Food Network Star: Best Season Ever? Plus — Who's Your Early Pick to Win?

Last summer’s edition of Food Network Star was something of a collapsed soufflé — after a lot of time and effort, the end result (a win by the relentlessly inauthentic “Cowboy Lenny” in an otherwise dubious field of cooks) had me wondering if it was time to retire the recipe altogether.

Season 11, however, has felt like a trip to a Michelin-rated restaurant following a month locked inside a White Castle.

After last night’s July 4th cookout challenge, we’re left with eight finalists who’ve all mastered some degree of food authority, on-camera appeal and an interesting point of view. When your menu options include a sometimes drag queen making party food, a former NFL star with a flair for Caribbean flavors and a painfully shy/adorable food-truck operator from Staten Island, it’s hard to imagine any Season 11 outcome that would be wholly unappetizing.

Best of all, though, with Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis as the sole permanent judges — true confession: I don’t miss the condescension of Alton Brown — weekly eliminations have been so consistently logical that we’ve been freed of the typical outrage/irritation that’s a hallmark of reality-competition genre. Hashtag-spouting creep Matthew starts giggling over a fellow competitor’s downfall? Giada changes her vote and sends him packing. Charming Italian-food lover Rosa fails to master a simple portobello sandwich? Away she goes! Bobby and Giada are demanding good food — but also remembering that likability/charisma are essential ingredients, too.

With that said, here’s my current ranking of the eight remaining contenders — along with a pithy assessment of their pros and cons:

8. Michelle Karam – Home cook/blogger with Mediterranean leanings shows a lot of warmth, but hasn’t totally convinced me she’s a food authority.

7. Alex McCoy – Handsome chef’s well-worn passport gives him true knowledge of international cuisine — but doesn’t Food Network already have a sandwich king?

6. Rue Rusike – Her bubbly persona and focus on Southern African fare make her unique — but failure to heed judges’ advice to personalize her stories is a huge problem.

5. Jay Ducote – Last year’s champ was a burly BBQ expert, too, but Jay’s homespun Louisiana style is actually charming. That said, I’m still having nightmares about his watery, olive-green gumbo.

4. Emilia Cirker – “Spice Class” sounds like a dang good idea for a show — and the judges have generally liked her food. Her occasionally icy demeanor, however, could use about 20 minutes in a 300-degree oven.

3. Arnold Myint – He has yet to go in front of the camera in full drag, but his gorgeous-looking party food provides oodles of flair. Tendency to flatline in front of the camera is a concern.

2. Dom Tesoriero – Judges keep noting Dom’s tendency to flee the scene of his presentations — so maybe TV isn’t his calling? That said, he has yet to make a less-than-delicious meal — and his flashes of charm and humor make me think he’s the Season 11 dark horse.

1. Eddie Jackson – Early favorite stumbled with a one-note pork loin this week, but the former football pro’s natural charisma and kitchen skills — as well as his decision to abandon his confusing “Cheat Day” concept — keep him at the top of the pecking order… for now, anyway.

What do you think of Food Network Star‘s eleventh season? Is it possibly the show’s best season ever? And who are your current faves? Take our poll, then sound off in the comments!

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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42 Comments
  1. Toni says:

    I love Dom and Arnold. I would watch either of them all day. And a cooking show in drag, yes please!

  2. Amy says:

    It’s way better this year as they are actually cooking vs the gimmicky camera contests that they did last year. I can’t decide who has the food that I like best….maybe Dom.

  3. Amanda says:

    Wasn’t it Bobby that changed his mind to eliminate Matthew? I really want Arnold to bring out his drag personality. This has been the first season that I haven’t really had a strong favorite. I’m a little partial to Jay, Dom, and Rue for now.

    • Yoki says:

      Nope, Giada whisperer can I cahnge my mind.

    • MsDaisy says:

      Bobby voted for #loser immediately. Alex voted for Sita and Giada’s initial vote was not shown. It was obvious that she had also voted for Sita until #jerk started smirking and then Giada changed her vote. My favorite moment of the entire series!

  4. TVFan says:

    I must admit. My favorite part of the season so far was watching Giada change her vote mid-sentence to send the smug twit Matthew home. He had nothing to offer for personality. Also, since he was in the bottom each week, that tells me that his food was less than stellar.

    • Kim R says:

      I have to admit that was mighty satisfying. :) He was so smug I don’t think I could have taken much more of him.

  5. Yoki says:

    I am SO glad Mr. Hashtag is gone.

  6. Aha says:

    I want Dom out. He can’t handle being on camera or presenting his own food.

  7. Streets ahead says:

    I’m rooting for Dom! He’s improving in his presentations, and I find his shyness really authentic and endearing.

  8. Ginger Snap says:

    I remember Eddie Jackson from MasterChef. He was a favorite then and he is now. Hope he’s mastered sushi since then.

