Food Network Star Recap: 'Town' and Out

Fans of musical theater are probably familiar with A Chorus Line‘s classic number, “Dance, 10; Looks, 3,” in which an aspiring actress/hoofer explains how her lack of show-stopping curves hindered her career momentum — despite her exceptional ability to cut a rug. The evicted contestant this week on Food Network Star suffered from a similar imbalance in required skills: Indeed, somewhere on a briny and desolate wharf — or perhaps behind a rustic butcher’s counter — I imagine Justin B. is humming his own mournful tune: “Food, 10; Charisma, 3.”

I can’t lie and say Justin B.’s ouster wasn’t a little surprising: Four weeks ago, I’d picked him (along with Orchid and Jeff) among the season’s three most promising contestants, based on his good looks and his authority and passion for cooking. But tonight, as he presented his Star Challenge dish to Paula Deen, the cast of Cougar Town, and the Food Network Star judges, Justin B sounded as if his internal hard-drive had been set to “monotone” — or as Bobby Flay noted, the guy resembled a waiter reading the day’s specials — and then made matters worse by announcing his Israeli couscous was “on the bland side.”

Still, as much as Justin B. kept focusing on the “Food” to the detriment of the “Star” portion of the competition, it was his arrogance at landing in the week’s bottom four contestants that may have led to his early demise. Sitting in the green room as the judges debated whether or not to eliminate Whitney, Justin D., Penny, or himself, Justin B. began to sulk. “I really have nothing to say. I think it’s ridiculous,” he pouted. “I know I can cook. I mean, I’ve never questioned that ever.” Neither did the selection committee. But at the end of the day, it didn’t matter if Justin B. was making the kind of cuisine that would make him a contender on Top Chef Masters; his on-camera persona ranged from somnambulant to downright loutish. Take this week’s Camera Challenge, where Justin B seemed to have been taking pointers from overgrown frat boy Chris, introducing himself as “Big J from Atlanta!” and dropping verbal dung bombs like “shiitake, that’s good!” Only after the cameras stopped rolling, though, did Justin B. remember to share with the judges that his dish included layers of fontina, drunken goat cheese, and a bechamel sauce. (Side note: Weirdly enough, Justin B. was at his most animated when he drew his snack chip in the Kellogg’s product challenge. “Cheez-It crackers! That’s a win!” Alrighty then, dude.)

Even in defeat, Justin B. broke a cardinal rule of TV chefs: Never compare yourself to dreaded kitchen vermin. “I’m gonna be like the proverbial cockroach: Nobody kills me,” boasted the man whose washer earrings made Paula Deen (and me) feel a little skittish.

Justin B.’s ouster proved to be good news for several of his struggling rivals — any one of whom could easily have gone home without the slightest bit of outrage from Food Network Star viewers.

* We had Penny, whose industrial vat of gloopy mac and cheese would’ve looked right at home in a middle-school cafeteria. “They wouldn’t try to kill us, would they?” asked funnyman Ian Gomez, after tasting the burnt concoction. Let’s be honest: Even though Penny makes for “good” TV by virtue of the fact that she could, at any moment, sprout orchid tentacles and give us a recipe for Sweet Mermaid Stew, there’s no way she can last more than another episode or two. But here’s a tip Penny can use in her future TV endeavors: If you’re trying to win over the viewing audience, you may not want to describe yourself as delivering “more fake and phony on top of fake and phony.”

* We had Justin D. also drawing from Chris’ tool box (emphasis on “tool”) when he finished his Star Challenge and realized he still had airtime to fill. “Justin D! Flavor Factory!” he blurted, pointing into the camera as if reenacting a Vanilla Ice photo shoot, circa 1992. Way to set a tragique tableau, buddy. Even worse, Justin D. experienced a complete crisis of confidence when he discovered the grocery store had run out of trout and fennel, not exactly the kind of collected expertise one looks for in a Food Network host. I did like Brian Van Holt’s cheeky description of the bespectacled high-school dropout having a “sexy Harry Potter thing” going for him, even if Bob Tuschman was right that nifty spectacles do not a winner make.

* And we had endlessly trainwreck-fascinating Chris attempting to force two chicken lollipops into his greedy maw at the same time, stalking a raccoon with a broom, and forcing his Star Challenge partner Orchid to come up with a “safe word” to curb his lunatic behavior. I loved that Bobby Flay’s praise was limited to this classic zinger: “Today he didn’t do anything ridiculous.” Still, I couldn’t help but imagine some Food Network Star production assistant turning down the temperature in Chris’ fridge, just to ensure his lamb shanks remained frozen, resulting in another “code blue” situation.

A few other observations from the week:

* I’m glad pretty, poised Whitney landed in the bottom this week. Perhaps the unexpected shock of finishing behind Chris will jolt her into a compelling onscreen performance?

