A Boys vs. Girls Dinner Battle, and Why It's Not About Being "Thesaurus Rex" — Jeff's Star Report
Eddy Chen, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved
This week is all about trends, so the finalists' first challenge is to craft a dish that is both delicious and camera ready. Photographing food and food styling are often-overlooked skills that usually require the work of several experienced and talented professionals. Thanks to social media, however, we have all become food stylists and photographers, snapping pics of every malt ball, pretzel rod and airport kiosk sandwich we shove down our gullets. I'm 100 percent guilty of this as well and make no apologies, but oftentimes, the photos do not do the food justice (mine included). Regardless, I love this trend, and it only connects us more to the magic and allure of food. But I digress ...
And they’re off! Emilia is a bat out of hell, Rosa is frying meatballs, Dom is icing his pesto, Eddie is contrasting, and Big Jay is tasting the rainbow. Arnold is not worried one iota because he plates like Picassette (Picasso’s drag queen alter ego). Sandwich man Alex makes that classic mistake of “plopping on the top bun.” I would have halved the sandwich and exposed the colorful interior structure. In my opinion, that makes for a much better sandwich photo.
They snap some foodie pics on a tiny 3G phone and go to present — but wait! Curve Ball Bobby throws the gang a little chin music and informs the finalists that he and Giada will be tasting only eight out of the 10 dishes, choosing those eight based solely on visual appeal. And first up to bat:
Eddie: "Invincible" Eddie’s pretty scallop shot won over G & B. Flavors are on point, but what’s a "mojo," bro?! Next rule in my ever-expanding list of the Rules of Food Network Star:
Rule No. 10: Always assume your audience doesn’t know what the hell you just cooked. Your viewers most likely did not attend culinary school or work the line at an Asian-fusion gastropub. They surely don’t spend eight hours a day googling “best mojo recipes for scallops.” Be specific and, sometimes, overly informative.
Dom: Madone! Looks like someone hit the spa last night for a hot stone massage and loosened up a bit.
Arnold: Once again, his plate is a virtual cornucopia of sunshine, feathers and glitter lasers. Unfortunately, his presentation is bland. To me, he looks tired, which is an unfortunate byproduct of competing on a reality show. It is truly an exhausting experience, and sometimes you just need a nap. When I competed on Food Network Star, I was so tired at times that I wanted to be sick.
Michelle: Food first, story second. It’s Week 3, people!
Sita: Dry chicken and missing sauce does not make good presentation.
Emilia: She gets a “lotta ripped” with her girlfriends on Fridays. Noted.
Rue: Aesthetically unpleasant eggplant led to tears. Not sure if that’s a haiku, but I’m sticking with it.
And the winner of this first challenge is ...
GZ and Sunshine. That’s right, my sister from another mister and daddy from another fatty: Geoffrey Zakarian and Sunny Anderson. We spend a lot of time together on set of our show The Kitchen, so I’m excited to see what they think of the finalists.
They lay out the next challenge, which is all about anti-comfort food trends — basically burnt, stinky, slimy stuff. They are challenged with providing a palatable raw appetizer, a slimy soup, a burnt salad, a stinky entree and an incendiary dessert. Dom is unaware of the word “incendiary” and I can bet he is not alone. It’s the gang’s first team challenge and Dom gets first pick of the teams. He immediately chooses boys versus girls. I smell the boys on the bottom. If I’m correct, it will be quite "incidiery" (sic).
They start planning immediately, as they have only 45 minutes to execute. The ladies band together quickly and agree that they must sell some sultriness. On the men’s team, per every competitive cooking show ever, nobody wants to make dessert. The cooking begins and the confidence is way up on both sides. We’re reminded 14 times that Eddie is indeed a huge fan of burnt citrus, Dom is riding the lightning after a successful first round with a double blue-veined stank fest, Rue is foolishly plating what looks like chunky tar on top of hot bone marrow, Rosa is charring fennel, and Michelle has overfilled the food processor with her spinach "sloup" (slimy soup) leading to near-disastrous results. Jay’s got a young gumbo, Emilia has flamed meringue and Arnold loves lipstick. Time’s up, hands up.
Here’s the breakdown.
Rue: Hopefully her sultry delivery outshined her warm tar tar.
Michelle: I was raised on eggplant tentacles, so I totally get what she’s saying. It is by far the most-tender part of the eggplant, next to eggplant testicles (of course).
Rosa: Sunny’s face says it all, and GZ is having too much fun with his maritime puns. The charred fennel is too fibrous, and judging by the amplified sound of the judges chewing this salad, I agree.
Sita: Her food falls flat and in a Food Network Star first, her food is dubbed not nearly stinky enough. Her presentation is repetitive and lackluster. She hearts and souls the judges to death.
Emilia: Nailed the presentation and her creative dessert. Well done!
Alex: He failed to make a sandwich and the judges didn’t seem to notice. They did, however, notice his mediocre presentation.
Jay: Nailed the presentation, but his murky gumbo fell short — but he knew that. He should have made what he wanted, not what Dom told him to make. Next rule!
Rule No. 11: In group challenges, trust your gut. Don’t let the others persuade you to go against your instinct.
Eddie: Ruh roh. Eddie blew it. He “um’d” the hell out of that presentation. Is he going home? I doubt it. The guy has been moving chains since Day One and he still is a judge favorite.
Dom: Dom’s stank chicken won over the judges, but they did pick up on some of his nervousness as he tried to book it out of there as quickly as possible.
Arnold: If "incendiary" is not trending right now on Google, Twitter and MyFacePage.net, then I hereby pledge to cancel my subscription to the Internet.
The boys wrapped it up quite well: a couple stumbles, but nothing major. Lack of vocabulary is not a valid reason to send anyone packing. This competition is about cooking on camera and not about being a "Thesaurus Rex."
The ladies are up first. Rue’s story was too long and she never talked about her unique African fare; Michelle slimed the judges in a good way with her spinach/octopi "sloup"; and Rosa’s lackluster meatball rolled out the door. Unfortunately, Sita’s heart and soul did not smell like roses, and Emilia’s dessert nailed the challenge with a double dose of “incind” (not a word until now).
I love a good double-looser decision. It’s anyone’s game now, and both teams are susceptible to the chopping block. The winners of this challenge are Arnold and Dom from the Men’s team, but the overall winner of the challenge was Michelle, deservedly so. Emilia, Rue, Jay and Alex are safe as well. Rosa, Sita and Eddie are the bottom three. Going home this week is ...
Sita. Valliant effort indeed. She had a great energy, and if given more time, she could have really honed her soul-Italian POV.