Food Network Star 7 EP1

Ready, get set, cook!

Alicia Sanchez Next Food Network StarFifteen Wannabe TV Chefs are vying for the golden ring, six episodes of their dream show.  A gaggle of chefleberities, drama as far as the eye can see (some genuine and some contrived, but drama just the same) can only mean one thing – it’s time for another season of The Next Food Network Star (NFNS).   Bobby Flay is back as are Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson and they are joined by several culinary stars from the Network led by Giada De Laurentiis.

Giada is no longer acting as mentor to the contestants but rather she is joining the judges table.  Giada is a perfect example of the evolution of a Food Network Star.  If you saw the first season of Everyday Italian you would assume she got the gig because of her looks.  Granted she was fun to look at but laborious to watch.  Now she is a complete star.

Last year I was confident before the first episode that Aarti would win.  I knew Aarti from her work with Good Bite, I had seen how warm and natural she was on camera.  I also knew that Bob Tuschman really wanted a show of Indian cuisine on the network.  All she had to do was not screw up and she was a shoe in.  The fact that Herb and Tom made it as close as they did at the end is a testament to just how good both were.  But as seasons four and five showed us, if the finals are close, need will decide the winner.  The last three winners,  at least in part, were decided by demographics.  They plugged holes in the FN line-up.

This year I’m not so confident.  Based solely on the audition videos, Jyll Everman is my early favorite but anyone can win.  Whitney Chen looks like an another favorite because of both her resemblance to Rachael Ray as does Howie Drummond because of his experience in the media.  “Vegas” has been on a few episodes of Food Network Challenge and although I can’t quite figure out what demographic he satisfies apparently someone at Chelsea Market likes him.

This year I have added the WTVC (WannabeTVchef) Next Food Network Star Polls – six categories for contestants who best embody the spirit of former NFNS competitors.  Be sure to check them out HERE.

The first challenge was breakfast to show your POV.  The second was some what I thought was a stupid tag-team promo thing that honestly left me feeling a little bored.  It produces drama so I guess that was the point but it wasn’t cooking.  When everything was said and done I got it.  Here’s something else I get – 2 hours is brutally long.

After one episode here are my thoughts on each contestant:

Alichia Sanchez – She’s got to work on a TV voice.  Needs a lot of help.  And Alton gave it to her.  Penny bashed on her and the judges asked about her accent.  Once he talked to her, gave her direction she came on strong.  But her thin skin may still be a trap in the future.

Chris Nirschel – He has a LOT of confidence doesn’t he?  He damned well better cure cancer in the next few weeks.  Blew the first cooking challenge and the presentation.  Second challenge was not much better.  Should be safe but only because others were worse.

Howie Drummond – A natural at communicating.  I’ll be anxious to see what kind of chops he has.  Not good for the 7 Questions alum on the first challenge.  The second challenge didn’t go well either at first but he finally nailed the promo.  Then needed help getting his dish done.  Doesn’t look good for Howie.

Jeff Mauro – Good food knowledge but he’s going to have to work on communicated with a little more energy.  Funny guy.  Good energy.  Food remains a question mark.

Juba Kali – New Orleans is one of the best cities in the world to have a meal so it’s shocking that Juba is the first NFNSter to hail from the Crescent City.  After the first challenge he may be the last.  The second didn’t help.  So likable but so weak on camera.  If he survives he has some huge upside.  So far, the best pure cook on the show.

Justin Balmes – Scoring with the chicks at the disco is not the same as competing on NFNS.  That may be a hard lesson for Justin.  He had some serious trouble in the second challenge but the first went alright.  He knows his stuff and he can absolutely cook.

Justin Davis – Another person that needs to work on communication.  There’s only room for one Ben Stein at the Food Network and Ina has that all locked up.  Not very memorable yet.  He’ll need to improve.

Jyll Everman – Attractive and likeable.  Jyll seems to have two of the big three.  Only thing left is can she cook?  Did well on the first challenge.  Second challenge got stressed but wasn’t’ bad.

