In true Star Salvation fashion, the name of the game this week was expect the unexpected, as Jeff Mauro told the finalists to get set for "a culinary curve ball." He and fellow judge Alex Guarnaschelli doled out three mystery bags, each stuffed with a mandatory product that the hopefuls had to demonstrate their mastery over by featuring it in their dishes.
For Dom it was all about his Italian point of view; he worked rosemary lavender into a creamy carbonara sauce. Emilia used her childhood nickname of "squash blossom" to talk about her ingredient — squash blossoms. And Rue, brand new to sorghum, approached her product with gusto and tried it in a chili.
If you had to cook with one of these three mystery ingredients (rosemary lavender, squash blossoms or sorghum), which would you choose? Cast your vote in the poll below, then click the play button on the video above to see how the hopefuls fared in this challenge.
Competing on Food Network Star brings opportunities of a lifetime, like competing on a national stage, the biggest and most-inspiring one there is, and being mentored by industry legends Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis — and that's not even counting what happens after winning. But with the contest comes sacrifices, like having to leave home and be away from family for an extended period of time, which is precisely what Michelle Karam couldn't handle, as she explained to the Selection Committee of her decision to walk away from this once-in-forever chance and quit the competition with just weeks remaining. She shocked her fellow finalists and the judges with her unexpected decision, and in her one-on-one exit interview with Star Talk, she explained of her husband and children, "They trump everyone and anything else." Michelle added: "I’ve never once during this entire competition had anyone else in my mind. Every second. Every minute. Every day. They are my life." She also apologized to her fellow finalists: "I didn’t know I wasn’t going to be able to go on any further until I got to that point. Truly. I left the day if not the moment I figured out I could no longer go on."
Fans, after watching the dramatic exit unfold on Sunday night, what did you think of Michelle's decision to quit? Are you proud that she put her family before all else, or are you disappointed and thinking that she gave up on a dream? Are you simply shocked and unsure of what to make of the news? Tell us in the poll below. For a look at how the unprecedented actions played out on Sunday, click the play button above.
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.)
It's down to the nitty-gritty: the final four finalists. Damaris, Rodney, Russell and Stacey have endured nine weeks of grueling tasks, surviving on-camera and cooking challenges, and now one is just eight days closer to stardom.
If you had to vote now, who would you pick as your next Food Network Star?
During last Sunday's episode, Lovely made a surprise return to the on-air contest after besting six previously fallen competitors on Star Salvation. Maintaining her "party on a plate" point of view during the exclusive Web series, she proved to host Robert Irvine her culinary chops and commitment to the competition. But now, looking back on her performance and her rivals', do you think Lovely was the correct finalist to earn a second chance at stardom?
Do you think Daniela or Andres — the first two ousted contestants — warranted more time to show off their skills, or should Danushka have stayed, on account of her one-of-a-kind attitude? Would you have liked to have seen more from restaurant chefs Viet, Chris or Chad, or was Lovely indeed worthy of redemption? Tell Star Talk by voting below for the competitor you think most deserved salvation.
It's hard to believe that Star is halfway over: It started with 12 hopefuls and after tomorrow night's episode, there will only be six left. Viewers have witnessed ups and downs — pitches that nailed it (like Rodney's), dishes that wowed the judges and one-liners that have left fans, finalists and the mentors speechless (like Danushka's). And who can forget that awkward shimmyStar fans have seen not once, but twice?
So that leads to the question: Do you agree with all of the judges' elimination decisions so far? Did someone go home too early in your opinion? Five talented and unforgettable finalists have said goodbye, but was it too soon for any of them? Vote in Star Talk's poll.
And don't forget, one contestant will receive a second chance and re-enter the competition after competing in Star Salvation.
This season, Alton, Bobby and Giada are playing two roles: mentors and judges. When they're not sharing their expert advice with the remaining contestants during challenges, they're making the tough decisions — who stays and who goes each week. While they work together as a team to make these verdicts, each judge has his and her own personality and point of view that will help shape these decisions.
During Season 8 of Star, viewers saw even more of their characters come out as Alton, Giada and Bobby had to compete against each other for the first time. Both Bobby and Alton have admitted that while Giada is sweet, she loves to win and is a serious competitor. Bobby certainly has the cooking chops, and as Chad said earlier this season, "Alton knows just a little bit more about everything than you do." So that leads Star Talk to ask fans this question: Who's your favorite Star judge? Vote in the poll.
Someone will get chopped on this Sunday's appropriately themed episode of Star (watch an extended preview here). Like most Star and Chopped endings, it won't be pretty. And it wouldn't be a real Chopped experience without a Chopped judge present — Alex Guarnaschelli, especially. Alex has judging down to a T, not to mention she understands the stress of these competitions, having recently won The Next Iron Chef.
Standing in front of the judges’ table on Chopped is scary for any contestant, especially when he or she is waiting to hear the criticism from the judges. Both Alton and Bobby have admitted they believe Alex is the scariest Chopped judge to face. But what do you think? Vote in Star Talk's poll below.
When it comes to mentoring, Bobby’s, Alton’s and Giada’s styles couldn’t be more different. In the season premiere, we learned what each was looking for when they hand-picked their teams of five Food Network Starhopefuls: Bobby sought out no-nonsense cooks, Alton culinary teachers and Giada outgoing personalities. As the season continued, it turned out that the mentors’ selection criteria mirrored their own leadership styles.
Bobby found it most effective to maintain a professional relationship with his team and to tailor his instruction to each individual's needs. He spoke of his approach to the other mentors in an exclusive video. “I really try to bounce off the people that I’m mentoring, because I feel like they sort of drive me to the way I’m going to mentor and what I’m going to actually utilize to help them,” he said in Miami.
Think back to almost 10 weeks ago when we first met this season’s 15 Food Network Star hopefuls. As a group, they were a bit timid, unsure of the whole cooking-in-front-of-a-camera-for-famous-people thing, but extremely eager to prove themselves and their cooking chops to their mentors and the network. Thanks to the mentoring of Alton, Bobbyand Giada, each contestant had the opportunity to grow as a cook and potential television personality, though some finalists’ stays at Star were too short-lived to benefit from their advice. The remaining six finalists, however, have enjoyed a month and a half of constructive criticism and countless chances to show their progress toward stardom, and this Sunday, Ippy, Justin, Martie, Michele, Nikki and Yvanwill have a final few moments to demonstrate their improvement and promising Star potential in a promo for their would-be Food Network show.
Tell us: Which of the remaining Star finalists is the most improved contender?