Food Network Star Recap: Rachael Ray-Banned

Please don’t throw all your rotten tomatoes at once, but watching Sunday night’s episode of Food Network Star, I kind of wished the Wicked Witch of the Kitchen had lasted one more week in the competition. No, I’m not saying I’ve suddenly developed an unsavory affection for last week’s evictee, the villainous (and proud of it) Penny, but wouldn’t it have been far more interesting to watch the self-proclaimed “Middle Eastern Mama” navigate the high-pressure waters of a live cooking segment on The Rachael Ray Show than malfunctioning robot Jyll? Who knows, maybe Penny would’ve torn out a clump of Rachael’s hair to complete her “Eye of Newt Stew with Reduction of Children’s Night Terrors.”

In all seriousness, though, wasn’t Jyll’s elimination all but guaranteed last week, when Wolfgang Puck was so offended by her risotto that he dragged her back into the kitchen to teach the proper technique for cooking the dish? (Hey, at least he didn’t make her sit in the naughty chair facing the corner wall for 15 minutes.) With that uncomfortable memory hanging over the episode like smoke from a burnt paella, it felt like the entire hour was nothing more than a procession leading up to Jyll’s tearful farewell.

Oh, sure, the perky newscaster type got the “redemption edit” during this week’s Camera Challenge — in which the contestants had to make cupcakes for the fabulous Ina Garten (whose presence reduced Whitney to tears). But Jyll’s glory and the Barefoot Contessa’s appearance were both short lived. Jyll’s chocolate-orange confection pleased the judges’ taste buds, but that giggling joke about the cake being blonde like her was more tragic than Jeff’s five-meat cupcake. And while Ina provided some solid feedback for the six remaining contestants, she made a hasty retreat back to her Hamptons dreamscape after realizing the everyday world didn’t contain enough gay men, fresh flowers, fabulousness, butter, cream, leisure time, and general decadence to satisfy her appetites.

I will say, though, I was a little surprised the selection committee wasn’t tougher on Whitney for essentially copying Ina’s signature coconut-almond cupcake, or on Vic, whose pancetta-basil-chocolate concoction looked as appealing as that squelchy thing I found in a Ziploc bag in the back of my fridge a few weeks ago. And the less said the better when it comes to Susie attempting to achieve “elegancy” by adding silver sprinkles to her corn cupcake with duck confit slaw.

As for our six finalists and their Rachael Ray appearances (which Bob Tuschman deftly referred to as “the true test” of a Food Network Star contestant):

* Whitney’s roasted chicken and white bean chili looked tasty, but her personal stories feel more like constructs around which she builds her on-camera segments rather than real-life experiences. For exampled, her comment about her firefighter brother and his coworkers — “all those guys eat is chili!” — felt exaggerated at best, and a cynical way to personalize her assigned dish at worst.

* Vic’s “Lachanga” — lasagna deep-fried inside a tortilla, complete with a topping of green olives! — was another setback for his culinary credibility. There’s no doubt the guy is charming and likable, and I understand how the selection committee can see dollar signs in his “Vin Diesel exterior” meets “squishy Mama’s Boy interior” persona, but dude might be better off traveling the country for a show called “Secrets of Italian Family Kitchens” than actually foisting his “Vegas-style” monstrosities on the viewing public, no? Also, if Vic does manage to score a spot on the Food Network lineup, Susie Fogelson had better include a line in his contract banning him from wearing short-sleeved sweaters with dress shirts and ties. Illegal! At least Vic’s culinary misadventures drew this zinger out of Bobby Flay: “I just don’t want to eat a tortilla-wrapped lasagna.” Amen, brother.

* Aside from using a piping bag of pureed carrots to add color and visual appeal, what exactly was the “completely modern twist” Mary Beth promised with her take on Shepherd’s Pie?

* Was I the only one who felt uncomfortable about Susie saying she essentially wanted to be Rachael? Girl, you’re definitely not going to win this thing channeling Single White Female, or even All About Eve. Especially not when Bobby Flay describes your veggies as looking “old and gray.” Still, I think it would be a little ridic if Susie gets ousted simply for acknowledging that misperceptions exist about Mexican food not being elegant or high-end, no?

* I’ve seen friends serve up better looking grub to their dogs than Jyll’s “meatloaf pie,” which was cooked in (gasp!) a foil pie plate! The judges seemed to want us to believe Jyll’s biggest crime was changing her point-of-view to “classic comfort food with a California twist,” but their comments during deliberations summed up the real reasons Jyll was never going to win. Bobby: “I don’t know that she has the authority to teach us about anything, really.” Susie F: “She has an artificiality I can’t get past.”

