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Liveblogging The Next Food Network Star 4.3

Episode Three…

According to the intro, Commander Lisa believes that she ‘will not make it,’ Adam will look like The Court Jester before Queen Martha, someone or something is on the verge of annoying, Queen Martha doesn’t eat ‘that kind of food,’ Jen doesn’t know what she said, Kelsey will cry this week and it breaks her heart. Hm. Why didn’t the Neelys have to do all this hoop-jumping? I don’t think they would have lasted. And since when are they suddenly Food Network Elite?

Why do I care? I don’t know…

After watching a little catch-up from last week – including Commander Lisa being slightly catty about Nipa’s dramatic exit from the Evaluation Room in the previous episode – and a few seconds devoted to everyone in their underwear going about their morning routine, we are whisked away to the Food Network Studios Kitchens where Dark Lord Bobby Flay seems to be in an uncharacteristic jovial mood. In fact he even smiled for what I believe is the first time so far this season as he introduced the contestants to their first challenge: using ‘an ingredient’ to demonstrate their individual CPOV (which, Shane reminds us from the sanctity of the ASR, is very important).

This ingredient is ‘the absolute perfect canvas for this challenge,’ says Lord Flay.  He pulls the silver lid from the butcher block table (where I expected to see the head of maybe Mario Batali or something) to unveil…

A potato.

Nipa says she can nail that potato – rather a disturbing image, if I’m honest. She says she was doing a Bollywood dance in her head about it. Yeah. You might want to keep that whole thing in your head, Nipa. I can’t really picture that. Actually I don’t want to picture that. At least not with a potato.

They have thirty minutes to express themselves through the potato and will be judged on three criteria: creativity, taste, and how they express themselves through the potato.

Jeffrey, in a stunning confession, is pretty confident that the potato through which he will express himself is a simple ingredient.

Nipa is going to make Rasa Valu Batata Nu Shak which is potato curry with gravy. I hope she has turmeric this time and doesn’t piss and moan about how she has to make curry with actual curry. Aaron is going to define his CPOV with a bacon wrapped potato with a honey scallion glaze. See, this is a tip he probably got from Cory – who would have dourly espoused the hip and trendy nature of the honey. Adam is going for cheese fries. Cooked, he assures us. Jen’s CPOV is kid-friendly food that the whole family will enjoy so, thus, she will produce a mashed potato grilled pizza. Kelsey is going for a Pancetta Potato Gratin. Shane is making mushroom, leek and potato soup with pancetta and lemon scented olive oil. Commander Lisa is going for a poached potato with smoked trout to take us on a magical journey through the art of fine dining with beautiful basics like revenge which, as we  all know, is a dish best served cold. Lotta laughs, the Romulan Star Empire. Jeffrey is preparing sophisticated home fries which, sadly, resemble Denny’s hash browns.

And now, returning to his normal self, Lord Flay darkly announces that – wait! – cooking was only half of the challenge. The remainder of the challenge is to present their dish – to camera – in front of the Jedi Council of Bobby, Bob, and Susie.  Do I see another Tommy coming on? Bob T explains that they each of them have one minute to explain what they have made, what it means to them, to make it personal, and tell a story. Susie tells them that the Jedi Council will also be looking at how each contestant expresses themselves and how they relate to the camera and how original and inventive their dishes are.

And one by one, the traffic accident begins to unfold…

Adam pretty much nails his intro, except for the whole girlfriend thing which was kind of awkward, and the judges give him high marks for both his performance and his cooked cheese fries. Kelsey, who I personally thought was very professional (though a bit forced), struck the judges as phoney and over-polished, and her Potato Gratin was bland and undercooked. Jeffrey’s ‘sophisticated soul’ falls incredibly flat and lifeless as do his home fry hash browns, but he does tell us that sophistication comes from knowledge and that there’s a lot of nutrition in a potato which is why he left the skin on. Nipa presents her dish with a nice little tale of growing up and the Jedi Council seem to think it’s quite nice, but that she needs to smile more. In a stark and unexpected turn, Lord Flay announces approvingly that Nipa’s Rasa Valu Batata Nu Shak has ‘a nice burn to it.’ Rather like flaming Ewok.

Aaron says, regarding the camera, that he can’t relate to a piece of glass (which is awkward I guess if you want to be on television) but seems to do a fairly good job nevertheless. In another unexpected twist, Lord Flay says that not only is Aaron’s potato a ‘great steakhouse potato’ but that he wants to add the dish to his own Atlantic City restaurant. Did Lord Flay get a whiff of too many metachlorians over the weekend? Shane nailed his intro as well – which made Bob T very happy – although Bob apparently makes a thinly veiled admission that Shane’s vichyssoise harkens back to the taste and texture he recalls of library paste from the third grade. Jen seems quiet and not altogether ‘on’ and her dish of mashed potato pizza gets judged as ‘weird’ by Susie Fogelson.

