I went out of town this past weekend, and got caught in a series of torrential rainstorms on my way home Sunday afternoon. But don't you fear—nothing can keep me from catching the latest episode of The Next Food Network Star. This week, six contestants were competing for limited glory and recognition. Let's see what went down.


Camera Challenge

For this week's first challenge, the contestants were told they had to relate to the home cook. This meant cooking a dish in 20 minutes, and using breakfast cereal in a dinner preparation. Hmm. It must be noted that the producers made several assumptions about the Home Cook in preparing this episode: a) home cooks are uniformly working mothers; b) home cooks stock a wide range of breakfast cereals; c) home cooks appreciate said breakfast cereals appearing on the dinner table.

Alrighty then. As long as you know your demographic!


The ladies explain the challenge in oddly similar outfits. [Photographs: Leah Douglas]

Last season's "winner", Melissa D'Arabian, showed up to help judge the contestants' offerings. Essentially, every contestant used their assigned cereal to crust something: Brad Sorenson crusted tuna with Rice Krispies; Herb Masa crusted French toast with Fruit Loops, etc. The only contestant to stray from the pack was Aarti Sequeira, whose quinoa and All Bran pilaf actually warmed me to the otherwise frightful notion of consuming bran cereal. She took the win for this challenge, and rightly so.

Oh, and we cannot forget the greatest moment of the camera presentations - Serena Palumbo singing an Italian operetta before introducing her dish. I have no idea why. Neither do the judges. Hilarious.


Ah, great moments in television history.

Star Challenge

Once we all recovered from Serena's serenade, it was time to move on to the Star Challenge.

Since we were already on the trend of perpetuating food stereotypes, it seemed apt that the complete opposite of a challenge appealing to home cooks would be serving an underground supper club meal to forty Los Angeles "super foodies." (Because home cooks can never be foodies, get it? I mean, how can you be when you have your family and high-powered job to attend to??)

The contestants had to work as one team to present a six-course meal to The Forty Foodies—a team that Aarti was given control over, as her reward for winning the camera challenge. Seems like a non-prize to me, but I think she can handle it. Aria Kagan whipped up a carrot soup; Herb went for a flan that was doomed from the moment he decided to pass on the proper pans at Whole Foods. I was already wincing in preparation for the kind of welcome their dishes would receive from the inevitably pretentious supper club crowd.


Food for forty foodies?! The challenge is almost as difficult to accept as that guy's hat.

The moral of this challenge seemed to be: the only contestants who actually cook presentable food are Aarti and Brad.

Apart from his lamb over white bean ragout and her green chicken curry, the dishes were essentially all misfires. The Forty Foodies were clearly unhappy—although when you take your food that seriously, smiling is probably a rarity anyway. Long story short, it was pretty easy to determine the winners, but whose food sucked the most was up for grabs.

Judgment Time

Luckily, the selection committee can take it from here.

They called out Tom Pizzica for presenting inedibly salty cod. They coldly noted Aria's ability to remain "consistently in the middle of the pack" (ouch). Herb's flan was so overcooked that Bobby actually seemed personally attacked. And Serena's pasta with eggplant and tomato sauce was simply too hearty and unsophisticated for the tastes of the supper club members (ack! Unsavory presentation! Chunky sauce! My delicate palate!).

Between the top two, Brad and Aarti, Aarti took the win. Yay! She's lucky she's so damn likable—otherwise the other contestants would probably have cut off her adorable head by now. Brad gets props for his great food, but still needs to work on charming our pants off just a bit more.

And who said goodbye this week?

Even though Tom's faults were seemingly more offensive than anyone else's, Serena was told to leave. I can't say I'm surprised, or upset, to see her go. She has never been a television personality, whereas everyone else at this stage can at least pretend to be friendly. Goodbye, Serena. Perhaps you can give the opera a try?

Did you catch this week's episode? What did you think?


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