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Liveblogging The Next Food Network Star 7.6

After enduring the deep lyrical complexity of the opening theme, we are quickly taken on our obligatory swing through the palatial mountain stronghold as the Padawans are preparing themselves for a shockingly sixty minute episode.

‘I cannot believe we are at week six,’ Paul Stanley mumbles whilst applying her thick black eye liner as if she were readying for a Cure concert, and I, too, am shocked she has managed to get this far. Orchid, meanwhile, is out to prove to the Jedi Council that saving her from elimination last week was a wise decision. Given her decreasing ability to shine in successive challenges, however, and the fact that her self-doubt is being highlighted so early, there is a certain fatality to her words.

Shortly thereafter, the Padawans arrive at what is described by Big Chris as ‘this parking lot’ wherein Lunch Trucks With Paula Deen Version 2.0 starring Tyler The Food Truck Master Florence as Paula Deen and three Food Trucks (which apparently differ substantially from mere Lunch Trucks) await.

‘As you can tell,’ The Food Truck Master explains, ‘you are gonna have a Food Truck face off.’

Jeff hangs his head and all about there is silence.

‘We are going to split you up into three teams,’ The Master continues. ‘Each team is responsible for coming up with a concept and a menu that will have your customers lined up to taste your food.’ There are wan smiles and, oddly a dour and unpleasant look from Paul Stanley, as this information is relayed to them. ‘Each team will shoot a thirty second commercial. And we are gonna invite—’

…wait for it…

…what’s the magic number…?

…everyone say it with me…

‘—a hundred and fifty food truck followers. They’re gonna watch your commercials and, based on your commercial alone, they’re gonna pick one truck to try.’ Personally I would prefer to sample the food served at one of the trucks rather than the truck itself but, then, everyone’s got a fetish. This is of course the what? That’s right. Very good. The Camera Challenge. It’s so nice when we can all learn together.

The Padawans are divided into Team Yellow of Vic, Jyll, and Orchid; Team Blue of Jeff, Cold Steel Whitney, and Susie; and Team Soylent Green of Big Chris, Paul Stanley, and our poor Mary Beth who, from the sanctity of the BNR dolorously observes regarding having to work once again with Paul Stanley, ‘I don’t trust her and I am not looking forward to working with her.’

They will have thirty minutes to determine the nature of their individual trucks and to ‘write a catchy script,’ according to The Food Truck Master. What we get, though, is about two minutes of bits and pieces sort of like a cool 80s montage but without the pulsing soundtrack by Ultravox. Or the actual cool montage. When the two minute half an hour is over, the teams have solidified their concepts.

Team Yellow are going to do some Fierce Food Fusion of tacos and burritos – but with ‘crazy stuff.’ The problem seemed to be, in the opinion of The Master, that Orchid said ‘”We’re gonna have a great time” three times’ when, in fact she only said it twice. Once she said ‘We’re gonna have a good time.’  Regardless, it is suggested to her to by The Master that she have a ‘decent Rolodex of good adjectives and, uh, ways to describe things.’

Team Soylent Green are doing wraps and a bad Charlie’s Angels-style advert which is, as Jeff so aptly stated, ‘uncomfortable to watch’ if only because watching Paul Stanley try to be sultry in a staged and wooden manner is enough to make me wish she would have burst into song –

No, no, no

No I will not show him what I’ve got

Can’t see my, can’t see my,

No he can’t see my burka face…

Team Blue have decided that balls are their thing, that is to say food ‘in spherical form,’ and Mary Beth sagely states from the BNR that they will attract ‘a lot of fifth graders.’ Jeff feels they have done the best of the three groups, though The Master has some reservations about the Balls on The Roll concept: ‘Balls,’ he says. ‘Do you think that’s really gonna bring em in? Is that your concept? You guys are happy with that?’ Whitney tells the stone-faced Master that she thinks the idea is fun, however Susie is more reserved and confesses from the BNR that she’s ‘a little concerned’ that people may be offended by it. But not fifth-graders, though. They’ll love it.

