Imagine going to see a summer blockbuster where the superhero sits out the last 15 minutes to search the internet for the best price on matching tights and capes.
That’s essentially what went down on the penultimate Season 11 episode of Food Network Star, where Bobby and Giada (with some help from Bob and Susie) picked the correct Top 3 — and then sent them off to make pilots where none of ’em so much as brought water to a boil.
For 10 weeks now, I’ve been salivating over Dom’s classic Italian fare, getting more excited than I’d expected about Jay’s cajun cuisine and hoping Eddie would fine-tune his Caribbean-Southern POV and toss the “NFL health buff” stuff that’s left me scratching my noggin (when my noggin hasn’t been completely overwhelmed by his charisma).
And yet — without the slightest bit of explanation — Food Network Star tried to convince us that each and every one of its finalists had actually wanted to make road-trip diaries of other people’s cooking all along. Yeah, and Batman just wanted to be a TV recapper. Tuschman, pleeease!
OK, OK, I’ll quit kvetching about the bait-and-switch — while advocating that all future seasons be called Next Food Network Host Whose Salary Is Slightly Less Than Giada’s Décolletage-Powderer — and break down the week’s action in a few simple bullet points.
* The hour kicks off with the announcement that Dom took home top prize in Star Salvation — and will now be returning for a final challenge with Jay, Eddie and Arnold (the clear weak link, based on his exhausting on-camera demeanor and failure to offer any real instruction about how he makes his party food so pretty). Sure enough, when the sometimes drag queen (who, inexplicably, never brought she-glamour to the competition) fast-boils his homemade Mediterranean sausage — a move that makes his sous chef Rue practically vom into the quinoa salad — it’s 90 percent certain he’ll walk the plank (even if Eddie’s one-minute demo video is a frantic mess, too). Oh sure, Dom’s choice of the hashtag-dropping imbecile whose name I refuse to type makes me momentarily worried my faith in him was for naught, but Arnold’s look of panic/self-loathing when Bobby bites into his food tells the tale, and in the end, he’s sent packing.
* Jay, meanwhile, has the best week ever. I’m not sure there’s any special finesse or interesting twist on his crawfish etouffee, fried catfish, grilled asparagus, rice and cornbread — not one interesting twist whatsoever — but he’s so relaxed and warm when he’s in front of the camera, you can understand why Bob is ready to sign him on the spot.
* And then it’s time for pilots — directed by a very astute and very lovely Rachael Ray, a woman who knows how to harness each of her three apprentices’ energies without spending unnecessary time coddling ’em. First up is Jay, whose show idea — Deep-Fried America — abandons the Louisiana-loving theory he’s presented all season long. His sense of humor is killer — “he’s a professional model that fries chicken,” Jay says of the superhot owner of NY chicken-and-waffle joint Sweet Chick — but how many episodes or seasons can one squeeze out of this concept? My cholesterol level will not allow me to put this on my DVR — and yet, if it’s merely ease in front of the camera (and not cheftasticness) that’s the criteria, there’s no way Jay loses, is there?
* Eddies’ concept — an exploration of southern BBQ — also abandons the Caribbean/health food mantra he’s had in his slow cooker all season. (And as with Jay, the Food Network Star producers don’t give us so much as a soundbite explaining why the change of focus.) The guy can definitely describe food in a way that’s evocative, and he’s charming and easy on the eyes, too. I can’t think of any reason he shouldn’t have his own Food Network show — but I just wish the concept was one that was a little broader (or more unique) than this.
* Finally, there’s Dom’s Big Flavor, Little Italy — where he’ll visit historical and/or family style Italian restaraunts and learn their secrets. At least the POV is in line with everything Dom has claimed to be, and I don’t care what anyone says, when he’s smiling and laughing and talking about flavor and texture, he is the closest thing to a star we’ve seen all season. “This red-sauce joint has been serving spaghetti and meatballs almost longer than Italy has been a country.” Ha! Will Dom probably need more takes and more editing every episode than Jay and Eddie? Absolutely. But if I was in charge of Food Network’s programming dollars, I’d put my money on the Staten Island cutie as the safest long-term bet from the Season 11 finalists. (I’d probably greenlight six-episode seasons for Jay and Eddie, too, but that’s probably too much “gold stars for all the kids!” philosophy for one recap, eh?)