Category: The Next Food Network Star

'Food Network Star' recap: Giada plays the paradise card

Giada De Laurentiis
The winner of this week's challenge on "Food Network Star"? Giada De Laurentiis.

She's not a competitor, of course, but a mentor. But Giada singlehandedly saved Ippy in the dreaded Pitch Room by cleverly playing up his Hawaiian roots -- and what a wonderful travel-oriented food show that could make for viewers who might never otherwise see that slice of paradise.

Well played, Giada!

Quick rewind: Ippy and Eric, brothers from different mothers, artists in the kitchen, and duds in front of the  camera.

Oh, Ippy started out strong all right. But his laid-back Hawaiian style backfired this week when it came off as aloof, unmotivated and disengaged. Eric had the opposite problem: over-amped to the point of distraction. While he delivered on the plate, he floundered at the "star" part. Both men surprisingly ended up on the chopping block this week. (Personally, I think either Yvan, Marti, Linkie or Judson could have ended up there before those two.)

On the face of it, Eric seemed destined to make it out of the Pitch Room and back into the competition. The Flay Man noted that Eric just might be the best chef in the competition, as evidenced by his ability to make everything from scratch, down to the ricotta cheese in his lasagna. But Eric didn't have Giada on his side.

The judges asked Giada if she had any final words before they began to deliberate Eric and Ippy's fate. And boy, did she ever.

"Everybody wants to be able to experience Hawaii. And I think that Ippy could take everybody on a regular basis, 'Come with me, to paradise.'"

Bam!

Just like that, Ippy was back in it. At the end of the day, Bob and Susie are looking for stars and a show they can sell, and nothing sells quite like paradise.

Said Susie: "Ippy is an original ... whether you can get to Hawaii, or bring a little Hawaii home, he would be the guy to do that."

Eric's elimination capped a brilliant challenge handed down by Ted Allen. Take humdrum dishes -- meatloaf, pork chops, tuna casserole, etc. -- and give them a makeover worthy of an unveiling at New York's fashion week. Team Alton won in part because the rose-lipped Justin and Emily actually listened to the challenge and brought their quirky flare to it. That's actually putting it mildly.

In eight seasons of "Food Network Star," no one has ever nailed a challenge like Justin, who turned beef stroganoff into a jellied checkerboard dish that looked like it might be a hat, a coat, a bag … it defined food-meets-fashion.

A.B. and his 5 o'clock shadow couldn't be prouder.

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Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Giada de Laurentiis arrives at the Gracie Awards Gala last month in Los Angeles. Photo credit:  Jordan Strauss / Invision

'Food Network Star' recap: Zingers, ringers and whammys

Food-Network-Star
It was a good news bad news night for Josh. Yes, he was "Chopped" from "Food Network Star." But this means he gets back to being a sushi-making rock star, right?

A brilliant "Chopped" challenge opened up the third episode of Season 8 and continues to illustrate that this three-way battle among the Flay Man, Giada De Laurentiis and Alton Brown -- above -- is not just for the cameras. OK, maybe it's a little bit for the cameras. But it's becoming clear that they want to win it as much as they want the bragging rights.

Each judge has a unique way of trying to get the best out of his or her team. The Flay Man plays remote father. If you want his love and adoration, you gotta work for it. He's not handing it out freely. Giada is like a more maternal Lady Macbeth. She encourages her little chickadees, but she has a stare and a glare that makes clear she'll cut anyone lose who does not get her closer to the finish line. (Speaking of that glare: She'll use it to put a whammy on competitors too.) And then there's Dr. Jekyll. A.B. is turning into the Simon Cowell of the bunch, yelling stuff like: "If you can't cook and talk at the same time, shut up and cook!" When his astonished panel mates threw their necks out swiveling in the direction of the outburst, he offered up a feeble "I'm sorry."

But enough about the mentors. We're starting to see the cream rise to the top among the competitors. Justin is an A.B. Mini-Me. I'd suggest just giving that kid some pink "lip balm" and sending him on through to the finale, but it will be far more entertaining to watch him get there on his own.

I was prepared to ditch Martie for one more week of Josh-mania. I was just finding her grating. But then came the bracement debacle. That pulled back the curtain on a charming new side of Martie. Let's hope she's the one who returns to the competition. I'd kinda written Linkie off too, but she had a stellar week and showed off a whole new appeal as well. I am not sure what Giada sees in Martita other than the exaggerated pronunciation thing. But Martita seems as if she can cook, so hopefully she will loosen up a bit.