And then Commander Lisa…

Oh, Lisa… There she is sweating this out in the back room, leaning on her elbows hyperventilating over a table, hearing everyone say how quickly their minute sped past… and she’s nervous because she doesn’t want to run over her time. And your time starts…now:

‘Hi! I’m Lisa Garza, and I’d like to take you on a journey through the art of fine dining with a Blue Collar potato dressed to kill with herbed crème fraiche, smoked trout, and an accessory of green fresh asparagus. Thank you. Enjoy.’

lisafrozenAnd for the remaining 45 seconds of your full minute, Lisa, just stare uncomfortably into the camera. And when the girl next to the camera operator tells you to stretch it out, just nod and say, ‘Oh. Okay.’

Tick…

Tick…

Tick…

Tick…

Tick…

And, quite strangely, after the longest 45 seconds in recent television memory, the Jedi Council never did appear to try her Blue Collar potato. Of course I have trouble eating when someone stares at me as well, so…

After a word from our sponsor, we are back in the Kitchens at FN for the next challenge. Lisa, in a sombre turn, tells us from the Cone of Silence in the ASR that now they are on to the second challenge. She does not tell us if the judges ever tried her Blue Collar Potato. I’m guessing they didn’t, hence her being so subdued. She says she is a little nervous because the mini-challenge (by which I presume she means the first segment of the show) didn’t go like she planned. Really? Was it that obvious?

Bobby Flay announces that the next phase of the challenge is to create their own packaged food product – something that really says who they are – and distribute samples of their product to 50 buyers for food stores all across the country. The buyers will be arriving in roughly 24 hours to try the samples. The contestants have thirty minutes to shop for the ingredients for both their packaged item and the food with which it will be served for presentation.

Adam says he will make a smoking rub and smoke some chicken breasts but he cannot find the requisite wood for proper smoking. Nipa is going for a sweet and spicy peanut seasoning. However she is faced, once more, with the same giant Wall-O-Spices she confronted to no avail previously in search of turmeric. New York strikes me as a somewhat large-ish kind of city; do they only have one grocery? Fortunately she only needs two ingredients: Cayenne pepper and sugar. One the down side, she clears the shelf of all available cayenne pepper (far more than she needs) which, in turn, screws Aaron because he wants to make an apple cider vinaigrette to serve over a salad – and his super secret ingredient is cayenne pepper. He realises that either someone swiped it all or that it was all sold out, so he settles for ground jalapeño, but he is not happy.

Apparently no-one else is making anything. Or maybe that part was cut out because it wasn’t interesting enough for inclusion in the final cut.

Back in the Studio Kitchens, they have an hour to prep their goodies and – Oh! Okay! Commander Lisa is going to make a basil, balsamic, orange marmalade served on phyllo with Brie which, by her own admission, is a labour intensive dish. Once again I must ask ‘Why?’ Why go through such a vast amount of work if you don’t think you will have the time to actually prepare your dish correctly? Doesn’t anyone ever learn from this programme?

Kelsey is making her all in one sauce served on sloppy joes, Jennifer is making a three-cheese cream sauce served on pinwheel pasta, Jeffrey, who wishes not to be in the bottom four any longer, is going to make a seasoned salt to be served on catfish, and Shane is making what he calls a ‘Cherri-gac Steak Sauce,’ a combination of cherries and cognac. Unfortunately he is not aware that he has transposed the G and the N in cognac.

Adam is being quite inventive and using a tip he got from Good Eats – using corn cobs to smoke his rub. Why do I feel dirty saying that? Commander Lisa, at twenty-odd minutes to go in the challenge, is realising that she has possibly bitten off far more than she can chew – in stark contrast to Nipa, who is blithely stirring her cayenne and sugar together in a bowl to go over some peanuts. I’m not crazy about Nipa but hers was one of the smarter choices in the room: simple, painless, and totally do-able in about an hour, because you have to include packaging time it seems. Of course ‘simple’ doesn’t always equate to ‘good,’ and one could argue that she took the lazy way out (which has some truth to it) but at least she was closer to the right track for a change.

The next day in Studio A, the contestants gather before Dark Lord Bobby Flay who has single-handedly usurped the seemingly insignificant powers of Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson and has now made the entire Food Network tremble before his awesome power. He is also wearing a blue checked shirt and no tie. Nice. Not so Sithy for first thing in the morning.

