ep 1

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.

Top Tweets:

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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.

Recap: Next Iron Chef 3, EP2

So what did we learn in week one?  Plenty – like all of the chefs are awed by Ming Tsai who they have nicknamed Uncle Ming, that Duskie Estes has never seen Iron Chef before (via this interview from FoodGal.com) and that Andrew Kirschner will not be the Next Iron Chef.

Duskie Estes of Next Iron ChefEarly indications suggest that this is Ming’s competition to lose.  Not only do his credentials trump those of the other competitors but week one revealed that his talent is a cut above the rest.  However, Ming cannot sleep on Maneet, Marco or Marc Forgione.  Unless Chef Pagan can produce better than last week his stay on NIC may be short lived.

Challenge #1 – Make an inspired breakfast dish incorporating doughnuts and coffee.  All of the chefs seemed to have a good grasp on what they would make.  Chef Ming correctly said that there are some people who really excel at breakfast but not everyone does.  Again 30 minutes to cook and judging each other.  The judging each other crap has got to go.  It is clearly there so the other chefs can rip Ming Tsai apart and to add drama.  They should call it Ming-bashing.  It is not “Iron Chef” worthy.

Challenge #2 – Recreate a classic diner dish and elevate it.  The dishes must be “Iron Chef” worthy.  The winner of the 1st challenge got choose which dish they wanted to recreate and then assigned them to everyone else.

My thoughts:

Marco Canora – Had a very quiet but outstanding first week.  Marco flew a little under the radar but ended up with a top 3 finish.  On the 1st challenge his food came across bitter because his griddle was too high.  He flipped liver and onions for the 2nd challenge.  Judges liked it but the liver was overcooked.

Bryan Caswell – A middle of the pack performance in week 1.  Nothing memorable, nothing bad. He was a hit with the ladies, though.  1st challenge French toast.  He got defensive at the critique.  He reinvented a turkey and dressing open faced sandwich.  Judges liked it a lot.  Simon especially loved it.  But Michael said it wasn’t actually a sandwich.  It almost won.  Top three finish.

Maneet Chauhan – In week 1 her 1st dish was good but her 2nd dish was great.  She had a top three finish and has established herself as a true contender.  Doughnut grilled cheese?  It seemed to go over well.  Having won the 1st challenge she got to choose her which recipe to recreate for the second one and then assign the other dishes to the others.  She took burgers and fries and made a veggie burger with squash blossom fries.  The judges appreciated the idea but not exactly the finished product.  Another top three finish.

Mary Dumont – Week 1 she turned in a middle of the pack performance.  1st challenge – bananas two ways for breakfast with very little coffee or doughnut and she cut herself.  Her food was not well received at all.  She came in dead last and as a result was penalized – she looses 1 minute of cook time on the second challenge.  That hurt because her dish was pot roast, a slow cooking dish.  She elected to go with the pressure cooker to catch up but she did not know how to use it.  Simon, “It fails immediately.”  The pot roast was like shoe leather.  A bottom three finish.

Duskie Estes – Last week she won the first challenge then bombed the second so badly she nearly went home. Lots of people watching the show have called her this year’s Jehangir Mehta.  1st dish was okay.  2nd challenge she got fried chicken & biscuit.  She fried quail and an goat cheese and lavender biscuit.  It went over well but the judges still had issues with it.

Marc Forgione – A talented chef to be sure and he loves to do everything from scratch.  He did well but I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet.  He certainly embraces the mentality of an Iron Chef.  1 st. dish was okay.  Made deconstructed chicken pot pie.  The judges loved it.  His talent and dedication are starting to shine.  His dish could be the winner.

Andrew Kirschner – Went home week 1.

Mario Pagán – To be honest, I am not sure how he survived week one.  He came in dead last in the 1st challenge and had a bottom three finish in the second.  Perhaps the close call will motivate him.  1st dish was not memorable but didn’t suck.  2nd dish – meatloaf and potatoes.  He made it tropical and used pork belly as a meatloaf, uh that’s not really right.  The idea was nice, the execution was not there.  Simon didn’t like it and all judges disliked the appearance.  Bottom three finish.

Celina Tio – Celina had a fine showing in week 1.  Everything was above average but none of it stood out.  But she certainly has the chops.  Tio’s breakfast dish was STRANGE but some people liked it.  I’m sorry but fried chicken livers on a doughnut is just weird.  But then again I thought that about melting sharp cheddar cheese onto apple pie so. . .   For the 2nd challenge she got baked fish and rice pilaf – she made salmon with a risotto pilaf.  Michael and Simon loved it. Donatella not so much.

Ming Tsai – During the 1st challenge the other chefs who seemed to be taking advantage of the judge-each-other format to attack Uncle Ming.  The second challenge Ming established himself as the chef to beat blowing everyone away with the only dish of the challenge worthy of an Iron Chef.  1st challenge was a green tomatoes, eggs and ham doughnut sandwich plus a coffee drink.  Again the younger chefs jumped on Ming despite his product.  East/West corn-beef and cabbage with eggs.  The judges criticized him for using too many ingredients but they all loved the taste.  No way he deserved a bottom three finish but that’s what he got.  It was a little suspicious.

Quote of the night – “Who wants to be criticized in front of your peers?  No one does.”  Ming Tsai before the final judgment of the evening.

Leading the pack: Ming Tsai, Maneet Chauhan

Dark horse: Marc Forgione

Tonight’s winners:

1st challenge – Chef Maneet.
2nd challenge – Chef Forgione.

Have you missed an episode of NIC because you were subjected to the torture of an arts and crafts festival?  No problem, you can get caught up HERE.  Be sure to check out my exclusive interviews with Celina Tio (HERE), Mary Dumont (HERE) and Maneet Chauhan (HERE).