They are given $1000 per team to shop – this time at Restaurant Depot so they don’t have to choke on retail prices for a change – and they will have two hours to prepare before their trucks open for business. Of course that two hour preparation time will be for tomorrow, after they’ve rested from their laborious 30 minute day today.

After their shopping spree, the Padawans return to the palatial mountain stronghold to unwind from their whirlwind day and we find Jeff and Paul Stanley having a chat at the 50 foot plank in the centre of the incredibly poorly-designed kitchen. There is a sense of unease, though, as Jeff discusses his true warmth and how it is often disguised by a ‘goofy’ persona, because Paul Stanley appears to sigh heavily and shift in her seat with some discomfort that they are not talking about her.

FNS7-johnsnotgayThe next morning, Jeff tells his teammates – Susie and Cold Steel Whitney – that the little red sweatband he wears was blessed by a monk in Indiana, presumably after a Loverboy concert, and so they all decide to wear them in a show of ‘team unity and power.’  And for those not at all familiar with the strong contingent of monks in the grate state (oh, did I spell that incorrectly?) of Indiana, there are several people with that surname. Prior to heading out to face their challenge, Jeff counsels his teammates, ‘Just don’t underestimate the power of the bandana.’ It worked for Mike Reno. And Axl Rose. And John Travolta.

Arriving via Black Ops SUVs at an undisclosed aircraft hangar, the Padawans discover their Food Trucks have been decorated, arranged and (we must guess) fully stocked for the day’s activities. Why the Food Trucks are inside the aircraft hangar rather than ‘this parking lot’ in the bright warm California sunshine is never explained.

Everyone dives straight away into preparing their dishes – fancy yet non-traditional falafel from Cold Steel Whitney (with cooked chick peas, not raw), an albondigas soup for Susie, giant meatballs from Jeff, a ‘Phillirito’ (or Philly cheese steak burrito, not a taco) from Vic, a redemptive shrimp Po’ Boy taco from Jyll, Filipino-style pork adobo tacos and a vinegary slaw from Orchid, a ginger-lime chicken wrap from Mary Beth, a butter-poached lobster and cream cheese wrap from Big Chris, and a slow-motion filet mignon kebab and Greek salad wrap from Paul Stanley who is not only continuing to think well inside the culinary box but is lagging well behind her teammates because she, like Eddie from season 5, wants to ‘put love in each one.’ This mean, however, she will not have anything ready by serving time and Mary Beth kindly offers to help her speed the process up by chopping onions for her.

Finally the tons of 150 food truck followers begin to arrive including not only The Food Truck Master, Tyler Florence, but also Bob Tuschman, a freshly-returned and rested Darth Giada, and Dark Lord of The Sith, Bobby Flay. Before the fun begins, the Council and audience are subjected to the advertisements for each of the Food Trucks so that they can decide from which truck they intend to dine.

Fierce Food Fusion appears to have a well-received advertisement, although Orchid’s apparent inability to stand out amongst ‘larger’ personalities is heavily played upon and inches her closer to an inevitable fate. The advert for Wrap It Up with its vaguely Charlie’s Angels theme is ridiculous, but Paul Stanley is in love with seeing herself on the screen. And Balls on The Roll is clearly a ‘Jeff inspired’ idea with his ‘fingerprints all over it’ which tends to leave some people uncertain as to whether or not they would actually enjoy eating balls – that is food ‘in spherical form.’

The answer to that would be, not so much. And the absence of a long line of tons of 150 food truck followers or fifth-graders lined up to eat balls is a testament to the success of the concept.

Paul Stanley, however, is continuing to lag far behind and has no wraps prepared as hungry people anxiously wait in line and complain quite a lot about how hungry they are and how they have to wait in line for no wraps.  Eventually Mary Beth goes out into the aircraft hangar and talks to the people in line and tries to comfort them so they don’t feel neglected. Eventually, Paul Stanley’s filet mignon kebabs slowly begin to trickle out.

