All Posts By Maria Russo

Maria Russo is an associate editor at Food Network, now living in New York City after being born and raised in the great state of Michigan. She likes her eggs runny, her pasta cheesy and has been known to throw back dozens of oysters at a time.

Hometown Pride: Chris Reps Cleveland with Themed T-Shirts

by in Behind the Scenes, June 25, 2013

Chris HodgsonJust like their culinary points of view, Food Network Star finalists' wardrobes are unique to their individual tastes and styles. You've likely noticed Lovely, the ever-glam personal chef, rocking a red leopard-print blouse and silver-sequined sweater, and "Pie Man" Rodney is always sporting his signature fedora. But have you seen the printed t-shirts Chris has been donning? He's worn several in the last four weeks of the competition, and while they look like everyday graphic tees, they indeed hold meaning to him.

As a chef and restaurant owner in Cleveland, Chris is a figure of his local community, and he's largely responsible for bringing the mobile food culture to Cleveland, having founded Dim and Den Sum, the city's first food truck. He's now the owner of a second food truck, plus a brick-and-mortar hot spot in Cleveland, so it's no surprise that his themed shirts showcase his hometown pride. In episode 2's Burger Bash, he wore a shirt screened with "216," the city's area code. Later in the episode, he modeled a white pull-over with the phrase "Cleveland: It's 'One More' Louder." For the following week's mystery ingredient challenge, he opted for a black-and-white number that read "Clvlnd," a shorthand take on the city.

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Caption It: Face Plant

by in Community, June 21, 2013

Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby FlayIt's no secret that the finalists face a mountain of pressures week after week, cooking against the clock in all-or-nothing challenges, strutting their stuff for a crew of cameras and enduring hours-long evaluations that ultimately determine their futures. But what about the mentors, Alton, Bobby and Giada? They, too, grapple with a series of Star stresses, as it is, after all, up to them to narrow down the crop of contestants before you, the fans, choose your next star. The burden is on them to find each competitor's strengths and weaknesses, and give them the tools they need to show off the former and improve the latter, all while maintaining the distance and fairness of a judge. Alton, Bobby and Giada handle the job differently depending on the day, but for each of them, when the work becomes particularly trying, sometimes all that's left to do is laugh.

Take a look at the sneak-peek photo above from Sunday's all-new episode: Alton, Giada and Bobby have gathered at evaluation, and it seems that for Giada, the moment is simply too much to bear. She's face-first on the table while Alton offers a well-meaning giggle and Bobby displays a look of apparent confusion. Do you think they've just endured a particularly difficult elimination, or have they taken a brief break from deliberation to relax among friends?

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Sunday’s Star Menu: Hot, Buttered Popcorn for the Movies

by in Community, June 19, 2013

Theater-Style Buttered PopcornAs Sunday afternoons turn to evenings and the hours until the next episode of Food Network Star tick away, how do you settle in to watch the latest premiere? No matter who you're with or where you're watching from, you surely have on hand a spread of eats and drinks to last you through the episode, right? Here at Star Talk, we want to see what you're munching on. Every Wednesday, check back for a themed menu to get you ready for the episode ahead, and on Sunday nights, snap photos of your spread and share them with @FoodNetwork via Twitter and Instagram using #FoodNetworkStar.

On Sunday, the remaining finalists will leave the comfort of the Star Kitchen and get their first tastes of Hollywood by starring in big-screen movies shown at a luxury cinema. For the first time, they'll work in teams to create trailers that promote themed menus. Even though they're at the theater, the Selection Committee may expect more from the finalists than fresh-popped popcorn. But for fans watching the episode unfold from the couch at home, a bucket of the hot, buttered stuff is the ultimate snack when it comes to movie-paired munchies.

Try Food Network Magazine's Theater-Style Buttered Popcorn to re-create the concession stand classic. The key to this recipe is clarifying the butter — accomplished by melting it and letting it rest until it separates into three layers — as it will offer a decadent flavor without making the popcorn soggy.

