Food Network Star Recap: Ironed Out

Just as all Food Network recipes are not created equal (see: Paula Deen’s take on “English Peas”), neither can every episode of Food Network Star be a triumph of reality TV broadcasting. And despite Mary Beth’s contention that the judges faced a daunting task in narrowing the field from four down to three — “I don’t envy the selection committee. We all bring so much to the table,”she argued — the season’s penultimate episode played out with the predictability of the tears that flow when you get jalapeño juice in your eye.

Chipper chefbot Giada De Laurentiis summed up the central problem with a Mary Beth-fronted food show when she pointed out that the Washington, D.C.-based food blogger had great ideas but her execution scores hovered around 75%. What would happen when viewers tried to whip up Mary Beth’s recipes at home? At the end of the day, nobody wants to make Lamb Botched Three Ways.

That Mary Beth’s weaknesses were exposed during the annual Final Four excursion to Iron Chef America was not a huge  surprise — three dishes in one hour with a secret ingredient can be daunting even for four-star chefs — but I was kind of bummed to see her flub parts of her commentary under the pinched and sinister prodding of Alton Brown. I was also disappointed that only Susie really seemed to (meekly) embrace the outré spirit of the culinary battleground. (Remember Tom Pizzica’s daring-yet-disastrous bacon steak last season?)

Jeff, coming off a win in last week’s Star Challenge, got to choose his Iron Chef opponent, and inexplicably chose Susie, the strongest cook in the competition. With Jeff-Vs.-Susie and Mary Beth-Vs.-Vic battle lines drawn, here’s how it all played out:

Battle Rack of Lamb
Mary Beth essentially defaulted the minute she decided on “Sunday dinner three ways” without attempting a single surprising or unexpected flavor combination, but it was clear her meal might just as well have been called “sacrificial lamb” after the judges used terms like “gray-ish,” “overcooked,” and “lacking” to describe her finished product. Honestly, Vic wasn’t much better — using mint jelly as the base of his orange-mint glaze? burning his fries into submission? — but at least he had the courage to produce something as unexpected as a lamb burger. (Okay…so I’m being sarcastic, but compared to Mary Beth, dude’s menu was crazier than a Real Housewives reunion special.)

Oh, and speaking of crazy, we also got the brief return of Penny as Mary Beth’s sous chef. “Like so many horror-movie villains you think are gone,” noted Mary Beth, getting the last laugh against a woman so programmed to bring unnecessary drama that she prepped her meal at the “speed of dirt,” huffed Iron Chef Michael Symon. Final note: Jeff’s color commentary was all kinds of awesome (just say yes to Umami Explosion!), but I wondered how in the heck he chose Susie as his head-to-head rival. My hubby pointed out, though,that by pairing up weak links Vic and Mary Beth, he gave the judges an automatic evictee on a platter — even if both he and Susie unexpectedly faltered.

Battle Lobster
Yes, Jeff kind of blew it with his pedestrian “lobster-plus-mayo” trio, but at least two out of his three dishes were tasty. Plus, he had the night’s best line: “I think I kind of look like a sandwich.” Give this man a show! As for Susie, well, kudos for bringing the highest degree of difficulty — lobster ceviche, lobster stew with potato cake, swiss chard-wrapped lobster enchilada — to the challenge, and impressing her critics in the process. (Well, everyone except Alton, who looked a little horrified by the perky contestant’s limited culinary vocabulary under fire.) Even though I’ve been Team Jeff for half the season, Susie would make a fine alternative should our Sandwich King lose his crown in the season finale.

What did you think of this week’s Food Network Star? What about Mary Beth’s drab dominatrix daywear outfit at panel? Who’s your pick to win it all? 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 want to see Jeff win because I’m more likely to make a sandwich than one of the dishes that Susie makes. I do think she’s adorable though and wouldn’t be angry if she left. I had the same problem last year – I haven’t watched Aarti at all – her food is just not something I would make.

