Initial Reactions To The Season Eight Premiere Of The Next Food Network Star

So, last night the new season of Next Food Network Star premiered. This eighth season of the popular competition series flipped the script by changing up the format of the series. This time around, Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis have each chosen five contestants to be part of their team. The teams do some kind of challenge and then the two teams that don’t win send one person into the Pitch Room along with the coach and they have to defend themselves. I’ll admit, I didn’t see all of the episode because Mad Men was on. I also wasn’t very impressed with how obvious they edited this overly long two hour episode to very clearly let you know that Cristie and Josh were going to be in the bottom. With so much run time, you’d think they’d do a little more to throw you off base, but they really laid it on heavy.

Anyway, I just wanted to run through the teams quickly and offer up my first impressions. I’ll be honest, looking at the list on Wikipedia, I don’t remember roughly half of them and only find myself wanting to watch a small handful teach me how to cook. I probably should not be writing this post based on only seeing half an episode, but isn’t the internet designed for sharing half-formed opinions?

Let’s start with Alton’s team. Cristie got sent home which was no surprise. The few times I flipped over after 9:00PM she was struggling with just about everything. That was more of a mercy elimination than anything. You keep people like this around too long and it gets painful to watch. Emily really wants you to know she likes the 50s, but you know what? I do not care about that schtick. Her theme is supposed to be cooking 50s style meals today which is somewhat interesting, but she’s just too much for now. Judson likes bow ties, seems okay, that’s all I got. I really liked Justin and he’s my current favorite. A young guy who likes really messing around with food? That’s right in my wheelhouse. Martie was entertaining enough, but I’m not sure if I want to watch her talk about cooking.

Team Giada came close to losing Josh which would have been amazing because that dude is just grating. Who says, “Rock and roll!” in a group of people? I bet his band sucks and do not care about what he has to say about anything. I don’t remember anything about Linkie aside from her name. Martita also got on my nerves with a quickness. How many ay dios mios can you throw in, editors? I’m also sick of people playing off the “fiery latino” thing. We get it already. Ippy’s my other favorite right now. I like his attitude, but also the fact that he’s Hawaiian and that’s an area of cooking I’m very unfamiliar with. Yvan was alright and could easily become a favorite or one of the over the top kind of people that just gets annoying.

We end with Team Bobby, which was an interesting group. I really like Eric’s point of view of making everything by hand and think the editors will as well, especially if he keeps pushing things to the very edge of time in order to make his food. I remember next to nothing about Kara and Malcom, but did find myself enjoying Michelle. The question here, though, is whether they’d pick someone who so clearly looks like the love child of Guy Fieri, Anne Burrell and Robert Irvine. Finally, Nikki feels like the Penny of this cast, she’s too conniving and too bitchy which makes her an interesting reality show contestant, but not the kind of person you’ll want teaching you to cook something.

What’d you guys think? Did I miss anything huge in the second hour? It seemed like they were really dragging out that tasting of the restaurant wars-style challenge, but I guess that make sense considering it’s the first episode. Hopefully next week, there won’t be such a big conflict.

Cooking Jeff Mauro’s Greek Tacos

As anyone who read my early posts about Next Food Network Star, I was pulling for Jeff to win. I liked him as a person, he seemed to make good food and I didn’t want Penny to win. However, I’ve only seen a few episodes of his show and haven’t made any of his recipes just yet. Why’s that? Well, the show’s on at an odd time and I tend not to make sandwich type things for dinner. I worked in a sandwich shop for years and don’t find putting them together as relaxing as cooking more traditional meals. However, when I stumbled upon his recipe for Greek Tacos, I figured that was far enough away from my job and enough in my wheelhouse to give it a try.

As you can see from following the link, he breaks the meal down into three parts. You’ve got to cook the lamb and then also make the Feta Mint Tzatziki and the Cucumber Tomato Relish. In an effort to pace myself well, I decided to do them in reverse order of that, starting with the easiest part: making the relish. You’re basically just chopping up vegetables, putting them in a bowl and mixing with olive oil, red wine vinegar and pepper, so I got that done and put it in the fridge.

Next up, I tackled the tzatziki sauce which was a bit more labor intensive, but not by much. I’ve never grated cucumbers before, but that’s what the recipe said and that’s what I did. Once finished, those went into my pasta strainer and sat for the designated amount of time. While that dripped, I chopped the mint and garlic and put those in a bowl with the yogurt and feta. Once the cukes were a little more dry, then went in. Mixy mixy and you’re done.

Lastly, I went after the ground lamb. You cook it in a pan, then, once it’s brown, take it out and cook onions in the juices for five minutes before adding oregano and garlic. Follow that up with some tomato paste, let things caramelize and then put the meat back in the pan. Deglaze with red wine and you’re good to go.

I set the table up the same way I would for regular taco night which meant lots of bowls filled with lots of things. I also toasted the small non-pocket pitas on the fire and we had a really tasty meal. I think this might be a fun way to get kids who might be skeptical about trying new foods to try something new. It’s familiar (if taco night is a staple in your house like it has been in mine since I was a kid) but with some fun new elements. I’d never cooked ground lamb before but I thought it turned out well and my wife–who generally doesn’t like ground lamb–even like it, so there’s that.