Katy Clark – The love child of Heba Mesa and Melissa D’Arabian?  That much energy cannot be healthy.  You know what else can’t be healthy?  A cooking show.  FN has tried them but the reality is no one wants to watch food TV and see someone cooking brown rice and tofu.  No one.  Not being a likeable personality doesn’t help.

Mary Beth Albright – She knows a lot of famous chefs including Art Smith who seems to be a fan of hers.  Lot to be said for clout.  She’s a critic now in the position of being critiqued.  How she handles that may be the difference in how well she does.  Bombed first challenge.  Second was a little better.

Orchid Paulmeier – A BBQ cook from South Carolina.  Job one – work on your knife skills.  Won the first challenge with great food and personality.  I like her as a dark horse.  She’s so warm on camera and a better cook than she gives herself credit for.  Does that sound familiar, Aarti?

Penny Davidi – She is one hot lady.  Really, really hot.  Don’t believe me?  Then ask her.  Early love-to-hate candidate.  Then again, she is fun to look at.  No, not really.  She’s a psycho!  She sabotaged and terrorized Alichia for no reason the entire episode.  Please, Penny, forget the head games and venom; just cook and be likeable.  If you are a student of body language pay attention to Giada when she tells Penny she is safe.  Her head tips back so that she is looking down her nose at Penny and then her eyes look down – her body language expressed contempt.  I love me some micro-expressions.

Susie Jimenez – Oh my.  A lot of work needs to be done here. . . and that’s just with walking.  A living puzzle.  First challenge was a bomb.  Her second round was better.  Her ceviche killed but now she can’t do that dish again.  One ceviche per season.

Vic “Vegas” Moea – Hmm.  Maybe I spoke too quickly about Penny being the favorite for love-to-hate contestant.  Nope I didn’t.  Vic is quite likeable.  Didn’t finish first dish.  Not a good sign,  great presentation though.  He is a classic example of don’t judge a book by its cover.  He reminds me a bit of season 6’s Herb Mesa – the gentle giant.  He didn’t finish his food again on the second challenge but this time is was because there was a last second accident.  But I am starting to like him.

Whitney Chen – Ah!  She’s just so adorable.  Her resemblance to Rachael is uncanny isn’t it?  She may be the most polished cook in this contest.  Good energy and her Chinese ancestry could help her fill a vacancy the network has had since it parted ways with Ming Tsai (has it really been a decade since Ming’s Quest?).


“In it to Win it” type quotes – 1.

Number of people crying – 3.

Number of WTF moments – I lost count -Justin blowing his promo all four times and every bit of bile that came out of Penny’s mouth.

Who should win based on what we’ve seen so far: Whitney or Orchid.

Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Whitney or Orchid

Winner(s) first week: 1st challenge: Orchid.  2nd challenge: Team: Juba, Orchid and Jeff.

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The finalist who will be going home is . . .

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Howie.  Check out my exit interview with each departed Wannabe TV Chef HERE.

2 Responses to Food Network Star 7 EP1

  • beth says:

    why is it such a big deal about Penny wanting to bring Sexy back into the kitchen? How is it that Bobby Flay and Giada acting like it's never been heard of done or successful for that matter? Um hello does Nigella Lawson ring a bell? Didn't seem to bother anyone that she was basically making every dish while being seductive about each ingredient. I don't care for that style but to act like it's so odd or unheard of is ignorant. Also um why is Vic Moea even a challenger on the show? Like the producers and judges don't even know he's been on many of the Challenge episodes and won at least one or two of them as well. Lol.

    • The big thing about bringing sexy back to the kitchen is that every single year they have someone who states that as their goal. For the judges it's over done and that job opening is already filled. Also, Nigella, Giada et al never intended to bring sexy to the kitchen it's just how things worked out. Penny is trying to force it. I think she could do well if she just cooked and worked more on being likeable. The back stabbing stuff is not attractive or sexy and it over shadows the fact that she is a very attractive woman.

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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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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
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2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
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