On Bobby Flay's team: Eric makes me nervous, but I love his spirit. Michele went from warm to ... off-putting and cold. Last week, I would have put her in the finale along with Justin. This week, I'm not so sure. I would like to see Bobby put a little more work in Malcolm. I could see a show featuring Malcolm coming home at the end of a day spent exploring NYC's culinary highlights and riffing on them for a dinner with friends and family. That is, if Malcolm manages to stick around.

Bobby must love having a "Boy Meets Grill" follower in Nikki, but that P.O.V. feels manufactured, especially with the Flay Man at the helm. She also sounds like she's trying to sell me a car. As for her demo: At first, I kept hearing "girl on girl action" instead of "girl on grill" action. I thought it was my speakers, or the need to get a hearing test at my next physical. But then network honcho Bob Tuschman called her out on the risque, flirty vibe. Nikki: When you're that pretty, you don't need to play it up.

I was going to complain about the lack of Ted Allen in this episode when -- phew! -- next week's previews reveal a bigger role. That is acceptable.

A few nagging, unanswered questions:
--Was Nikki's bread pudding actually undercooked?
--Was the Flay Man fined for not referring to Scott Conant as the "Italian Maestro"?
--Who designed that gorgeous red dress Susie Fogelson was wearing?
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Photo: Food Network

'Food Network Star': The talent search gets a welcome reboot

Season 8 of "Food Network Star" has kicked off, and things have changed for the better
Season 8 of "Food Network Star" kicked off Sunday night and, my oh my, how things have changed.

For the better.

The show has always been a favorite for network followers, but let's face it, the franchise was in need of a reboot. It earned a bit of a makeover over the last season, when it tightened up the name and introduced some competitors that were in it to win it, not just play nicey-nicey. (Looking at you, L.A.'s Penny Davidi!)

This time, in a delicious twist, the sharp elbows come courtesy of the network's marquee talents: Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Alton Brown. And if you thought this was going to be a fun and friendly matchup between network "family" members, think again.

Drawing "first blood" was A.B. Or should we call him Dr. Jekyll for his ability to transform from "the fun guy" on "Good Eats" to the shark in the tank? Exhibit A: The "You just punched me!" look on De Laurentiis' face when Jaws dismissed her teammate's key lime dessert with a devastating one-word dismissal: "Cafeteria."

OUCH!

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'Food Network Star' announces Season 8 competitors, and a twist

Food Network Star Season 8 Finalists_
The competitors won't be the only ones vying for bragging rights when the eighth season of "Food Network Star" returns May 13: Food Network celebrities Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Alton Brown are also going toe to toe.

Flay and De Laurentiis, who have served as series judges in the past, along with mentor / tormentor Brown will square off in a three-way competition. Each will hand-select five of the 15 finalists, then mentor and guide their wards through the competition to find the network's next food star.

The last competitor standing at the July 22 finale will earn what is arguably the food world's most coveted prize: His or her own show on Food Network, to be produced by his or her team leader.

From today's the press statement: "Having Bobby, Giada and Alton compete against each other to discover and develop the next Food Network Star took this series to a whole new level," said Bob Tuschman, general manager and senior vice president, programming and production. "It's hard to say if the competition was more intense among the finalists or their three Star mentors."

If L.A. is looking for some home-grown talent to root for, you'll need to choose between Nikki Martin of West Hollywood and Martita Jara of San Diego. The rest of the finalists are: Philip "Ippy" Aiona of Kamuela, Hawaii; Judson Allen and Kara Sigle, both of Chicago; Martie Duncan of Birmingham, Ala.; Emily Ellyn of Orlando, Fla.; Eric Lee of Petaluma, Calif.; Yvan Lemoine of Maspeth, N.Y.; Josh Lyons of Jupiter, Fla.; Linkie Marais of North Attleborough, Mass.; Malcolm Mitchell of Washington, D.C.; Michele Ragussis and Justin Warner, both of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Cristie Schoen of New Orleans.

The first challenge this season will see the competitors getting in on the pop-up restaurant trend, building their own eatery from the ground up with a shoestring budget.

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Photo: The Season 8 "Food Network Star" competitors. Credit: Food Network

'Food Network Star': A king is crowned

Jeff_Mauro_is_the_sandwich_ We already knew Jeff Mauro was the self-appointed Sandwich King. Now he's Food Network's newest star.

