Alright, folks. Things are getting serious on The Next Food Network Star. We're down to five contestants, and the stakes are high. Even higher after we hear that the final four get to throw down in New York City, home to Food Network headquarters. Gulp. Let's see who whipped out the big guns this week, and who will miss their NYC-bound flight.
[WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD]
In a seemingly innocuous first challenge, the contestants were given 45 minutes to prepare a signature dish representative of their hypothetical Food Network show. While the other contestants had placards advertising their shows' titles, headwear-loving cutie Brad Sorenson had only a GIANT QUESTION MARK next to his station. Hilarious, but surely something of a jab on the part of FN producers. Regardless, they all got cookin' until...
Surprise! A twist!! Giada stopped the contestants and announced that first of all, they would have to incorporate their least favorite ingredient into their signature dish—think okra for Aarti Sequeira. anchovies for Aria Kagan, etc. But vastly overshadowing this culinary misstep was the fact that everyone's family members came to present the feared ingredient. Cue the waterworks. Aria embraced her son, Tom Pizzica dove into his fiancée's hair, Herb Masa dissolved into a muscle-bound pile of sniffly elation. It was cute(-ish).
But c'mon folks—there's cooking to be done! The contestants did well incorporating the surprise ingredient, so culinarily this camera challenge was no stunner. Aria took the win for a smart mashed potato and anchovy pizza. Sounds...delicious? Sure. So let's move on to the real deal.
As the season wears on, the Network's gotta ramp up the celebrity to keep us viewers glued to the screen. This reasoning was surely what brought guests Todd English and Eva Longoria to the NFNS judging table. The contestants were each assigned an emotion, which was in turn meant to inspire their dish and personal story. Tom got jealousy, always a tough one to conceptualize. Aarti got fear—also tricky, but seemingly more straightforward when your entire cuisine is somewhat baffling to many American cooks. But everyone would face difficulties conveying the meaning of their dishes to the scrutinizing panel.
A notable moment arose when Brad declared he was excited to cook for Ms. Longoria—because "she's an attractive lady, and I like to cook for attractive ladies." Which prompted my viewing companion/mother to make the apt observation that "those uggos—he doesn't like cooking for them so much." We're all with ya on that one, bro! Pound it!
Anyway. Aarti stumbled through her dish by overcooking rice for a pilaf and mangling her fear-related backstory. Herb made a delicious-sounding combination of short ribs and mofongo cakes, impressing everyone with his Latin style once again. Tom creates a "Tale of Two Tuna" in order to incorporate jealousy into his dish—and though the story sounds uncomfortable and perplexing on camera, the judges must have had just enough wine to be thoroughly smitten with his charm. It didn't hurt that his food was freakin' great, too. Way to go, Big Chef!
Someone's gotta go, but it seems like almost a crapshoot going into judging. Everyone except Tom had some issues this week. So...who's it going to be?
The judges laid the smackdown this week. They told Aria she wasn't clear enough in her dish description. Aarti can't get her act together and her food was uncharacteristically bad. Brad loses all his winky, adorable charm on camera, and can't quite get a show concept right. Them's fightin' words, judges. Tread lightly—these people carry knives.
At the end of what was surely an endless deliberating nightmare, the judges decided that it was time for Brad to leave. I'm upset about this. His (off-camera) grin and misplaced hubris kept me going week to week. All I can hope is that the other contestants cooking chops get up to speed by next week.
What do you think, Eaters? Were the judges right in kicking Brad out?