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!