    Go Eddie. I am rooting for him#

  9. jtmacc99 says:

    I am not saying that he is MY favorite, but I think Jay has been THE favorite to win this sucker from day one. By episode 2, Bobby was already giving him extra credit projects since they didn’t have to give him advice on how to speak to the camera. In the 4th of July episode, Jay was one of the very few people to make the dial of doom shoot way too the right.

    Even when he made his one bad dish, he realized it sucked and impressively admitted that his only chance was to be great during the presentation even if he realized that he was selling an inferior product. That was not easy to pull off, but it is exactly what he did.

    You can also see the producers setting him up for the inevitable final 2-3 montage where he’s shown improvement. I think it was in episode two where he was shown repeating himself to each of the pastry chefs. That was totally a “Hey, Jay makes mistakes as well!” moment, even though there was 0.0% chance of him going home for that.

    And on an unrelated note, I think that Luca and Nicole from last season were both fine. They were both pretty good at being on camera, were good with food, and both were easy on the eyes. But they’ve got the Lenny stink on them. I feel bad for them. Just being in the same season as that filthy fraud has almost certainly cost them opportunities.

    • dan says:

      Although Jay is getting a good edit, I don’t think he is the winner. I think that crown will go to Eddie. He is getting the “started strong, leveled off, expect a comeback” edit. Everybody seems to like him and even his “bad” food hasn’t been terrible like Jay’s gumbo (which looked terrible). I think Dom and Rue could both be darkhorses. They Judges have liked all the food they’ve prepared and they both need to work on their presentation styles. Dom has to do it quickly or he is gone. Rue may have a couple weeks left. The sandwich guy isn’t winning (hello, Jeff Mauro already did that schtick and won), and none of the others are consistent. I had high hopes from Arnold but he is flat in his presentations (and he served raw shrimp which the Judges won’t forget).

    • Mel31602 says:

      Yeah I didn’t think last season was that bad (tho Luca going home early before the star salvation save was ridiculous.) in hindsight Luca clearly should’ve won, as I’m assuming Lenny’s inauthentic schtick combined w the lewd videos that leaked sunk his chances of ever getting a show. I actually thought Damaris’ season was worse tho … I don’t remember all the names but they sent home the two strongest contestants in fifth and fourth place to basically guarantee Damaris would win. I liked her but the pie guy and the angry guy had no business being in the final w her.

      As for this season, there’s no one I’m rooting against now that Matthew is gone. I’m partial to Eddie from his Masterchef days but I also like jay (I chalk up the gumbo to a bad day/insufficient time … Plus it didn’t look gross to me bc I had no idea what it’s supposed to look like) and I’m glad to see im not the only one who finds doms shyness endearing. Arnold is the only one who annoys me but he clearly has talent so it won’t be a travesty if he wins

  10. Jenks says:

    So did Food Network just never mention Lenny again, hoping all would be forgotten? Was there ever any official story out out about him?

  11. Gravyman35 says:

    How interesting to write my thoughts/review at: blog.foodnetwork.com/star-talk ( in the comments) and then see the poll results here. Yes, I would say Alex and Michelle are the-bottom-two as of now. The poll, above, agrees.

    IMO, if i try to project ahead with who-can-do-it-all, while no one is perfect, I have most faith in Jay, and Emilia.
    Dom could also be awesome if his nervousness doesnt get him. Twice on the bottom, though, is not good. Then, …arnold, eddie and rue are battling it out. Will i revise this later, or will the finalists reinfotce my views? Time will tell.

  12. NP says:

    I miss Alton! Watching Giada and Bobby together I keep getting reminded of the rumors of them hooking up and cheating on their spouses whether it’s true or not – it’s creepy

    • LADY_in_MD says:

      I can’t help but think the same
      And that blue dress on last nights episode screamed desperation
      It looked like a baby’s butt was painted on her chest!
      I like Eddie Arnold and Jay none of the girls are really great this season

      • dman6015 says:

        Yeah, she’s always been into showing off her boobs on camera. Go back and watch any episode of her Everyday Italian or At Home shows.

    • dman6015 says:

      Most solid rumor around. Both of them dump their long-time spouses at the same time? There’s no such thing as coincidences.

      Alton Brown rules. He’s ten times the professional than those two lovebirds.

  13. ZhaneEndrick says:

    Alton was never condescending. He was just very brutally honest and held people to a very high standard, especially if he knew they could do better.

    • michelle says:

      yeah and i remember in past seasons he had some really good advice for people that bobby and giada never pointed out; not to mention that the bloopers in the finale this year are not going to be nearly as good as years past…

  14. Last year they sent back one person that had been eliminated after they had worked with jeffrey z and the girl who cooks the southern dishes, I, for the life of me cannot remember her name. I blame age. Anyway, if they do that again, what will happen if the idiot comes back. Although, hopefully he wouldn’t make it past mr. z. Will they actually bring him back?