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VIDEO: Danushka’s Not Impressed

by in Videos, June 17, 2013

One of Food Network Star's most-contentious finalists ever, Danushka Lysek provided plenty of camera-worthy drama in her brief three-week run in the competition. She sparked rivalries among finalists, delivered unapologetic smirks, stares and eye rolls, and she even stupefied the Selection Committee with her seeming indifference to the challenges at hand. "My goal with doing this competition was knowing I'm not like anyone that's on the Food Network," Danushka said after being eliminated, and indeed she proved to be one of a kind.

Click the play button on the video above to watch Danushka's best, most-hilarious reactions during her time on Star and see a mashup of some of her now-notorious faces. Do you think Danushka deserved more time to prove her commitment to the competition, or were the mentors justified in sending her home? Tell Star Talk what you think in the comments section below.

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Caption It: What Caused Alex to Make This Face?

by in Community, June 14, 2013

Bobby Flay and Alex GuarnaschelliChopped fans know that when it comes to doling out blatantly honest criticism and no-nonsense feedback, Alex Guarnaschelli, a longstanding member of the judges' panel, does it best. She has more than 15 years of experience at the table and knows what winning dishes look and taste like, which means that come Sunday night, Food Network Star finalists will have to cook above and beyond Alex's expectations if they want to impress her. She'll join the Selection Committee as a guest judge during the Chopped-style challenge, overseeing the contestants as they attempt to fuse mystery basket ingredients into camera-worthy meals.

While some contestants may indeed prove to her their culinary chops, others will inevitably disappoint — and then some will simply be so shocking that Alex is rendered nearly speechless at the sight of it. Take a sneak-peek look at the snapshot above from Sunday's all-new episode: Bobby can't help but chuckle as Alex looks on in amazement at what's going on in front of her. What do you think has caused her to make such a face?

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The Infamous Shimmy: Duck Fat Will Never Be the Same Again

by in Community, Videos, June 13, 2013

After watching Damaris Phillips' premiere performance last week, judge-mentor Bobby Flay had but one piece of advice for her: "Don't try to seduce us." It appeared as though she took that instruction to heart, but, unfortunately she let history repeat itself this week during the Burger Bash challenge, and it almost forced her week-two elimination.

Not long into her live cooking demonstration in front of the Selection Committee and an audience of 100 guests, Damaris once again resorted to uncomfortably suggestive body language as she described a key ingredient in her dish. She revealed duck fat to be the must-have addition to her pimento cheese burger, and she accompanied the announcement with a shoulder shake and shimmy that left the audience both grimacing and laughing — "at her," no less, according to Alton Brown.

Damaris realized almost immediately the mistake she'd made, explaining, "When I get nervous, I default to being awkwardly sexy sometimes." Come evaluation, she knew she'd be in for harsh feedback: "My presentation was crap. I went up there and did exactly what the Selection Committee told me not to do." Bobby indeed doled out hard-to-hear criticisms, among them that her demonstration was "a little off-putting," and Damaris was simply unable to hold back tears in front of her peers and the mentors.

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Sunday’s Star Menu: Alex Guarnaschelli’s Sweet and Savory Pizzas

by in Community, June 12, 2013

Flatbread With Bacon and Scallion PestoAs Sunday afternoons turn to evenings and the hours until the next episode of Food Network Star tick away, how do you settle in to watch the latest premiere? No matter who you're with or where you're watching from, you surely have on hand a spread of eats and drinks to last you through the episode, right? Here at Star Talk, we want to see what you're munching on. Every Wednesday, check back for a themed menu to get you ready for the episode ahead, and on Sunday nights, snap photos of your spread and share them with @FoodNetwork via Twitter and Instagram using #FoodNetworkStar.

The remaining Star finalists are in for perhaps their most-difficult judgment to date on Sunday night when Next Iron Chef: Redemption winner and Chopped judge Alex Guarnaschelli joins the Selection Committee. She'll be on hand to lend constructive criticism and honest feedback as the competitors try their hands at something with which she's all too familiar: mystery ingredient baskets. What better way to watch the battle unfold than with a feast of some of Alex's best recipes? Pizza is a no-fail classic for low-key nights in front of the TV, and Alex has two top-rated versions to satisfy both your sweet and savory cravings.

