Food Network Star: A Comedy of Culinary Errors

One of the main reasons I love Food Network Star is that the show occasionally delivers on the promise of its title, bringing new personalities to the food-centric channel in a way that, say, America’s Next Top Model has never seen its winners on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.

But Sunday night’s telecast also proved the show can score laughs as big as any sitcom. In fact, there were moments where I was almost convinced I was watching The Katy Clark Show, an absurdist comedy about a hapless chef/fitness instructor and her foodie foibles. Consider:

* During this week’s Camera Challenge, in which contestants had to make pizzas that revealed their culinary styles, then pair them with personal stories, Katy (pictured, center) made a peculiar pie — one side covered in greens, one side slathered in cheese — that reflected her scattered personality. Then she took it to the judges and blurted this priceless bit of ridiculousness: “I had a Chinese worker stay with me a couple weeks ago. We made pizza together and she said that was the best thing she had all weekend, was making pizza with me. So remember, I’m Katy, helping you keep a balanced life!” Katy’s poorly explained anecdote had me wondering if there’s some new program whereby the U.S. is exporting Starbucks baristas to Beijing, in exchange for itinerant farmers from the Chinese countryside. Probably not the kind of random associations Food Network is looking for in its next breakout series.

* Katy struck again later in the episode, when contestants presented their Star Challenge dishes to a panel of celebrity chefs. Guest judge Scott Conant rattled off the copious ingredients in Katy’s menu — an apple-walnut-shallot compote with braised bacon and a pepper short rib on gorgonzola mashed potatoes with a mustard cream sauce — in an attempt to get her to see she was making a meal far too complicated for the challenge parameters. “You see where I’m going with this?” he asked, hopefully. Katy’s painfully earnest response: “You think it should be pork?”

* And then, of course, we had Katy’s boiling, sputtering sauce causing widespread anxiety among the judges. “Have you looked at the pan?” Conant fretted, as the stovetop temperature reached surface-of-the-sun levels. But instead of heeding his subtle warning, Katy went ahead and added a bottle of wine to her concoction, sending the entire meal up in a stunning (but highly amusing) blaze. “Mission accomplished,” grinned Season 7 mega-villain Penny, and I had to begrudgingly agree.

Given all her culinary flubs, it wasn’t a surprise to see Katy get booted at episode’s end, but I’ll miss the way the judges’ eyes popped whenever she spoke. “I’m fitness. I’m all about fashion. I’m not all-day cooking. That doesn’t work for me,” she boasted, as Giada De Laurentiis wondered aloud if girlfriend was auditioning for the right job. (Spoiler alert: Definitely not.) Of course, Katy’s downfall wasn’t the only key plot point of the 90-minute telecast.

* For the first time in show history, the panel gave walking papers to a contestant at the end of the Camera Challenge as well as the Star Challenge. The former elimination spelled defeat for Juba, who had some promising cooking chops but treated looking into a camera as if it was the equivalent of sticking his hand in a garbage disposal.

* The Camera Challenge also brought us a rare moment of non-incompetence from emotionally fragile Alicia, but I thought her anecdote about discovering a new food on a bad date felt more like a carefully crafted construct for a punch line — “It does take a pig to find truffles!” — than an actual life experience. Later, though, Alicia returned to weepy form, breaking down after the judges criticized her sad, monochromatic plate of bacon-wrapped scallop, pancake, and carrots (see image below, and tell me what the heck is sticking out of that scallop?).

* Justin B (pictured, right) continued his ongoing hate-hate relationship with the camera by flubbing his lines and ending his presentation with a one-word exclamation: “Fail!” But as Susie Fogelson explained in her new-age, no-nonsense manner: “Perfectionism has no place here. Just be real.”

