Food Network Star Recap: Comic Confab

We’re down to the final four contestants on Season 7 of Food Network Star, but as sure as you can see your reflection in Giada De Laurentiis’ teeth, only three true contenders remain. Seriously, does anyone expect the selection committee to build a TV show around a person who inspired this withering critique from Bobby Flay: “I don’t think she has a lot of experience cooking food.” Which makes me wonder why the judges chose Mary Beth over Whitney without at least reimagining the former’s contestant’s pilot concept. I mean, if the judges can actually change Vic Vegas’ name, why not turn Mary Beth’s “Sunday Dinners” idea into an interactive half-hour where the food writer travels the country collecting viewers’ favorite family recipes as they whip ’em up in their kitchens?

Then again, for someone whose claim to fame is her ability to describe food in a way that makes audience want to lick their TV screens, Mary Beth actually got out-vocabularied by sandwich king Jeff during the Best Thing I Ever Ate challenge. I chuckled a little when Mary Beth told a Chelsea Market crepe maker that his confection was “as thin as ladies’ lingerie,” but I’m not really sure that’s the kind of association that’s going to get stomachs growling. I expected her to whip up an improved metaphor when she finally got in front of the camera, but all Mary Beth could come up with was “a millimeter of crunch, and another milimeter of beautiful, pillowy, velvety crepe.” Jeff, meanwhile, conveyed his message not only through his words, but in his ravenous intonations: He described his Rueben with such dreamy decadence, I could practically feel the rendered fat rendered fat seeping through the sandwich and onto my fingers.

Mary Beth’s credibility also suffered during the Star Challenge, where the final five were asked to serve roasted meats to a panel of stand-up comics who would, in turn, “roast” the chefs during their presentations. (Were those some of the most under-seasoned insults you’ve ever heard? Yes, I’m looking at you, Gilbert Gottfried.) When Camera Challenge winner Jeff assigned her with duck, Mary Beth resorted to getting detailed instructions from her butcher. How this is any different from hitting up Google and copying part of a recipe is a mystery to me, but in her defense, at least that blackberry glaze seemed to spring directly from Mary Beth’s own imagination. And while the professional food writer got labeled “pedantic” by the panel of comedians by rambling about duck musculature, at least she didn’t weep openly or discuss the date her bird was slaughtered.

Whitney, on the other hand, washed away her perky sorority girl veneer with real tears when she described how her parents supported her shift from engineering to cooking, but as comic Judy Gold pointed out, you don’t want to finish watching a show and end up feeling like you need to give the host a hug. But it was Parks and Recreation star Aubrey Plaza who scored the night’s best line, in response to Whitney sharing that the pig she’d cooked had been “slaughtered last Monday.” “I can taste the pig’s personality,” deadpanned Plaza. “He was really happy.”

When the judges finally swung the axe, Whitney seemed a little miffed. “I don’t think I should be going home, but someone’s gotta go home and tonight, unfortunately, it’s me,” she sighed. But she had to know that she and Mary Beth were the wilted lettuce and cold porridge options on a menu with three potentially five-star dishes. Her elimination was an inevitability.

Of the three actual contenders, Jeff seems to be pulling away from the pack with consistently good food and a stellar personality. Oh, and according to Susie Fogelson, dude is also displaying a “subtle sexiness.” (Must be that sweat-drenched headband of his.) Seriously, though, I actually guffawed when Jeff asked the butcher about “vegan options,” and got an added chuckle hearing him describe suet as “how nature wanted you to deep fry.” Susie (the contestant, not the judge) served far and away the most attractive and complex looking plate of food, and I was genuinely touched by her tale of growing up in a family that migrated from Mexico to pick “every vegetable in season.” As Bob Tuschman noted, you can teach a contestant additional camera and cooking skills, but they have to be born with a winning personality. (Wait, was that a final dig at Penny?) Side note: Did anyone notice the look of pure panic the spread across Mary Beth’s face when Susie returned to the kitchen with a big smile and the news that she’d nailed her presentation?