* Rachael’s comments about Jeff’s performances summed up my feelings about the entire season: “Sandwich guy killed it for me!” I mean, who doesn’t love a phrase like “teach you the fundamentals of cooking through sandwich artistry”? The guy never seems tentative about the food intel he’s imparting, and he’s got an easy, breezy humor that will only get better with some expert help from Food Network’s stable of directors, editors, and producers. I liked how he handled a viewer question about braising that didn’t really have an easy answer, and his jokes about hard cider and pork-bone lollipops (“make sure they’re old enough so they don’t choke on it”) were winningly weird. Jeff’s final zinger about teaching Rachael his recipe for sweet-potato fries “the next time you have me on” sealed my loyalty. I want Jeff to win this thing, and I promise to DVR his series if or when he does.

What did you think of this week’s Food Network Star? Who do you want to win it all? Would you have preferred to see Penny tackle the Rachael Ray challenge instead of Jyll, or should I just be glad they sent the Season 7 villain home before she tried to stuff Hansel and Gretel into a hot oven? 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. laura says:

    As always, a perfect summary of the show….with the insight and humor to make me appreciate what I watched last night that much more. Thanks Michael (or is it Mike?).

    • Bob says:

      Not to put words in his mouth, but I would call him as his byline is written, Michael. If he wanted to be Mike, his byline would say Mike. That’s my takeaway.

  2. Gretchen says:

    Fantastic summary.

    I, too, was wondering why the selection committee didn’t give Whitney more grief about her copying of Ina’s recipe? Aren’t they supposed to show an original point-of-view? Whitney came across as fake as Jyll, only the former is a darling of the selection committee for some reason.

    Loved Jeff and was pained at Vic’s poor showing. Susie and Mary Beth bored me. Jyll’s meatloaf was pretty much Shepherd’s Pie, no?

    And I wish She Who Shall Not Be Named had made it to NEXT week after seeing the previews…seeing her reaction to being subject to a roast would have been delicious indeed! I have a feeling next week is Mary Beth’s last one, with Vic the following week unless he steps up the food.

    • CA says:

      I was thinking the same thing about Jyll’s meatloaf.

    • dan says:

      As Jyll was describing her dish I said “that is the same thing that Mary Beth is making.” Nobody called her on it. She should’ve gone last week and Penny should’ve stayed one more week. I agree that it would’ve been television genius to have Penny on RR’s show. Just imagine RR interrupting every once in a while with a time check (“two minutes chef”) and watching Penny slowly but surely freak out while trying not to implode. The panel missed a potential tv goldmine whey they eliminated Penny last week.

    • Stephanie says:

      Actually, to be technical, it was Cottage Pie. It was made with beef, Shepherd’s Pie is made with lamb. But, since they were putting “new spins” on things, it doesn’t matter. Susie didn’t make Stir-Fry either, and putting lasagna in a tortilla and deep frying it should be a crime.

  3. Doris says:

    I actually thought Vic messed up worse than Jyll, so I was surprised he didn’t go home. Jeff was excellent. I’m thinking he’s the next Adam Gertler (I really like Adam Gertler). Considering that Adam, Tom Pizzico (sp?), Jeffrey Saad, & Kelsey Nixon also got shows, we may see Jeff, Whitney, & Susie on FN or the Cooking Channel in the not too distant future.

    • dan says:

      Vic only made it another week because of his 30-second intro to his show. The panel was orgasmic over his rapport with RR and the audience. I know that Adam and Tom have shows on FN, and I saw Kelsey on that game-show type program once where they run around a city doing tasks (so I assume she works for the FN), but what has Jeffrey Saa done for the FN? Years ago (the first or second season of this show)there was a black, female contestant who came in second or third, then during the next season I saw her in the background of the test kitchen helping to prepare food items for camera. I guess a lot of the contestants actually get FN jobs out of this show.

      • Boffo the Wonder Sheep says:

        Jeffrey Saad has a show on the Cooking Channel called “The United Tastes of America.” Each episode focuses on one sort of food, like ice cream or fried chicken.

    • jrs says:

      Oh gawd, please…no comparisons between jeff and adam. I really enjoy watching Adam on the screen. We don’t need a wannabe and I find Jeff very annoying. I would NOT watch his show, no way, no how.