A dressed-up version of everyday pizza, Alex's Flatbread With Bacon and Scallion Pesto can be made in less than 40 minutes and calls for just a handful of ingredients. Since there's no traditional tomato sauce on this pie, the secret ingredient is the creme fraiche spread, which acts like sauce; it's mixed with fresh lemon zest and seasoning, and it serves as the bed for the other toppings like soft caramelized onions, crispy bacon and a vibrant pesto featuring scallions, capers and parsley.

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Caption It: Alton Means Business

by in Community, June 7, 2013

Alton Brown and Giada De LaurentiisWith only 11 weeks of competition between their premiere performances and the finale, Food Network Star hopefuls have the narrowest of windows to leave a lasting impression on the Selection Committee. It's up to them to find their culinary hooks quickly, sharpen their kitchen skills and ultimately convince the mentors of their staying power on the network. With Daniela's early departure last week, the contestants learned that most will not enjoy the time they need to prove their progress, and come Sunday, their star potential will be tested in a new way during live demonstrations at a Burger Bash-inspired event.

Check out the sneak-peek photo above from this weekend's episode: Alton's delivering what appears to be a not-so-gentle remark to the competitors during evaluation. Do you think he's speaking to the entire group, or is he singling out one finalist who's especially struggling? After just two weeks of competition, should the mentors demand progress, or should they understand the time it takes to learn and improve? How long is too long to wait for a finalist to demonstrate growth, on the plate, on camera and on stage?

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Vote: Who’s the Most-Fashionable Finalist?

by in Community, June 6, 2013

Food Network Star Season 9If this season's Food Network Star contestants want to take home the ultimate title in a few months, they'll need more than just fancy knife skills and a winning smile; hopefuls must dress the part of a star as well, showing off their individuality and signature style with clothes and accessories both on camera and off.

Last week, fans met the finalists for the first time, and even after just one episode, it's clear that each of the competitors lets his or her personality shine through their wardrobe in the form of bold prints, bright colors, soft fabrics and flirty footwear. Former rock 'n' roller Rodney sported a feathered top hat, while Viet donned dark-rimmed specs and a sleek sport coat and Russell embraced a casual, comfortable collection of T-shirts and sweaters. The ladies, too, modeled an array of pieces, including a red-and-black leopard-print blouse worn by Lovely, a fringed vest on Daniela and sky-high ankle boots on Stacey.

Vote for the most-fashionable finalist

Sunday’s Star Menu: Juicy Burgers for the Bash

by in Community, June 5, 2013

The Burger BarAs Sunday afternoons turn to evenings and the hours until the next episode of Food Network Star tick away, how do you settle in to watch the latest premiere? No matter who you're with or where you're watching from, you surely have on hand a spread of eats and drinks to last you through the episode, right? Here at Star Talk, we want to see what you're munching on. Every Wednesday, check back for a themed menu to get you ready for the episode ahead, and on Sunday nights, snap photos of your spread and share them with @FoodNetwork via Twitter and Instagram using #FoodNetworkStar.

The finalists will be given their meatiest challenge to date on Sunday: host a Burger Bash for 100 hungry guests and present their best between-bun creation to a live audience. As they're tackling the heat of the grill and the demands of cooking for a crowd, host your own scaled-down version of the bash at home. Follow Tyler Florence's lead and set up a Burger Bar (pictured above), featuring a spread of juicy, tender patties, plus an array of toppings and condiments. After taking the burgers off the grill with the deliciously gooey melted cheese on top, arrange them on a platter alongside the fixings, and let everyone build their ultimate burger. Whether you're entertaining partygoers or simply trying to cater to a few picky eaters, inviting guests to assemble their meal to their liking ensures they will get the burger they're craving — no extraneous toppings to pick off or eat around.

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