* And Penny (pictured, left) rebranded her show idea from “Stilettos in the Kitchen” to “Middle-Eastern Mom,” but failed to recognize that acting like a raging she-beast every second of every episode is probably not going to endear her to the Food Network audience. Look, I don’t blame her for strategizing a way to derail early front-runner Orchid — especially if said strategy involved exposing Orchid’s lack of knowledge regarding high-end ingredients — but Penny never infuses her competitiveness with humor or playfulness; at this point, she’s a poisoned apple or cursed spindle away from being a full-fledged Disney villainess.

* Whitney and Mary Beth emerged as potential contenders with their wins this week. I liked Mary Beth’s short cut of using a marrow bone in her sauce to get to the rich flavor of braised short ribs, as well as her “only a dollah!” butcher-shop anecdote, but her performance during the Camera Challenge still seemed stilted to me. Whitney, meanwhile, might’ve helped erase that grim-faced engineer vibe if she’d managed to smile — even a little — after winning her portion of the Star Challenge.

* Jeff’s spring roll might’ve been a hot, unraveled mess, but the guy has a leg up on his rivals in developing a likable on-screen persona. “Thank you, chef, for allowing us to destroy your kitchen,” he told Conant at the start of the Star Challenge. “It’s an honor.” Later, he even managed to score laughs after perspiring into his food, telling the panel that all he could think was, “Stop sweating you pig monster!”

* Jyll got praised for making Wisconsin beer brats, but is that really a Food Network-level recipe? And is it really a play on sweet soy-glazed pork belly and scallion pancakes?

* The limits of Orchid’s culinary knowledge may have been exposed, but I was happy she didn’t whine or cry or get in a huff when Penny pitted her against the restaurant-chef types during the Star Challenge. Anne Burrell was right, though, that Orchid’s canned oyster kind of looked like a hairball.

* And finally, if anyone is going to pick up the sitcom mantel from Katy, it could be Chris, who went all en flambe for his mixed seafood stufato, then had to concede to the judges that he did it for “no real tecnhical reason.” Later, when he couldn’t find dry vermouth for his dish, he decided to use Pernod as a substitute, despite not knowing what it tasted like. When Bobby asked Chris to describe Pernod in three words, my brother, my husband, and I each had fun coming up with potential answers. Our respective picks: “No f****** idea!”; “Not dry vermouth?”; and “You tell me!” Chris’ eventual descent into guessing Pernod had some similarities to chewing gum and mouthwash left a horrified Burrell asking, “Seafood and peppermint?”

What did you think of this week’s Next Food Network Star? Did the right people get sent home? Who’s emerging as your favorite? Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Paige says:

    I was a little bummed to see Juba go home (Mostly because his name makes me lol everytime.) I’m still pulling for Justin D (You know the guy Bob Tushman described as Pee Wee Herman Meets, Elvis Costello, Meets Elton Brown XD) who apparanetly no one remembers is on the show including the show it’s self lol (seriously where was his Pizza Camera Challenge?). I kinda loved that Penny’s plan kinda of blew up in her face when she took 3rd in the group. The girls for once seemed to have more appeal for me this year, I did enjoy Mary Beth’s come back.

    • Paige says:

      *Alton Brown, sorry.

    • Holly says:

      Juba’s food looked so good! And he seemed so likable. But it really was painful to watch him on camera. Maybe the Food Network will give him a job behind the scenes with recipe development!

      The Penny as a villain thing is a little annoying, simply because it is an absolute indicator that she will not be selected as the winner, regardless of how well she does. The Food Network brand would not associate itself with such a she-beast. If she were the eventual winner, there would have been some careful editing to show her in a better light.

      • Sandi B says:

        Agree…Poor Juba…his food looked better than anyone else’s, but he was a train wreck in front of the camera.

        Since it is evident that Penny will not win (at least based on the editing she is getting), please put the viewers out of their misery and just get rid of her right now! No one would ever watch a show where she was the “Star”. Likeability goes hand in hand with ability to cook.

    • Mi says:

      Justin D definitely reminds me of Tom from last season. He wasn’t showed very much in the beginning, but when he hit his stride halfway through the competition, they emerged as a front runner. I’m thinking the same thing will happen to Justin D.

