Food Network Star S9 E1

Food Network Star 9

The latest season of Food Network Star premiered tonight and the latest round of wannabe TV chefs have begun their quest.  We’ve seen first impressions and heard what the judges think but what the world really wants to know is what I think.  Let’s do this.

If you haven’t seen tonight’s episode STOP!  Watch it HERE first and then come back.

First off a small confession, I didn’t see it all.  I was at a prior engagement (happy birthday Kayleigh!).  What I got to see was what the focus panel saw.  Based on that I have to think they got the top 3 of Chad, Nikki and Stacey right although one could make the argument for Rodney as well since he had what looked to be the best dish of the night.  It is also hard to take exception to the bottom three of Russell, Danushka and Daniela.  All three offered little in the first episode.  One of the great things about this show is watching someone who bombed early on blossom into a contender.

Now for my take on each:

Andres Guillama
Andres was good, if perhaps a tad bit underwhelming.  Certainly no major flaws were evident in episode one and he still has room to grow over the course of the season.
Chad Rosenthal
Chad was solid out of the box.  I’ve had a feeling before hand that Chad was a serious contender.  It’s not based on any insider information, just a hunch.  But in episode one at least that hunch was dead on.
Chris Hodgson
Chris’ performance was quite disappointing.  He is thought to be by many the righful winner of season two of The Great Food Truck Race and I believe a lot of his fans from that show were expecting great things from him.  It didn’t happen tonight but it’s a marathon not a sprint.
Damaris Phillips
Damaris was an enigma, her pitch was not that great but at the same time she was completely lovable.  The issues in her pitch could be chocked up to nervousness and may well work themselves out making her a strong contender.
Daniela Perez-Reyes
Daniela’s pitch was, let’s face it, very painful to watch.  It was very choppy and her nervousness was almost debilitating.  As a contrast her description of her dish to the judges was fluid, almost poetic.  But will that be enough to save her?
Lovely Jackson
Lovely lived up to her nickname.  She was pleasant on camera.  She appeared warm, polished and charming.  She is certainly a contender at this point.
Nikki Dinki
Nikki hit a home run in her pitch and I disagree with Susie that she seemed to cutesie.  I thought her energy was great.  She’s definitely a contender at this point.
Danushka Lysek
Danushka, much like Damaris, didn’t have the best pitch but her personality was intriguing enough to keep her around.  Her accent is at times enchanting and at other times confusing.  We’ll see where it goes.
Rodney Henry
Rodney had what was, according to the judges’ reactions, the best dish of the  night.  I think you could also make a case for his pitch being at the top as well.  He’s a contender.  A strong one.
Russel Jackson
Russell bombed.  His pitch had no energy and seemed a little confusing.  His food, as Giada put it, was good in conception but left a little to be desired in execution.  If the vote were mine Russell would have been off tonight.  Still, I think there is some star potential here.
Stacey Poon-Kinney
Stacey was adorbs!  Her pitch was really amazing.  She’s intriguing not because she is attractive but because she is not the cliche attractive that reality TV seems to go for – blonde, blue-eyed.  Her charm is like that favorite blanket on a chilly night.  A very strong contender.
Viet Pham
Viet had a very good pitch.  The judges felt he lacked a little energy but all I saw was someone who polished and professional with a concise POV.  I think I was a little more impressed with Viet than the panel but they still liked him.  Keep your eye on this guy.

The person who will NOT be the next Food Network Star is…
Food Network Star: The Wannabe TV Chef Interviews

Chopped: All Stars Season 2 Contestants Announced

Chopped All Stars

A few months ago a friend within the Food Network family hipped me to who the four Food Network Star participants in Chopped: All Stars would be.  So I’ve known since last fall that we’d get to see the charms of Penny Davidi and Chris Nirschel on display once again and have managed to keep it to myself.  Even better we also get to see Vic Moea and Justin Balmes cook again.

The talent in this group runs the gamut.  Chris is the chef at what many consider a wannabe Olive Garden, Penny is a one trick pony but she does that one trick extremely well and then Vic and Justin are top notch chefs.  But these guys make up just one night of Chopped: All Stars.  Dig the rest.

