Jeff Wins! Food Network Star 7 – Season in Review

Well now that the dust has settled and we know that the newest winner of Food Network Star is Jeff Mauro it’s time to take a look back at the best and worst we saw.  Be forewarned – there wasn’t much “best” but there was a whole crap load of “worst.”

This was easily the most talented group that Food Network has put together.  This was also, by far, the worst season of Food Network Star ever.  I don’t know that Jeff stands much of a chance of being a genuine star – at least not in the Guy Fieri sense.  I would like nothing more than for my first meal prepared for me by Jeff to be my own words, or more accurately my own words between two buns.

You could make the argument that Jeff should have been eliminated in the first week or two but you can say the same for Vic and Susie.  Vic failed to plate any food in the first two challenges and three different times Susie had the worst performance of an episode but wasn’t sent home.  Jeff was only on the bottom once.  He won and I hope him a happy and successful career.  He may be the next Guy or the next Amy.  Who knows?

I do have to say that I love Jeff’s POV, the Sandwich King.  The sandwich is one of the great inventions of humanity – a complete meal that fits neatly between two slices of bread, no sides needed.  Hmm, that sounds like a great title for a cookbook.  And though it may be true that the best sandwiches are probably being conceived by high-end chefs you certainly don’t have to be a high-end chef to make a great sandwich.  Jeff can make this show interesting.

If I might make one suggestion however, the name of Jeff’s show should be the Earl of Sandwiches as a tribute to John Montague.  The English lord is credited with inventing the modern sandwich and it’s name comes from his title.  Lord Montague was the Fourth Earl of Sandwich.  BOOM! Food knowledge!

Now, Food Network, why would you ever think anyone would want to watch Chris or Penny?  The schtick with those two brought Star to the seediest levels of TV, like VH1 sleazy, The View sleazy, Operation Repo sleazy.  It was obvious that neither was ever going to get their own show but were there simply because you wanted people to tune in just to hate them.  That’s disgusting.

In the post-elimination e-mail that Chris sent out (he ditched the press conference) he said that we would see him again.  Judging from the multitude of negative reviews of his restaurant Cafe Naploi he could be right.  It looks like he is a prime candidate for Restaurant: Impossible.  Even though it has been revealed that Penny was actually an actress at least she could cook, albeit her range was quite limited.

Of all the contestants only Juba, Justin B. and Whitney were truly great chefs.  From a professional standpoint the others were all fair cooks with Susie and Vic being better than average.  From a cooking standpoint Justin B. was most likely the best but it would be close between him and Whitney with Juba right in the mix.  As far as personality goes Jyll was clearly the best.  She walked on set TV-ready and showed more professionalism than anyone.  Whitney and Orchid were the contestants who had the most genuine promise in both categories.  Whitney was a slam dunk.  Whitney should have won just as Kelsey Nixon should have won season four.

I get the feeling that Food Network has washed its hands of integrity in regards to Star.  In past seasons cast members were kept muzzled, unable to speak their minds or make deals for future jobs until the finale aired.  Not so this year.  I knew Howie wouldn’t win before the season ever started because he was already shooting another show.  I knew Whitney didn’t win because she had taken a position with Ruth Reichl’s new venture Gilt Taste.  Then there was Penny boldly announcing her newest acting gig during her exit interview.

Jeff Mauro Leaked PhotoWeeks ago the Wall Street Journal summized that Jeff had won saying, “… it’s starting to feel less like a competition and more like a showcase for Mauro to test some of his ideas before he hosts his own Food Network program.”  I’m guessing a press photo (right) released by the network’s parent company Scripps on June 17th was part of their deduction process.  In the picture Scripps’ Senior Vice President Tammy Franklin is being honored for an award and she is surrounded by her boss Scripps President John Lansing (left), lobbyist David Porter (far right) and the last two winners of Food Network Star.  It’s like Food Network doesn’t even care, like they are taking the viewer for granted.

This is also the second year in a row that the Rachael Ray footage was published online and uncut leaving little doubt that the judges were disingenuous in their assessments of the RaRay Challenge.  If you watch Jyll’s performance on the Rachael Ray Show you’ll see that she was great.  That coupled with winning the first challenge of that episode (which somehow escaped the final edit) made it clear that she, not Jeff, had the best performance that day, though it was pretty close.  It was also obvious that Susie had the worst performance that day.

There were other indicators of how things would pan out that made the ending to this season even less climactic than season four – the year the Food Network web site “accidentally” announced Aaron as the winner four days before the finale or last year when Aarti was added to the list of chefs on the web site a week early.  Just like in season four I think the winner of this season was determined before the first challenge and that is why rules kept changing and the judges critiques seemed so disconnected.  I get it, Jeff is a born entertainer.

There were some great moments this season like when Alicia was breaking down in episode one and Alton Brown turned her around and as a result she had a great performance.  Whitney nailing a croque en bouche in the dessert challenge was possibly the greatest accomplishment the series has ever produced.  I’m still wowed by that.  Jyll’s handling of Wolfgate was the very embodiment of grace under pressure.  Jeff’s impressions were a cold stone hoot.  Vic’s improvement from episode one through about episode eight was a fun ride.  However, after episode nine there really wasn’t much of a reason to watch the show as it was glaringly obvious that Jeff had been anointed the winner.

Food Network Star must undergo an overhaul to be considered “reality TV” since this season read more like a cheap work of fiction.  This show needs help to remain relevant.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Only accept applicants who have cooked professionally.
  2. Rather than taking someone because they have personality and hoping they can cook try getting a bunch of cooks and find the best personality.
  3. Have challenges that are actually relevant to the job.  Making something savory out of cereal has never been a big part of a Food Network show other than Star.
  4. Psychological profiles!
  5. Never, ever accept someone who has applied for a non-food reality show.
  6. Stop the editing BS – show what actually happens.
  7. No more 2 hour episodes.  That’s just too much back-biting for one night.
  8. Stop revealing the winner.  Gosh.
  9. Please, please, please let this show be about finding a new star and not solely about ratings.
  10. Dare to be better.

Finally, if Food Network wants to renew viewers’ faith in the show then they’ll put me on next year’s season – not as a contestant, but as a judge.  Oh, and without a gag order.  I get to speak my mind without the seven figure penalty they strap contestants with.  Don’t do that and there really isn’t any reason to watch this show ever again.  I mean, I will; I just won’t have a reason to.

If you agree drop by the Food Network contact page and send them this message, “Make Stuart Reb Donald a judge on Food Network Star.

Be sure to check my exclusive interview with the newest Food Network star, Jeff Mauro HERE.  Now check out the season finale poll question.  Vote your conscience.

[polldaddy poll=5328147]

The Sandwich King premieres this Sunday at 11:30AM on the Food Network.

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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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