    Glad to see Mary Beth go…

  2. L says:

    I meant I wouldn’t be angry if Susie won…brain freeze

  3. MK204 says:

    I’ve been on Team Vegas the whole time. What can I say…he’s an almost paisan to this nice Brooklyn Jewish girl. And he’s got personality. He also can cook. Yeah he falters every so often…I seriously don’t think he normally makes french fries that burned. But if he does…he just learned a valuable lesson. I like Jeff but I keep remembering the sweat that dripped into the food at the beginning so that’s kind of a turn off. Susie is way, way, way, way, to perky for me. I’d never watch a show.

    I think Jeff didn’t understand the challenge. Otherwise he definitely would have picked Mary Beth. But whatever. There’s a rhyme and reason for everything.

    And bringing back Penny and Chris. Give me a break. Seriously Vic got lucky. They should have kicked Penny out at the getgo. Surely they realized what a (rhymes with) witch she is/was/would be.

    Anyway…bottom line for me. I don’t normally watch food shows, but I might if Vegas wins.

    • Gretchen says:

      Jeff must have thought they were competing together, that’s the only thing making sense to me about his decision.

    • Amy says:

      Jeff said during the show that he immediately saw Susie, so picked her. However, I don’t know that it matters who he was up against….no matter what the pairings, Mary Beth was bound to go home.

      • Jimmy says:

        Agreed. The only reason Mary Beth made it this far was due to bad choices by her competitors and a likable perosnality.

        • Brad says:

          I actually have a feeling that they are going to give her some sort of a show, or at least a special, in the future. If not on Food Network proper, perhaps on the newer Cooking channel. Just a thought…they seem to think she’s great at talking about food and getting people excited, even if she doesn’t have the cooking chops or creativity herself.

          It’s possible that they saw something in her early on, decided to keep her around as long as possible just so it wouldn’t look as weird that someone who was eliminated early on was then given a show or hosting gig by the network. Just a thought I’ve had for several weeks now.

          Speaking of which, I think win or lose, Jeff has a show. I still think he will win, but much like Adam Gertler, he will have a show regardless. He’s perfect for the lineup.

  4. Beth T says:

    My mom always served mint jelly with lamb – I rather like it and thought it was sort of standard. :( That said – I can’t really imagine it paired with Grand Marnier – or any kind of orange stuff…

    I can’t conceive of what miracle Vic could pull off to take this win away from Jeff or Susie. Personally, I think I’d enjoy Jeff’s show more (even though I’m not much of a sandwhich person :D ) – but I think Susie would also have a good show.

    • Dbaj says:

      What other use is there for mint jelly? It was a “must-have” with any lamb when I was growing up too! even now, i can’ t serve lamb w/o it! So why DID they stock it in the iron chef kitchen if it’s such a flagrant cooking faux pas??

  5. Gretchen says:

    I’m just not a Susie fan. As many have pointed out, FN has and had many Mexican-themed shows, so there is nothing new or interesting in that concept. Yes, she has a nice smile and seems sweet, but her actual knowledge of food seems lacking, evidenced by her commentary (fibery-er? She sounded infantile speaking like that and giggling).

    Jeff and Vic I’d TiVo should they win. But Susie seems to be the panel’s darling despite not bringing anything innovative to the network. If I want to watch Mexican cooking, I’ll watch Rick Bayless on PBS as he is the master.

    I bet the committee was breathing a sign of relief at cutting Penny! Couldn’t believe how she tried to ruin Mary Beth’s chances with her slowness. May she never be on a TV screen again, after next week’s show. I had a moment or two of worry as the committee debated over Jeff and Mary Beth.

    Also, I didn’t like the use of live lobsters on the show. I am a vegetarian and prefer not to see animals dying on a TV show, thank you. Looking at lamb isn’t much better, but at least it was already dead.

  6. Saracen Riggins says:

    JEFF FOR THE WIN!! I just LOVE that guy! And I’m pretty positive Susie (on the selection committee, not the contestant) has a crush on him. Last week she declared him sexy and she said something similar last night as well. But who could blame her? His personality is very, very appealing. And he resembles Jimmy Fallon! Can’t go wrong.