Over at Balls on The Roll it is, as Jeff describes, ‘a ghost town.’

Soon the Jedi Council and The Food Truck Master begin to assess the various offerings from each of the trucks. It is decided that Paul Stanley’s wrap outshined the ‘bagel and cream cheese’ taste of Big Chris’ lobsterless lobster wrap and Mary Beth’s ginger and lime chicken wrap seemed more like ‘left-overs’ when contrasted against filet mignon but, Darth Giada insists, ‘She described it really well, though.’

Orchid continues on the path to the Plain Brown Closet Door To Nowhere as she is once more said to get ‘overshadowed by bigger personalities’ and her adobo pork is sour tasting compared to the ‘fantastic’ and redemptive shrimp taco from Jyll or the powerhouse ‘Vic Magic’ Phillirito from Vic.

Ready to finally taste some balls, the Jedi Council concur with The Food Truck Master that Jeff’s balls were ‘a big mouthful of flavour’ and Darth Giada says ‘This was visually very appealing to me.’ Bob T believes they were ‘pillowy soft.’ Susie’s albondigas soup ‘really shows Susie’s soul,’ Lord Flay admits but The Master feels someone could be ‘completely lost’ because Susie did not describe her dish in an adequate fashion. Spicy balls in a broth, Tyler. How difficult is that? Bob T feels it was a shame that the concept of balls drove the tons of 150 people away as the dishes were ‘fantastic.’ Except for the ‘thick and dull’ falafel from Cold Steel Whitney. That was not fantastic.

What was also not fantastic is the manner in which the programme was edited to show only the joy and love and camaraderie of Team Soylent Green. Where was Big Chris, in a bit of a mood after being arrogantly told ‘You guys are not doing it’ – whatever ‘it’ may have been – standing at the open back door of the truck and harshly chastising Paul Stanley by saying ‘We’re doing all the cooking, all the serving – you’re doing one thing right now!?’ And did we miss the special over-used Star Challenge, or was that inclusive of the Camera Challenge part with Tyler The Food Truck Master Florence?

Moving into the elimination, the Padawans gather, as always, in the Council Chambers and we must wait through a dramatic tracking shot and some exciting string music before Lord Flay announces, to the surprise of everyone, that ‘only one of you can be The Next Food Network Star’ because it’s a statement which doesn’t take into account the later additions to the Food Network and Cooking Channel family of theoretically non-winning Padawans such as Kelsey Nixon, Tom Pizzica, Adam Gertler, Jeffrey Saad or the renegade Nathan Lyon, not to mention those former ‘fan favourites’ who have recently returned for Chopped All-Stars or the unannounced Padawan who slipped under the wire on 24 Hour Restaurant Battle.

Darth Giada tells Team Soylent Green that ‘the wrap concept was a good one’ but it is clear to Big Chris that ‘there were times where service suffered maybe a little bit’ and Paul Stanley smiles knowingly. Mary Beth concurs that the nonchalant behaviour of slowly and methodically making the filet mignon kebab wraps ‘delayed service at the very beginning’ and Paul Stanley immediately defends herself by saying ‘there was a lot more to it than just putting a glop of, you know, your lobster salad inside of a wrap this big’ and then she holds her fingers approximately four inches apart to illustrate to them just how big ‘this big’ is. She then goes on a with a droning litany of I Did This & I Did That and when it comes to how she had to chop onions Mary Beth finally steps in and announces that she had helped with that task. Paul Stanley asks if she is referring to the help Mary Beth provided after the majority of the tasks were accomplished by the lone hands of Paul Stanley and Mary Beth argues the point with her (and rightfully so, because she is quite correct). Unfortunately the Jedi Council are rolling their eyes and sighing and shifting in their seats at the contentious atmosphere which seems to always envelope everything Paul Stanley does or says.

