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Happy Birthday, America! The Death of a Rib Eye, Lessons in Japanese and the Dials of Doom — Jeff’s Star Report

by in Food Network Star, Recap, June 29, 2015

Food Network StarMy favorite personal moment from Food Network Star, Season 7 was during the Fourth of July celebration (check out a photo). It was held on a horse farm in the hills of Malibu, and it was hot, windy and packed with a hungry audience. These conditions, coupled with malfunctioning grills and Guy Fieri as a guest judge, led to a very challenging afternoon. The presentation portion was a live demo on a large stage. We had the options to grab props, so naturally, I grabbed a guitar and an American flag that I donned as a cape, a la Apollo Creed from Rocky IV. Needless to say, this was my moment to lay all my cards on the table and get gutsy. I made an excellent pretzel-fried chicken sandwich and gave a highly charged performance, complete with guitar work, singing, knife throwing and stage jumping. It could have backfired, but it was Week 4, and this is a crucial time in the Food Network Star journey. By now you should have your POV on lock and your cooking-under-pressure muscle exercised and definitely be more comfortable on camera. If you do not posses all three of these at this moment, you are potentially doomed.

On that note: Happy birthday, America! It is now time for a proper Fourth of July cookout competition on a bucolic farm in the middle of the Southern California nowhere. It’s time for teams. The finalists use that classic method of team picking: drawing napkins out of a picnic basket. The teams are as follows:

Team White: Rosa, Jay, Michelle
Team Red: Emilia, Rue, Dom
Team Blue: Alex, Jay, Arnold

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A Boys vs. Girls Dinner Battle, and Why It’s Not About Being “Thesaurus Rex” — Jeff’s Star Report

by in Food Network Star, Recap, June 22, 2015
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Food Network StarThis week is all about trends, so the finalists' first challenge is to craft a dish that is both delicious and camera ready. Photographing food and food styling are often-overlooked skills that usually require the work of several experienced and talented professionals. Thanks to social media, however, we have all become food stylists and photographers, snapping pics of every malt ball, pretzel rod and airport kiosk sandwich we shove down our gullets. I'm 100 percent guilty of this as well and make no apologies, but oftentimes, the photos do not do the food justice (mine included). Regardless, I love this trend, and it only connects us more to the magic and allure of food. But I digress ...

And they’re off! Emilia is a bat out of hell, Rosa is frying meatballs, Dom is icing his pesto, Eddie is contrasting, and Big Jay is tasting the rainbow. Arnold is not worried one iota because he plates like Picassette (Picasso’s drag queen alter ego). Sandwich man Alex makes that classic mistake of “plopping on the top bun.” I would have halved the sandwich and exposed the colorful interior structure. In my opinion, that makes for a much better sandwich photo.

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“You’re a Beast:” Avoid This Phrase, and 6 Other Savvy Rules of Star — Jeff’s Star Report

by in Food Network Star, Recap, June 15, 2015

“You're a Beast:” Avoid This Phrase, and 6 Other Savvy Rules of Star

We begin this episode Christina-free. That first elimination is always quite humbling; you realize quickly that anyone at any time can easily have a bad day and, in turn, get the ol’ boot. Nobody wants to be the first gone, and now that the remaining finalists are 100 percent not the first eliminated, they can start fresh and tackle the day’s challenges, starting with …

… What's for dinner?! A classic leftover challenge. Jay is evidently a licensed food psychic, because he called it from the very beginning! This is an indispensable gift to have during Food Network Star. I hope he uses this talent only for good.

My sister-from-another-mister Melissa d’Arabian walks in, and, per usual, the room ignites with class and brightness. She guest-judges these dishes, and she guest-judged my dish during my season too. To be honest, when she judged one of my Star Challenges, she did not like me too much. Rightfully so — this was the second episode and I was still a foul-mouthed ugly duckling, not yet a glorious swan. So there is hope yet for those who biff this challenge.

The finalists charge toward the fridge to fight for that specific leftover they MUST have in order to craft the perfect dish. Sita wants some chicken and cuts whoever gets in her way. Eddie grabs the pasta that evidently belongs to Rosa. Emilia gets Sita’s chicken. Nobody gets what they wanted, and everybody is scrambling.

In my opinion, there is nothing like the melee that surrounds the fridge and pantry during one of these challenges. It’s "eat or be eaten," and sometimes you just grab anything and everything; think later and adapt quickly. Don’t blame the ingredients! Ever! On with the presentations. Read more

“Mama Raised Us All to Be Champions:” Of Likables, Shrimp and Long-Lost Italian Cousins — Jeff’s Star Report

by in Food Network Star, Recap, June 8, 2015

Food Network StarAhhh, early June is upon us. The flowers are in full bloom, the pollen count is off the charts, my tank-top tan is ripe and another cast of hopeful foodies — with often questionable culinary points of view — are presented before us in the grand parade known as Food Network Star. I could not be more excited for two reasons. First: I am, first and foremost, a longtime Food Network Star fan. And second: I am an alumni and winner of the show. Having been through this experience, I am the perfect person to guide us all through this season’s journey of ups and down, cuts and burns, unexpected challenges, and the ubiquitous quest for one’s culinary “personality.” Every Monday I'll be bringing you inside my mind for the latest dish on the previous night's contest.

