A Risky Roast and a Brick Wall Made of "Duck on the Regular" — Jeff's Star Report
The finalists start this week with a fresh new attitude. So long, bickering and negativity; hello, pizza and Duff Goldman.
Challenge numero uno is a pizza extravaganza judged by Duff and the CEO of CiCi’s Pizza, Darin Harris. The winner of this Mentor Challenge will not only receive glory, but also have his or her original pizza creation featured on the menu at CiCi’s Pizza. They have only 30 minutes to bake the pies, so I am predicting a lot of soggy, undercooked, white-crusted pizzas. And they begin ...
Dominooch is ecstatic to sling some stovetop sweet sausage pizza; Alex believes a pizza is just an open-faced sandwich; Arnold’s going the clever samosa pizza; Michelle is sticking to her Mediterranean guns; Eddie is making a fruity Caribbean pie; and Emilia is also doing a samosa pizza.
Time’s up. Hands up. Jay begins with another fluid delivery. The guy might as well be hocking Satsuma ShamWows at 3:00 a.m. on QVC. Unfortunately, his pizza is piqued. Arnold’s presentation begins with some promise, but again he fizzled out midway. Wisely, he remembers to take a bite of his pizza and FOCUS ON THE FOOD, which totally saved his dying presentation. Alex read a recipe out loud again and delivered a lackluster pie.
Just when we think Dom will turn on his smooth-delivery charm, he reverts back to his old ways. I can almost taste the sweat through the screen. I think he's got a great-looking pizza, though, and the judges agree. Eddie is apparently already a paid spokesperson for CiCi’s — rightfully so, since he killed it. Emilia was a bit boring, and Michelle chewed for, like, ever. Eddie rightfully wins with his dessert pizza and great presentation.
Round 2! David Alan Grier walks out to introduce “Improv Chef,” a quirky yet insanely difficult challenge. The finalists are having a blast choosing each other’s protein, color, unlikely ingredient and time of day. It’s pure comedy when they get to combine random ingredients and prepare a marshmallow and duck lunch or blue chicken liver caramel squares for dinner. The giggling stops once they are told they have 45 minutes to cook and a deceptively long four minutes to demo a component to a live audience. Four minutes is difficult; for some it will be too much time, while for others, not nearly enough. This is all about pacing and keeping the audience engaged while executing one portion of your dish.
The cooking begins. No one seems to be having much trouble combining these odd flavors and colors. Emilia just wants to loosen up, so naturally, she turned to the bottle. Michelle has it easy with basically bacon and eggs, and Eddie brilliantly breaded the quail in salt-and-vinegar chips.
We begin the demo portion at Food Star Kitchen turned L.A. comedy club. Arnold beings, but not without another twist from Mr. DAG! He reveals another board displaying random stories and tips, and the audience must choose what story and tip the finalist has to improvise into their presentation. Ahhhh, reminds me of my younger days at Second City and The Groundlings. Improv is a true art form and not for everyone, but for a Food Network Star, you must be able to construct entertaining bits out of thin air, especially on stage and ESPECIALLY when you run out of things to say. Remember: Stories and tips help you connect with the audience and give them some takeaway.
Arnold gets the audience involved immediately, which is always a great idea. The judges agreed and loved his food. Alex is going all Dice Clay on the crowd, dropping D bombs and S bombs left and right. It’s like a bad open mic in the basement of a bowling alley/fried chicken joint on Chicago’s West Side. (True story: I did a highly unsuccessful standup gig in the basement of a bowling alley/fried chicken joint. Great learning experience.) Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson are not impressed, and because of all the rambling and bad jokes, Alex runs out of time. Fortunately, his food was on point. The guy can cook!
Eddie’s coming in hot! Apparently Eddie’s been sequestered too long and needs the warmth of a lady or at least the chance to speak to one. Luckily, he doesn’t come off like a creep, and his charged libido is fuel for a funny and charming presentation. Best of the season so far and the food was equally impressive.
Michelle was solid and smooth but a bit boring. Emilia feels the need to take a big risk, and boy, does she. She forgoes the cooking portion of her demo and starts roasting the hell out of her fellow finalists. I mean, she just destroys them with zero panache and even less humor. Leave the roasting to the pros, and focus on your dish and assignment.
Dom starts off smooth but hits a brick wall made of “duck on the regular.” I love Dom, but this challenge proved that Dom does not love public speaking. This might have been his final opportunity to embrace the spotlight and get over that hump. He might be going home. I suspect the judges will have a difficult time making this decision.
Per usual, Jay put on a hell of show.
Going home this week: Emilia. Not sure if this was the correct decision on paper, but then again, I wasn’t there for the whole shebang. Ultimately, this competition is about likability. Sure, all these finalists have proved they're good (if not great) cooks during the last six weeks. What’s more important now is that likability factor, i.e., who would you rather sit down for a beer with? Who would you, the viewer, rather pop a bottle of rosé with, shoot the breeze with, talk some smack with? Who would you rather let into your house every Sunday morning? That is really the only question. That and “Can they convey that likability to the camera — every time?” But we will get to that question next week.