At last a defensive Mary Beth states ‘You asked me, I’m answering’ and begins to show obvious annoyance at the argumentative nature of her arrogant teammate until Paul Stanley, in a display of maturity and decorum, lashes out at Mary Beth and makes an angry cat noise at her which, in turn, makes Mary Beth ask, ‘Excuse me?’ This prompts Lord Flay to observe with some annoyance of his own, ‘You guys are at each other’s throats, man’ and Darth Giada just shakes her head.

‘She’s saying things,’ Mary Beth explains to him, ‘that are sort of half-truths.’

‘You know, Penny,’ Lord Flay folds his hands whilst he speaks. ‘If we had to pick one person who has the most animosity towards them, it has to be you.’

‘We are a Food Network family,’ Darth Giada admonishes her. ‘You have to get along with people behind the scenes.’

‘I’ll focus on that more, given the opportunity,’ Paul Stanley responds in perhaps the longest way of saying Whatever I have heard in a very long time.

Despite her irksome and on-going antagonism, her food is given high marks. And Big Chris, smiling at the mention of his lobster wrap, is immediately deflated when Darth Giada say it was ‘nasty.’ Lord Flay twists the knife further, telling him ‘You just killed it, dude.’ And, just after their Charlie’s Angels-style advert is called ‘a little juvenile’ by Bob T, Mary Beth is told by Darth Giada (perhaps a bit more on the vicious side than was really necessary) that her ginger-lime chicken wrap ‘ just seemed uninspired and bland and boring.’

The Fierce Food Fusion truck – Team Yellow – are mostly praised for having a fun and engaging advertisement, except for the part with Orchid in it, and Jyll’s redemptive shrimp Po’ Boy redeemed her from the Wisconsinite taco of last week whilst Vic has, in the eyes of Darth Giada, moved from ‘being a dark horse in this competition to really being a contender.’ Orchid, as suspected, is said by Lord Flay to have started ‘kinda fading in the background a little bit’ and Bob T, after helpfully saying she is at a ‘simmer’ whilst everyone round her is at ‘full boil,’ confesses ‘Unfortunately, I didn’t like your dish as much, especial compared to the other two dishes that we had on your truck.’

Dark ominous music. Orchid stares.

Moving on quickly to Team Blue Balls on The Roll – Team Loverboy – Bob T scolds them for ‘a sophomoric joke that you repeated over and over and over again.’  Cold Steel Whitney defends the concept, explaining ‘I thought it was fun, I thought it was funny’ and, when Darth Giada scoffs at this with pursed lips and raises up a perfectly manicured eyebrow, Cold Steel Whitney demands, ‘I’m funny, Giada.’ Lord Flay leans on his right hand and pinches the bridge of his nose between a thumb and forefinger. Bob T tells Cold Steel Whitney that she must no longer be the student and become the master if she intends to become a powerful Jedi. ‘Your falafel was very mushy,’ Lord Flay delivers the last blow.

As for Susie’s albondigas soup, Lord Flay must admit ‘the chorizo broth was amazing to me.’ Darth Giada feels, however, that she cannot simply yell out ‘Albondigas soup’ because it ‘doesn’t say anything to anybody.’

‘You have knowledge of a lot of things,’ Lord Flay suggests, ‘that most people don’t in this country. You can use these ingredients to tell your story.’

‘I want to get there,’ Susie tells him.

Jeff is told that he ‘is so much better’ than the person ‘doing schtick’ about Balls on The Roll, and his meatball not only ‘went over very well,’ according to Lord Flay, but Darth Giada feels she must tell him ‘I was so charmed. Charmed by a meatball, which doesn’t happen often for this girl right here.’ I can imagine. I’ve seen her husband.

Clearly the winners this week are Susie, Vic – the overall champion – and once again rather unfortunately, the pre-determined antagonist Paul Stanley who will be moving on to the possibly exciting episode next week if it doesn’t suck and isn’t cunningly edited to extricate the enticing bits we see in the teasers but never actually see in the programme such as Bob T castigating someone by saying ‘I don’t know if America is going to love you’ or Lord Flay telling someone ‘You have no excuses’ that we didn’t see in this episode.