  4. CA says:

    I am a huge Vic fan but even I couldn’t stomach what he attempted to make for, really, both challenges. That being said — I would watch the guy that gave the 30 intro on being a Mama’s Boy — now he needs the consistency in his culinary talents.

    Jeff did kill it this episode. My question is for the masses — how long would everyone really turn into a cooking show that is only about sandwiches. I love the concept to an extent, I just don’t know that sandwiches are going to be tantamount to a long running, hit show on TV Network.

    It was Jyll’s time to leave. I think it was Susie or Whitney that said it best “I don’t think she’s bounced back from last week’s debacle”.

    I too was surprised that Whitney wasn’t called out on making almost an identical cupcake as Ina.

    I am hoping for a Vic/Jeff finale.

    • Doris says:

      CA, you & Gretchen both missed the point of Whitney’s cupcake. She said she started watching FN because of Ina, so she was doing HER OWN version of Ina’s cupcake, most likely with the cake & the frosting flavors switched. It was definitely an homage to the Contessa.

      • CA says:

        No I got the point — but how is doing the same cupcake as someone you watched on TV, who BTW, is now judgeing you a) not a bit of a kiss up and 2) telling your own point of view? I wasn’t aware that Whitney’s POV was re-envisioning other Food Network stars food.

        • Gretchen says:

          Agreed, CA. It was such an obvious kiss up by Whitney. She could have done her own cupcake and still used the anecdote about Ina inspiring her through cupcakes without copying the cupcake flavors.

          Weirdly, Whitney is one of the favorites of the committee. I couldn’t tell you what her POV is and as I said, to me, she comes off as just as fake/faux perky as Jyll.

          I’d watch a show about sandwiches, absolutely. It could include recipes for chips, salads, soups, all paired with sandwiches, as well as the sandwiches.

    • Holly says:

      I have to say that Sandwiches are probably my favorite food, right along side Greek, Mexican and Pizza. I would tune into a show that was about making Sandwiches because at least that is something I would do. I can’t say that I would attempt to cook Greek or Mexican as often as I would attempt to make a Sandwich.

      • Amber says:

        The sandwich is one of my favorite foods as well. It does seem like a limited POV first, except when you realize that there are versions of a sandwich all over the world. If you expand it to include anything in which a grain product is the vehicle for meat/cheese/vegetables, then it can include a ton of things: tacos, wraps, burgers, etc. There are probably 10 seasons worth of stuff he can come up with.

    • Pennagirl says:

      Jeff didn’t kill it this episode…for the cupcake challenge thingy he made a five (Italian) meat cupcake…ewwwwww and bombed when the Contessa was on. I really don’t like any of the contenders this season or last. I think this season will be Vic and Jeff.

  5. whislerpotpie says:

    I really connect with Mary Beth and would actually watch her show. (Strangely NFNS is the only Food Network show we watch.)

    I think a sandwich show is a spectacular idea – sandwiches you get out are always better than the ones you make at home. I would call it the Earl of Sandwiches, though. Not king.

  6. JGM says:

    My biggest problem with Jeff is the same problem I had with Adam Gertler (sp?) and another guy from last season whose name I can’t remember (he stuck his tongue out a lot and made jr. high school noises): they try too hard to be funny. For instance, Jeff’s joke about not being 21 yet reminded me of a grandfather trying to be hip with his tween granddaugher. I wish he’d just act naturally instead of trying to “turn on” the good humor man.

    • topsyturvy says:

      EXACTLY! That’s the problem I have with all the men who have gotten shows from this show. They all seem as fake and as unreal as Jyll.

  7. L says:

    I still like Vic or Jeff to win.

    Don’t want to ever see “she who should not be named again.”

    Jyll’s time was up, Mary Beth is next.

  8. MK204 says:

    I think Jeff is going to win this thing, but I still like Vic the best. I agree about those outfits, but then again there are wardrobe people on all shows. Hopefully they could fix him. I was disappointed with his meal and delivery, because I do believe he has what it takes.

    I think the thing about Vic is that when he messes up, he realizes it and comes back fighting.

    Jyll was the one who should have gone. As for Whitney…she bores me to tears. She’s a pretty gal, but she just doesn’t have “it”. AS for Susie…her perkiness is a bit too much for me to handle.

    So I’m rooting for Vic but if Jeff wins it will be alright with me.