And then there’s Vic, an extremely likable (and likely marketable) presence whose culinary credential still feel ever so slightly suspect. His giant slabs of prime rib and gloppy potatoes lacked any finesse whatsoever, and had Bob comparing it to “Medieval Times.” In fact, Bob’s followup comment about the meal might just have easily been describing Vic himself: “When I saw that big hunk of meat, that prime rib, coming towards me yesterday, it’s so cartoonishly exaggerated — I’ve driven Korean cars that have weighed less than that hunk of prime rib — it’s dispiriting because you can’t take it seriously.” But it’s not Vic’s size, really, that’s the issue. I think it’s his lack of confidence in his point of view: When the panel of comics and judges shot down his “Vic Vegas” persona in favor of his “Mama’s Boy” alternative, the burly dude gave up his silly surname without any hesitation. And then we had Bobby Flay talking about a change back to the moniker on his birth-certificate: Vic Mo. “Doesn’t that feel much realer to you?” Wait a second. I thought judges changing contestants name was exclusively the territory of Tyra Banks on America’s Next Top Model. The question in my mind is this: If Vic gets booted and fails to score a Food Network deal, which name will he use professionally? In a competition that’s always pushing for authenticity, that’s a question I’d have liked the panel to ask.

What did you think of this week’s Food Network Star? Did the right person go home? More importantly, did it matter if it was Whitney or Mary Beth? Is there any way it won’t come down to a Jeff-Susie-Vic final three? And who do you want to win it all? 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. lucy95 says:

    I was sorry to see Whitney go – would have watched her show. Can’t say the same for any of those remaining and certainly not Mary Beth. I don’t think they’ve really found any real stars in the last few years – kind of disappointing. As far as reality shows, find Top Chef much more entertaining.

    • renee says:

      agree. mary beth over whitney. ur kidding right. always saw final four coming from whitney, orchid, susie, jeff, vic, and jyll. well 3 were right, and would watch jeff, vic, or susie’s show. mary beth’s show … no way.

  2. Bobbi says:

    I was also disappointed to see Whitney leave. Definitely would have watched her. I’ll be rooting for Susie now. Not in the least bit interested in Jeff or MaryBeth. If Vic won, which I don’t think he will, I’d give his show a shot, but not sure I’d watch on a regular basis.

    This show has let me down the past few seasons with their ultimate choices. Hope the do better this year.

  3. AA says:

    After week 4, my mom said she stopped watching because she knew Susie was going to win, solely on the fact that the Food Network doesn’t have a female Mexican chef. I agree they need one, but Susie is annoying. I think Jeff is the best of the contestants, but I’m not really impressed with him either. This season seems a little blah.

    • dan says:

      Several weeks ago I predicted the final three would be Susie, Vic and Jeff with Jeff most likely winning and Susie being a close second. I haven’t changed my mind. However, I think the selection committee may have Susie win and give her a cooking show while having second-place runner-up Jeff do a show like Guy and Adam (and now Duff) where he travels around sampling/making sandwiches. I just don’t see a whole season of shows year after year based on sandwiches being made in a kitchen ala “Aarti Party” or Melissa’s $10 meal show. Jeff is a good personality and he interacts well with others so I see him doing an “on the road” type show. By the way, is Aaron McCargo (winner from several years ago) still on FN?

      • Cathy says:

        Aaron McCargo, aka Big Daddy, is still on, and makes some amazing meals. I’ve tried a few, and gotten compliments on his recipes, especially at Thanksgiving.

        • dan says:

          Thanks Cathy. Guess I’ve just missed his shows recently (and they don’t seem to publicize him much either).

          • Tomitweets says:

            Aaron has a new cookbook out…and the recipes look GREAT. But not meant for anyone watching their weight (so it must mean they are fabulous!) I went to Aaron’s book signing in NJ a few months ago.

      • Saracen Riggins says:

        As others have mentioned, Mexican Made Easy is on with a female Mexican chef. However, I would watch Susie over her in a heartbeat. Not a fan of hers (Marcella) at all. Susie is much more real.

    • Sue says:

      I guess your mother has never watched “Mexican Made Easy” on the Food Network. It’s a great show and the host, Marcella Valladolid, is wonderful. She makes everything look so easy.

    • Cathy says:

      Marcela Valladolid is the host of Mexican Made Easy, which has been on the Food Network since 2010.

    • Bowmissy says:

      Ummm, yes they do. And a wonderful one at that. Mexican Made Easy with Marcela Valladolid.

      • Gretchen says:

        And before that was “Simply Deliciouso,” which is still in reruns. Another Mexican food show would be a snoozefest. But then, I don’t see what the committee sees in Susie, she seems way too low-key, even boring, to me. Sure, she has great, emotional stories, but I can’t see how she made it to the final four.