The group have thirty minutes to get their products together and ready for presentation. What’s with these absurd thirty and sixty minute deadlines when they have an entire fucking day before anyone arrives? Why does everything have to be under such intense and meaningless pressure? You know damn well that once you’re a ‘star,’ all this dicking around will have been entirely pointless. Even Alton Brown admitted this not long ago. None of these high-pressure, last-minute type of things will ever happen when you’re doing your own show. Unless it’s Emeril Live, maybe Iron Chef, or Dinner Impossible. But, last I looked, none of these people are trying out for Iron Chef. I can understand the need for legitimate challenges, but these pointless and arbitrary hoops are getting tiresome.

Uh-oh! Kelsey has let it slip! She’s  secretly Darth Small. She says that a Food Network Star should really be thinking about The Empire! I knew it…

As the buyers enter the room we see that Adam’s Smoke Rub seems to have gone over well, as does Aaron’s Apple Cider Vinaigrette (despite the fact that he just will not let go of the whole cayenne pepper thing) and the Jedi Council are duly impressed with the flavour. Nipa’s Peanut Spice crashed and burned primarily because, once everyone discovered that it was only two ingredients, they felt that it wasn’t marketable because just about anyone can throw together sugar and cayenne, so what’s the point of buying it pre-made? As usual everyone thinks Kelsey is much too forced and needs to relax, but Susie Fogelson did somewhat lifelessly decree that Kelsey’s All-In-1 Sauce was ‘Very lovely.’

Shane’s Cherri-gac (the ‘g’ is silent, he says) Steak Sauce seems to have gone down well, but with the caveats that, 1) he needs to work on the name (and, I would think, the spelling as well, because cognac is not spelt ‘congac’) and, 2) he doesn’t know his materials cost – a bomb which fell to the thunderclap of a deep bass drum for good measure, in case anyone at home needed the reinforcement that this was an error in judgement.

From the Apple Specimen Room a gloating Commander Lisa secretly confides that she’s developed product before and that, as a result, she knows all the answers which the other contestants are tripping over.

Someone called Denise Tedaldi – a buyer for Harry & David  (which is not to be confused with David & David ) – says that Jeffrey’s ‘Soul of Jeffrey Soul Food Season Salt’ was the least marketable of all the items because she felt that anyone could make it, and probably make it better. Man. That’s gotta sting. Especially when Nipa’s was just sugar and cayenne.  And what a squirmingly uncomfortable moment as poor Jeffrey explains his seasoning to the stoney-faced Jedi Council who will hardly look him in the eye (or is that bad editing again?) as he tells them that his seasoned salt is quite tasty and that they will still be thinking about it five minutes later. Like when they are spitting it out. Or laughing at the name.

Jennifer is marketing her ‘Jenny Lynn’s Three Cheese Sauce’ and tells Bob Tuschman that what makes her sauce better than any other sauce on the market is that hers tastes better. This elicits a frowning nod from Lord Flay.

And then the buyers are slowly thinning away to finally make room for the Special Guest, and the contestants are abuzz with speculation as to who it will be.

Enter Queen Martha in her frumpy yellow sweater to usher in a commercial break, but not before we are treated to Lisa doing her impression of Stewie when he discovers that Peter is taking him to Disneyworld. Oh the humanity…

Kelsey suddenly realises that Sloppy Joes are not the gastronomic Yellow Brick Road down which lies the way to win over Queen Martha, though I have to disagree. I’m sure Martha choked down some less than haute cuisine (amongst other things) with her tough new gal pals in federal prison, so this should be like old times.

But first Her Majesty tells Shane that his sauce lacks salt. A devastating blow to the young man who used to be fat. He hangs his head in shame.

Nipa explains that, no, her sweet and spicy peanut seasoning does not, in fact, contain peanuts (which HRH Martha finds misleading) but that the peanut seasoning is perfect for seasoning peanuts. Huh. I never would have made that connection. Thanks, Nipa.

The Soul of Jeffrey  strikes Her Highness as mild, but Jeffrey insists that, five tables later, she will still be tasting his Soul. Must be garlicy. Or Miss Martha is a soul-eating demon.

Commander Lisa, back from the embarrassing butt-scoots of joy around the room, grovels hugely before The Martha in the most delightful and cloying way as Martha dourly tastes a microscopic pinpoint of the Basil Balsamic Orange Marmalade and then grimly wipes the taste away with a cocktail napkin. This is one of the highlights of Lisa’s life, she says. Having my idol rigidly observing me with complete disinterest and sullenly wiping the taste of our meeting from their mouth with a decorative napkin would not be a highlight for me. Not so much.

Now Martha resolutely approaches Jennifer and the Three Cheese Sauce. Poor Jen. She was being gracious and friendly and trying to be informative and Martha just scowled and glared at everything and cut Jen off as she was talking. Wow. Prison must have been really rough on our little Jersey Girl. But Jen just smiled and took it like a pro, even after Martha totally dissed her when Jen said it was very nice meeting her. Nice ominous music cue also. I love the editing touches that so often make the contestants look like turds ready for the flush…

On to Aaron, Martha suddenly opens up like a little wilting flower and shares fun facts with Aaron regarding the history of apple cider. She enjoys his product and even walks away smiling. What the hell?

