Food Network Star 7 EP2

In the Line of Fire

It is a day of unhappy surprises as the finalists create pizzas that encompass their points-of-view, only to be told one won’t proceed to the Star Challenge. Then the Star Challenge is an early run-in with an all-star Food Network panel—in front of which they must cook!

Howie Drummond Next Food Network StarLast week we saw:

To quote Bob Tuschman, “Video killed the radio star.”  If Penny isn’t packed up and sent to the loony bin soon there is going to be bloodshed.  Whitney and Orchid are in a class of their own.  Jeff, Juba, Justin B and Vic can get there with some work.  The rest have a tough uphill climb.  Some tougher than others.  Two hours made for a gruelingly long premiere.  15 is just too damned many Wannabe TV Chefs especially for one of them not to be me!

After two episodes here are my thoughts on each contestant:

Alicia Sanchez – Last week she started off on shaky ground and being on the receiving end of Penny’s psychosis didn’t help.  Alton Brown bailed her out with equal parts compassion and direction.  Watching Alton with Alicia was the highlight of the episode.  This week: She was great in the 1st challenge.  2nd. was not as good on food or personality.

Chris Nirschel – More frat boy than chef so far.  He has an uphill climb.  This week: Stiff and boring on the 1st challenge.  2nd challenge wasn’t good.  Not good at all – peppermint fish.  Wheh!  Food wasn’t great and personality was worse.  A total bomb.

Howie Drummond – Eliminated week 1.

Jeff Mauro – Hit and miss.  If he puts it all together he has good upside.  This week:  1st challenge was OK. 2nd didn’t go well.  Judges slammed him in the second challenge.

Juba Kali – He is so likable, has such a great smile and is an amazing cook (New Orleans, duh).  If he can get the TV side down he is a serious contender.  This week:  He keeps locking up in front of the camera.  He gets eliminated after the first challenge.

Justin Balmes – Another guy who can cook and has the look but the camera has not been kind.  This week:  Struggled with the camera again on the 1st challenge but the pizza was innovative.  2nd challenge was great food, for him the presentation was better but still not great.  Best food of the episode.

Justin Davis – So far unremarkable.  He has to do something to distinguish himself or he will forever be “the other Justin.”  This week:  He still gets lost among the others.  Judges liked him but he is so quiet.  It’s obvious that they like him.

Jyll Everman – She is still a strong contender but has a few kinks to work out.  The team challenges last week hurt her but also proved she is a great team player and leader.  This week: 1st challenge was nice.  2nd challenge was good, too.  Judges liked her.

Katy Clark – Eh.  Neither good nor bad just there.  Her biggest roadblock may be that fans always say they want more healthy cooking shows but in the end they don’t watch them.  The only healthy cooking show to ever do well was the Graham Kerr Show in the 90’s.  She’ll have to offer something really new to make her POV resonate.  This week: Not good on the 1st challenge.  2nd challenge she set fire to her pan, awesome but the food did not sing.  Her food was too complex as was her POV.

Mary Beth Albright – There is an air of confidence (dare I say arrogance) that lawyers have to put forth to win favor from a jury.  Mary Beth still has that swagger.  If she can get rid of it she has a chance but what wins in the courtroom, kills in Food Network Star.  This week: Nice energy, good pizza.  2nd challenge was good as well.  Home-run in fact.  Won her group.

Orchid Paulmeier – WOW!  What a first week.  She won both of the first two challenges.  Now, is she another Aarti or another Aria?  She reminds me of Aarti in that she is terrific on camera and a great cook but she has a few self-confidence issues.  Last year Aria exploded in week one and rode that performance for weeks as she was unremarkable after that.  This week: Another good performance on 1st challenge. 2nd challenge was hit or miss.  Good personality but the food was not on.  She took a step back according to Bobby.

Penny Davidi – Proof positive that Food Network needs to add psychological profiles to the entrance process.  If the edit was honest to her true personality then I genuinely feel that we’ll see her in the news again and not in a good way.  If what came across on the show is just the result of unflattering editing then she could have a nice career.  She can cook and she is kind of cute.  But honestly that editing could not have been forced.  Also “putting sexy back in the kitchen” is done every single year and the person with that stated goal always fails to do so.  They also fail to win.  This week: She’s dropped the stilettos in the kitchen. Susie liked her energy but I thought it a bit muted (i.e. not crazy). Good food.  But she was back to her old form on the 2nd challenge.  Bobby slammed her for being a bitc. . . a not nice person.

Susie Jimenez – Another mediocre performer.  Not bad, not great just good.  Plenty of upside but I have to ask from a demographics point of view does Food Network need another Latin cuisine expert (Flay, Sanchez, Garces, Valladolid, Hoffman, Martinez)?  This week: 1st challenge was not, uh, graceful.  2nd challenge was much better.  Great food.  Judges liked her 2nd round performance.

Vic “Vegas” Moea – OK.  This one is tough.  From all appearances Vic is a stand up guy who is very likable.  It looks like he knows how to put food together but getting it to the table is another thing.  On his slow start Vic told me, “We’re gonna get through this rough start. I have to, I came this far. I cant give up.”  This week:  He got food to the judges!!!!  He reinvented his schtick and then got camera struck. 2nd challenge was not bad but not great.  At least he presented food twice.  Giada liked his plating and called him a teddy bear.  Bobby loves his food.

Whitney Chen – A home run.  When I think back to the Mary Nolan experience with Food Network Star 4 where Network brass were so blown away by her that she got a show without having to compete I can’t help but thinking Whitney is that kind of talent.  Of course, Mary hasn’t been seen since her six episodes failed to register a blip with viewers.  Whitney will just have to do it the old fashioned way.  Easily as polished as Aarti without the self-confidence issues.  And no, she is not Rachael Ray’s sister. This week:  They never showed Whitney on the 1st challenge.  Great food on the second challenge.  Judge’s loved her food.  She’s so adorable.  Won her 2nd challenge.

Be sure to check out the WTVC Food Network Star Polls – six categories for contestants who best embody the spirit of former NFNS competitors HERE.  Don’t forget to follow the live Tweeting with Serena, Bobby, Giada, myself and who ever else stops by.  Last week we had drive-by Tweets from Alexis Hernandez from season six, Alton Brown, Aaron Sanchez and Alex Guarnaschelli.

Top Tweets:

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[blackbirdpie url=”!/StuartDonald/status/77570858549379072″]

[blackbirdpie url=”!/Campcreekfarm/status/80079870234853377″]

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“In it to Win it” type quotes – 1.

Number of people crying – 3 (but all were Alicia).

Number of WTF moments – 2 Chris not knowing what Pernod tastes like but he’s going to use it anyway and again anything Penny says.

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

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

Winner(s) first week: 1st challenge: Penny. 2nd challenge: Whitney, Mary Beth and Justin B.


The finalist(s) who will be going home is . . .

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Juba and Katy.

Check out my mourning-after exit interview with each banished foodie HERE.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
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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