* Are Susie’s awful “wings” back tattoos a reason for instant disqualification? Perhaps.

* Did anyone other than me get a newfound respect for Paula Deen by virtue of her unfiltered, funny interaction with the contestants? My favorite moment was Paula’s aghast response to Jill’s pitiful green salad:  “What can I say about this bowl of lettuce?”

* The list of viable contenders for a Season 7 victory seems to be shrinking, but Susie, Orchid, and Vic (who’ll need to learn to put his arms at his sides) seem to be chugging along quite nicely. My current favorite, though, is Jeff, who turned his  Thai Basil Lettce Cups with Tofu from an underdog to a judges’ favorite, and continued to use his trademark sense of humor to sell his wares: “Trust the 230 lb Italian American man from Chicago to make your tofu.” I’m not sure I’m as sold on Mary Beth, though. Her meatloaf with buttermilk and panko thrilled Paula and the rest of the selection committee, but I thought her joke about every girl having room for extra pork in her life was more groan-inducing than thigh-slapping. Plus, her air kisses with Penny were the opposite of appetizing.

What did you think of this week’s Food Network Star? Who’s your current favorite? Were you shocked by Justin B.’s exit, or did his poor on-camera performance justify the decision? Sound off in the comments, 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. L says:

    I thought the other Justin would be the one to go. Really, really can’t stand Penny and would absolutely not watch a show starring her. I like Vic, Orchid, Jyll. I like Susie but don’t think they need another mexican cooking show on the network. I still think there is no clear winner so far.

  2. Micah says:

    I thought the same thing about Penny. How can she possibly think she is winning over future fans with her poor attitude and extreme competitiveness. There is a difference between bein focused on winning by doing your best and being bitchy and conniving. I think Whitney has a sort of “Rachel Ray” look about her but suffers from the Justin B’s robot syndrome. I think either you have “it” or you don’t and if you try to be something you are not, you risk being fake.

  3. Cassie May says:

    Not surprised by Justin’s ouster, although I was fervently hoping it would be Penny to get the cut. Seriously, is the woman that delusional about her mac & cheese, or did she break the cardinal rule and NOT taste it herself before serving? Couldn’t she smell the burnt cheese? Obviously the “Cougar Town” folks could, as they avoided it like the plague.

    Still pulling for Whitney. She reminds me so much of Rachael Ray. I hope she can pull it together and improve her camera persona.

    Enjoyed Paula’s repartee with the contestants; loved the joking about her penchant for butter.

    Vic is growing on me week by week. Also like Jyll and Whitney.

  4. ChrissieK says:

    Points taken from last night’s show: Penny is strictly there for the drama factor. Courtney Cox, if you have to do something to your face, Botox is not the answer. I thinking of Justin’s “holes in his ears” and trying to envision him at 69 years of age and having droopy, loopy ear lobes, flapping in the wind; faded, stretched out tatts and it just ain’t an appetizing picture. Jyll is too much like other stars on the Food Network. I can’t think of any of them that I would watch on a regular basis. I miss American Idol!

    • Anne says:

      Courtney Cox, if you have to do something to your face, Botox is not the answer. <– You just made my day!

      Back to the topic: I'm pulling for Orchid & Vic. They're the only ones I can watch on a daily basis. And, because of that, Penny needs to go. "Good" TV or not, I would never trust a TV star who won using underhanded means.

    • Saracen Riggins says:

      I agree with MUCH of this. Starting with Courtney Cox. She was gorgeous on Friends – why can’t she see that? The other thing I wholeheartedly agree with is your assessment of Jyll. She’s perfectly likable, but she is like the majority of the stars already on Food Network.

      • GeeGeeDub says:

        So let me get this straight, you want Courtney Cox to *just* look like she did a decade ago? I’m thinking that’s probably where the botox comes in…

  5. Ken The Great says:

    HALEY! Just sayin…

  6. Claude says:

    Still crushing on Justin D, with his cute-sexy nerd vibe. (The male eye candy is in very short supply this season…)

    Found Justin B’s final address to the camera to be rather frightening, with its “you’re going to pay for this” undertones.

    Agree with ChrissieK that Penny is there to provide drama. There is no way that the committee would ever pick her, with her tough-and-trashy vibe, to star in a Food Network program. (Bravo, on the other hand…)

  7. Sam says:

    Glad to see Justin B go, his onscreen persona is like watching glue dry. Penny is just to egotistical and I hate to say it, but bitchy and neither would I watch a show with her as the star. GAG. I really like Orchid, and Jeff, who has an infectious smile and wonderful persona, someone who you’d like to be a friend, and overall there food rocks.

  8. J says:

    I love Jeff… but that may just be because he looks like Jimmy Fallon’s twin.