Coming off her abrupt high, Martha kind of smiles at Kelsey and inspects the All-In-1 Sauce table. She needs a fork to eat her little finger sandwich sized Sloppy Joe. It’s the prison way. Kelsey, meanwhile, explains in her usual bubbly, slightly forced way that this Sauce is what she envisions first time cooks using, but from the solitude of the ASR confesses that she felt bad giving Martha something that she obviously didn’t like.

Adam burst into a blues harmonica riff which actually makes Queen Martha laugh as she tries the smoke rub. I was half expecting to see Lord Flay step in brandishing his light saber or Bob and Susie hastily scribble notes to be given later, but it seems Adam pulled off his little blues number without too much embarrassment.

Later, in Studio B, the Jedi Council convenes with Sith Mistress Stewart to discover that she cared not for Shane’s cherry gack offering and that she found him bland as well. Her assessment of Commander Lisa is that she has a depth of knowledgeable about food (which clearly comes from all the Martha Stewart regalia) which Martha feels is important for developing a personality for a television show. It is also clear that, despite the surprised looks from the Jedi Council, Martha enjoyed Adam’s smoke rub and his blues breakout. Aaron also receives high marks, as to be expected. Nipa’s offering is pronounced ‘just a little combination of stuff’ that Martha just didn’t get. Jen is reduced to a liner note: ‘I don’t know how provocative she would be on a show of her own.’  Jeffrey’s Soul is said to be bland and flavourless and tastes like salt. And, reaching back to the beginning teaser, we find that the kind of food Martha doesn’t eat is, of course, Sloppy Joes – a devastating blow to poor Kelsey who just got shafted by one of her heroes.

And on to the evaluation and elimination:

After a needless recap by the Jedi Council of what they’ve just made everyone slog through, they first attack Shane, telling him that his soup was like porridge (Bob T will keep the paste story to himself it seems) and that he lacks passion. Next comes Adam who vows to leave the Raw Foods Movement behind as Lord Flay asks him if he felt whipping out the harmonica on Martha Stewart was the right choice. ‘You only live once, man,’ Adam tells him. Lord Flay says curtly, ‘We’ll see…’

Jen is told that she needs a more positive spin on things and needs to be clearer and more authoritative. Commander Lisa bursts cringingly into tears over how important it was for her to meet Queen Martha, despite Lord Flay’s admonition regarding her 45 seconds of complete emptiness during her first food presentation. Nipa gets a bit of a scolding from Bob T about her stalking out of the room the week prior and wonders if she can take the critique this week. She says ‘Absolutely’ but I’m thinking probably not. They loved her potato dish, which makes her smile (kind of) but they thought her Peanut Spice was too simple. She nods and says, ‘Okay,’ but I see a tiny icy glare in those eyes.

On to Aaron: the Jedi Council seem to have enjoyed everything he prepared (as did Miss Martha) but Susie scolds him on his lack of personal information. Jeffrey’s ‘sophisticated’ Home Fries (made from the knowledgeable potatoes with their skins still on) are considered to be anything but memorable and his Soul Salt was lackluster. Kelsey is raked over the coals for uncooked Potatoes Gratin but everyone agrees that her Sloppy Joe sauce was really good – except for Martha Stewart who ‘doesn’t eat that kind of food.’ Kelsey’s pitch for her product was also slammed as being ‘on the verge of annoying’ and over the top. Ouch.

Before they give the boot to one of the contestants, Adam discovers that he is the winner of this week’s challenge and is safe from the final cut. Lisa is also safe because the buyers enjoyed the marmalade. Lisa covers her face and cries again. Oh dear. It turns out, in rather an unexpected upset which surely leaves Lisa fuming, that Queen Martha’s personal favourite at the food presentation was Aaron, so he is moving on to the next round.

Nipa and Shane, though told they are passionless and need to step it up, are safe for the next round. Kelsey breaks down when she explains that it breaks her heart that her bubbly nature is coming off fake and forced and that she has wanted to be The Next Food Network Star for four years and that she will try harder to do better. She is safe for the next round.

And now it is down to Jennifer and Jeffrey. I think Jeffrey gets sacked because he just doesn’t have the fire. And I’m right! Jen bursts into tears and runs upstairs to savour her victory over mediocrity and vows to do better. Jeffrey gets hugs all around and then it’s the long march down the stairs into obscurity.

In the preview for next week they are showing the clip of Commander Lisa falling again. Man, I sure hope they don’t keep prolonging the agony with this teaser – I’ve got to see that. Over and over and over. In slow motion. Frame by frame.

But we shall see…

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