The Next Food Network Star, Week 5

This show is incredibly confused. Or maybe it’s me – that’s always a possibility.

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I occasionally watch the Food Network and, for the most part, there are a few shows I like. The hosts of the shows range in skill level from some crazy prepackaged concoction that you put into a pot and call dinner, to actual, proven chefs with their own acclaimed restaurants.

Most of the hosts, however, are somewhere in the middle. Lower middle. And I’m not knocking it – I’ve made a couple Rachel Ray dishes and there are some that aren’t so bad. She’s a huge phenomenon, millions of people love her, and she delivers exactly what the Food Network wants to achieve: Ratings (ha!) and to bring great meals to the home chef in a pleasing/entertaining manner. But now here comes this crazy “Next Food Network Star” competition they filled with contestants who have some sort of cooking background, but definitely not anyone they would have put into the The Next Iron Chef competition. Still, they’re trying to run this almost as if they were.

This week, our guest judge is Cat Cora, Executive Chef of Bon Appetit Magazine, and the Iron Chef who never seems to win a battle.

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Actually, that’s not true. According to wikipedia, she’s won more matches than Iron Chef Morimoto, and he is a certified badass.

So we start off with the camera challenge; making a dish with the provided ingredients, then describe the taste of the dish while you’re on camera. Cat Cora explains that each person should be specific about describing the dish, avoiding words like “delicious” and “flavorful” because those don’t really explain what the dish tastes like to an audience. Then the twist comes: contestants are put into pairs, and are told to swap dishes for the tasting portion of the competition.

I was sad to see so much failure going on, but I can only imagine how difficult the challenge was. I don’t think it’s something I could do, so I’m not going to start throwing stones. However, Chef Cora points out something very important, and that is a TV personality needs to be able to talk about absolutely anything at any given time.

In the end, Shane won the competition.

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I like Shane. He’s one of the younger contestants, but has proven himself to be likable and capable.

Then we move on to the second challenge, which is where things get really bizarre.

Cat Cora has invited the Bon Appetit staff to dinner. The contestants are put back into groups of two and are shown three very traditional meals that take many, many hours to prepare: beef Wellington, Turducken (eew), and coq au vin. The contestants are given 45 minutes to prepare their versions of these time consuming dishes and are asked to present them to the Judges and the Bon Appetit staff, with the bonus of the winning dish appearing in the August 2008 Bon Appetit magazine.

Danger, Will Robinson!

This is why I think the show is confused. Even Judge Bob Tuschman, Senior Vice President of Programming and Production said during the show – the Food Network is all about making cooking accessible to the home chef. No offense, but they aren’t delivering the upper echelon of dining. The Food Network is all about the stripped-down simplicity of Rachel Ray and the extra butter and bacon grease of Paula Deen. Granted, Bon Appetit isn’t exactly French Laundry caliber, but it is delivering a slightly higher culinary experience than most shows than The Food Network provides.

So why they have these cooks (not chefs) schlepping around in the kitchen so they can cater to the BA staff, I couldn’t say. The BA staff seemed disappointed with everything in every manner – from flavor profiles to the presentation. They even had a filmed statement from one of their photographers who said the dishes would not have been an acceptable shot.

Disaster seemed to strike each team at every turn. And Lisa, dear Lisa…

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Stop scrunching up the face! When she scrunches, she looks like a marmot and it confuses the viewers. If she simply smiled more, she’d win me over every time. I actually like her, but she tends to come off as stiff because she doesn’t laugh and smile as much. The judges continually tell her that she has a tendency to come across as cold, but I think that is partly due to her glamorous appearance. This may sound strange, but I think the haircut may come across as “severe” to viewers and she has to try harder to make herself seem more like the everyday chef. Lisa, please laugh more – you’re so very charming when you do.

In the end, Shane and Kelsey won the challenge with their beef Wellington, and their recipe will be printed in the August 2008 Bon Appetit magazine.

I can’t believe I’m still watching this show. Someone needs to do something to scale back the challenges to be much more appropriate.

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