  9. renee says:

    not happy with direct tv who set this show for 60, not 90 mins. now i have to rerecord it to see the last 30 mins!!!! agree on justin b. figured it was between him and justin d. hmmm mb judges got confused. lol

    • Bobbi says:

      I had the exact same problem with my cable company! Makes me wonder if the Food Network goofed in providing the information. I’m recording the last 30 minutes later this week because I didn’t realize it was short until I got to the end of the recording.

  10. Saracen Riggins says:

    Jeff is definitely my favorite at this point – yes the Jimmy Fallon look-a-like! That’s probably part of his appeal ;) Love Jimmy Fallon! But seriously, Jeff is great. At the very beginning of this season I feared he’d come across obnoxious like Chris, but he’s very aware of himself and knows when to reign it in (…not counting that dud of a joke during the camera challenge!).
    I like Orchid, but she’s pretty boring. I think Vic could bring a totally original thing to Food Network. And I also like and am pulling for Justin to overcome himself and match his personality to his awesome look.

  11. 4F says:

    “If you’re trying to win over the viewing audience, you may not want to describe yourself as delivering ”more fake and phony on top of fake and phony.””

    I’m pretty sure she was referring either just to Mary Beth or referring to their strategy of how to work together without killing one another. I’m still on Team Penny. I know she’s not going to win, but I still like her.

    No, Paula Deen is the worst. She sounds like she’s jusssst this side of illiterate and always cackling like a hen about to lay an egg. Cannot stand her.

    Courtney Cox was awkward, and it was weird the way they barely showed her saying anything. I loved Busy Phillips though.

    Goodbye ear holes, you were cute, and you could cook, but you lack anything resembling a personality.

    I have new respect for Vic after hearing him say something about how “Vegetarians always get screwed.” It’s so true. They either get some shoddy salad or something else that took no thought. His baked pasta with the pistachio pesto sounded sooooo delicious.

  12. Gretchen says:

    I enjoyed seeing Vic hitting his stride, and Jeff. All of the women bore me–who wants a Ray clone (Whitney) or yet another show that will focus on Latin flavors (Susie)? Been there, seen that. Jyll is likeable but forgettable and bland and Penny is evil–imagine being the crew on her show! Orchid is OK.

    The previews for next week’s show someone (Penny?) getting yelled at by Whitney for being too entitled, that should be entertaining and hopefully the end of Penny on the show.

    Can’t believe Justin only bought two boxes of quinoa. But then, if the ingredient were utterly vital to Susie, shouldn’t she have bought it herself? Their team was the only one with three people.

    Got a laugh out of Mary Beth being so fake nice to Penny, talk about treating someone as she treats others. Penny looked shocked to be in the bottom three. But really? Mac n’cheese didn’t show much creativity or effort, poorly made, burnt mac n’cheese is sad.

  13. Kim says:

    Great recap like always. I was really pulling for Justin B because his food looked so good, but the guy just could not get his on-camera act together, and his arrogance at being in the bottom was a real turn-off. Jeff is my favorite by a country mile, although it doesn’t really seem like sandwiches are really his thing. He got the most kudos for making tofu–so maybe he needs to go with things that are unusual or unexpected for “everyday guys” like him. I love Mary Beth. Hate Penny–just not likable at all. Jyll seems perfectly pleasant and competent, but FN already has Melissa D’Arabian. Finally, why, oh why did Courtney Cox do that to her face?

  14. Ken The Great says:

    Has there ever been a more perfect villain than Penny? She’s straight out of Hollywood casting. A dark, backstabbing, hostile, deceptive, duplicitous, hateful beast, she’s missing only the flying broom and pointy hat from completing the witch stereotype. I could honestly see her declaring jihad and planting a bomb in another contestant’s oven before this is over. I hope she stays until the end; she’s a once-in-a-lifetime evil character, and I love rooting against her.

    • Gretchen says:

      I am thinking back to the end of the first episode, when they show what is happening this season on the show–and wasn’t there something where someone is sent to the hospital, or I am thinking of another show?

      I’m just wondering if Penny comes to fisticuffs with someone, she seems desperate enough to do so. I keep waiting for the big episode that will show Penny as nice, misunderstood. Still waiting…that’s the only way she will make it much further, I think last week will be her last on the show, they seem to be setting it up.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    “here’s a tip Penny can use”
    Please tell me you put “penny” and “can” together as a pun :)

    • Michael Slezak says:

      Holy cow! I wish I could say I did that consciously, but I will go to the grave thinking it was a subliminal moment of genius!

  16. Kate says:

    I agree: Bobby Flay had some great observations this week about the contestants. He DID look like a waiter!

  17. TLE says:

    Really enjoying these recaps!! First off, I have to say, the revelation that Chris is from Hoboken, NJ says ALOT!!! (As an actual Jersey girl, I’ve had to deal with his type for way too long). While he was a little better this week, he seems to be auditioning for Jersey Shore, not Food Network.