Part 1, “Iron Chefs Do Battle” Premieres Sunday, April 8th at 9pm ET/PT  Competitors: Iron Chefs Cat Cora, Marc Forgione, Jose Garces and Michael Symon.  Judges: Scott Conant, Aaron Sanchez, Geoffrey Zakarian

Part 2, “Prime Time vs. Day Time” Premieres Sunday, April 15th at 9pm ET/PT  Competitors: Show hosts Keegan Gerhard (Food Network Challenge), Jeffrey Saad (United Tastes of America, Cooking Channel), Aarti Sequeira (Aarti Party) and Marcela Valladolid (Mexican Made Easy).  Judges: Amanda Freitag, Aaron Sanchez, Geoffrey Zakarian

Part 3, “Food Network Star Contestants” Premieres Sunday, April 22nd at 9pm ET/PT  Competitors: Food Network Star Season Seven Finalists Justin Balmes, Penny Davidi, Vic “Vegas” Moea and Chris Nirschel.  Judges: Scott Conant, Amanda Freitag, Aaron Sanchez

Part 4, “Judge Remix” Premieres Sunday, April 29th at 9pm ET/PT  Competitors: Chopped judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Marc Murphy, Marcus Samuelsson and Chris Santos. Judges: Amanda Freitag, Aaron Sanchez, Geoffrey Zakarian

Part 5, “Grand Finale” Premieres Sunday, May 6th at 9pm ET/PT Competitors: Prior episode winners.  Judges: Anne Burrell, Amanda Freitag and Aaron Sanchez.

Read full chef bios HERE.  Read bios for judges and host Ted Allen HERE.

Read my exclusive interviews with Alex Guarnaschelli (HERE), Scott Conant (HERE), Justin Balmes, (HERE) Penny Davidi (HERE), Chris Nirschel (HERE), Marc Forgione (HERE), Michael Symon (HERE) and Ted Allen (HERE and HERE).

Season 2 of Sweet Genius Premieres March 15th

Beware the Ides of March indeed, Sweet Genius returns.  From the Food Network:

NEW YORK — February 14, 2012 — Master Pastry Chef Ron Sweet Genius Season 2Ben-Israel returns to Food Network for the second season of the sugar-packed competition series Sweet Genius, premiering Thursday, March 15th at 10pm ET/PT. Back with more whimsy and wonder, each episode has four of America’s premier pastry chefs competing against one another through three rounds of challenges judged by Ben-Israel, along the way testing their creativity, ingenuity and imagination. The chefs are given surprise ingredients, an inspiration and a limited amount of time; with those three elements as a guide, they must create a delectable chocolate, candy and cake dessert. The winners from each round will advance for a final test, with Ben-Israel crowning the remaining chef Sweet Genius and receiving a $10,000 cash prize.

“Sweet Genius viewers will be on the edge of their seats as we continue to push the limits with inspirations and ingredients, while showcasing the talents of some of the best pastry chefs around,” said Ron Ben-Israel. “As a result, the desserts that the chefs create are truly outrageous.“

Over the thirteen-episode season, the chefs experience a myriad of new inspirations and ingredients, testing their pastry prowess. Whether it is making flamingo-inspired chocolate desserts with pink lemonade; creating candy desserts from rolled fruit snacks and shortbread cookies; or incorporating the inspiration of a music box to bake a cake using avocado and stinky cheese, each pastry chef will prove their imagination and skills worthy, but in the end, there can only be one Sweet Genius!

Ron Ben Israel Sweet GeniusAs Chef-Owner of Ron Ben-Israel Cakes, one of the country’s finest couture cake studios, Ron Ben-Israel’s cakes have been hand-delivered to destinations throughout the continental U.S and abroad. Ron started his confectionery adventures after a fifteen-year career as a professional modern dancer. Upon retiring from performing with companies spanning three continents, he utilized his art training, military background and ballet regime into the discipline of pastry arts. After arriving in New York City, Ron’s cakes were discovered by Martha Stewart while on display in the windows of Mikimoto on Fifth Avenue. In 1999 he established his flagship design studio and bakery in Manhattan’s fashionable SoHo neighborhood. He is a Master Pastry Instructor at the International Culinary Center in New York City, and has been awarded prestigious gold medals for his confectionery achievements.

Sweet Genius Season 2 Premieres Thursday, March 15th at 10pm ET/PT on 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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