Due to the fun of spending a few quality days with extended family, this week’s recap of the Next Food Network Star is a bit delayed. However, due to the wonders of DVR and cable television, I didn’t miss a beat. This week the 4 remaining contestants experienced a mini version of the culinary game show Iron Chef America. That meant a second week with the cooking wisdom of Alton Brown as well as the experience of being under the watchful eyes of Iron Chefs Bobby Flay and Cat Cora.
For this mini version of Iron Chef America, the show’s “kitchen stadium” at Food Network headquarters was not used. Instead everyone traveled off-campus to the celebrated Institute of Culinary Education. Here the contestants were instructed that they would take part in a one-hour head-to-head Iron Chef challenge creating food that would fit their personal culinary identity and it must be accessible to the home cook. Paul would face Rory in the first battle and Amy would face Jag in the second.
A big surprise in the Iron Chef challenge was that 4 past contestants would serve as sous chefs for the challenges. Judges of the contest were Iron Chefs Bobby Flay and Cat Cora with Alton Brown in his usual announcing role. A final element of the challenge involved the contestants who were not cooking in a particular battle providing on-the-floor commentary as part of the competition coverage.
With the familiar “Allez Cuisine!” the Rory and Paul competition kicked off with striped sea bass as key ingredient. Each prepared 3 dishes with the element while Jag and Amy provided comments for the camera. Rory’s “Backyard Bistro” identity was well-represented by pan-seared bass atop sugared asparagus w/ fried leeks as garnish. Her jalapeno-crusted sea bass fritters went over well, too, but a sea bass napoleon was not as impressive. Paul’s “Party Food on a Budget” looked good including a ceviche served in a pineapple, but all of his dishes lacked in adequate seasoning. The from-the-floor announcing uncovered a previously hidden talent in Amy. She was funny, educated, and supremely on her toes while Jag was just average in performance.
For the second Iron Chef battle, Amy and Jag took on chicken as their primary ingredient. When the smoke cleared (literally – Jag’s cooking set off smoke alarms), Amy’s “Gourmet Next Door” was extremely well represented by such dishes as a Casbah lollipop made from chicken wings and luscious looking stuffed chicken with mushrooms and goat cheese. Unfortunately, the work from Jag, who is widely recognized as the most talented chef among the remaining contestants, only impressed the judges by being of uniformly low quality. The announcing from Paul and Rory was astonishingly poor. Neither demonstrated authority in culinary knowledge missing such simple elements as being able to identify that couscous was a Moroccan element of a dish by Amy. Both tried to make up for their shortcomings by using misplaced attempts at humor.
As judging rolled around it was abundantly obvious that Amy was sailing through to the next round. With Amy’s performance, a contestant finally looked ready to put on the air. Rory was the next chosen to remain. After emotional meltdown from Jag, long discussion by the judges, and individual arguments from Paul and Jag for staying, Paul was eliminated. It seemed the decision ultimately hinged on Paul’s lack of culinary knowledge and ability to demonstrate authority in front of the camera. The judges claimed it was the hardest decision they had ever made. On to next week!