If you’ve been following Food Network Star this season, there’s a good chance you’ve been pretty disappointed by the first couple of episodes. Perhaps that’s to be expected from reality cooking competitions; as you can easily distinguish 4-5 chefs that won’t win the competition within the first two episodes. Most of the time, the chefs either lack the culinary skills to advance, or completely lack the camera presence needed to host a show. These contestants stick out almost immediately in this type if competition. Thankfully, it looked like this week’s episode was going to mark a turning point in the season. Not only were we promised a Wolfgang Puck meltdown, but two contestants would be going home; finally eliminating the last of the “pretenders.” With such high expectations heading into the week, did Food Network Star finally live up to the hype?
The first challenge of the night was fairly straightforward; make your signature dish and present it to the judges in a two-minute camera presentation. At the very least, this promised to show the true culinary skills of each chef; as they should already have had some mastery over their “signature” dish. Bobby Flay also announced that two chefs would be going home at the conclusion of both challenges. Once again, Chris committed himself to doing far too much in far little time and failed to present his dish properly. Vic was the other big loser in this challenge as he also failed to cook anything in the camera challenge. In the end, the big winner was Whitney; who finally showed the personality needed to win the competition. Unfortunately, the this challenge was a bit of a whirlwind as the producers/editors of the show really decided to focus on the second challenge of the night.
You can’t really blame the producers, however, as Wolfgang Puck deserves as much screen time as possible. Using only the food available to them in their pantry, the competitors were tasked with cooking a meal for Puck. Jeff wins the award for most appropriate reaction to this news as he mimicked vomiting in the interview room. Since Whitney was the winner of the first competition, she was able to control which chef was in charge of which course.
The drama started almost immediately as Chris and Mary Beth constantly fought over the temperature of their stove. Chris, who cried sabotage almost immediately, once again came off as immature and arrogant. Eventually, Mary Beth finished her meal on the stove top, but it would cost her at the judges table. Overall, though, most of the chefs had really successful dishes. I expected Puck to be really harsh on them, but he seemed to enjoy almost everything he ate. The big exception was Jyll’s risotto, which led to one of the best moments of the season. Puck actually took Jyll into the kitchen and — in front of every other chef — showed her how to make a proper risotto. While this should have been an extremely embarrassing moment for Jyll, she actually handled it pretty well. This also led to my favorite quote/moment of the season. As Puck and Jyll walked back to the kitchen, you could hear Bobby Flay mutter “Jesus Christ” under his breath. Well played, Bobby. As expected, Chris’ dessert failed; immediately causing him to backtrack and apologize for his meal. If it wasn’t clear already, there was no way in hell Chris was making it out of this episode alive.
That brings us to the judges table, where Susie Fogelson decided to wear one of the ugliest jackets I had ever seen. Whitney, Jeff, Susie and Vic all had the strongest dishes of the night; leaving Penny, Mary Beth, Jyll and Chris on the bottom. Bobby Flay, likely sensing that Chris’ time in the kitchen was over, absolutely eviscerated Chris’ performance over the entire season. This had to be a pretty enjoyable moment for everyone watching; as Chris has come off as one of the biggest douche bags to ever be featured on a reality show (and that’s saying quite a bit). It was no surprise, then, when Chris was finally given the boot from Food Network Star. This was a long time coming.
The second elimination was a bit of a surprise, though. Despite the fact that Jyll easily had the worst dish of the evening, and Mary Beth’s food hasn’t met the standards of the judges all season, it was Penny who was sent packing. The judges have raved about Penny’s food all season, but her camera presence and inclination towards being a “witch” (and that’s being kind), finally came back to bite her. Fans of the show have to be relieved; as Penny was the most evil contestant in the history of the show. I have to admit that I may have high-fived my girlfriend when we heard about the second elimination (she may have also done a victory dance on the couch). Earlier in the season, there were internet spoilers that seemed to indicate Penny was going to be the winner of the show. That made last night’s elimination feel all that much sweeter.
Finally, it feels like this show is about to hit its stride. The last of the “pretenders” were cut last night; meaning the rest of the season should be fairly competitive. I tend to think Jyll will be the next one to go, but Mary Beth has been on thin ice the last couple of weeks as well. With a little improvement here or there, any of these contestants could conceivably host a show on either The Food Network or The Cooking Channel (except maybe Jyll, who I just don’t get). Still, it was encouraging to see the show finally move into second-gear — even if it took a couple of episodes. For the first time all season, I’m really looking forward to next week.