Next Food Network Star 7 Finalists Announced

Star Is Back and Bigger Than Ever!  15 hopefuls are vying to join the ranks of Guy, Melissa and Aarti as the next Food Network Star. Who has what it takes?”  That’s what the Food Network site has to say about season seven of their most popular show.

Next Food Network Star 7 CastI am starting to ease off of my criticism of this show.  The last two seasons the winners have actually deserved the wins and both shows are still going strong.  The network has also done a good job of finding niches for runner-ups like Adam Gertler, Kelsey Nixon, Tom Pizzica and Herb Mesa.  So this year I actually look forward to figuring out which contestants are contenders, pretenders and the ever so forgettable ratings fodder.

For those that don’t know what I mean about “ratings fodder” those are contestants who don’t have a tax cut’s chance in Washington of ever winning the contest.  They are there to make the first few cuts painless.  Last season the cast was made up of more ratings fodder than actual contenders while at the same time having the strongest top 5 in the show’s history.  A nice juxtaposition.

Noticeably missing from the cast is a certain middle aged, chubby guy with thinning hair.  Looking over this year’s cast photo (^up yonder^) there seems to be a noticeable trend in the this year’s contestants – young and purty!  One cast member is 40 while the rest are younger including four or five in their 20’s.  At least I know that it wasn’t my audition that did me in but rather the fact that I don’t look like Ryan Reynolds.  I can live with that; I can cook the green tights off of Ryan Reynolds.

Something else noticeably missing from the cast are Southerners (for the third year in a row).  There is no way I can believe that you do a search for the 15 best cooking personalities in the nation and you can only find three Southerners that cut the mustard. That doesn’t add up.  The stars that made Food Network all came via the South, Legasse (New Orleans), Florence (South Carolina), Clan Deen and Alton (Georgia) and none of them ever blew off a dying child because they were “too busy” for an entire year like a certain elitist New Englander.

In the past few years NFNS has steered away from Southerners including a few seasons where they didn’t even offer any auditions in the South.  There is a definite anti-South vibe in the casting department for this show.  Let’s be completely honest here, the best cooks and personalities in the country are in the South.  Period; end of discussion.

Now feel free to meet to the new cast (click on their names to view their full profile on Food Network’s site):

Alichia Sanchez (33, New York), Chris Nirschel (28, Hoboken), Howie Drummond (40, Highlands Ranch, CO), Jeff Mauro (32, Elmwood Park, IL), Juba Kali (28, New Orleans), Justin Balmes (32, Marietta, GA), Justin Davis (31, Minneapolis), Jyll Everman (31, Glendora, CA), Katy Clark (34, Long Beach, CA), Mary Beth Albright (38, Washington, D.C), Orchid Paulmeier (38, Bluffton, SC), Penny Davidi (39, LA), Susie Jimenez (31, Aspen, CO), Vic “Vegas” Moea (35, Las Vegas) and Whitney Chen (28, New York).

So there are three contestants each from the New York City area and from LA and you know what I say about contestants from The Big Apple and Tinsel Town – they’re actors.  True they may also be chefs or caters or whatnot but generally they tend to be professional entertainers first and cooks second.  Not that this is a bad thing; Mario Batali and Alton Brown both have theater backgrounds but this Next Food Network Star 7show is supposed to be about taking someone from outside the entertainment industry and making them a star.  Of course by that criteria I would be ineligible too.  So forget I said anything.

Based on the clips on their bios my favorite to win it all right now is Jyll Everman but that is based solely on her audition reel, oh and the fact that she is gorgeous.  Who knows if she can cook?  If the past two years are any indication, Food Network is shying away from the shenanigans and preordained winners like in seasons 3 and 4.  Big Daddy’s “win” in season 4 continues to be a bone of contention with most of the show’s fans.

Next Food Network Star (NFNS) 7 premieres June 5 at 9p/8c.

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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