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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One-on-One with the Latest Food Network Star Finalist to Go Home

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, June 21, 2015

Food Network StarIt's the nature of the Food Network Star beast that even though no matter how badly finalists want to achieve their dreams of stardom, ultimately only one can win the coveted title, and with that, 11 finalists will be going home. Every week Star Talk will bring you the first exclusive interview with the most-recently eliminated finalist. From thoughts on mentors' critiques to reflections on past challenges and hopes for the future, be sure to check back every Sunday night for the latest one-on-one chat. We're about to break down the ins and outs of tonight's new episode and reveal who went home, so if you've yet to watch the show, read no further until then.

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Caption It: Right Here, Right Now

by in Food Network Star, June 19, 2015

Food Network StarIt's the nature of the Food Network Star beast for some finalists to leave the competition as quickly as they entered it. After all, there's only a few short weeks between the premiere and the finale, which means that Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis have but a short window of time to not only mentor the hopefuls' budding Star power but also prime them for their would-be job of Food Network Star.

This Sunday's episode marks the third week of the contest, and while the competition was surely fierce in the beginning, it's even steeper now. The time for nerves and self-constraints has ended; to prove their readiness for Stardom, rivals ought to not hold back from here on out, as the mentors will be watching and expecting only excellence.

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From the Chopping Block to the Dinner Party: Geoffrey Zakarian Previews His Star Appearance

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, Judges, June 18, 2015

Geoffrey ZakarianWhen it comes to judging chef competitors, few others do it as well — or as frequently — as the Chopped panel, including Geoffrey Zakarian, which means that the remaining 10 rivals are in for a world of surprise when he shows up to judge this Sunday night. From the time constraints to the pressures to please, he's familiar with the issues affecting the finalists, and he's no stranger to doling out constructive criticism in an effort to help them better their performances. Come Sunday, he and Sunny Anderson, one of his fellow co-hosts on The Kitchen, will be on hand to attend a dinner party thrown by the competitors; ultimately Geoffrey, Sunny, and mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis will evaluate who has the Star potential to go the distance in the business.

Recently Star Talk caught up with Geoffrey to find out what he'll be looking for in Star hopefuls this weekend. Read on below for his insider take, and find out what he believes to be one of the best pieces of advice he's ever received.

When you meet them, the finalists will be only three weeks into this journey. What are you hoping to see in them?
Geoffrey Zakarian: Well, I always try to see if they have real fire. How disappointed they get from setbacks — this says a lot.

Giada has said that she focuses on molding finalists' personalities, while Bobby's all about their cooking chops. Do you think one piece of the puzzle is more important in this competition: the camera presence versus the food?
GZ: As a chef, I think food is foremost. But you need to learn to understand the camera and the power it has.

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What Does It Take to Impress Alex Guarnaschelli? The Judge’s First Impressions, Plus Lessons Learned

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, Judges, June 17, 2015

From mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis to guest judges Melissa d'Arabian and Alex Guarnaschelli, the competition was brimming with superstardom this weekend as the finalists endured two rounds of challenges: one to turn leftovers into family dinners and another to bake up savory sweets. Alex was on hand during the Star Challenge's baking task, and in true Chopped judge fashion, she doled out constructive criticism to the 11 remaining rivals and ultimately deliberated with Bobby and Giada about who should go home.

Star Talk recently caught up with Alex to get the dish on her experience both in the judge's seat and in the arena as a contestant. Read on below for an exclusive interview, then click the play button above to get her take on the finalists' best baked offerings.

Not only have you judged competitions before, but you've also competed on Chopped All-Stars, The Next Iron Chef and Cutthroat Kitchen, among other shows. Do those experiences affect the way you look at the finalists who are going through this journey for the first time?
Alex Guarnaschelli: Of course. It’s just like being a chef in a restaurant. If you’ve been a busboy and a dishwasher and a cook and a sous chef, then when you’re the chef, you have empathy and understanding of each part that’s played to make something successful. The same is true in a competition show. I’ve competed, I’ve judged, I’ve watched, I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve won, I’ve lost. When someone walks in front of me and starts cooking, I know already how this is going to go.