The Next Iron Chef will not be . . .

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Mario Pagán

Recap: Next Iron Chef 3, EP1

TV’s ultimate cooking competition may be Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef.  Season three of the popular contest is once again teeming with high caliber chefs.  The reason that NIC vies to be the ultimate series of this ilk is the quality of it’s contestants.  Top Chef is made up of talented up-and-comers while Hell’s Kitchen tends towards chefs that are average at best.  NIC only takes the best chefs in North America.

To review: Season 1 was packed with famous chefs like John Besh, Aaron Sanchez and Chris Cosentino to name a few.  That first coven of chefs had an amazing esprit de corps that made that first season enjoyable.  Though they were vying for the same title they genuinely wanted to see each other do their best.  The eventual winner was Food Network alum Michael Symon.  Symon has proven to be the toughest Iron Chef to defeat with an amazing 82.5 winning percentage in more than 20 battles.

Season 2 was again loaded with award winning chefs, though few as famous as the combatants from Season 1.  The dynamics of the second group was not nearly as congenial with a lot of back-biting and dirty tricks most of which came from Jehangir Mehta.  This distasteful, underhanded behavior made the second season less enjoyable than the first.  The eventual winner, Jose Garces, has proven formidable winning 75% of the time he goes out but he has only battled four times so it remains to be seen if he can duplicate Symon’s success.  Rumors abounded this summer about the possibility of Garces leaving ICA but Food Network insiders have assured me he will be back.

Mary Dumont Next Iron ChefChallenge #1 – Make a sandwich worthy of an Iron Chef in only 30 minutes that also defines them as a chef.  All of the chefs seemed in awe at Ming Tsai.  But when they found out that they would be judging each other they seemed to take the opportunity to “wolfpack” him.  Ultimately Pagan’s sandwich bombed and Duskie Estes was the clear winner.

Challenge #2 – Dessert Island challenge.  First stupid challenge of the season.  They are given one ingredient that they can’t live without and had to share what was left of the pantry after 1st challenge winner Estes was done picking what she wanted for 5 minutes.  At least each chef got a Big Green Egg to cook on.  I wonder how much that product endorsement cost?  They actually had to cook everything on the beach.

My thoughts:

Marco Canora – Sandwich was pretty good if a little mild.  His second dish was good in that he used the typical island ingredients but maybe a little too salty.  He was in the top 3.

Bryan Caswell – A middle of the pack performance on both challenges.  Nothing memorable, nothing bad.  The ladies seemed to like him.  One Tweeted that he was like a more handsome Patrick Duffy (the actor famous for starring as The Man from Atlantis, the leg of Scuzzlebutt and some other show).

Maneet Chauhan – Very confidant.  Very talented.  Extremely creative.  Her cucumber and mint sandwich was nice.  Her 1st dish was good but her 2nd dish was great.  She had a top three finish.

Mary Dumont – Confident without being cocky  Her sandwich was not extremely well received, tempura oyster on cornbread.  Her island ingredient was corn and she did OK but it did need some kind of flash.  Her food did not impress but wasn’t the worst either.  Middle of the pack performance.

Duskie Estes – Bold, creative.  I like her style.  She said she didn’t like any of the other sandwiches in the 1st challenge and voted her own as the best.  She may have been being honest but it may have cost her a friend or two.  Suckling pig for dessert island challenge was adventurous, Mike Symon (the king of pork) said her dish would have benefited from the omitting of pork.  After winning the 1st challenge she was in the bottom 3.  Lots of people watching the show have called her this year’s Jehangir Mehta.

Marc Forgione – A talented chef to be sure and he loves to do everything from scratch.  He did well but I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet.  He did chicken two ways for the 2nd challenge which seems rather mundane after making sausage from scratch on the sandwich challenge but it was pretty good.  He is trying to cook his way out of his famous father’s shadow.

Andrew Kirschner – Sandwich was panned for putting mustard on his brochette.  He chose duck for his island ingredient and he killed it with chilies.  Donatella almost gagged from the heat – she is not a fan of heat.  His duck was not cooked well.  He may be in trouble.  Bottom three finish.

Mario Pagán – His traditional Puerto Rican sandwich was not well received and that put him behind the eight ball from the go.  Even he voted his sandwich the worst.  Second dish was very small which was perfect because it was very rich.  He was the only one to have sand make it into a plate.  Chef Symon called his dish, “fine.”  That’s not good.  Bottom three finish.

Celina Tio – She is talented but a little like a Vulcan.  She made a breakfst version of the Cuban sandwich.  She took corn for the 2nd challenge and made it with shellfish.  It seemed to go over well except with Donatella saying that it was boring.  Simon wondered what she did with the hour since her dish couldn’t have taken long to make.  She lives to cook another day.

Ming Tsai – The best known chef in the contest.  The others seemed in awe of him which made him a target.  His sandwich was panned in the first challenge with comments about expecting more from him.  His second dish was extremely complex and for the most part he pulled it off.  Top three finish.  Ming said he wants to go undefeated.  That won’t be easy and certainly isn’t realistic.

Quote of the night – “That dish isn’t going to live any longer in the memory than it does in the colon.” Judge Simon Majumdar on Kirschner’s dish.

Tonight’s winners:
1st challenge –  Duskie Estes.
2nd challenge – Ming Tsai.

Have you missed an episode of NIC because you were on a black ops mission in the Republic of Chad?  No problem, you can get caught up HERE.  Be sure to check out my exclusive interviews with Celina Tio (HERE), Mary Dumont (HERE) and Maneet Chauhan (HERE).

The Next Iron Chef will not be . . .

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Andrew Kirschner

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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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