  7. Amy says:

    Mary Beth was probably the weakest link foodwise, but I think that she is better at commentary and explanations than Vic. Vic just doesn’t seem like he is getting any better in front of a camera. I like Jeff & would watch a show about sandwiches, not sure about Susie’s food…I think its probably awesome, but too fancy. Susie is adorable though. Maybe—FN will give a few of them a show, like they have in past w/finalists.

  8. Muse of Ire says:

    Plus, he had the night’s best line: “I think I kind of look like a sandwich.”

    Sorry, I must disagree: Vic had the night’s best line — “It’s toothpaste for the devil.”

    In “defense” of Penny, while I’m sure she’d have no qualms at all about sabotaging Mary Beth, I’m reasonably certain she *is* just that slow — remember the team challenge where she couldn’t prep her filet mignon sandwich in time?

    I think Jeff is the most well-rounded of the contestants — he can cook, he can talk, he can think on his feet. I probably wouldn’t watch a show about sandwiches, but I’m sure after a season they’ll move him on to something else that makes better use of his talents.

  9. Olivia Writer says:

    @Gretchen: Name the FN Mexican-Themed shows at present,pls? It could be you have no or little knowledge of authentic Mexican food because Susie definitely brings authenticity as well as creativity to her food. I would not only watch her show, I would also buy her cookbooks should she publish.

    Better “perky” than ugly mean-spirited Penny types. IMHO.

    • Gretchen says:

      Mexican Made Easy is one.

      Susie just seems as deep as a puddle to me. If she weren’t cute, she’d be long gone. And she’s no Rick Bayless. She had to be told to have pride in her cuisine which is sad.

    • Sue says:

      Right. Mexican Made Easy. Awesome show.

  10. jw says:

    Slezak, are your writing EVERY column here?

  11. Bubbles says:

    Mama’s boy all the way! Vic is just to adorable. He may not win, but he has a fan in me.

  12. Cathy says:

    Gretchen and Olivia – I don’t know about many, but there is one, so unless they are going to cancel Mexican made easy, I don’t know if they can handle two shows on Mexican food. Just my opinon.

    • Stephanie says:

      Well–as for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone, I rarely watch any Food Network show on a regular basis. NFNS and ICA are about it. Food Network is the channel to turn on to have in the background while you’re knitting, or when there is nothing else on. I think they could very well handle two Mexican food shows–Mexican food is very popular and it’s a pretty big country. Now, two shows about Austrian cooking, say, or two shows about food from Togo, Africa may be hard to pull off. But I think it would be ok to have two different Mexican viewpoints. There are lots of shows that do “American” food (whatever that is).

      Still, Jeff is my choice for the winner.

  13. Juan says:

    i think I’d still rather see a show starring Jeff than any of the other finalists.
    I agree I’d more likely make a sandwich than an enchilada.
    And Mexican is too much of a go-to for diversity that it really doesn’t mean anything anymore.

    • dbaj says:

      I think it was smart that Jeff made a lobster taco, showing that the sandwich idea doesn’t necessarily always mean 2 slices of bread.

  14. Stormy says:

    Mary beth is GONE! I couldn’t be happier if I was twins.

  15. Evan Meadow says:

    Rooting for Vic Mo to win.

    And I wish the judges had gone after Penny for her obvious sabotage and at least gotten Mary Beth a different sous chef during the competition. They shouldn’t have allowed her to show that kind of spite even if it makes good television.

  16. Sandi B says:

    Looking to Jeff for the win…but if he is not selected as the winner next week, I’m sure they’ll give him a show anyone (like they did with Tom Pizzico (sp?) and Adam Gertler). I’m actually more looking forward to the Reunion next week…then we’ll see if Penny really is as horrible as she was portrayed and if Chris is as annoying and immature as he was edited during the season!

  17. Sandi B says:

    oops…meant to type “I’m sure they’ll give him a show “anyway”…

  18. Ryan says:

    Who wins is kind of irrelevant. Look at last season. Aarti won and was given a daytime slot that no one watches, while Tom was runner-up and snagged a prime time slot. I’ve never watched Aarti Party, and have seen multiple episodes of Outrageous Food. Regardless, this season’s field is much, much stronger (disappointed Whitney got bumped). I’d watch either Jeff or Susie before half of the clowns on FN. They’ll both be rewarded, I’m sure. Maybe even Vic, too.