    As for Penny returning….kind of like Bentley coming back on The Bachelor. Good riddance I say.

  9. Rich says:

    I’m sort of thinking they kept Jyll last week because they felt sorry for her, with the pucky way she was treated. If so, Penny would have made it to this week. Personality aside, she at least can cook well, and she might have done well enough in the Rachel challenge to last into next week.

  10. darclyte says:

    I hope that Mary Beth goes next week as I’m surprised that she’s lasted this long. A strawberry cupcake has been pretty much the ONLY good thing she’s made, although I think she did have one other dish a while back that was praised.

    Vic disappointed me. My thing about him is that he sometimes seem to be melodramatic and it affects his performances at times. Had he started out standing in the kitchen rather than over on the couch, he probably wouldn’t have forgotten to mention that his dish was a “what to do with lasagna leftovers” dish and not something new. He should still be taken to task for doing that instead of just MAKING LASAGNA! Time constraints be damned! I thought his cupcake would be tasty, even though it didn’t look visually appealing (the judges seemed to agree.)

    Whitney and Susie both have shots at this as long as Whitney can be perkier and Susie can plan things out better.

    Jeff seems to be the best personality, but his food has been hit or miss at best (although at least better than Mary Beth’s.) of the Final Five, he’s probably on the bottom in terms of food quality but on top in terms of tv appeal…which is EXACTLY what “foodies” criticize Food Network for doing…putting personalities over food on the network.

    My guess is that Jeff will win and get his sandwich show which from Day One has been the best concept of all of the contestants. Susie or Whitney may get a show on their “sister” network, The Cooking Channel. I can see Vic getting some kind of show where he travels around doing things like tasting foods or helping people with cooking issues because since he was on Food Network Challenge a few years ago, TPTB at FN seem to want to do something with him and his personality, they just don’t seem to know what it might be.

    • darclyte says:

      I meant to write that of the front runners Jeff has the weakest food, not of the Final Five as he’s been MUCH better than Mary Beth. I can also see them hiring Mary Beth as a blogger for their online site, or perhaps to write for the FN or Cooking Channel websites.

    • Avery says:

      I think that’s already been done…It’s called Guy Fieri’s DINERS, DRIVE-INS AND DIVES. Unfortunately, Vic is like the poor man’s Guy Fieri, right up to and including the tatoos!

    • Cheryl says:

      Your comments about Vic reminded me of a show a few years ago where Chef Curtis Stone found people shopping for that night’s dinner at a grocery store and he talked them into taking him home with them so he could cook with/for them. I think Vic would be wonderful in a show of that nature – not the exact concept of course. But I think using his tough exterior to get reactions from people would be funny, and clearly he is at his best when he is interacting with real people while he’s cooking and not just performing for a camera.

  11. Juan says:

    I love Jeff!
    Wouldn’t mind DVRing his show every week. ;p

    And I really loved the ball truck the other week ago. lol, classic!

    Also, I think Penny should have made it through to this week based on her food, because even if she is a raging b****, she apparently had amazing food.
    Maybe there’s a place for her on Bravo?

  12. Nitpicker says:

    I like Jeff best, but found it disturbing that he called Illinois “Illinoise’. No native of Elmwood Park would say that. It’s like calling Chicago’s pro football stadium “Soldier’s” Field or calling Des Moines “dess moynz”.

  13. SEATTLEJOHN says:

    I’m really liking Vic but am I the only person having a problem with a show titled MAMA’S BOY? For this gay guy it brings up childhood gay slurs and weirds me out!!! I’m not getting Vic means this as an insult but it seems in really poor taste and I’m surprised the judging panel hasn’t clued in on it…how about NEW YORK TO VEGAS or something that celebrates Vic’s he-manity like MAMA MIA’S TOUGH GUY KITCHEN TIPS…or ????

  14. Stephanie says:

    Why did the men get to be interviewed by Rachael on her couch for their 30 second introduction, while the women stood in the kitchen for theirs? I was kind of appalled about that. Oh, yes, women must belong in the kitchen. I forgot.
    I was on the Vic train until this episode. I always liked him, but now Jeff has kind of taken over for my choice for the win.

    • Amber says:

      I NOTICED THAT TOO! I wondered what was up with that. I actually thought it was more rude to the guys. I got the impression that they thought the audience couldn’t relate to the guys as well unless they started on the couch. I guess Vic proved that right, but Jeff did hit it out of the park and I think he would’ve either way.