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From the Competition to Your Kitchen: How to Make Guacamole “Frosting”

by in Food Network Star, June 16, 2015

Guacamole Who else couldn’t believe what happened during the elimination in last week’s episode of Food Network Star? (Whoa!) But drama aside, we thought many of the savory-inspired desserts for the baking challenge looked great. We especially loved Eddie’s chili corn muffins with avocado frosting. So, inspired by Eddie’s savory frosting, we put on our aprons and headed into the Food Network Kitchen to develop a recipe for you to try at home:

Guacamole “Frosting”

3 ripe avocados
1/4 white onion, chopped
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves and tender stems
Juice of 2 limes
1 small garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Puree all of the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 hours. Decorate your favorite corn muffins with the frosting — and eat quickly.

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“Food Network Star Finalists, I Support You in Pursuing Your Dreams:” A Letter from a Former Winner and Guest Judge

by in Food Network Star, Judges, June 16, 2015

Melissa d'ArabianOn Sunday night, I judged a challenge on Food Network Star. Returning to where it all started for me is more emotional than one might expect. I arrived at my hotel well after 1 a.m., exhausted from a full day of work. I set my alarm for 5:15 a.m. and tried to sleep — but I couldn’t. I couldn’t help but put myself in the finalists’ position. I remembered all too well tossing and turning in the bunk bed that was my home for weeks during the filming of my own season of Food Network Star. I could almost feel myself lying there only inches from the ceiling (I had the top bunk), waxy earplugs wedged into my ears to blot out evidence of the other female finalists who were both my competitors and my roommates. I would lie there, trying to quiet my mind with focused breathing, doing my best to stamp out thoughts about whatever had happened in the latest challenge or elimination, only to find myself speculating on what challenge might lie ahead, or even, what time we would be awakened with the next task.

I feel for these finalists, and I know how deeply they want to succeed. They have left behind careers and families to pursue their dream job, and missing the mark on a challenge can feel like ultimate failure in the moment. Hearts are broken and character is built. It is about so much more than just cooking. It is harder than it looks.

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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

One-on-One with the Latest Food Network Star Finalist to Go Home

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, June 14, 2015

Food Network StarIt's the nature of the Food Network Star beast that even though no matter how badly finalists want to achieve their dreams of stardom, ultimately only one can win the coveted title, and with that, 11 finalists will be going home. Every week Star Talk will bring you the first exclusive interview with the most-recently eliminated finalist. From thoughts on mentors' critiques to reflections on past challenges and hopes for the future, be sure to check back every Sunday night for the latest one-on-one chat. We're about to break down the ins and outs of tonight's new episode and reveal who went home, so if you've yet to watch the show, read no further until then.

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Caption It: Reactions Speak Louder Than Words

by in Food Network Star, June 12, 2015

Food Network StarIf the premiere was all about first impressions, then this Sunday's Episode 2 is set to show which finalists have the chops to go the distance in this competition and who, perhaps, was simply gifted a bit of beginner's luck last week. Not only will the contestants have to impress judge-mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis in two tougher-than-ever challenges on Sunday, but they'll also come face to face with two other superstars — Melissa d'Arabian and Alex Guarnaschelli — both of whom know all too well what it takes to succeed in a culinary competition.

Melissa's the Season 5 Star winner, so she's uniquely aware of the anxieties and pressures affecting the finalists right now; it's up to her to not only judge them but also offer the finalists been-there-done-that words of wisdom that only a fellow Star rival would understand. Alex, too, knows the best bets for finalists hoping to wow a judge — after all, she is a frequent judge on Chopped and a notoriously no-nonsense one at that.

Check out the sneak-peek photo above to get the first look at Sunday's all-new episode. While Rue, Sita and Jay look somewhat pleased at what's going down before them, Emilia appears downright shocked and Matthew looks on with a blank stare. What do you think they're reacting to?

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