'The Next Food Network Star' Episode 4: The Face Whacking Edition

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If you pulled yourself away from True Blood and the BET Awards on Sunday night, maybe you made time for The Next Food Network Star. With only seven contestants left, this begins the season's turning point where we start to feel borderline attached to the strangers. The moms in people like Melissa, the calorie counters in people like Katie, and everyone can't help but have a little friend crush on Michael. But this episode was especially memorable because...someone got walloped in the face with a sheet pan.

[Warning, spoilers ahead]

Burger Challenge

Bobby Flay introduced the burger-themed opening challenge, naturally. Everyone had to create a regional burger and the winner's would be added to the menu of Bobby's Burger Palace in Connecticut, which opened around the time this episode was filmed.

With only twenty minutes on the clock, Katie's predictably healthy San Francisco farmers' market-themed turkey burger had no time to actually cook (this was her second time serving raw meat for the record—remember the lamb incident?). Teddy went for Pennsylvania. (What does that even mean for burgers?) Melissa's Vermont burger looked awesome with cheddar and turkey chili (meat liquid on meat solid!), and Jeffrey's California burger was another chance for him to do the "sweet heat" thing with fire-roasted chiles and avocado.

But New York City native Micheal won the challenge with his Mulberry Street burger, an ode to the heart of Little Italy: a mozzarella-stuffed burger with pancetta on garlic bread. He was pretty happy when he won. "I want to make out with Bobby. I'm so excited." Hm, don't think 9 p.m. is late enough for that kind of television.

Homecoming Dinner on 'The Intrepid' for Soldiers

The show's second season winner Guy Fieri introduced the challenge: create your own all-American home-cooked dish using three assigned regional ingredients for servicemen and women who have just returned home. They were all sitting around tables with family and friends on the ship The Intrepid, which was originally built during World War II but is now the Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City. Definitely a jump from Ina Garten's dinner party last week.

The winner's dish would be on the cover of USA Weekend, which apparently has a 49 million circulation.

Teddy: New York (apples, cream soda, duck breast)
Dish: "DLT" with duck instead of bacon and apple chutney
A ball full of nerves. Looked at his hand for notes like a kid cheating on a science test.

Jeffrey: Maine (blueberries, lobster, smoked sea salt)
Dish: Lobster pot pie with more of his signature "sweet heat" touch in the blueberry chipotle sauce
Awful. Sad. He's been smoking the last few weeks culinarily speaking, but this one was a trainwreck and the judges are getting tired of his zen flatness in personality. Even if his hair is still great.

Katie: Georgia (Vidalia onions, catfish, molasses)
Dish: Catfish crusted in panko and almond cornmeal with sweet Vidalia greens
Ehhh. That's all I get from her is one big ehhhhh.

Melissa: New Mexico (skirt steak, honey, chiles)
Dish: Marinated skirt steak on a tostada with black beans and mango salsa
Whoa, her mother was a lieutenant commander in the Navy who died when Melissa was 20-years old? OK, you can't really top that story. Plus her food was good. Cha-chiiing.

Jamika: Wisconsin (cheddar cheese, kielbasa, beer)
Dish: Baked potato casserole
A gluey mess. But she sounded like a party when she introduced it! A plus and a minus. Net zero.

Michael: Hawaii (Kona kampachi fish, macadamia nuts, pineapple)
Dish: Macadamia nut-crusted kampachi with pineapple sauce
"Macadamia nuts were like gold," he said, reminiscing on his days as little Michael in the Bronx, noshing on peanuts at the ballgame.

Debbie California (chicken breast, Zinfandel wine, almonds)
Dish: A pretty bland-sounding chicken dish with green beans
She got blasted in the right cheek bone by Michael's pan! That's all you really need to know. There were plenty of instant replays in case you missed it live.

The Judging Panel

Michael (cheek whacker) and Debbie (cheek whacked) were commended for their dishes and named the safe finalists.

It seemed like nutri-girl Katie was going home (evidence: the raw meat, the tears, the voice cracking) but poor Teddy was the loser tonight. As a former D.C. resident, I was a big fan of his mussels, frites, and Belgian beer at Granville Moore's so a part of me was a little woebegone. Hey, maybe he gets all herky jerky on screen but his food is gooood. The only one I can actually vouch for. (Plus the gastropub is in a converted doctor's office. C'mon, that's pretty sweet.)

Melissa won, which made lots of sense. She had the food and the story about mom. I give Katie one more week.

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