With only six contestants left in the mix on this week’s Food Network Star, I expected some amped-up suspense during the judges’ deliberations. But nope, once again it was a case of, “Eh, either one of these cats can go home; and if we’re being honest, there actually ought to be a Bottom 3.”
The opening challenge was an excellent test of mettle, with Bobby Flay whipping up a slow-cooked salmon with an ancho chili and honey glaze, a black bean and blistered jalapeño crema and a fresh tomatillo salsa. The contestants each got to take a bite or two, and then were given 60 seconds to describe the dish without using adjectives like “delicious,” “awesome,” or “incredible” (i.e. words that don’t convey any actual flavors). “You’re gonna take ‘sexy’ away from me,” asked Russell, in his typically irksome, “I think I’m hot s***, but I’m not gonna come right out and say it” fashion.
The results were telling. Rodney (who doesn’t exactly excel at language to begin with) described his own performance as having his body taken over by someone “who’s just an idiot.” (Hey, he said it, not me!) Chad confessed “vocabulary is not my strong point at all” before an awkward, ummm-filled performance that had Bobby declaring it a “very long minute.” And Russell strung together adjectives with all the care and planning of a toddler experiencing the joys of finger-painting.
Damaris, meanwhile, proved a tad “clinical” for Bobby’s taste, but at least came across like someone who has cooked, eaten and thought about food in her lifetime, while Nikki and especially Stacey delivered the goods like they might actually be ready for prime time.
For the main challenge — which had the contestants cooking a signature dish and presenting it to an audience of foodies who were asked to bid auction-style for a chance to eat it alongside the judges — the ladies once again proved to be clear winners. I’m seriously ready to try Damaris’ green-bean casserole — with roasted tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms and a goat-cheese mornay sauce — this weekend. And Nikki’s wild-mushroom pasta with shrimp looked pretty tasty too. Stacey’s cheesecakes with bacon-maple crust looked a tad soupy, but her sales pitch hooked the crowd and got her the high bid of $180. (BTW, didn’t the “bidding” process seem a bit arbitrary? And didn’t the process favor the dishes that came later in the process — since the chance to sit with the judges and grade the dishes might’ve been as much a draw as any of the food?)
That left Chad, Russell and Rodney as the obvious options for elimination, but the judges promptly gave Rodney a pass because his strawberry-blackberry-rhubarb pies were tasty. To which I ask, “So what?” I mean, was there anything particularly innovative or interesting about said pies, other than his use of bacon fat in the crumble? And since Food Network Star is ultimately about trying to score an on-air hosting gig, how come Alton, Giada and Bobby didn’t seem perturbed by Rodney’s rambling presentation, the first 40 seconds of which were devoted to a “comedy” bit in which he confused the members of the Gastronauts with actual astronauts? Even his description of his food — and his promise that “it’s gonna make your electrodes in your mouth shoot right back here by the top of your jaw right into your ear holes” — barely crossed the border of total nonsense into mild gibberish.
But the judges made it a battle of the carnivores for the Bottom 2: “Barbecue expert” Chad made a Texas poutine with mushy fries, while
Rodney Russell made a deconstructed BLT with smoked trout eggs, pork belly and “bread purée.” Chad was certainly the less exciting presenter — what happened to the confidence he exhibited early on in the season? — but can we pause for a second to consider that “bread purée” again? It looked positively pre-chewed! As Alton noted, he’s not 100 percent sure that “Russell is the cook he thinks he is.” Giada, though, seems to be endlessly fascinated with the food revolution/seven sins dude, and since there wasn’t really any compelling reason to keep Chad — especially since his P.O.V. competes with Mr. Flay anyway — he got the boot.
So now we’re down to Damaris, Stacey, Nikki, Russell and Rodney — yes, I listed them in order of my personal preference. How would you rank the remaining finalists? What did you think of this week’s episode? Did Chad deserve to go, or should it have been
Rodney someone else? Sound off below!