I’m not gonna lie to you: I approached the Season 9 finale of Food Network Star with a glass of sauvignon blanc in hand, and a gurgling well of nameless dread in my stomach.
After all, with our esteemed judges’ panel — Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis — operating the last few weeks as if someone had replaced their brains with goose liver pate, we were stuck with a Final 3 that contained only one remotely reasonable option to score his or her own show on Food Network this fall.
Surely, the winner couldn’t be Russell Jackson, a dude who always seemed to be trying way too hard to convince us he was both sexy and chefly. And miraculously enough, halfway into an hour-long finale that was nothing more than a Season 9 highlight reel interspersed with awkward viewer Skype calls, Russell got the bad news that his “Seven Culinary Sins” concept had placed third with viewers.
And that made the final decision a coin toss between pretty awesome and totally unpalatable. On one hand, we had Damaris Phillips, a Kentucky-bred culinary instructor whose food has looked consistently excellent and who for the past 10 weeks has showcased a winning mix of humor, enthusiasm for Southern cuisine and the ability to convey real, actionable tips.
On the flip side, there was Rodney Henry, the answer to the question, “What do those adult characters on the Peanuts cartoons look like?” I mean, with his “mraww mraww mraww mraww mraww” articulation, poorly defined “PI STY!” (aka “Pie Style) point of view and 10-week run that included far more culinary misses than hits, he seemed as likely a subject for a Food Network series pickup as The Real Meat-Rendering Plants of Orange County.
My anxiety only got worse over the course of the hour, as Giada praised Rodney for “never failing to entertain,” almost no mention was made of anyone’s culinary chops, and Rodney dropped verbal bombs like, “I’m a rocker man and I’m a pie man, so that’s what I got.”
As the hour came to a close, and Giada asked once and for all that Rodney define “Pie Style,” I knew an unhappy ending was nigh. (For the record, the answer was something about a way of life that brings people together via good food, good music and art — though with no mention of PIE!)
And then, just like a choking restaurant patron receiving a last-minute Heimlich, the judges revealed the Season 9 champ. And the winner turned out to be…Damaris! There wasn’t really much time for a victory lap — other than Damaris offering profuse “thank yous” to the public, and Bobby admitting he’d stolen a tip from Damaris about how to use melted pimento cheese in grilling — but I’ll be curious to see if Susie Fogelson and Bob Tuschman go with her final pilot idea — the hapless-guys-cooking-Southern-food-for-chicks Eat, Date, Love — or if a more general theme will win out.
Until then, I turn things over to you. What did you think of the outcome of Season 9? Are you happy with Damaris’ win? Were you as scared as me that the show was setting up a victory for Rodney? What’s your take on the season overall? Sound off in the comments!