  4. anibundel says:

    They kept Marybeth because next week’s is Alton Brown’s Final Food Iron Chef Challenge, where the point of the exercise is to be able to nerd out word-wise over food under pressure. If Marybeth fails there, it will only make sense to send her home.
    They also kept Marybeth over Whitney because this was the first episode where they realised Whitney’s only been cooking for a couple of years–no longer than Marybeth has. Suddenly the two became equalized in their eyes in terms of their culinary experience, and Marybeth at least has personality.
    For the record, I know we were supposed to be turned off by Marybeth’s talking to the butcher, but I actually saw potential in that. She’s going to her butcher and asking all the questions someone like you or me should ask when confronted with a dish they’ve never made before. She has an every-nerd-turned-chef side to her that I think “Food Network Aficionados” will identify with.

    • darclyte says:

      I have to agree that the ONLY reason they kept Mary Beth is because the Iron Chef Challenge is next and part of that challenge is to describe what things are and what’s going on.

      MB has presented all of 3 dishes that the judges either liked or didn’t hate, while Whitney nearly always found favor with her food. Personality wise, neither are watchable. Whitney is too stiff, while MB looks like the Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta and has weird body language.

      I’ve been saying for some time that it’ll be Jeff > Susie > Vic, and I can see all 3 of them getting a deal for a series on either Food Network or it’s sister network, The Cooking Channel. I’ve also said that I can see them hiring Mary Beth to write for the websites of either network or an even better fit would be on their website.

  5. Beth T says:

    I do think Jeff and Susie are locks for the finale, and I think Vic probably is – but he has had such an uneven journey I wouldn’t be surprised if Mary Beth pulled out an upset to get to top 3 – especialy if anyone involved with the show happens to reimagine her concept the way you did, Michael! Would Whiney have had a shot at a similar upset move into top 3? Possibly. Ultimately, though, I’m not so sure it matters because I do think it will come down to Jeff and Susie, and I do think Vic will get some kind of show eventually…

    • Beth T says:

      One more thought – from the previews it seems MaryBeth will be working again with Penny in some way – while that was recipe for disaster before, now that they are not in competition with each other Penny’s excellent cooking skills may make a spoiler opportunity for MaryBeth to move on…

      Oh and I did want to add one plug for Whitney – her take on a “BLT” actually intrigued me the most of all the dishes. :)

  6. Stormy says:

    Gnashing my teeth over Mary Beth surviving the cut. If she popped up on my Tv screen I’d switch channels, if she was made my supervisor at work, I’d transfer to a different dept., if she married into my family I’d move out of town.

  7. Brandi1leigh says:

    If past seasons have taught us anything, it’s that it doesn’t really matter who gets sent home and who “wins”. Everyone will eventually end up with a show either on Food Network or the Cooking Channel. The winner will get one quicker. I bet Mary Beth doesn’t win, but ends up with a show where she doesn’t have to cook.

  8. Amy says:

    I never thought that I’d want to watch a show about sandwiches, but Jeff has something that would make me reconsider. The difference between Mary Beth & Whitney is that Mary Beth is way better on camera. The judges made Penny’s food sound like the best out of the group, but she was horrible on camera and she was cut. If Susie or Vic bomb next week, I could see Mary Beth sneaking into the final 3.

  9. CA says:

    Jeff is the one to beat right now. I asked last week if a show about sandwiches could survive on Food Network and all of the great responses suggest that it can. I really like Vic and would love to see him go to the end but I just don’t know if he can. But I will say this — right now he might not be fully comfortable in front of the camera but if he were to do a show, there would be time to sit with the producers as well as edits to make it all seem seamless. (And that goes for any of the contestants). I will admit, however, that Mary Beth does not inspire confidence in her cooking and I am often left wondering what exactly I would be watching if she ending up as the winner. Whitney never resonated with me. I still can’t remember what her POV was!!

    • Heather says:

      Aaron McCargo Jr was never fully confident in front of the camera and that eased off for the most part in Big Daddy’s House, but way bigger example? David Bromstad consistently bombed in the camera challenges on season 1 of Design Star and is now one of the most popular designers on the network. He’s now even coming back as a mentor for the contestants for their camera challenges in this season. Just goes to show, Tuschman is right, they can certainly teach camera skills if the contestant has the personality. That being said, I’d prefer Jeff over Vic, but think Vic has potential. Susie, IMO, is not someone I’d want to watch, just based on the lack of pride in her cuisine. I don’t need someone to tell me that her kind of food can be amazing because I supposedly have this stereotype of Mexican as bad. Aarti never apologized for cooking Indian, Penny (as much as she annoyed the heck out of me) wasn’t trying to convince me to give her food a chance, but instead to showcase the amazing parts of the food they love so much.
      Either way, I’d still prefer a show featuring a Voltaggio Brother, but will take Jeff because there’s no way a Top Chef caliber chef is taking a show on FN.

