Next Food Network Star 3.5 – Meltdown

At right is Food Network personality Alton Brown responding to the trail of disasters from this week’s installment of The Next Food Network Star. He exclaimed in exasperation, “Can’t we just send them all home and start over?!” When actually put in front of the camera for a slightly extended presentation, no one looked ready for primetime. That led the judges to question whether there really is a Food Network star in this group.

Alton Brown, best known for Good Eats, the best specifically educational food show on television, was the guest celebrity for this episode. He kicked things off with a rousing quick challenge that involved putting together a dish with 3 randomly chosen ingredients and then creating a 3 minute program about it. A sudden change in contestant information appeared this week. After rumblings in the fan universe, we heard a lot about Adrien’s experience hosting his own cooking show this week. Did that experience help? More later.

While dissecting the results of the quick challenge, the judges identified Paul as the best in the group. He seems to have some of his hyperactivity under control. As a minor note, Amy’s popcorn-crusted veal creation was really rather ugly on the plate.

Next, the contestants were all given a good heapin’ helping of their least favorite food ingredient (I have to agree with Alton Brown’s question of Jag – what really is wrong with tofu?) and a longer challenge that involved “glorifying” the ingredient in a dish and creating a script and presentation to last 5 minutes in front of the camera. It didn’t seem that difficult. After all, most of the ingredients were pretty straightforward items – bok choy, lima beans, tofu, baby corn, and goat cheese. However, this is where all hell broke loose.

The show spent quite a bit of time on Amy’s homesickness meltdown, but there were clearly other things brewing as well. Jag nearly went ballistic again because he didn’t have banana peppers that he thought he had purchased (the cameras proved he was wrong), but he did seem to feel compelled to use nearly ever other conceivable ingredient to disguise his tofu. Rory seemed to even forget she was supposed to cook. She clearly seemed the most squeamish of any of the contestants about her ingredient – goat cheese.

In the end, the presentations were almost uniformly disastrous. Paul’s turned out to be merely mediocre, featuring the bizarre attempt at comedy – shrieking “Oh my God, this is so hot I’m burning myself!” Therefore, he was clearly the winner of the day and the clear frontrunner at this point. Amy was passed on clearly because she has promise that was seriously clouded by her emotional issues. Maybe next week we will see a more clear-headed Amy who can actually follow a script. Rory is sticking around although her presentation completely fell apart – personal charm will carry her to one more chance. Jag, the master cook who seemingly has no concept of the word “simple,” will slog through another week as well.

Adrien was eliminated, and I think for very good reason. While his presentations were just as disastrous as anyone else’s, he clearly thought he was doing ok. Like Michael, eliminated previously, Adrien’s abilities at self-evaluation seem to be seriously lacking. His on-screen cooking was a disaster resulting in a raw, sticky attempt at a pasta dish. And why do you put an egg in a pasta dish? So you can taste the egg? That is what Adrien thinks, but I would be a little nervous about a carbonara that tasted like egg. It was clearly Adrien’s time to go. He’s out of his uniform deliveryman job, apparently, as we have heard over and over, but perhaps he still has his homegrown Michigan TV cooking show.

Kudos to Food Network for giving us the brief snippet of the remaining 4 contestants at the end of the show telling us their culinary identity. I really like Paul’s a lot – Party Food on a Budget. That sounds like a show! Amy’ isn’t bad – The Gourmet Next Door. Rory? Something about all of the food from all of America. It clearly needs a bit of tidying. Jag? Latin Fusion – yep, it does sound rather old and tired. After this week’s disaster, I’m looking forward with trepidation to the heated environment of an Iron Chef Challenge. Things could get really rough in the kitchen!