  2. L says:

    I thought it was funny how they had to “translate” what Alicia was saying at the bottom of the screen because you can’t understand a word coming out of her mouth. She is crying too much. Penny is just evil and I wouldn’t watch a show that she was on. No favorites for me yet, just the people I don’t think will make it.

  3. ten says:

    Juba was painful to watch on camera.Alicia is an emotional train wreck.

  4. CJ says:

    I was glad to see that Penny was essentially called out on her aggressive behavior by the judges. Bob said it best be saying it’s ok to be aggressive and have strategy but you have to be likeable too. And since I am not a Penny fan anyway, it was icing on the cake for me to watch her come in third of her group.

    I want to really like Justin D. but can’t seem to get a vibe on him yet. Conversely, I really like Justin B. but he has got to improve on his camera skills or he is going to be gone sooner than later.

    Mary Beth was quite refreshing to watch and I think Jeff will do fine if he just calms down a bit. Chris certainly didn’t endear himself to this viewer by putting in an ingredient that he had no clue on its impact…seafood and peppermint?!! Blech.

    • GeeGeeDub says:

      For the record, Pernod is licorice flavored, not peppermint. The fact that he could not distinguish the difference between the two is very telling. I’m with the judges – why not just pour out a shot and taste it!?

      • OSusanna says:

        Surprising to me that they didn’t send Chris home. Ultimately, isn’t the challenge to be a cooking teacher on TV? And this guy’s instinct is not only not even to taste an ingredient he doesn’t know before using it, but then, to try to B.S. the judges instead of admit that he doesn’t know from Pernod? Like the judges don’t know what it is, either? This combo of dumb and arrogant should have canned his chances. . . . but if this is who he is, he’ll be departing soon!

    • connie says:

      Penny is the rudest person i have ever seen on a food show and there as been quite a few on previously. She should be sent home just for being a B***ch. the girl on her teams seems to want to do good… Penny is ignorant.. Just saying

      • trisha marie says:

        I agree Penny is totally rude and unpleasant. I would never watch a show where the host is personality challenged. Ladies, when is the last time you cooked dinner for the family in your six inch high heels?? I have to say, the only thing I find remotely sexy about my veggies is a great sale price and some butter. I like Mary Beth but at this point she’s gushing too much sugar. I hope Suzie can hang in. She seems genuine and upbeat. I would love to learn more about mexican cooking. Jyll annoys me with her “git er done” shouts. I’m looking forward to this Sunday.

  5. Cindy says:

    I am from St Louis MO and cannot for the life of me figure out where Alicia is from… That is not a Missouri “accent”. Watching her cook stresses me out and I am sitting on my couch! She needs to go, as does Penny who is exactly like a Walt Disney villain. Do love the show and look forward to seeing each new episode. Thanks for the great recap

    • Cassie May says:

      Alicia looks and sounds like she talks with her back teeth clenched. How in the world did she ever think she could make it on TV? It’s no fun watching her melt down every week.

    • Pat says:

      Hi, Cindy. Penny and Alicia I hope will be the next two to go. I literally brace myself whenever Alicia starts to speak. I can’t help it – I Can’t Stand Her Voice/Accent; would never watch a show she’s hosting. Penny’s looks match her personality: hard and dark. I see no warmth nor kindness anywhere in her. I would never watch a show she’s in either. Can’t believe she honestly thinks being mean will make her a star. Mary Beth is great.

  6. 4F says:

    I still like Penny, and I know I’m in the minority on this. Everyone acted soooo dramatic about the fact that her group/dish selections were strategic, but HI, it’s a competition! Of course she’s going to try to hobble someone strong (Orchid) and send some weak ones to the slaughter (Katy, Alicia). Yes, she needs to show that she can be likable, and I think part of it is that she’s reassessing her ideas about what her show should be since they didn’t like the sexy sexy idea.