    He’s first on my list of people that need to go, and if not him then definitely Penny. I would never ever ever watch a show with her because she’s just pure evil, plus I can’t look at her without thinking of Jafar from Aladin. The whole interaction between her and Mary Beth last night was just brutal to watch – I kept waiting for a fake hug to turn into hair pulling and scratching.

    Courtney Cox was very blah, not at all impressed, but Busy Phillips was great! New respect for her.

    Current favorites – Orchid & Vic, but Jyll and Jeff aren’t far behind.

    Can’t wait til next week….dying to see what everyone is laughing at! :0)

  18. EmmitWest says:

    ” But here’s a tip Penny can use in her future TV endeavors…”

    I see what you did there. CougarTown, Penny Can.

    Clever, Slezak, clever.

  19. Jo says:

    Hey I’m just glad we didn’t have to sit through another 90 minutes with Alicia!!! Sorry to see Justin go – pulling for Vic!!

  20. Dee says:

    Love Vic. He’s really turning things around. And, he’s not a cookie-cutter host like so many on FN seem to become. Orchid never fails to make me smile. She just seems so genuinely happy. Thought it strange that Justin B could never talk on camera during demonstrations, but when he was just being filmed, he was personably and funny. Jyll and Whitney, cute but boring. Jeff is growing but Justin is wilting. Glad you mentioned that Susie had wings, I was wondering why anyone would put a gaping maw with rows of sharp teeth on their back. (Too many horror movies this weekend.)

    Bye bye Penny. Unless she finds a new tune, I’m tuned out.

  21. darclyte says:

    Justin B was on the wrong show. He SHOULD have tried for Top Chef as they care about food and not “on camera” presence. I figured that the first time he messed up cooking he was gone, and that’s exactly what happened. Chris may have turned it around a bit, and I do think he can cook ok, but he’s not long for the show. Justin D had better get himself together or he’ll be next. Penny complaining about being tired of the other contestants has only herself to blame. When you come out trying to take down others right out of the gate, and then tell the others that you KNOW you can outcook them, you’re not gonna be well liked. I like Whitney, but she has the personality of a virtual announcer. Right now, Orchid & Jeff are probably the front runners with Vic, Jyll and Susie gaining ground.

  22. marla says:

    “Are Susie’s awful “wings” back tattoos a reason for instant disqualification? Perhaps.”

    LOL, that’s the first thing I thought. I really like the girl, but it’s bad enough that she went went something so cliche, stale and hackneyed, (beat, only perhaps by the chicks who add barbed wire to their upper arm) They actually looked like the tattoo artist was drunk when he did them. I felt sorry for her, even if she got her money back for the crappy work, she’s stuck with those ugly puppies until she can afford to have them lasered.

  23. topsyturvy says:

    Justin B and Vic have always struck me as one beat away from being serial killers.

    I agree that Justin D does have a hot nerd vibe (maybe that should be chubby hot nerd). He would really be hot if he dropped about 50 pounds.

    Chris and Jeff are too much from the frat boy mold.

    Mary Beth just tries too hard.

    Orchid is too much like Arti.

    Jyll is too much like the blonde chick that won a few years back that explained this week’s camera challenge. Blonde, bland, forgettable. Like Busy said, it’s not a show I want to watch.

    Whitney is so dull that I … zzzzzzz. I’m sorry I dozed off just thinking about her.

    Penny needed to go home this week. How the hell burns mac and cheese when you have THAT much time to cook it? Why was mac and cheese is less of an easy dish than a salad.

    I think this year’s winner will be one of the guys.

  24. Juan says:

    I hated how every single contestant kept making cougar jokes and comments, especially Penny who claimed to be a fan of the show. The show has nothing to do with cougars!
    But yeah, my pick is Jeff.
    I cannot wait for the Chris train to reach the wreck part, same goes for Susie and Jyll.
    I hope someone decides to get rid of Penny once and for all. She’s just plain horrible to everyone around her and that does not look good on Food Network.

  25. Songwevr says:

    Thanks, Michael, for mentioning Vic’s bow arms. It drives me crazy! My husband and I had a whole conversation about it in the car yesterday! (Me: Do all body builder types hold their arms like that. My husband: I don’t know. Me: Yeah, I guess you wouldnt’…)

  26. Jim Goodman says:

    The wicked witch of the west needs to go now. Someone needs to through a bucket of water on her soon

  27. Pam says:

    Did Bobby Flay have to take the name of the Lord in vain? He said “Jesus Christ” in reponse to one of the contestants. I watch Food Network because it is so family friendly, and what he said tonight really turned me off to your network. I have been watching for many years, and what he said has made me question why I would continue to do so. How much more reality do we need in this world anyway? I hope there are other viewers that don’t think that kind of thing is necessary to get ratings.