  19. Talam says:

    I didn’t like Mary Beth’s”colorful”commentary especially since she thinks that she is so good at describing food in exciting and appealing ways. Her comment on the bisque was so over the top that it seem to annoy even Alton, who responded with hahaha yeah that wasn’t really funny. Suzy has always had grammatical and pronunciation problems, she always fumble with her words. Jeff is cheesy with his humor, how does he look like a sandwich? Bobby wasn’t even smiling. Vic doesn’t seem to be an authority and has insincerity to him when he reacts to the judges. All these people are really annoying, next time Food Network chooses the next Food Network Star, it should be off camera so we don’t sick of him or her before they even get their own show.

    • Stephanie says:

      So sorry you didn’t make it on the show when they chose the contestants. Better luck next time!

      • Talam says:

        Sorry Mary Beth that you didn’t like what I said about you, but you have to get it through your thick skull that not only does your food look gross and gray, but your personality is exceedingly irritating. We are all glad you are no longer part of the show and were wondering why you lasted so long with the obvious lack of cooking chopsl Even if you had the best sous chef in that Iron Chef challenge, your food would still have sucked. Apologies if you are not Mary Beth, I just don’t expect the fans to be as annoying as the contestants, but you might be the exception.

        • Cheryl says:

          If you don’t like the show or the contestants, why are you still watching? And Stephanie’s comment … very funny! Your comment … very petulant.

          • Talam says:

            Oh yeah her comment was really funny hahaha NOT! It is the oldest comeback in the world. Not sure why I’m being targeted by a pair of some seriously obsessed fanatics of the show since Im not the only person poking fun at the contestants. Weird, get a life you nutty lady.

  20. Michael says:

    Jeff’s choice of Susie makes sense to me:

    In terms of food, they’re about equal (but Jeff won several challenges leading up to the IC segment). However, I’m sure he felt he could do better than Susie in commentary.

    Mary Beth–Jeff could out-do her in food, maybe not in commentary.

    Vic–You never know with him. He could do something great, or a LaChanga! Plus, he’s got the ‘Mama’s Boy’ thing going in terms of relating to the audience.

    Doesn’t matter. This season is SO obviously rigged. Do we REALLY think that Mary Beth got Penny as a sous chef by luck of the draw?

    Jeff wins. Vic gets a show of some kind. And Mary Beth will be showing up on FN in some capacity.

  21. Sheila says:

    Everyone completely misses the point of this competition. Food Network no longer looks for excellence in their shows and personalities. All you have to do is listen to what Susie F. says at the beginning of each season. It’s all about revenue streams now. They lost a slew of their master-caliber chefs when they wouldn’t sign profit-sharing agreements with the network. The network thought they deserved some percentage of any branded food, clothing, and kitchen wares put out under the chefs’ names just because they appeared on the network. Forgetting that most of them had helped build the network into the powerhouse that it was. With only a few takers, it was time to rethink.

    Exit shows about cooking excellence and enter mediocre garbage of mostly home cooks or restaurant owners with a “cook” mentality. The whole culture of Food Network has changed over the last few years. These finalists are cheap percentages. If their shows become popular enough that the network can justify developing product lines, the percentage to the finalist-now-network-personality is much smaller than to an established chef they had to recruit and develop a show for. More money to Food Network, more dreck on our TVs. How else do you explain the incompetent and boring Kelsey Nixon getting her own show on the Cooking Channel?

  22. FoodNetworkLover says:

    I liked Mary Beth from the beginning. Her cooking has been suspect throughout the season but so have each of the remaining finalists. None of them have always been at the top. Like, Jeff, who is my favorite of the top 3, Mary Beth is funny, witty, and charming in front of the camera and can think on her feet. Vic has struggled on camera and food wise throughout the competition and has not shown signs of improvement. Susie is cute, bubbly, and fun but she is not nearly as good as Marcela Valladolid. I am not sure Food Network can support another show similar to Mexican Made Easy. Although, for several seasons of NFNS, it seems they have been looking for a great Mexican cook. The problem is they are limiting themselves to Mexican cuisine when there are many other Latin/Hispanic cultures with amazing foods. I hope Jeff wins but I am not sure that I will actually watch a show about sandwiches often. It would be great to catch once in a while if I’m not doing something else but not a “have to watch”. I do hope Mary Beth gets a food critique or expose style show. I would tune in or DVR each episode.