  10. Jackie says:

    I love this show. I don’t know anything about cooking but I enjoy it because of the personalities. So for me Whitney and Mary Beth were two of my favorites. Jeff and Susie bore me but Vic is enjoyable if he weren’t so agreeable with the judges. Getting a chance to see Penny and Mary Beth together again will draw me back for next week’s show. That’s entertainment!

  11. StarFan says:

    Out of the Final 4, Mary Beth is the only one I would watch week in/week out. Jeff is funny but I only care to learn about so many sandwiches. Susie and Vic both have flashes of greatness and then suddenly seem incredibly underwhelming in terms of teaching me to cook. Mary Beth should get a show about food instead of teaching to cook and that’s fine by me. She can teach me something, while being humorous, self-effacing. Basically, all the same characteristics Jeff has only not as sweaty and without the head-band.

  12. lawyerchick99 says:

    I am obsessed with this season of FNS. I agree that it’s looking like Jeff is going to win, but I think the FN producers will have to find some new sandwich angle for him since I’m not sure if I’d watch a “how to make a sandwich” show every week.

    Vic needs to be on Cooking channel immediately win or lose with a show after the Bitchin Kitchen lady. I would watch that hour of TV no question. I’m sure the FN producers can work with him. With a little professional guidance he will be awesome.

    I agree with Selzak that it made no difference to me whether Mary Beth or Whitney left. Do I think Mary Beth is the next Alton Brown? Um, NO.

    I am looking forward to next week with Mary Beth and Evil Penny in Kitchen Stadium. I’m sure Penny will forget that she got chopped a few weeks ago and create some kind of drama.

    Don’t know what to say about Susie. I like her but I do see her getting pushed out over Vic and Jeff.

    • CA says:

      I too questioned if a show only about sandwiches was viable. When I posed the question last week — the responses were really positve and provided examples that each episode didn’t have to be all about sandwiches but could include salads and side dishes and bread, etc.

  13. Evan says:

    Of course they had Gilbert Godfried tell soft insults. No one’s going to let him say anything harsh when anyone’s immediate reply back is “So Gilbert, when’s your next visit to Japan?”

  14. Nicole says:

    I guess I missed something. CONSISTENTLY GREAT FOOD is how they desribe Whitney on their home page. I found her charming, articulate, knowledgable and the camera loves her!My Sunday night viewing just found an opening.

  15. mccliza says:

    I just picked up on this season with the last two episodes. So glad to see Slezak is still recapping it. I think it’s a quality show in a sea of reality crud, because what these contestants have to do is so doggone difficult. Haven’t really watched enough to make a judgment on these contenders, but the first one I hear say “bad boys” is dead to me! I expect it’ll be Vic or Jeff. Vic could get old on my screen really fast, and Jeff kind of loses me because I can’t eat bread, though he does have star quality and his food looks good. I cringed when Susie dissed Mexican food; I was really happy when other Susie called her out on that. Finally, Jeff has a strange, too-much-Botox-for-his-age look that creeps me out a little bit.

  16. Mark says:

    So Vic is a professional chef, but he can’t really cook. Why am I watching his show exactly?

    I mean someone said it here a month or so back, he could do a Guy Fieri-type show. But a cooking show? This is the guy who in back-to-back weeks thought it was a good idea to serve deep-fried, tortilla-wrapped lasagna and then Renaissance Faire prime rib. I don’t care what his culinary viewpoint is. He simply knows next to nothing about cooking.

    I don’t personally like Jeff, but the guy is a pro on camera and shows some culinary skill most of the time. I’m not watching a show about sandwiches week after week and I really doubt most people are. I get his potential; but I kind of want to be nowhere near that guy for some reason.

    I’ve always assumed Bob was gay and yet he seems smitten with Susie. That is some kind of star quality on her part. I think it would take 4-5 hours to tape her first several episodes, but she does have a charm that over time could be a big win. I always find it funny when Giada is judging these people. She’s as genuine as a $20 Louis Vuitton being sold in Manhattan and has the warmth of dinner after it’s been on the table for an hour. (It’s also possible Bob is straight and I’ve totally mis-read that, but no matter.)