    I laughed so hard when they called Katy a morning show host (maybe not exact words) because that’s totally what she reminded me of. She should be on some local morning show, interviewing people about food (and fashion! and fitness!), NOT on Food Network, with her phony smile and forced sunny demeanor.

    Alicia is the worst. She always sounds like she has cotton balls in her mouth. And bacon-wrapped scallops? That’s such a boring, obvious thing to make. Also, two weeks in, and she’s already had two meltdowns. She can’t take any pressure at all.

    Chris is just terrible. The whole frat boy persona is off-putting and obnoxious.

    It’s sad that Juba couldn’t get his on-camera presentation together because he obviously knows how to cook, but as the judges kept repeating last night, “You have to have both–that’s what being a star is.”

    On that note, unless Justin B can get it together tout de suite he’s not going to last very long.

    This show is so entertaining.

    • Andie says:

      Yes, I like Penny too… not particularly as a person but she’s a great character. It seems like she knows how to turn down her wrath when she’s actually on camera, and should she win (even though I know she won’t), I wouldn’t hold her personality off-show against her, as it seems like her food would be grat.

      And yes, Katy should be on a morning show!

  7. Ken The Great says:

    Mary Beth reminds me of a young Martha Stuart. I think she’ll be tough to beat. Jeff has the gift of camera charisma, and if he can get his food right he’ll be a finalist, too. Vic is Bobby’s personal favorite with that New York street vibe, and Giada clearly likes his personality and attitude, too, so he could be the spoiler.

    • Mark says:

      So far he’s useless when the red light goes on. That will need to change quickly or else Vic is going to be down for the count.

  8. Cathy says:

    Looks like a tiny little piece of corn with the bacon curled up.

  9. J says:

    All I can think about is how much Jeff looks like Jimmy Fallon…

  10. KR says:

    There are still too many contestants that are being driven by ego and have a need to show off to the judges. This isn’t Top Chef, and they need to keep this in mind. Yes, I understand it’s a competition, but that doesn’t mean winning at all costs. Particularly when the ‘prize’ is a television show, and the ‘star’ must be someone others really want to watch.

    I’m so glad Penny was taken down a notch by the judges, for her nastiness. At this point, unless she mellows more, I wouldn’t watch her show (if she won) because I’ve already seen her bitchiness, and I don’t want to support that. However, I am interested in her cooking. So maybe if she takes the warnings to heart, there can be redemption.

  11. Lauren says:

    For me, Mary Beth really came alive last night. I think she’s perfect for the Food Network brand. I’m really getting sick of Penny. I can’t even look at her on camera. She’s just way overdone and looks gross to me. I would never watch her show. I wasn’t really that sad to see Juba go… Didn’t really get to see enough of him to be invested. I like Orchid, but she reminds me of someone else… either Debbie from a few seasons ago or someone from a past season of Top Chef or some other cooking show. I can’t figure it out. Oh well, still loving this season.

  12. John S says:

    Actually, I think Orchid won last year. Her name was Arrti.

  13. darclyte says:

    I haven’t been able to watch this yet, so I didn’t read the review nor any of the comments (I don’t want to be spoiled.) The reason is that although last week’s premiere was titled “Next Food Network Star,” and my DVR recorded it. For some reason, it now shows up as “Food Network Star,” and as a result, my DVR didn’t record it. I found that it airs again on Wednesday, but I don’t know why the title changed. It could be just on AT&T Uverse, but it’s just strange why it’s now different (at least in AT&T’s system.) Very odd.

    • Mark says:

      Same happened to us (although I noticed between the east coast and west coast airings). I think they intended the renaming to go through for the first week, but didn’t tell Tribune Media Services (the listings people), so the show had a different name last week on the guide data. It should stick from here.

  14. JR says:

    I think Penny is the reincarnation of Gargamel, except meaner.

