“You're a Beast:” Avoid This Phrase, and 6 Other Savvy Rules of Star — Jeff's Star Report
Eddy Chen, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved
We begin this episode Christina-free. That first elimination is always quite humbling; you realize quickly that anyone at any time can easily have a bad day and, in turn, get the ol’ boot. Nobody wants to be the first gone, and now that the remaining finalists are 100 percent not the first eliminated, they can start fresh and tackle the day’s challenges, starting with …
… What's for dinner?! A classic leftover challenge. Jay is evidently a licensed food psychic, because he called it from the very beginning! This is an indispensable gift to have during Food Network Star. I hope he uses this talent only for good.
My sister-from-another-mister Melissa d’Arabian walks in, and, per usual, the room ignites with class and brightness. She guest-judges these dishes, and she guest-judged my dish during my season too. To be honest, when she judged one of my Star Challenges, she did not like me too much. Rightfully so — this was the second episode and I was still a foul-mouthed ugly duckling, not yet a glorious swan. So there is hope yet for those who biff this challenge.
The finalists charge toward the fridge to fight for that specific leftover they MUST have in order to craft the perfect dish. Sita wants some chicken and cuts whoever gets in her way. Eddie grabs the pasta that evidently belongs to Rosa. Emilia gets Sita’s chicken. Nobody gets what they wanted, and everybody is scrambling.
In my opinion, there is nothing like the melee that surrounds the fridge and pantry during one of these challenges. It’s "eat or be eaten," and sometimes you just grab anything and everything; think later and adapt quickly. Don’t blame the ingredients! Ever! On with the presentations. Arnold: The good ol’ “blackout.” Sure, it happened to me, but coupled with undercooked soup like Arnold's, it can be game-changing. I haven’t seen a professional figure skater mess up that bad since Salt Lake City, 2012, when Elvis Stojko blew the landing of that triple Salchow. You lost it; it happens. Which brings me to my next rule of Food Network Star:
Rule No. 3: When in doubt, talk about the beautiful food in front of you. It’s why people are tuning in to Food Network first and foremost.
Sita: Mayo in the Alfredo. The only “Italian Soul” represented in this dish is the poor soul of my long-departed Grandma Angie, who's rolling her eyeballs while rolling in her grave as she looks down upon us all. God rest her soul.
Matthew: Whoahhhhh! Look at the sane brain on Brad! Looks like someone did a little inner searching and found out that television is all about likableness. Well done.
Eddie: Doh! Come on, Eddie! Three meals, two healthy and one indulgent! It's right in front of you; you just need to embrace your POV and articulate it to the judges.
Alex: Great presentation, but what happened? Did the Fairy Sandwichfather visit you in your sleep last night and put a lump of coal under your pillow? There is always room for two, but if you’re going to swing for the fences in Episode 1 with a sandwich POV, then stick with it.
Michelle: Killed it! With leftover-pork chop soup, no less. She sold something arguably vile to the judges like it was the best thing since sliced pizza. Furthermore, she acted as if she has been making pork chop soup for years! This brings me to my next rule:
Rule No. 4: A.B.S. (Always. Be. Selling.) Sell your food to the camera, the audience, your judges. Sell yourself, your history, your stories. Never degrade your dish or yourself. A little self-deprecating humor works in tiny doses, but never admit mistakes, especially if the mistake is right in front of you.
Dominooch: This poor guy. He’ll get there; I know he will. Gotta get there quick, though, Dom — Eddie is gunning for you, and I heard he can run a 4.5/40.
On to the main event. This time, it’s a bake-off. Guess what? Nobody likes to bake.
I remember my one and only baking challenge for my season of Star. We were challenged to “put ourselves in a cupcake” and feed said cupcake to the one and only Ina Garten. Never have I been more nervous. My then-strung-out brain decided to make the first-ever (and last-ever) Italian Sub Cupcake (click here to see a photo), complete with a vanilla and capicola sponge cake topped with a whipped ricotta and cantaloupe frosting, and garnished with a prosciutto florette. Needless to say, Ina and Bobby were repulsed, and I didn’t win that challenge. Which brings me to my next rule:
Rule No. 5: Cook what you know, and don’t serve Ina Garten a cupcake based on an Italian cold cut.