The one-time comedian and all-the-time entertainer won the network's "Food Network Star" competition
Sunday night, beating 14 competitors (including three from Southern California) all bidding for the chance to have their own show on the channel.

Perhaps even more surprisingly: Mauro, 32, of Elmwood Park, Ill., beat out Susie Jimenez to get it.

Susie Jimenez had a rocky start in the competition but her food made the judges want more. As she gained more confidence she made the judges smile as well, especially when she opened up about her family's classic immigrant story: Her father came from Mexico to give his children a better life in America, and lovingly taught his daughter many of the Latin recipes that she used to wow the judges.

"Maybe Penny would have been an easier person to go up against," Mauro joked this morning during a media conference call, referring to the Los Angeles woman's divisive personality during the competition.

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'Food Network Star' recap: A bad Penny turns up

Penny_Davidi
The only surprise this week on "Food Network Star"? That restaurateur Penny Davidi of Los Angeles hasn't learned a darn thing.

It was all but certain that Mary Beth would be sent packing. She can talk food but she can't -- how to put this nicely -- she can't cook as well as she talks. And that's kinda important for the Food Network. Lamb chops that are too overdone or underdone just won't cut it. And it's not good when Giada De Laurentiis tells you: "The secret ingredient was lamb, and the lamb is the worst thing on the plate." Ouch!

It was an Iron Chef-like battle as the four finalists squared off before the judges, including Iron Chefs Michael Symon and the Flayman.

Jeff, who had the advantage heading into this round, stupidly chose to square off with Susie, whose confidence has skyrocketed. She's looking more and more like a Food Network star, with the confidence to match her outstanding cooking. (All her lobster dishes looked a-m-a-z-i-n-g.)

Meanwhile, Mary Beth and Vic went toe-to-toe. (Please tell me what it is about Vic's arms... Why does he hold them like they are magnetically repelled from his torso? He looks like he's holding two bricks beneath his underarms. Is he doing that on purpose? Does he think it makes him look tough? If this is some kind of medical thing, I hereby apologize.)

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'Food Network Star': Let's just cut to the final three, and Penny

Whitney The "Food Network Star" judges should have done everyone a favor and sent Whitney AND Mary Beth home. But then, come to think of it, we wouldn't have a front-row seat to next week's presumed fireworks between Mary Beth and the returning Penny. As Penny might say: "ME-OW."

As we race toward the Aug. 14 finale you can sense the star power emerging. This week's guest roaster, comic Judy Gold, described it best in regards to Jeff: "He really is a TV personality. He has 'it.' " (And that includes some "subtle sexiness," according to judge Susie Fogelson.) Vic has it too. Isn't it amazing how he just lights up the screen when he's "Mama's boy," but sinks like lead when he's doing his Vegas lounge lizard act? The death of Vic Vegas indeed!

And as for the other Susie ... I don't see "star" power in her as much as I see an incredibly appealing personality ... and Food Network sees an opportunity to pull in an incredibly appealing demographic. She truly is the American Dream personified. All the rest of it can be learned. As the Flayman and Bob Tuschman put it to Susie: "Your raw talent, to me, is gold," and, "We can teach people how to cook ... we can't give people personalities. You have that."

I'm ready to lock in all three on the DVR.

Mary Beth and Whitney? No so much.

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'Food Network Star' recap: Who was worse? Penny or Wolfgang Puck?

Davidi300 Whose bad behavior on "Food Network Star" should we start with? Penny, Wolfgang Puck or Bobby Flay?  OK, Penny it is.

Ding, Dong the Witch Is Dead. Or at least eliminated. Did you hear that cheer last night? That was the blogosphere bidding a fond farewell to Penny Davidi of Los Angeles, at left, who goes down in "Food Network Star" history as its most despised villain ever. (Seven seasons in, that's sayin' something.) Worse, she could have won -- arguably should have won -- were it not for such an ugly, aggressive demeanor that made people want to go out and do this. Her food was, by and large, loved by the judges. She offered a window onto Middle Eastern culture and a demographic Food Network could only dream of penetrating.

And she was pretty to look at when she lightened up on the harsh makeup and stopped furrowing her brow. (Let's face it, that's a Food Network qualification for its female hosts.)

But EGAD. That "aggressive" personality.