  23. Elise says:

    I’d like for Jeff to win, but it wouldn’t kill me if Susie won. I can see all three of these chefs getting there own shows regardless of the final outcome like season 3? (big daddy Aaron, Kelsey, and Adam are all on either Food Net or Cooking channel. If I were Food Network I’d give the title to Jeff — I seriously think he’s the next Guy for them and could have broad marketing and merch opportunities. Sandwich King could end up branded and sold all over and they are nuts not to want a piece of that!

  24. xwiseguyx says:

    I’m on Team Jeff… actually met him at the Premiere party and he was a nice guy .. little did I know he’d make it to the finale! Anyhow, my biggest disappointment is that we can no longer vote for the winner.. I believe that’s how Guy won it and he was the most successful of the bunch…Is Aarti’s Party still even on? I had no desire to watch that and I would bet that America would have voted differently…

  25. xwiseguyx says:

    PS – You should put up a poll to see who TV Line readers want to see as the NFTNS… it would be interesting to see if their picks match the judges…

  26. Elliemae says:

    I hope Jeff wins and does his 6 episodes (or whatever it is) on sandwiches and then evolve the concept. I can’t see a whole series on sandwiches.

  27. verver says:

    I’m not interested in a sandwich show, and although I like Vic, I agree that he still stumbles on camera (although I did like his toothpaste line), so I’m rooting for Susie.

    When Susie got Chris for a Sous Chef, I was worried, but he did great!

  28. Ole says:

    I agree that Susie isn’t always very articulate, but she’s cute and definitely can cook. Jeff is interesting to watch, but I agree with the reviewer who remembered the sweat dripping into his food in an earlier episode. As for Vic, his one language fluff that drives me crazy is when he is addressing a group of judges or panelists, and he says, “I hope ya’s [I don’t even know how to spell this the way he pronounces it] enjoy it!” Someone needs to tell him that the plural of YOU is YOU, not yous or yas. Also, I can’t stand looking at his striped arms, so I guess for me it’s between Susie and Jeff–either one would be okay.

  29. Ten says:

    I like Jeff to take the title. He stuck with his POV consistently. I loved Aarti and those who haven’t had a chance to watch her show, it’s pretty good. Don’t be afraid of Indian spices! Susie is cute to watch as well.

  30. bethie says:

    Michael — You killed me with the link to Paula’s English Peas recipe, especially when I scrolled down to read the reviews. Snarkiness to the nth degree — I love it!

  31. Templar says:

    What I’ve learned from this season of NFNS is that I really can’t stand Bobby Flay. He strikes me as the sort of person who would be very difficult to live with or work closely with [read Miranda Priestley].

  32. Jennifer says:

    I have watched four seasons of NFNS, this one being the fourth. Of the four I’ve seen, I thought the seasons where they picked Aarti (even though I love her, I’ve never watched her show) and Aaron (again, love him, but not his show) were the weakest of the four. The season where Melissa D’Arabian won and now this season are the two stronger choices. I hope Jeff wins. I would watch his show. Melissa’s cooking style and recipes and Jeff’s sandwich concepts are actually things that I would cook. I have two small children and prefer to go for foods that don’t require so many outre ingredients (like Aarti’s Indian-based cuisine or Susie’s Mexican-based cuisine). My husband would much rather eat a really good sandwich than have something terribly elaborate. I foresee Jeff’s show producing more practical and easy-to-make recipes than possibly Susie’s.

    However, I can totally see either Mary Beth or Vic getting their own shows anyway. Mary Beth would fit well on The Cooking Channel while Vic would fit well on a show with a concept akin to that of Guy Fieri’s show. I really like Adam Gertler’s shows and wish they would bring back that one where he tried different food-related jobs.