People are furiously baking. Alex is now sporting a headband (hmmmm), Dom is making a pie filled with a metric ton of sazeeg, and Rue did not make enough custard filling for her bobotie. Mathew is back at it again, telling Arnold, “I need you out of my way. … You heard me.” This is a time-honored way to not only get America to not like you, but also get your fellow cast and CREW to not like you as well. Which leads me to another rule:
Rule No. 6: If the crew likes you, chances are the viewer will like you as well. People hate working with people they hate. Treat everybody with respect, from that saint on the culinary staff scrubbing your burnt pans to the executive producer who could decide whether or not to work with you again.
Things are moving splendidly. Matthew is making ice cream the old-fashioned way, and by "old-fashioned way" I mean Iron Chef America circa 2004. Arnold, that fabulous creature, is making 14 tiers of sparkling, magical meatloaf cupcakes (uh-oh, meat-based cupcakes can be no bueno). Regardless, Arnold’s station looks like Pier 1 had a baby with a peacock named Pizzazz!
In walk the guest judges, a parade of pastry pros along with Alex Guarnaschelli, who has a severe habit of telling it like it is.
Rue: Well done, great presentation. But remember: It’s best to keep the focus on your main dish. Which brings me to my next rule:
Rule No. 7: If you have to make only one dish, don’t make three dishes. You see it on every competition cooking show: People make a side dish or a complementary cocktail that is oozing with creativity. These are highly unnecessary and never add to — but only ever detract from — the judges' overall impression of the dish. A bad craft cocktail or side of samosa can ruin the main dish and often taint the batch.
Dom: Starts out nervioso but ends smooth when his trigger words — “Brooklyn,” “Make your own marinara?” and “pink” — loosen him up.
Jay: Ironically, the name of my Junior High Pop & Lock Crew was “Pillows of Decadence.” Ahhh, the ebb and flow of Food Network Star. It happens to the best of us and is ultimately inevitable. Regroup and get 'em next week, Jay. There is hope for you yet.
Arnold: Multiple tiers paid off. He focused and succeeded via tasty food and creativity. He is definitely safe.
Emilia: Ruh-roh. Nothing knocks it out of the park more than the words “I just got something really chewy in there.” NOT. She might be going home this week.
Sita: Ruh-roh, part deux. Too much gum flappin’ and not enough skill showin’. She is blessed with an amazing backstory and what seems to be a unique knowledge of African cuisine. Rein it in and she will go far.
Eddie: He charmed Alex G. and the judges with a short, poignant story. Next rule!
Rule No. 8: Everyone loves a good story — just not too long (that's for you, Sita) and must be tied to your food. It gives a taste of your real life and where you came from. A good story tells the viewer, "Hey, I’m just a regular Joe like all of you. You can easily make this at home. Let's go bowling together and then out for drinks afterward. I love you."
Rosa: Kaboom! Alex G. likes you, so that’s a start.
Alex: The kid did good, and Alex G. thinks he has sex appeal, something I struggle with on a daily basis.
Michelle: Nobody makes puff pastry from scratch! So next time, tell that pastry chef, “Of course I didn’t, but neither does any home cook in America, so I am here to show the world how to embrace this necessary shortcut and make it not only simple but creatively delicious!” Or something like that …
Grunwald: I mean, the guy is his own absolute worst enemy! A “car wreck”? No way. Watching Grunwald (BTW, from here on out he will be referred to only as Grunwald) is more like watching Game of Thrones: highly uncomfortable to watch, yet utterly addictive and full of unexpected death. Also, listen to this here rule:
Rule No. 9: Don’t ever call a woman "a beast."
Time for elimination. Top dogs are Eddie and Arnold. Also moving forward are Alex, Rosa, Rue, Dom, Jay and Michelle. The bottom bunch is composed of Sita, Emilia and, of course, Grunwald. I was thinking it was going to be Emilia, because there is still that sparkle to Sita that is likable, and Grunwald, because I love Game of Thrones, but backstage Grunwald’s true colors emerge. This guy obviously needs a sloppy slice of humble galette. Talking crap about the judges is a guaranteed way to fall out of favor. Pepper in a large dose of turbo-smirking during the final sendoff and there is no greater way to guarantee yourself a ticket home. Just when you think Grunwald is safe, Giada calls, and going is …
… Grunwald. This is not a surprise. I can’t say he didn’t entertain us along the way. He is obviously a very talented and passionate cook who maybe needs a couple of years to extinguish some of that immature energy we all had in our early 20s. I have a feeling I will be seeing Grunwald again, most likely in the middle of the night, standing over my bed with a roll of duct tape and a steak knife. Let’s hope not.