Food Network Star isn't just a job interview, it's a learning process. It's akin to studying for a Ph.D. in public speaking or training for the culinary version of Battle Royale. With every learning process there are markers for self-evaluation. In Food Network Star U, they are called "midterms" and they're designed to thin the pack once the stragglers have been picked off. Simultaneously, the midterms provide a glimpse into the very harsh reality that none of the competitors "have it in the bag," regardless of what is said in the comments below.
Test #1: Giada in Prank-a-dise
Remember last year when I had to do a "live" demo with a "charismatic co-host"? The fish bones? The awkward start? It was easily one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. How could it be worse? Well, Giada summons one Terrence Jenkins — co-anchor of E! News — aka the smoothest dude in the game — this time around.
- Chef Clark Kent (Viet) could have used his x-ray vision (or just turned around) to see that there were more bell peppers behind him. Isn't it amazing what powerful blinders our nerves are?
- Having experience in cooking for subterraneans apparently gives Russell the ability to cook without light.
- There is no pause button on the VCR of reality, Chad, but man, your shirt was so cool I can forgive you.
- Apparently things flying off of shelves is rather common in the wacky world of Damaris, so she blames it on a poltergeist. I was laughing out loud on a plane when I watched this and everyone looked at me. Thanks, Damaris.
- There are two options when dealing with fake fire alarms, Nikki: Keep cooking or grab Giada and Terrence, one over each shoulder, and run to the nearest exit. Maybe Nikki didn't have enough protein for breakfast.
Winner: Rodney, you have a knack for winning when it really counts. Perhaps this is the true definition of pie-style.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Food Network Stardom
Almost nine and a half score years ago, our forefathers got together and signed a piece of paper on which was written, "Leave us alone, bro; we got this from here." This is the midterm and playing the role of Thomas Jefferson is Bob Tuschman.
- Rodney must have been denied trips to the bank as a kid because during his presentation, he keeps mentioning “suckers.”
- Seemingly sending her to a cold winter at Valley Forge, Rodney assigns Nikki fried chicken. Smartly, Nikki says that her POV is incorporated into her fried chicken because it's so good, you only need one piece, but then she starts acting like Rainbow Brite.
- The mentors want Russell to "let the dogs out," but his presentation has the oomph of a gerbil reciting beat poetry. Possibly displeased, Alton electroshocks Russell in to giving a "throw" to commercial and Russell sticks it like Kerri Strug did in 1996.
- When Rodney sends Damaris to the cocktail station, I am immediately taken with visions of Damaris interpretive-karaoke-ing Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart." The shimmy returned.
- Like being sent to Bunker Hill, poor Chad — the BBQ guy — gets to cook veggies with Farmer Lee.
- Stacey made like the battle of Yorktown, brought out all the ammo and crushed the opposition. That was in 1781, as we all know, but please allow me some historic license just to get my point across.
Cue the Scary Music
Rodney was unintelligible, Damaris was silly, Viet was not confident, Nikki was giggly, Chris's food was meh, Russell was counter-innovative, Chad couldn't share the stage and Stacey was too polished. This kind of criticism is why you call in Bob, and these are the challenges that only one person will be able to truly overcome.
We are left with what I prophesied a few blogs ago, a showdown between the two Iron Chef contenders: Superman (Viet) and Doomsday (Russell).
Both had weak food and meek performances, but it was Russell's uppercut to the commercial break that was the mortal blow.
The Moral of the Story: Finding a humble chef is like finding a piece of basil in Giada's teeth: It's rarely ever gonna happen, and if it does, you don't see it. That's the problem with humility — it's often an invisible virtue. But Viet was probably the best and most gifted student of the whole bunch, and when it came time to own up to being freaking awesome, he pulled a Shaggy and said, "It wasn't me." Never be afraid of being awesome.
Threat of the Week: Bob Tuschman because he wrecked everyone this week. The next time you see him, I'll wager we'll know who's coming to claim my sash.