At the bottom this week are a clearly vexed and perplexed Mary Beth, a none too shocked Orchid, and an unflinching Cold Steel Whitney. Jeff, saved by his pillowy soft and charming meatballs, will move ahead as will Big Chris and Jyll – something which appears to come as quite an unwelcome surprise to Paul Stanley.  Mary Beth, Orchid and Cold Steel Whitney are asked to leave the Council Chambers so that the Jedi may decide their fate, however, with only two minutes remaining in the programme, that deliberation is uncannily brief and very much a re-tread of everything the Jedi have been saying from the first episode some eight months ago when this series began: Cold Steel Whitney must, rather counter-intuitively, stop listening to what the Jedi want and begin being herself; Orchid is warm and draws attention but seems unable to hold that attention amongst bigger personalities; Mary Beth has not been consistent and not shown ‘lots of good food.’

When they are called back to the Council Chambers, with mere seconds to go, Bob T delivers the stunner to Mary Beth that she is safe despite the minor diversion created during the Council deliberation.

‘Oh,’ she looks as though she’d been slapped and says in a bewildered manner, ‘Wow. Thanks…’

Then the camera pans dramatically across the stern faces of the Jedi Council as the echoing hip hop drum machine ticks away in monotonous 4/4 time. ‘The finalist that will be going home tonight,’ Bob T sadly announces as we pause for more drumming, ‘is Orchid.’

‘This will not be the last time you see me,’ she smiles, knowing she will likely have a programme on The Cooking Channel someday after passing through the Plain Brown Closet Door To Nowhere.

Possibly sealing her fate for next week, Cold Steel Whitney tells us from the BNR that ‘The only person who’s going to fight for me here, in the end, is me. And so, I have to be myself and I have to bring it a hundred per cent from now on,’ though she does not define what ‘it’ is she is bringing.

Next week, in a bunch of things we probably won’t see either, Lord Flay introduces his Master, The Emperor, Chef Wolfgang Puck (who says ‘Hallo!’) and indicates that ‘The stakes this week are higher than they ever have been before.’ Big Chris, with an clear sense of irritation, will demand ‘Yo! Why did you turn this up without telling me!?’ He will then go on to possibly explain to someone other than a disinterested Vic, ‘I call it sabotage. I think someone tried to ruin my dessert.’  Lord Flay will maybe announce ‘Two of you will be going home’ and hold up two fingers to show them how many two is. Vic will perhaps break the heart of Darth Giada and Vic might tell her ‘I feel ya’ which, no doubt, is something many viewers would like to say to Darth Giada. Bob T may or may not cry that he feels for Vic and Vic will shake his head and groan with loathing. Jyll could likely have a sweet corn risotto which may prompt Emperor Puck to ask ‘Can I come and show you how to make a risotto?’ to the chagrin of Lord Flay. Jyll could potentially say ‘I was absolutely mortified’ and Lord Flay might even tell someone he does not know how to straighten them out. Jyll may have tears in her eyes. Bob T could tell them, ‘The time for glimmering is past – you gotta shine’ and Susie might cry and look as though she is blowing her nose in her hand.

Maybe. I don’t know.

We’ll see…

2 Responses to Liveblogging The Next Food Network Star 7.6

  1. Brittany says:

    A friend of one of the 150 hungry people explained that the reason they used the hanger was because it was raining and the coldest day in Feb this year. In other words, Food Network did their due diligence when checking the weather before setting up an outdoor challenge.
    It also turns out that casting for these guests are done via Craigslist with an ad calling for ‘hungry people.’ Brilliant use of that rolodex, Food Network.

  2. Geo says:

    Thanks for the insider information, Brittany. And, for the record, I wasn’t indicating it was necessarily a bad thing that they were inside a hanger, just an odd thing as no explanation was given. However, in light of this information, it does make the timing of the Big Fourth of July All-American Off The Hook Food Festival at The Ranch all the more suspect.
    (And a big shout out to my blog host for making the original version of this comment appear to have been written in tenth century verse…)