Well, we're finally separating the wheat from the chaff in Next Food Network Star. Amy won with a surprisingly strong performance. Surprising, because in last week's show she was blubbering all over the place and watering the lawn with her tears.
In fact the NFNS contestants have resembled water spigots from the start and none of them have shown any effortless aptitude in front of the camera. Adrien, who had some experience hosting a cooking show, was among the least effective. For a reminder of how pathetic his performance was, click here. (Yeah, the fast forward is on purpose.)
This week we are down to four. The competition is a worthy one: A mini/mock Iron Chef competition with Bobby Flay and Cat Cora joining Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson as judges, and Elton Brown hosting the Iron Chef competition, and Tommie, Michael, Adrien, and Colombe, the four previously cut contestants, acting as sous chefs. The writers and producers had planned on a big bang of a show, instead it limped and mewled and crawled along like a mauled kitten.
This week's water spigot was JAG, who was the most excited at participating in an Iron Chef competition. Bless him at least for not blaming Colombe for his huge mistakes. And Paul's failings were so many and on so many levels, that it made sense for him to go. So what went wrong?
Nothing really. The Iron Chef cook off merely demonstrated how little talent these contestants have and how little they know about food, which is why Amy, if she can keep her wits about her, will win the whole enchilada. Here's my analysis:
Amy: After recovering from her temporary bout of extreme homesickness, she was able to refocus. Because she's had formal training and has a good sense of what she can do well, and because, by the luck of the draw, her mystery ingredient was chicken, she cooked three outstanding dishes. Her commentary was outstanding as well. Again, her knowledge and training stood her in good stead. I watch these cooking shows to learn. This means that the chefs who can talk knowledgeably about food and tell me some little known fact or a bit of history as they're cooking, will attract me. Amy has that depth of knowledge. I'm not crazy about her on-air personality, but perhaps that will improve over time.
Rory: She still wants fame so much you can see her taste it. But she has no real sense of identity of who she is as a chef. "Who are you cooking for? Who's your audience", the judges keep asking her, and the one answer she can truthfully give - myself - she can't give them because that would get her cut. To be fair, she got the tougher mystery ingredient, striped bass. Even so, two of three of her dishes were deemed to be worthy. Rory failed as a commentator, however. Sarcasm will get you nowhere when you're being judged, and it was obvious that her food knowledge was minimal at best.
JAG: He began with all the enthusiasm and eagerness of a puppy. Bobby Flay is his idol and he's always wanted to compete in Iron Chef. So JAG was about to realize two dreams at once. But JAG couldn't get the judges' criticism out of his mind: "Your recipes are too complex for the home audience." So, instead of staying true to himself he switches his technique and philosophy at a crucial time. Big, BIG, BIIIGGG mistake. He decided to keep his recipe simple when his strength lies in fusion. As a result, his chicken looked limp and pathetic in the three dishes he concocted, and my mother could have plated them better than he did. I cringed as I observed his downtrodden face as each of the judges rejected his lame dishes. JAG's abilities as a commentator were better than Rory's or Paul's, but his lack of food knowledge came to the fore, and no amount of enthusiasm can make up for cold, hard facts. JAGs performance was so horrid, that he also set off the smoke alarm in the kitchen. Not a good way to impress the judges.
Paul: Paul was unable to plea for his survival with passion in front of the judges. After hearing JAG, who wore his heart on his sleeve, Paul realized how tepid his own response had been. Everything that was weak about Paul's abilities showed up during this competition. His dishes were under seasoned, and he had really never cooked a striped bass before, which showed. He had been coming up strong because the previous competitions had centered on the contestants' on-camera presentations. This time the competition focused on cooking and food knowledge. Paul, it seems to me, is not a person who delves too deeply into a subject. Had I, for instance, been picked to compete on the national stage, I would have crammed my head full of recipes and interesting food tidbits and anecdotes. I would have researched what would be expected of me, and come somewhat prepared. But Paul thought he could coast through by dint of his personality. His feeble attempt to justify his lack of knowledge, "I could learn," fell on deaf ears. When you are reaching for the stars, you'd better show some depth and breadth of talent.
So, rightfully, the judges cut Paul and kept JAG, who, if he can regain his sense of self, has demonstrated true cooking abilities in past shows.
Which brings me back to The Next Food Network Star. The show is being slammed by Top Chef aficionados and such eminent critics as Anthony Bourdain, and though I agree with the assessment that these contestants seem barely able to cook, among all the cooking shows this is the least back stabbing group of contestants of the bunch. They seem to genuinely like and support each other, which is refreshing to see.
As Paul left, tough JAG said, "Youre the closest friend I’ve had in a long time." And Paul returned the compliment by saying, "JAG, he’s my GI buddy." Such closeness also existed between Adrien and Tommie, both of whom were decent supportive guys. The point is, the producers of the Next Food Network Star know who their audience is - largely people from middle America who don't turn to their channel to dis and trash the show, but to watch entertaining chefs who can teach them a trick or two in the kitchen. Unfortunately, the producers chose lame contestants who are unable to teach us a trick or two.
The results of last week's poll showed Paul, Amy, and Rory ahead of JAG. I think this was as a result of Paul's strong performances in front of the camera last week. Now that Paul is gone, there is no question that Amy will be among the two finalists. Who will be chosen to compete against her? Rory or JAG? Stay tuned.