It takes a lot of moxie to put yourself out there and audition for this show. An overnight process it is not. I tried out three times (getting very close once) before I was cast on Season 7. On that Sunday evening, when the premiere episode of Season 7 aired, my life instantly CHANGED. I know it’s a cliche statement, but from that point on my life has been a whirlwind wooden roller coaster of shoots, flights, appearances, the good and the bad, and tons and tons of fun. That being said, to whomever wins Season 11 of Food Network Star, I have a couple words of advice: Family is everything. Keep them close and be sure to have them remind you daily that, yes, indeed your poop does still stink. Be nice to everyone, especially the crew. Give back. My career has thankfully lasted, and I believe these are the reasons why.

OK, onto the premiere episode.

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Ask Yourself These 10 Questions Before You Vote — Justin’s Rebel Recap

by in Recap, August 4, 2014

Justin's Rebel Recap, Episode 10Congratulations, 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.

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A Heaping Helping of “It’s Getting Real” — Justin’s Rebel Recap

by in Recap, July 28, 2014

Justin's Rebel Recap, Episode 9Time flies when you are watching hoping-to-become celebrity chefs duke it out on camera. Two months ago, we were introduced to 12 hopefuls, and one by one, the mentors have crushed the dreams of all but five of them. Now in New York City, the competitors are given a heaping helping of "It’s Getting Real," which is one of my favorite buffet-style dishes.

They stop by Food Network HQ, which Sarah says feels "like Christmas morning." I still get that feeling when I stop in. This reminds me, I have a mood ring that belongs to one of Susie Fogelson's kids', and I need to give it back.

If the competitors had mood rings, the rings would turn black the second it’s revealed that the gang will be doing a live field story in Chelsea Market. It sounds simple. The gang will head to a vendor downstairs. There they will find a summer staple (think ribs, lobsters, ice cream, yogurt-based dips and corn) and report to the Mentors back upstairs.

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All Sorts of Jaw-Drop Crazy — Justin’s Rebel Recap

by in Recap, July 21, 2014

Justin's Rebel Recap, Episode 8Last week, Luca returned from Star Salvation, and Chris couldn't prove himself as the culinary elevator. Emma showed her silver tongue describing her food, and Lenny was deemed "the man to beat." As the competition rages on in Las Vegas, we see a poker-faced dealer flanked by Giada an Alton.

The gang is dealt a single card with the name of a world-class Vegas Eatery. Little do they know, each contestant will use his or her edible experience to craft a course in a team-based tasting menu, to be presented at Guy Savoy. Alton reminds the gang that the food is just a part of a world-class dining experience — ambiance, showmanship and presentation are crucial as well. Bob and Susie will be back, joined by Penn Jillette, who will hopefully make terribly good fun of the soon-to-happen disasters.

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The Culinary Elevator Stopped — Justin’s Rebel Recap

by in Recap, July 14, 2014

Justin's Rebel Recap, Episode 7Last Sunday the gang of seven stared into the greenscreen of death with their POV-packed products in hand. Only six survived, and they headed to Las Vegas. Insert obligatory "steaks/stakes" joke here!

Salvation: If you didn't know it, over here on the Internet, Luca has been on a rampage in Star Salvation. After plowing through two fan favorites from previous seasons and the rest of the eliminated finalists, Luca walks back onto the set. The gang of six is now seven, and everybody's looking like they might get an endorsement deal for adult undergarments.

Nicole points out that Luca hasn't had as much of an opportunity for growth. While I agree to some extent, Luca has the confidence boost of personally slaying every other competitor.

Bacchus and Havoc: Giada offers to take the gang out to eat at Bacchanal Buffet. What sounds like a fun afternoon turns out to be Giada chewing up the contestants like they are linguistic linguini. Indeed, the crew must taste multiple dishes and articulate to Giada what makes each so tasty. Describing food is crucial to the career these cats covet, but only a few have a tongue that can taste and talk.

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Moon Over Miami! — Justin’s Rebel Recap

by in Recap, July 7, 2014

Justin's Rebel Recap, Episode 6One week ago, eight Food Network Star finalists made their way to Knott's Berry Farm for a live culinary demonstration. Everyone had their fair share of hiccups, but Christopher was the Charles Osborne of the bunch. With Christopher's culinary chops stuck in Star Salvation, the gang awaits another challenge.

Your Very Own Product
Remember last year when Rodney made that pie kit out of a coat hanger and gaffer tape? It looked like a Mason jar and a sumo wrestler mated. That's what I was hoping to see this year. Instead of pitching to supermarket execs, the gang is to make a commercial incorporating their POV. Because absolutely nothing is ever as it seems in Food Network Star, the gang will also shoot their commercials in front of a green screen, with a randomly selected location as their backdrop. Whose product will fly off the shelves? Who’s product will be in the bargain bin? Read on, Star fans.

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Threat of the Week: The Mentors — Justin’s Rebel Recap

by in Recap, June 30, 2014

Justin's Rebel Recap, Episode 5Remember that time the Food Network Star hopefuls had to make viral-marketing videos? I bet you are LOL-ing right now. That was last week, and with that episode we saw the elimination of Aryen, who could almost cut the mustard on camera, but had a dull blade in the culinary department.

After that so-bad-it's-good challenge, the gang heads to Knott's Berry Farm. Where there was once a patch of beautiful berries, there are now roller coasters and funnel cakes. With eight left, the once many-sided dice of elimination rolls closer to doom for the gang. Read on to see who got jammed and who was preserved in the Knott's Berry Farm Corral.

Mentor Challenge: The finalists are to cook some real American dishes for the 4th of July.

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