Congrats To Jeff, The Next Food Network Star

Vic, Susie & Jeff, The Final Three

Oh, spoiler warning by the way, I guess. But, let’s be honest, was there ever any question that Jeff was going to win Food Network’s talent search Next Food Network Star? Vick and Susie had great personalities, but there’s already people on the network with similar perspectives/specialties. Mexican food? Covered. Italian food? Covered. Dude guy? Covered. But funny sandwich guy? They don’t have one of those.

Tonight’s two hour season finale kicked off with a reunion episode that was kind of pointless. I’m not sure why certain networks insist on doing the reunion before the finale. Wouldn’t it be a lot more drama-filled if everyone knew who won? Ah well, there was still a bit of static between Chris and Justin B as well as some between Penny and pretty much everyone. The most surprising was that Mary Beth seemed angry at Jeff for reasons I didn’t quite catch. Mary Beth seemed to get a little more sneaky and bitter as the season went on, which is too bad because I think the perspective of a food writer in the cooking world could make for an interesting show. Maybe like a news show even?

The actual episode kicked off with the three remaining contestants, Vic, Susie and Jeff, cooking their ultimate meal. In a twist unseen before, only the top two would move on to film a pilot for their proposed show. Everyone’s meals seemed to be solid and they all had great stories behind their dishes, so it wound up coming down to the descriptions of the food, which, unfortunately for Vic, he didn’t get to. His story was great, but there was no prep or cooking talk, so he wound up missing the chance to film a pilot.

Both Jeff and Susie had a few stumbling blocks during filming, but wound up doing a pretty great job. Once they were done, they had to face not only the judges, but also a focus group made up of all of the voted off chefs. There were some negative comments, but mostly nice oncs, then it came down to judging and Jeff wound up taking home the victory.

These three contestants pulled ahead pretty early on with big personalities that were fun to watch on TV. Honestly, I’d probably watch any of them on a show and wouldn’t be surprised if they wound up on Food Network or The Cooking Channel. I don’t tend to sit down at regular times with the Food Network outside of their competition shows (Iron Chef America reruns are part of our daily routine at this point), but I would definitely keep an eye out for them. In the end, I think Jeff had the clearest, most unique vision, plus he’s the guy that everyone liked. As I said a few months back when I explained why Penny was playing the wrong kind of game for this show, people want to like their Food Network hosts and no one’s more congenial than Jeff. Congrats to him and I look forward to catching your show when I stumble upon it!

Why Penny Won’t Win Next Food Network Star

Originally published on UnitedMonkee, 6/17/11

I’ve been watching a lot of shows about food lately. Not necessarily cooking shows, but a mixture of traveling chef (No Reservations, Bizarre Foods when it’s not too gross) and food competition shows (Iron Chef, Chopped, Best In Smoke, Top Chef). I’ve been getting really into seeing how different cultures cook and how chefs use their skills in competitive scenarios. I want to be able to eat the things they eat and cook the way they cook. Maybe some day.

The most recent food show addition to our viewing schedule is Next Food Network Star, a pretty self explanatory viewing experience. What I like about this set up is that it’s being judged by people who do the thing the contestants want to do (actual FN stars like Bobby Flay) or who choose the people to be on said shows (FN execs). Given the show’s long running time (90-120 minutes per episode so far) I haven’t actually seen a full episode yet, but I have seen most of the first two. You’ve got your general cast of people, some have had bum luck, others clearly don’t have the stage presence or temperament to be TV chefs, but one has started to stick out like a sore thumb: Penny. I’ve missed the very beginning of the first episode several times, so the developing and heated rivalry between Penny and Alicia (who doesn’t seem to be able to speak like a normal person at a normal volume or give me any reason to want to watch her show) completely befuddled me. For whatever reason, Penny seems to have set her sites on Alicia and continued to give her trouble throughout the episode, which of course included her and Alicia being put on the same team. Did something go down between these two in the first 15 minutes? Did Alicia run over Penny’s cat on the way to the first day’s taping? I must be missing something because Penny spent the rest of the episode throwing shade, but she didn’t reserve it for interview time, she just kept spouting off insults and character assassinations left and right WHILE THEY WERE COOKING. I also missed the beginning of the second episode, but I gathered through context clues (ie, outright statements by other contestants) that Penny won a lesser challenge early on and was able to choose teams for the final challenge and possibly ingredients. She used this power to hamstring the first episode’s winner and early frontrunner Orchid. When asked about it later, Penny basically owned up to it. So here’s the problem. This isn’t Survivor or a VH1 dating show. The point of Next Food Network Star is to present yourself as the kind of person that Food Network viewers not only like, but want to learn from. What I’m saying is that Penny’s playing the reality show game, but this isn’t your typical reality show, so it’s not going to work. There’s that age old reality show quote that ALWAYS pops up where the bitchy girl or asshole guy says “I didn’t come here to make friends.” Well, that might be the case, but you did come here to impress us and to come off as friendly. Can you think of any jerky chef with a cooking show on the Food Network? Nope, that’s not the point. So, Penny, I’m sorry but you’re just playing the right game on the wrong show. You’re a fun reality show villain, but playing the role completely discounts you as a viable candidate for the show’s final prize. I wonder if that’s what she’s going for. If so, I’m not sure why. Maybe she realized how gross her “kitchen sex” attitude was and just decided to play the bad girl? Now that you’ve shot yourself in the foot, keep switching up the theme of your show until you finally lose out to one of your competitors who’s actually charming and please don’t try and do the midseason turnaround after realizing the error of your ways. In fact, go balls to the wall with it and maybe you can get a cooking show on VH1.