVs. Then, they have to present their food to a smorgasboard of FN personalities, including, Chef Morimoto, Alton, B. Flay, the Neeley's, Sandra Lee, Giada, and the stupid judges (Susie and Bob). Yes, the FN personalities are listed in order of decreasing legitimacy (but only the first three, the rest are on the same level of awfulness in my opinion - which means nothing). They're given 10 minutes to plan, time to shop at the West Side Market, and 30 minutes to prepare the dishes in the FN kitchens. Sidebar: How nice are those kitchens, seriously? It's not right. I would kill someone to be able to cook in there for a day.

I'll spare you the blow-by-blow, but basically, Nipa can't find Turmeric in the store and Lisa acts like a bossy ho. Onto the food...

Pair 1: Shane and Nipa
They make pork tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto (yum!), curried potatoes, and a butternut squash soup with curry powder. The pork for their beauty plate is severely undercooked and Morimoto calls them out. Nipa acts like a cocky jackass and says her food is bad because she couldn't find turmeric and didn't want to change her game plan so she used curry powder instead. The judges universally agree that the potatoes didn't have enough curry, but that the pork tenderloin was delicious (not the beauty plate). Sandy chimes in and says she doesn't like curry.

Pair 2: Kevin and Lisa
Lisa freaks out and acts like a woman who is quickly losing control of everything around her, then blames Kevin for anything that goes wrong. They make French Kiss Onion Soup (WTF), poached salmon with basil puree, and a salad (I don't even know what kind it was). The food goes over alright, but the salad is overdressed and all the judges are confused by Lisa's CPoV. See, ho, that's why you always listen when Alton tells you to do something. if everyone's confused, it's not because they're stupid, it's because you MAKE NO SENSE.

Pair 3: Adam and Jennifer
Adam and Jennifer choose to inexplicably make "kitchen sink" meatloaf. Why would you think you could make meatloaf in 30 minutes? Just because RayRay makes meatloaf patties in 30 minutes doesn't mean you can, too. She has invisible helpers that come in during the commercial breaks, swiffer away her food, and replace it with stuff that has finished cooking. You don't get that until you win TNFNS. They also make carrots (looked good) and scalloped potatoes, which were apparently severly undercooked. Adam does bring the most brilliant line of the episode to the table, though, with his, "Morimoto stares with eyes that pierce the center of your soul." Yes, Adam, he does.

Pair 4: Kelsey and Aaron
They run out of time when plating the dishes (due to diorganization on Kelsey's part (?) - it's hard to tell what the editor's wanted us to think at that point). The food they made actually looked pretty good and actually fit well together, a salmon sandwich, an orzo salad, and a soup. And then, the greatest thing happened: Giada revealed her bitchiness (kept in check by the producers of her show, evidently) and called Kelsey fake, after Sandra Lee intoned that she thought Kelsey was cute and real. It caused an upheaval of conflicting emotion within my soul, making me laugh because 'pot calling kettle,' Giada? and cry, because I actually liked Sandy at that moment. What are you doign to me, TNFNS? I can't handle this emotional turmoil. Giada was probably bitchy because she doesn't want someone younger and cuter on the network. If I can find a video, I'll post it later, because it was seriously DAWESOME (/Andy Bernard).

Pair 5: Cory and Jeffrey
Their cooking was pretty uneventful (deviled eggs, salmon with honey and lavander (yuck) and potato pancakes) and I don't think that good based on the judges reactions. Mostly the judges seemed to want to attack Cory for not being funny, which I found odd, because comedians aren't funny all the time, right? Th challenge was about the food, not their personalities, so maybe the judges should have focused on it.

The Elimination -
Kelsey and Aaron were two of the selection committee's favorites, although Kelsey needs to act like less of an over-caffeinated cheerleader (fair) and Aaron needs to show more of his personality (also fair). Adam and Jennifer seem to have done OK, too, although they tell Adam to be more serious, which I found odd, because I didn't find him particularly funny or immature. Besides, weren't they just telling Cory she needed to be MORE funny? Kevin and Lisa did alright, too, but they call her out about her retardo CPoV, again. Cory and Jeffrey are told the deviled eggs were too salty and the fish was too sweet (yuck, again), while Shane and Nipa are called out about their non-curried curried potatoes and soup.

After the dressing down, Kelsey, Aaron, Adam, Jennifer, Kevin, and Jeffrey are told they can go back upstairs as they are safe and will continue to compete. They all sprint away quickly, so as to avoid the wrath of Susie and Bob, soon to be unleashed on an unwitting contestant. Cory is told she has a crappy on-camera personality, Nipa is told she's too confident, Shane is told he has no personality, and Lisa is told she's too rigid and over-powering (just say bitchy, guys, come on, the show is on at 10 pm on Sunday night, no kids are watching). They send Cory home for not being funny enough and being unable to meld her cooking and comedy together. After one challenge. Come on, give her a break, I bet she would have been pretty good, given the chance. I'd rather see Lisa go home, no clear CPoV and a poor attitude to boot? SOLD.

Some random quibbles: Why isn't Alton Brown at the elimination? Doesn't he spend the most time with the contestants? Shouldn't he at least have a say? Or is he like the Tim Gunn of Food network? I would prefer fr him to be more of a Tom Colicchio-type, head judge, head sniff and sneer-er, I'm not here to be your friend, kind of guy. You KNOW B. Flay could rock the sniff and sneer almost as well as Tommy C., come on. Also, What was the point of having all that food splayed out in the FN test kitchen if they just made the contestants go shopping anyway? Was that a "pantry" they could use and they just went to get a few things? Or was it just unnecessary decoration to be thrown out when the shoot was done? And, not really a quibble, but B. Flay looked quite good in his blue shirt and yellow tie.

Next week: Robert Irvine makes them cook on a train (?)! Nipa runs from the selection committee! Susie eats raw eggs - maybe gets Salmonella!

ETA: Thanks to the lovely comments on TWoP, I can now, without a doubt, say eyebrows looks like a Vulcan.

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