  15. Mary Prine says:

    Jay Ducote Is the total package. Great personality and great cook. I would watch his show!!!

  16. dman6015 says:

    “…true confession: I don’t miss the condescension of Alton Brown” To make a statement like that indicates that you have no idea who he is or what he does in the world of food. Try not to be so superficial in the future and understand what is actually being said.

  17. Dom says:

    Great article, well written. Its nice to see the whole cast is standing out from past seasons this early on in the competition.

  18. don says:

    How can you possibly vote for one of those people, when all you see every week is Giada’s boobs popping out. Please cover those things up, before you have a wardrobe malfunction and scare lots of people away from the FN.

    • Joanne says:

      I agree. Giada needs to stop dressing like a well paid call girl, and show some class. I am ready to stop watching because of her.

      • janet says:

        Foodnetwork producers & wardrobe, was it a calculated decision to dress Giada like she’s going to a singles mixer? What she wears is very inappropriate for a cooking show. Cover up during the show, then let them hang out on your own time, please!!!!

  19. Python Rose Quartz says:

    I miss Alton Brown’s prickly face and quirkiness. Bobby and Giada are actually the terrible ones. My dream panel of judges would include Tyler Florence and Sunny Anderson, they are 5,000 times better to watch.

    Michele and Eddie are my top 2, Dom is third. I can’t take Jay’s fake excited bubbliness in his presentations. Everyone seems to be buying it though, according to the poll. That “fluffy pillows of decadence” montage said perfectly what kind of personality he is. He is the most gossipy and negative out of the whole bunch, at least in what post-production splicing shows us. “Spice Class” does sound like an interesting concept but Emilia still seems like too much of a stiff school teacher.

    Dom is treat to watch. His butt is nice. I’ve said it before- I want Eddie to be a fitness guru on Food Network. Make food that is light and delicious. I don’t know though, FN doesn’t care about America’s obesity problem, it reminds us with programming like “Guilty Pleasures”.

    Honestly most of these people could do a great TV series with the right training. I thought Damaris was a buffoon while she was on Star but she didn’t turn out too bad in the end as part of the Paula Deen replacement plan.

  20. boniris says:

    Worst boring season ever!

  21. Carol Turner says:

    Rue has a P.O.V. that hasn’t been done before on Food Network, Anything about South Africa would be interesting to hear about.. Speaking about the emotions involved at the time the food is made is just as important as the food itself. Chris made a BIG stumble by not knowing the spices in five spice. Jay seems fake and not reassuring,like a pastry judge said ‘ I feel like I listened to a used car salesman.’ Arnold seems to feel he is above everyone. Dom is wonderful but ‘ego-tough’ Emilia has improved a lot! The others I am indifferent about

  22. michelle says:

    i really like emilia, i also really liked rue and jay is ok. i don’t know how i fell about michelle, although i am glad that she’s lasted long to be the last female. that being said, who notices that even if you don’t win, you can still get a show on the network (or cooking channel), like kelsey’s essentials. i also think that they made the show more focused this year. the cooking challenges are better and sound slightly less outrageous than last year but i think they should stop with the trend and social media stuff. those photos weren’t even taken well. IMO, they were all shadowy and cmon are any “stars” really taking pictures of their food with a small flimsy smart phones?

  23. pat hofmann says:

    am getting really sick of Fierre and Bobby Flay and Rachel. we need some new blood and Eddie would be perfect, next would be Dom and Arnold. Come on.

    • Gravyman35 says:

      As of now, it’s Jay’s to lose.
      Dom, if someone would work with/teach/develop his public speaking skills could be a hand’s down best winner. He SHOULD be helped. More than just TOLD to do better.
      Eddie has charisma but has been slipping too many times.
      Arnold is probably the “most ready right now” to step in and do a show now, aside from Jay.
      I would pick Dom, 1st, IF he was smoother.
      Arnold second, because of all the new stuff he could TEACH us.
      Jay 3rd. He’s been the most consistent…but I really dont know if I’d get tired of his kind of food. Who would stay interesting the longest is a good question.

  24. Michelle says:

    I was excited to see Dom win Star Salvation. I hope he wins the competition.

  25. Luann Moeller says:

    Dom is the only one i want to win. He is a fantastic chef and absolutely adorable.

  26. Mattie Smith says:

    Although all the contestants were great in their own way, Eddie Jackson stands out. I’m a food network fanatic and if I’m scanning the television, I’ll definitely stop if I saw Eddie cooking. He’s handsome, funny and captures your attention. The camera loves him and I would love to see what he’s cooking next. I would love to see him again but I’ll see. I wish him well.

  27. Jackie says:

    im seeing a lot of favoritism this time just cause Dom may have good food doesn’t mean he’s the one I wouldn’t watch his show