Next Food Network Star 3.4 – Deep-Fried Meatloaf?

Paul McCullough - The Next Food Network Star

This week we were down to 6, and by the time the dust had settled last night, only 5 remained. It was a week in which one ugly duckling turned into a swan, and the ultimate secret weapon was revealed – the deep fryer!

Fort Dix, New Jersey was the scene for this week’s 2 challenges on the Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star. The first quick challenge was to turn a military MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) into something truly edible. The results were a bit spotty including tossing crushed-up pretzels into macs and cheese to make it crispy. However, one contestant stood above the others in both quality of food and presentation. Normally hyperactive, intensely agitated Paul finally got everything in control, and his sweet potato sauce over chicken was a starring production!

This victory gave Paul the opportunity to choose his partner for the next challenge. He chose Jag as his partner to acquire Jag’s admittedly impressive cooking skills. Paul also assigned the other 2 teams and he paired the women and the men hoping, in a strategy that ultimately worked, to force out one of the remaining 2 men.

The major challenge of the week was to create a comfort food meal for the soliders of Fort Dix, and present the meals along with thanking the soldiers for their service. The 3 entrees chosen by the soldiers were meatloaf, lasagna, and pot pie. Paul and Jag opted for meatloaf leaving lasagna to Amy and Rory and the pot pie, admittedly the most complicated dish, to Adrien and Michael.

For the most part, things moved smoothly in the kitchen until 30 minutes before the clock was scheduled to run out, Jag discovered the meatloaf ovens were not functioning. After a near total meltdown, his solution was…into the deep fryer! The volume of cooking (serving 75 soldiers) was daunting for some of the contestants, but all functioned well in their teams. Of particular charm was the camaraderie between Paul and Jag. You would have sworn they had grown up as best buds.

Presentation time rolled around…oh, and did I mention the Food Network guests? Giada De Laurentiis for some down home sex appeal and Paula Deen as…well, mom. Paula Deen introduced the teams. Wisely, Rory and Amy used a bit of sex appeal to their advantage. It certainly works for Giada. Adrien and Michael were so-so except for a bit about reminiscing on Vietnam years from Michael which turned off the soldiers. Paul and Jag, admittedly ad-libbing, were full of energy. Paul did a Jack Palance move dropping and giving us push-ups onstage while Jag played off his military service connection. The soldiers loved it. When it came time for food sampling…the hit of the night was that meatloaf with a crispy outside!

Judging was its usual painful process…but the judging on Next Food Network Star is high quality and teaches us a lot about what producers look for in a television personality. Near the end of the judging period a breakdown began about the increasing blurring for the contestants between private reality and public image. This is given more extensive treatment on Dishin’ Dat and is well worth the read.

Overall for the night Paul was a well-deserved winner. Consistent food and 2 great presentations added up to a great week. Adrien skated through in the bottom 2 for the second week – he is lucky he is great to look at. Michael was sent home. He did some good cooking in the big challenge by showing us a nifty thin-sliced quick potato crust for a pot pie, but ultimately gaffes like the Vietnam remembrance sunk his ship. We move forward to next week with 5 Food Network Star hopefuls.

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