Yes, there were two challenges in this episode, but the biggest OMG-what-just-happened moments came from the Star Challenge, which brought the finalists into their first forays of Live TV. There's no going back now. A few competitors rose to the occasion here and brought their A-games, both in terms of talking in front of a studio audience and demoing their dishes. And then there were those who didn't. Join us as we look back on the highs and lows.
The nature of the Food Network Star beast is such that no matter how much mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis have to teach the finalists, their time is limited, which means they're forced to make quick decisions about who has the greatest potential for success. Week after week finalists will fall in a series of eliminations, and following each gut-wrenching exit, we here at Star Talk will bring you insider interviews with the fallen hopefuls. If you haven't watched the latest episode, don't read any further until you do, because we're about to break down the show and talk to the person sent home.
Following Jernard's blah performance during his tableside service presentation last week, the Food Network Star finalist was determined to bring his A-game this week. In the Mentor Challenge, he wowed the panel with a clever hack for a martini shaker and managed to drop what judge Bobby Flay called a little signature "Jernard swagger" in the process. "You have to be on tilt from here on out," Bobby told him. "Get uncivilized." Sure enough, come the Star Challenge, Jernard did just that, delivering a presentation at the tailgate in which he not only talked about taking shots with his wife, but also about how he rubs her feet. His strong showing — a de-civilization of the best kind, perhaps — indeed left a mark on the mentors. "You feel happiness pouring out of him, and it draws you in. And that's a gift," Giada De Laurentiis noted.
Relive Jernard's performances in both challenges by clicking the play button on the video above.
To kick off this episode of Food Network Star, we dive into the world of food hacks. A food "hack" is when you use a utensil for a purpose other than for what it is intended. I feel like we all have our own food hacks at home, such as using an iron as a panini sandwich press or repurposing a wine bottle as a rolling pin. This challenge revolves around one of the most-important skills for a food star: how to think quickly on your feet and be resourceful. My hack? Use a stovetop burner as a makeshift broiler and char whole bell peppers (on all sides). Peel the skin and toss the pepper with a little red wine vinegar, oregano and olive oil. Delicious. Sometimes you can make great food by "burning" it and making it your own, and sometimes, well, you just get burned. (Check out more of my ideas for kitchen hacks above: rubber-banded pickle jars, floating eggs and others.)
With only 11 short weeks to ready finalists before a winner will be chosen, the Food Network Star beast is such that week after week, hopeful competitors will fall, faced with the crushing disappointment of elimination. Here on Star Talk, we'll be bringing you the first exclusive exit interviews with the ousted finalists as they're sent home. Check back here every Sunday night for new one-on-one chats to hear from the just-eliminated competitors, learn their thoughts on the competition, and find out how they feel about the mentors' critiques of their final dishes and presentations. We're about to break down the ins and outs of tonight's new episodes and reveal who went home, so if you've yet to watch the show, read no further until then.
Sure, the challenges on Food Network Star are a lot for any finalist to endure — they are downright difficult, actually — from the no-time-to-waste cooking blocks to the all-eyes-on-you presentations. But what's perhaps even more nerve-racking for the competitors is the time when the judges deliberate. During those few minutes, the finalists' fate hangs in the balance: Will they be spared one more week and advance to compete again, or will their journey end in a crushing elimination? Only time will tell, and it's that period of the unknown that we bet causes more anxiety than any one-minute video ever could.
The Food Network Star competition got spicy during the first round when the contestants were forced to give up their most-prized ingredients. Eddie had to trade his habaneros to Michelle in exchange for her grape leaves. Michelle was a little intimidated by the heat that habaneros pack — and we totally sympathize! They’re loaded with capsaicin, the active compound in chile peppers that gives them their spice and tingle (that’s why Michelle slipped on plastic gloves before she cut them). A little can go a long way, which is why she was so cautious — although the mentors ended up thinking her dish could have used more.
There’s even a way to measure how spicy chiles are; it’s called the Scoville Scale, based on Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Habaneros are some of the hottest peppers around (100,000 to 350,000 SHU) — although Michelle is lucky she didn’t have to contend with the infamous ghost pepper, which can top the charts at a whopping 1 million SHU!
Here’s how other chile peppers compare to habanero and ghost:
Ghost: (800,000 to 1 million) Known as bhut jolokia in its native northeastern India. Notoriously the world’s hottest pepper — to be used with caution!
Habanero: (100,000 to 350,000) Commonly used in Jamaican cooking, these potent little guys range in color from orange to brown.
Serrano: (15,000 to 25,000) A skinny green Mexican pepper that’s great in salsas or even pickled.
Dom and Michelle may have been challenged to deliver a fitting fusion of flavor on Sunday night, but what they presented — both on the plate and in person — was anything but harmonious. "Just make the food and let's get this done," Dom told Michelle, deciding for their twosome that he'd make risotto and she'd prepare an add-in, which left Michelle feeling sidelined on her own team. "OK. So it's The Dom Show, and Michelle is the dumb sidekick," she grumbled, frustrated that she had little creative input into their dish. When it came time to present, their frustrations quickly got the better of them. Dom felt Michelle to be usurping their intro, and he proclaimed, "Like a true marriage, the husband can't get a word in edgewise," ultimately leaving the crowd feeling awkward and the Selection Committee stunned. "That was painful to watch," Giada said afterward.
Do you, the fans who watched the argument unfold, think that one person was correct and another was clearly in the wrong? Are you in agreement with Dom and his all-business attitude, or do you think Michelle was right to speak up during the presentation? Who are you siding with? Tell us by voting in the poll below. (If you need a refresher on what went down, click the play button on the video below.)
We start this episode Rosa-less, and I’m feeling a little bummed by the absence of her bubbliness. What we start out with instead is each finalist's favorite ingredients, ominously plated right in front of them. Right off the bat, I’m calling shenanigans! Jay has venison, Dom’s got ricotta, Michelle has grape leaves and Eddie has a giant pile of dangerous habaneros. Just when you think all is loosey-goosey in LaLaLand, here come the caveat: the good old switcheroo! The finalists must switch their signature ingredients with another finalist. In turn, Eddie trades his pepper for Michelle’s grape leaves, Alex swaps his five-spice powder for Dom’s ricotta, and they're off to the races.
I love this challenge. It’s a great way to force the finalists to break free of their supposed “comfort zone.” Case in point: I often receive a recipe assignment on The Kitchen that forces me to research and develop a new technique or cuisine that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I enjoy a challenge, and as a Food Network Star, you need an almost-bottomless repertoire of culinary knowledge if you expect to last more than a year in this business.
The cooking begins, and I’m seeing some clever applications. Eddie’s turning grape leaves into a play on escarole and sausage soup, Dom has finally left his own neighborhood for his Grandma’s and is dipping into Asian territory. Michelle is aiming to incinerate the judges' taste buds with a whole mess of habanero, something she has never cooked with before (!?).
It'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.