Food Network Star, Season 9: Top Moments of Episode 9

Get an inside look at the finalists' challenges and relive the most memorable moments from the ninth episode of Food Network Star, Season 9.
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Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Eddy Chen ©2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Pantry Staples

Alton meets the finalists in the Food Star Kitchen and doles out this week's Mentor Challenge, wherein the five remaining rivals must find ways to use common pantry ingredients, like Kellogg's cereals and snacks, in breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes. For their presentations, the finalists must introduce themselves as problem solvers, according to Alton, and explain how they overcome a particular culinary issue.

Stacey, Revealed

Stacey is confident she'll be successful in this challenge because, she says, "as a working mom, this is what I do." Preparing a dish for dinner, she sets off to make chicken coated in Kellogg's Special K Vanilla Almond Cereal, but Alton warns her that, when it comes to her presentation, she needs to be more genuine and overcome what he deems her "intimacy issues" on camera.

Connecting with the Camera

Russell uses the story of what he makes for dinner after a long day to explain his rib eye with Kellogg's Special K Popcorn Chips Sea Salt-coated smashed potatoes. For Alton, however, the taste of Russell's dish isn't the issue — it's his performance, given that when Russell presents to the camera, he rarely makes eye contact. "Looking off to the side at your eye level," Alton tells him, "makes it look like you're looking to somebody for an answer."

Deep-Fried Fiasco

Pressed for time, Nikki forgets about the croutons she's frying and they soon burn, becoming inedible on her salad with Kellogg's Special K Red Berries. "It is a disaster ... I am beyond panicking," she admits. Since she doesn't have time to remake the croutons, she simply incorporates the berries into her tossed salad and crumbles the cereal flakes atop as a garnish. "It is not anything close to the dish that I had pictured in my head."

Missed Opportunity

Alton tells Rodney that he ought to show more authority on camera, and while Rodney offers what Alton deems a "controlled" presentation, he fails to incorporate a tip into his presentation, despite his best intentions to do so. "I forgot all about my tip," Rodney admits simply. His breakfast pie, however, made with crab, eggs, ham and cheddar, has "good flavors," according to Alton.

Professor Damaris

"When you give your presentation, teach," Alton advises Damaris. "Think about it being your students." In front of the camera, Damaris indeed explains how she makes Kellogg's Multi-Grain Cereal-crusted French toast, but she doesn't establish the issue that has led to her solution. In terms of her dish's flavor, Alton tells her simply, "Damaris, this is really good."

Mixed Reviews

"I just have to prove that I'm an authority," Nikki says of her plan for her performance. After watching her on camera, Alton notes areas in which she "didn't connect the dots," but he's nevertheless wowed by her salad, which she knows is a "victory," given her struggle with the burned croutons.

Noticeable Growth

After taking Alton's advice to let her true self shine on camera, Stacey delivers a presentation that Alton deems "awesome." He says she's "more at ease" than she's been in the past; in terms of her dish, Alton admits, "If you're a mom cooking for kids, this is the sweet spot." Thanks to her combined successes on the plate and in front of the camera, Stacey will earn an advantage in the Star Challenge.

Star Challenge: Impossible

No stranger to restaurant overhauls, Robert Irvine — "Food Network's Fixer in Chief," according to Alton — is on hand to guest judge this week's Star Challenge, in which the finalists must remake old-fashioned dishes at Phil Trani's restaurant. Since Stacey has won the Mentor Challenge, it's up to her to decide which plate she wants to remake and which to assign to her rivals.

Familiar Struggles

"Robert Irvine being here puts an immense amount of pressure on me," Stacey says, noting that this challenge is particularly important to her because her restaurant was once featured on Robert's Restaurant: Impossible. Although her Halibut Crab Cake Roulade is "too dry," according to Phil, he finds her to be "very intelligent" in her presentation, while Alton admits that he's "not connecting" with her performance.

Missing the Mash

Faced with transforming bacon-wrapped tournedos of beef, Damaris prepares filet mignons with Broccolini, but for her, the most difficult component of the dish is proving to be her side of mashed potatoes. "The skins are not breaking down," Damaris explains. "It is so gritty and thick." She manages to press them through a food mill until they're soft, smooth and, ultimately, serviceable.

Much-Improved Performance

"I don't want them to perceive that I'm just this narrow bacon-bourbon dude," Russell explains, adding that he's going to take a healthful approach to his assigned dish of chicken and spinach, per the request of the staff at Phil Trani's restaurant. His poached spinach-wrapped chicken wows the judges, as does his performance, which two of Phil's managers say demonstrates that he's "passionate" and "confident."

Taking Risks

Rodney's reinventing what he calls an "old-school classic": chicken cacciatore with bell peppers and onions. In true Pie Man form, he attempts to stuff the mixture into a pie crust and deep-fry it, but after a few minutes in the oil, the pies explode. After a few tweaks, however, he manages to makes pies that he can serve to the Selection Committee.

Dreaded Salmon

Aware of Nikki's aversion to salmon, Stacey assigns her rival the fish, something that Nikki says is "going to be a huge challenge" to overhaul. Although she delivers a finished dish that "tastes better than it looks," according to one of Phil's managers, the Selection Committee has issues with Nikki's presentation, as she's unable to define a rice pilaf.

Playing It Safe

"Finally I'm starting to feel like myself, and I just hope I'm improving enough for the Selection Committee," Damaris says after presenting her dish to the table. Robert says, "She's got a great personality." But he and other judges wonder why her offering is truer to her Southern-inspired point of view. "It may be a little more simple than it should," Alton adds of her beef.

Happy Dance

After a disappointing finish last week, Russell is named this week's strongest competitor, and he just cannot contain his excitement over his rise to the top. "We thought that your presentation was memorable," Alton says to Russell at evaluation. "Most importantly, you showed us real growth throughout the competition."

Rodney, Defined

"I wrote down some things that best describe you," Robert tells Rodney. "Fun, energetic, outgoing, nuts. And I think that encapsulates who you are." He adds that while Rodney's idea for his chicken-stuffed pie is inspired, it's not successful when implemented. Nevertheless, Rodney's deemed safe from elimination this week.

Emotional Goodbye

In a particularly trying reveal, Alton announces that Nikki will be leaving the competition, on account of her lack of "ownership and authority." She's immediately teary-eyed and later admits: "I can't imagine anybody wanting it more than me. I put my heart and my soul into this competition. I did everything I could. And I'm not giving up."

First Interview with Nikki

Hear from Nikki to find out her thoughts on the competition and learn her plans for the future.

Go Behind the Scenes

Browse exclusive snapshots of the finalists and judge-mentors on set, plus learn insider trivia about the show from Food Network's culinary team.

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