    • Aaron says:

      Not only is she so freaking mean, but her attitude and meanness make her extremely ugly, and she thinks she is super-sexy. I’m so tired of her talking like she is hot. She can take her middle-aged Medeteranian cankles, stuff them into her stilettos, and walk off to the Middle East. Uggghhh. Gross.

  15. Ashly says:

    This is turning into a really good season. Some of it is a little cringe worthy (like watching a few of the contestants in their camera challenges), but overall I feel we have a pretty competent group. I’m hoping Vic and Justin B. can spread their wings a bit more and feel more comfortable in front of the camera. I really appreciate Vic’s anti-woe is me outlook. He totally steps up and takes responsibility. Jeff is my favorite right now (except for the sweating thing which was unfortunate). He’s funny and has a good concept for his show.

    • Amanda says:

      The chefs on Chopped are always sweating over their food. I know it has to land in there a lot, but it’s never really mentioned on air.

  16. Evan Meadow says:

    I hope Vic gets everything going right for him next week. He’s just so close to getting kicked out.

    If he’s going to call his show “Mom Taught Me Right” he better make sure he doesn’t get choked up and lose his train of thought again. Otherwise that’s every episode. My mom taught me……………” says thanks and roll credits.

    And I like him!

    As for Penny, so the evil person this year. I’m hoping someone tries to really put her off balance and dare them to use the “T” word just to rattle her.

    Unfortunately, she’s a reality star asking for it.

  17. ladykarensea says:

    I like Vic. I hope he does well. He’s real, down to earth, nice guy, and the pizza looked freakin good!

    • MoHub says:

      I’ve been on Team Vic from episode 1. I hope he can pull his camera presence together, because he certainly has the cooking chops. He is definitely coming across as a Teddy bear masquerading as a tough nut.

  18. Diane says:

    I thougght Giada looked sort of wax like. I usually think she is beautiful, I wonder if she over did the botox or make up or both.

  19. JPH says:

    A poster above noted that Giada seemed to like Vic. Am I the only one who got a vibe that she seemed warm for his form? He seems like a good guy, and I’m rooting for him to get better, but I haven’t really seen any warmth from him.

    I dunno…

  20. jcs says:

    Penny needs to go. I would never watch a food show she was on. can hardly bear to look at her. Hope Vic gets better, he seems like such a teddy bear and also can cook.

  21. Bev Davis says:

    Wow, talk about an eye-opener, and now I’m disillusioned.

    These Food Network stars all seem so homey, nicey-nice, and so want to relate to their audience–why, I almost felt that I knew them–ALMOST.

    On Star, all that flies out the window as they come across as sniping, snarkey, and mean-spirited. Ann Burrell and Giada have simply lost all their likeability and I now see them as fakes and hypocrites with their true natures coming out. Bobby Flay is simply full of himself, and he cracks me up anyway–his food is all alike, nothing new.

    I wonder how the ratings for some of these ego-giant hypocrites are doing.

  22. Smitty says:

    You could bribe me with money, cars and fame and I still wouldn’t watch any show hosted by Penny. She is the daughter of Satan and needs to be exorcised from FN forever.

  23. Joo Yun S. says:

    LOL! The “Chinese worker” phrase Katy said was just so strange and awkward. Chinese worker? Um, OK…was it really necessary to name the person’s ethnicity? And “worker”? Sure, maybe it’s just an issue of semantics, but “employee” would be a better word choice in 2011. “Worker” makes it sound like she has a servant or slave. But who knows? Maybe Katy owns some Chinese day-laborers. The stunned, confused looks of disbelief that Bobby Flay and Bob Tuschman had– which they tried to cover with a cringing “…this is just a joke, right? ha…ha?” kind of half-grin– were just priceless! LOL.

    In all seriousness though, I really don’t think Katy is racist or elitist– I can’t even imagine how much pressure being in front of a camera is. Everyone has had times when nerves make us do or say something stupid. Her case wasn’t any different from ours– it just happened to be caught on TV.