In the season five premiere of The Next Food Network Star, the 10 finalists are immediately thrown into their first challenge. They head to Food Network Kitchens and are greeted by the selection committee (Iron Chef Bobby Flay and Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson), who inform the finalists that they’ll be split into two teams and catering Food Network’s "Sweet 16" party.
The teams are tasked with creating delicious dishes and serving tables packed with Food Network stars like Giada De Laurentiis, Alton Brown, Duff Goldman, Sunny Anderson and Masaharu Morimoto, and also Access Hollywood co-host Nancy O’Dell! The first finalist is then eliminated.
The nine remaining finalists receive their next challenge from Esquire's articles editor Ryan D'Agostino. They must create a recipe for the Esquire man that works for the magazine's "Recipe for Men" section.
Then the finalists head to the Good Housekeeping test kitchen where they're greeted by Giada De Laurentiis and Good Housekeeping's editor-in-chief, Rosemary Ellis.
The finalists are randomly assigned a holiday and must prepare a dish that represents their holiday in a new and exciting way. The challenge winner finds out he or she will be featured in Good Housekeeping's July issue, and the next finalist is eliminated.
The eight remaining finalists meet Tyler Florence who tells them they must shop for a family dinner and menu-plan while presenting money-saving tips to camera. The next day, the finalists head to the Hamptons to visit Ina Garten where they’ll be working in teams to plan menus and create a lavish meal for Ina and her friends. The next finalist is eliminated.
Bobby Flay tests the remaining seven finalists by having them put their culinary point of view on a classic American dish – the burger! The finalists must whip up their ideal burger while sharing personal stories and their connections to their dish. The best burger lands a place on the menu of Bobby's new restaurant venture Bobby's Burger Palace.
Then, Guy Fieri and USA WEEKEND Magazine associate editor, TJ Walter, surprise the finalists on the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, challenging each of them to create a dish using a basket of international ingredients for a group of returning American soldiers.
The winner learns that his or her recipe will be featured on the July 3-5th cover of USA WEEKEND Magazine, and another finalist is eliminated.
In the spirit of her cooking and kids charity, Yum-o!, Food Network star Rachael Ray challenges the remaining six finalists to create kid-friendly dishes and convince a group of children to experiment with food they’ve never tried before.
Then, the finalists must transform typical kid fare into gourmet dishes for adults and work in teams to demo their fancy upgrades on Rachael Ray!
The remaining four finalists pack their bags and prepare to head to Miami for their next challenge. Before taking off with JetBlue, they meet Ted Allen and OTG Concept Chef Michael Coury and learn their next challenge: create a dish for one of OTG Management’s restaurants at JetBlue’s Terminal 5 at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
After presenting their dishes, the finalists fly to Miami and discover they’ll be catering a swanky party at the fabulous Nikki Beach nightclub. The JetBlue challenge winner assigns roles for each finalist, and the team scrambles to pull off an extraordinary party!
The next finalist is eliminated.
The four remaining finalists are told they’ll be doing live demos for a Miami morning television show and must keep their cool when things start to fall apart during the segments.
Then, Bobby Flay, Iron Chef Michael Symon and Red Lobster’s Senior Executive Chef Michael LaDuke surprise the finalists with an Iron Chef-style challenge. With access to a lavish seafood pantry, the finalists must survive a beachside wood-grilling challenge.
After being judged, the finalists undergo the ultimate seafood battle and the winner learns that his or her recipe will be prepared over Red Lobster’s wood grills and served to its guests nationwide. The next finalist is eliminated.
The remaining three finalists lunch with Emeril Lagasse and learn that they must create a three-course menu for a group of culinary elite inspired by a screening of Columbia Pictures’ movie Julie & Julia. (In theaters August 7 and starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, Julie & Julia intertwines the lives of two women who discover that with the right combination of passion, fearlessness and butter, anything is possible).
The finalists choose one round to demo their course and display their teaching ability before the renowned panel deliberates, eliminating the next finalist.
In the season finale, the final two contenders go head-to-head at Food Network performing pilot presentations of their dream shows and facing an impromptu interview with Food Network Magazine editor-in-chief Maile Carpenter.
Food Network star Alton Brown spends one-on-one time with the final two to learn more about their culinary points of view before directing their pilots. All the finalists return and join a live audience to find out who will be The Next Food Network Star!