Congratulations, Star fans! You've waited 10 weeks for this moment. Indeed the power to transform the life of a formerly ordinary cook into a bona fide Food Network Star is in your hands — but not before one final hopeful's head rolls.
The final four are in front of us. Luca came back from the dead. Sarah has struggled with her POV, but now wants to be the Lone (Food Network) Star. Nicole has had some presentation issues, but has held on. Lenny has endured the duct-tape-induced removal of his chest hairs, ripped pants and intimacy issues. What a ride it's been.
The team pulls up to Gotham West Market, which is the new happenin' place for meetin' and eatin' here in New York City. If you don't believe me, here's proof (I share a bowl of ramen with Chrissy Teigen).
In this palatable playground, the pugilists of pabulum will put their promos on tape. This carrot will then be dangled before Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson, my real-world bosses, who will then green-light the production of three pilots.
Giada, Bobby and Alton will mentor the contestants toward success. Three lives are about to change for the better in just 30 seconds.
Nicole, whose specialty is seaside sustenance, strikes hard, but she gets a little too globally minded. The network grills her about being an authority of global coastal cuisine. Turns out, while she's fascinated by these exotic locales, Nicole hasn't done a lot of traveling. This is where I get a little cranky about the word "authority." You see, all of the great narratives of human existence are about discovery and the writer's interpretation thereof. Everyone has been to a weird diner. We watch Guy Fieri do it because his moments of "discovery" are articulated to us in a very entertaining, but mostly engrossing, way. Who wouldn't want to watch Nicole eat tiny fishes removed from the beak of a squid and extol said fish's virtues? Seine me up.
Channeling her POV from deep in the heart of Texas is Sarah. She stumbles a few times and "succumbed to nerves" in front of the mentors. Her final pitch is polished and articulate, but it is a little more "tour guide" than "real human emotions." She doesn't mention that she's a mother. Susie brings this up and for very good reason. Shortly after winning Star, my agent asked me to write all the things that I am on a piece of paper. Why? Because all of the things that I wrote on that piece of paper were things that could sell. Nerd? I saw Guardians of the Galaxy before the rest of the world. Techie? I made a french fry bar at the Samsung gallery in NYC. Wine enthusiast? I write rap songs for Robert Mondavi Private Selection. Cereal enthusiast? Buzz Bee and Nelly gave me their limited edition "Must Be the Honey" shoes. If I was a dad, you can be gosh darn sure I'd be talking about my kid so I could be feeding said kid Warner's Colic Cure baby food.
Watching the mentor cut felt like I was Little Mac and Luca was one of the dudes from Super Punch-Out! He was so energetic I could almost see him head-butting the lens and keeping that million-Euro smile. On the final cut, Luca was like a laser of ideas. He's here to share the stories of other (surely less-good-looking) Italian chefs in America. The panel digs it, but is curious. What happened in these last eight weeks? Well, he figured it all out, I guess.
Lenny, still reeling from slipping on yogurt last week, seems like he has partaken in Colorado's newest cash crop. Hands in pockets, he presents as though there is a snake in his boots. He tiptoes from point to point, like me sneaking into my apartment after the, "I swear that's my last" whiskey. This season has been his stampede. Does it all end here? As Alton says, "He is a good cook."
Cue the Scary Music: The four file in and find the marks. Nicole was too big, Lenny staggered, Sarah left out her maternity and Luca did just fine, assuredly to the chagrin of everyone else.
Bob reminds us how very hard this decision is for the judges. As I recall, when they delivered that stock line to Martie Duncan and me back in Season 8, I shouted "You deserve it!" and started weeping, clutching her hand and Mr. Brown's belt loop.
Luca, the comeback kid, gets the first green light. He, along with everyone else, is happy he is here. Me too.
After some teasers from Susie, Nicole gets the next green light, but she has to rein it into domestic coasts. I'm watching it. Best call me for jellyfish in Georgia, Nicole.
With one pilot left to spare, Lenny, who's crushed it all season, and Sarah, who has made it just as far, are both shaking in their boots. Sarah has been the Star superfan and a champion of Texas, and she can fill a room with her desire. Lenny is a performer and a culinarian — a man who demands and commands the stage.
Lenny ropes it. Sarah takes it like a champ, which to me was one of her strongest moments of the season. She flashes back to a final curtsy, and the remaining three are sent to produce the skits that you will vote on. Cue "Spirit in the Sky" and read over the rest. There is so freaking much in your hands right now.
The Pilots: I stopped my advance screener right here. I don't wanna know, and I don't want to pollute your minds with what I think we need on the most-influential culinary cable channel. When I cast my votes, here's what I'm asking myself:
1. What can't I cook?
2. What don't I know?
3. Who do I pay the most attention to?
4. Who, other than myself, will watch?
5. Do the other folks watching stand to learn more than I, and if so, should I vote accordingly? (Take a little break right here and listen to that sweet guitar.)
6. Is that the right thing to do?
7. Who's going to make the best game show host?
8. Is anyone more funny than Jeff Mauro?
9. Who will Justin beat most easily in those Food Network Star editions of all the horribly intimidating culinary competitions?
10. Who will make for the most-awkward pair with Damaris Phillips at the NYCWFF culinary demo?
Vote wisely, America, because you could be voting for the next person to write these blogs.
Threat of the Week: Me! I'll be back next week with the top 10 moments of Season 10, a sweet little letter to the newb who is coming for my job, and even more self-trumpeting snacks of snark. You can turn the music off now. It's late — or your co-workers are watching you.
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- “You’re a Beast:” Avoid This Phrase, and 6 Other Savvy Rules of Star — Jeff’s Star Report
- “Mama Raised Us All to Be Champions:” Of Likables, Shrimp and Long-Lost Italian Cousins — Jeff’s Star Report
- A Heaping Helping of “It’s Getting Real” — Justin’s Rebel Recap