It's Been One Heck of a Ride — Justin's Rebel Remix

Related To:

Food Network Star Season 9

Ladies and germs, the time is upon us: the final showdown! We've seen this batch be flummoxed by chips and dip, serve golf balls as doughnuts and get tipsy on the Fourth of July (don't we all, though?). Indeed it's been one heck of a ride for our final four, and now for just one of them, the real road trip is about to begin.

Giada, Bobby and Alton have been sitting on these eggs for 10 straight weeks. After one final meeting with the mentors, it's time for these eggs to hatch and meet the big birds, Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson, one more time.

Stacey has seen firsthand the transformative power of a helping hand in the kitchen. Stacey was a woman who was once in debt, running a restaurant and raising a family. Robert Irvine jump-started her stalled vehicle on the road to success, and it hasn't stopped running since. Now at the top of her game, Stacey wants to help transform the dishes and, ultimately, lives of Americans by throwing some rims on their hoopty recipes, and turn their stroganoff into a fashionable hand-bag pattern. Obviously I can get behind that. Heartbreakingly, her pitch was too melancholy to sway the selection committee. Regardless, I do not see Stacey Poon-Kinney slumping in a corner in San Diego. I see Stacey kicking butt, as she's done for 10 weeks now.

The Pilots

Behold the power of editing. Isn't it amazing what some quick cuts and narration can do? All of a sudden, three little peeps are now Coronation Sussex chickens, and look at them strut.

Rodney Henry

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

Eddy Chen, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Rodney: Holy smokes, man. How was I sleeping on this guy? Rodney caught my eye with his bitter melon bramble back in the third episode, but I never really saw him the way the Star Fan Poll has. The ticket was when Alton said "Pad Thai Pie." Bingo. Funny as heck, utterly likable and 100-percent original. I finally saw the light of pie style. I would gladly commune with this former Glenmont Pope, and you bet your biscuits I'd invite Rodney to Do or Dine to get "pie style" with any of our dishes. Also, Rodney is from Maryland, and so am I. Can Maryland bring back-to-back Food Network Stars?
Russell Jackson

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

Eddy Chen, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Russell: If there was anyone who I could endorse based on POV alone, from Episode 1, it would be Russell. I am the culinary rebel of the family. Sometimes rebellion leads me to butter-stuffed burgers, but sometimes I have to rebel against that and make vegan chilled corn soup. What excites me is that Russell is here to provide moderation in moderation. I don't have to repent for my deep-fried duck-liver sandwiches anymore. It's healthy to treat yourself nicely on occasion. I think one of the great scourges of American happiness is that, when it comes to what we ingest, we "should" on ourselves:

"I should be eating kale, but I'm eating Justin's butter burger instead." "I shouldn't have a nice glass of whiskey after work." The great "shoulding" of America diminishes our ability to appreciate food properly and to venerate and hold holy things like bourbon, bacon, fat and ice cream. Can I get an amen?
Damaris Phillips

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

Eddy Chen, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Damaris: Indeed Damaris Targaryen has walked through fire and tamed her dragons. Damaris has a Day-Glo personality. Even when it's bright, she’s brighter. Damaris' Eat, Date, Love concept is right up my alley. I, like Alton, have used the preparation of food to woo a few. At one time in my life, I would have gotten up at 6:30am to watch a show like Damaris' — I was that desperate. The gem of the whole thing is that what Damaris is really encouraging is confidence, hospitality and gentility. We all know a "dude-bro" who could benefit from this sort of program. Damaris also leads the pack in LOL moments for this season. She had exactly seven. I'm not an LOL sort, you see. Do I see men watching her show? Enthusiastically, yes. Do I see women watching her show? Absolutely. It doesn't get better than that. It's hard not to be a little sweet on Damaris, especially after watching her pilot.

Cue the Scary Music

The moral of the story: When I got the call to audition for Food Network Star, I leapt out of bed and ran around the room in my skivvies. It was as if the loudest, happiest song of all time had just played on the other end of the phone. You see, my three-month-old restaurant had to close for a few days to deal with some legal issues that I very rebelliously overlooked. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to reopen it. I had nothing to my name, other than a closed restaurant. I came into the preliminary audition with one hard-boiled egg. It was all I had. In one shot I explained how to peel the shell off that one egg like it was a pair of pants. You know how that story ends.

In the epilogue of my Food Network Star tale, the once holey-socked, scrappy-waiter-turned-cook is now the champion of rebellious cuisine. The president of the borough of Brooklyn set aside a special day to acknowledge my contributions to gastronomy. I've shot commercials all over the country. I've done culinary demos in standing-room-only auditoriums. I've helped charities. I can Snapchat with Giada. I can pay my rent. My restaurant is still kicking. And I've made what I consider to be one of the finest hours in food television. The best part, though? I get to make people happy just by existing. As a career hospitalitarian, this is the highest honor. Thanks for that, America. I owe you one.