I have never felt so uncomfortable watching a reality show a la food competition as I did when I watched Episode 4 of The Next Food Network Star.
Before I get into the details, let me say that there will be spoilers. This show runs on Sunday nights on the Food Channel, so most food blogs post their reviews first thing Monday morning, with spoilers either in the comments or after the jump. Here at Amateurs with Knives, we are considerate enough to be slackers, watching late and reviewing late. This way, we aren’t really spoiling anything for you since by now you’ve probably already seen the show! Think of it as part of the service we provide. No need to thank us.
I haven’t reviewed the last couple of weeks because of two things:
1. I haven’t watched the episodes
2. From what I was reading on the other food blogs, I wasn’t missing anything other than crying, crying, more crying, Martha Stewart, and crying
Armed with this knowledge, I sat down for week 4. Right off the bat, I’m painfully reminded that I am not watching a cadre of talented professional chefs. Instead, we’re watching a group of regular joes who want a show on the Food Network. I had to wonder what the criteria was for finding a “network star” and what panel selected these people? Do they still have jobs?
The first challenge is presented by Tyler Florence, who I really like. His shows are mostly instructional, showing people how to cook using different techniques and he really knows his stuff. Immediately the contestants are nervous because they realize they’re about to be put through a technique challenge.
And they are. Each person is to give a 60-second presentation on a technique: shucking an oyster, Frenching a rib, coring a pineapple, etc. To say there were a few awkward videos would be an understatement. The winner of the challenge was Kelsey. This was a pleasant surprise for me because when I first watched the show, her cheerful personality was overbearing to the point of annoyance. However, her presentation was excellent. She listened to what the judges have been telling her over the past few weeks and came off professional and pleasant and really did do a good job. I’d watch her show if she continued to present this way.
The loser was Nipa, known for her attitude and for walking out on the judges a couple of weeks ago. Her challenge: Clean a small squid. Before the camera turned on, she looked up with her usual sour expression and said, “I don’t know how to do this.” The cameras rolled anyway and she went forth, making a mockery of the challenge, giggling and making faces. In the end, she didn’t impress anyone, and I think even the normally good-natured Tyler Florence seemed a little ticked.
With the good and bad news over, the show becomes even more uncomfortable when the newest Iron Chef, Michael Symon, shows up.
The contestants are freaking out because they are so excited, and I’m never so aware of how ordinary these people look next to an actual chef. To make things even more confusing, they bring in the Executive Chef of Red Lobster.
Fine dining, it ain’t, but the contestants are excited anyway. They are given a panel of fish which represent some of Red Lobster’s “Fresh Fish” menu, and are asked to make a dish that would appeal to the restaurant’s diverse customer base. The winning dish will do just that, and be featured on the Red Lobster menu for a limited time.
If creating a meal for Red Lobster wasn’t awkward enough, Michael Symon gives them the part 2 of the challenge: They must make the fish two ways; the first way being geared toward the Red Lobster client, and the second with a twist. A second table is pointed out and the contestants are asked to choose an “Iron Chef ingredient,” which is really weird because I can’t remember the last time Fruit Loops and Marshmallow Creme were the secret ingredients of Iron Chef.
Quick! Someone plate the Fruit Loop sushi before the time is up!
There were some decent ingredients like coffee and white chocolate, but then there was the aforementioned marshmallow creme and Fruit Loops, also caramel, grape jelly and some unspecified cola brand. And our regular joes were expected to fix a fish dish with one of these ingredients. What a train wreck.
On top of these ridiculous dishes, each chef was expected to do a short presentation to a group of Coast Guard folks who they were serving the dishes to. One dude, Adam, came out of the kitchen and chose to trip and fall and make a fool of himself. Now, since we don’t have Gordon Ramsay on this show to put people in their places, I will now do this for you.
So then Nipa comes out and gives everyone a free Bollywood dance lesson that really freaked some people out. I was one of them.
In the end, Kelsey won the challenge and Nipa was sent packing. Nipa’s dish wasn’t as bad as the others, but she had really offended Michael Symon with the way she handled her fish during the preparation: Each contestant was asked to fillet one fish, and then they were given the rest of their fillets already ready. Nipa, who doesn’t like to touch fish, cut out a tiny little piece about the size of her thumb, and threw the rest of the fish away. That, her earlier technique presentation, and her overall behavior throughout the competition made the decision. If you want to read more about why their decision was made, you can read Bob Tuschman’s blog on the Food Network website.