"This is your big chance to redeem yourselves," Tyler Florence told the hopefuls on day one of their journey to redemption. Though all of the finalists have competed on Food Network Star before, they each flopped in a fateful elimination. Now, though, they're intent on wowing the mentors and earning a second chance to compete for Stardom.
"It's that dish that still haunts you from the last time you competed," Tyler told the finalists of what they'd be cooking in the Mentor Challenge. After all, what better dish to kick off the series than the one finalists struggled with most last time? For former Season 7 finalist Penny, that meant a return to macaroni and cheese. "Make sure it doesn't burn," she says. That's her goal for today.
Matthew's downfall last year was his inability to focus his approach, both on the plate and in speaking on camera. This year he's determined to hone in on his point of view and deliver clear offerings in his food and presentation. "I can see that you've really [started] to harness all your energy and put it in a good place," Valerie Bertinelli told him after watching his presentation.
Remember when Dom overcooked his risotto last year in the dinner-party challenge at Los Angeles' Patina Restaurant? Despite his plans to rectify that mistake, he managed to present Tyler and Valerie with an opposite problem this year: an undercooked risotto. "For me to not get risotto right, something that I've cooked in Michelin-rated restaurants, it would be like a dagger in my heart. Again," Dom says.
Come the Star Challenge, Tyler explains, "Now it's time to focus on the present." The finalists are tasked with putting their current selves on a plate and preparing what Valerie calls a "Where are they now?" video, and for Chris the pressure to do that successfully is high. "Pretty much everyone has made a solid dish besides me and Dom," he explains, "and I know that I need to knock it out of the park." He sets out to put a Caribbean spin on shrimp, and soon enough, he's found his groove. "I'm thinking, 'Finally, Chris, you have cooked the way you cook when you're at home, when you do events,'" he reflects.
With her varied ethnicity in mind, Brianna wanted to fuse flavors and ingredients from several cuisines into one cohesive dish, and in this challenge, she's going sweet with a French-Jamaican rum cake. "If I can pull this off, then I have redeemed myself from the Mentor Challenge," she explains, noting her earlier stumbles with an Asian-inspired noodle casserole.
Dom, too, delivers stellar food, a rustic Italian dish of spaghetti with a tomato-pancetta sauce, but when it comes to his video, he flops — badly. As the seconds tick away and he finds himself stumbling, he simply gives up on his presentation, declaring, "This is the longest minute in the whole world," and closes with a curse word. "When you have a lapse in front of the camera, you can't melt down," Tyler explains to Dom, whose poor performance has landed him in the bottom three with Brianna and Penny.
Valerie urges Penny to bring what she deems the "Penny passion" and "humor" for which she's known, and Penny is ultimately declared safe from elimination. Brianna, however, despite delivering a wow-worthy dessert, heads home due to the missteps in her video. "No story, no details. Not even your name," as Valerie notes. Through tears, Brianna reflects: "I let myself down. I let my family down, my friends down."