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'Food Network Star' recap: Surprise, no one likes Jeff's dumb, crass, coarse idea

Orchid 
At Orchid's expense, we have a critical inkling as to what the "Food Network Star" judges are after.

From Day 1, Orchid was labeled a front-runner. Her food was swell, and she was at ease and relaxed in front of the camera. The judges heaped on the accolades. And that's when Orchid started to wilt. She started to second-guess herself. (Why are you asking for tasting notes from a fellow competitor? Doesn't that seem ... dumb?) And when standing alongside Vic and Jyll in this week's food truck challenge, Orchid faded into the background as they bloomed before the judges' eyes.

Now, I have nothing against Vic or Jyll, but they are trying awfully hard to be Big Personalities. And clearly that is what the judges want. What do you think? Would you like to see them as your next "Food Network Star?" (Personally, I like Vic when he tones it down just a bit and leaves the shtick behind, and I love Jyll's small-bites concept.)

What I did not like: Jeff and his balls. Seriously, what a dumb, crass, coarse idea, especially after the judging panel has already made clear they don't want toilet humor. Giada looked horrified, even though they managed to keep the whole balls thing relatively PG. The only dumber thing was Whitney going along with it to prove "I'm fun!" (As in all things, if you have to say it to the judges, it means it just ain't happening.)

If they had gone with something closer to "meatball mania" or "circling the globe," they might have won the whole thing:

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'Food Network Star': The dearly departed Justin D.

Justin D. with 'Food Network Star' cast

Season 7 of "Food Network Star" is turning into one big Rorschach test. Sure, you need to be able to cook, relate and connect with the camera. But most importantly, you have to know thyself. That failure undid Justin D. Was he channeling Pee-wee Herman? A rapper? A wannabe Guy Fieri? A ... Southerner? A Southern wannabe Guy Fieri rapper who resembled Pee-wee Herman?

With his departure, we are down to single digits -- nine competitors remain -- and we start racing toward the finale.

So, let's regroup. Who's looking like a winner here?

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Let the 'Aarti Party' begin: 'I now feel like I get it'

Aarti Sequeira_Purple 
Aarti Sequeira has been watching this season of "Food Network Star" thinking: "I'm so glad it's not me!"

The L.A. food blogger ran off with the Season 6 title of the then-named "Next Food Network Star" to become the network's first Indian host by stealing the judges' hearts and charming audiences with that lilt, that laugh and those twinkling eyes. But first, she had to engage in a protracted wrestling match with self-confidence and self-doubt. Watching Aarti overcome was like watching that magical moment when a foal scrambles to its feet for the very first time. (Am I right? Right!)

Well, look who's all grown up: Season 3 of "Aarti Party" starts Saturday on Food Network.

Taking a break during shooting in Los Angeles recently, Aarti said she thinks Season 3 will be the best season so far. Why? She's finally -- maybe? -- come into her own. Winning went a long way toward extinguishing self-doubt. But Seasons 1 and 2 were a kind of blur, with shooting for her first show beginning hours after she was handed victory. Aarti said she felt doubt creeping back in with the pressure (all self-imposed, she says) to produce recipes that delivered her couldn't-be-easier spin on Indian favorites and classics inspired by a childhood that took her from Mumbai to Dubai. (Some examples: Curry mac 'n cheese, Indian omelet and Bombay sloppy Joes.) She said she kept thinking "I wonder what they want" -- they meaning the show's producers, the network.

The break between Season 2 and 3 gave her an opportunity to regroup and refocus. "I had to get to the point where I said, 'This show is not about what 'they' want. It's about the recipes I want to share with the audience. How do I help inspire them to get in the kitchen?' That's when it really started clicking for me."

"I now feel like I get it."

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'Food Nextwork Star' recap: Mmmmm, tastes like human

Justin Oh, where to begin with this week's "Food Network Star"? Whitney is on the ropes. Orchid is a lion tamer. Susie is wobbling. Jeff thinks toilet humor belongs in the kitchen. Penny is not invincible. Mary Beth is a hypocrite. Jyll might be too polished and smiley. Justin B. is COMPLETELY clueless.

And, in what may be the biggest bombshell ever to come out of "Food Network Star": Bob Tuschman is cool with being a cannibal. (Bob thought Pee Wee was selling his dish by saying it "tastes like human." But then ... Bob took a bite! Luckily, the secret ingredient was actually "cumin.")

This week's judging panel could have used a guest appearance from Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler, and a tag-team "Really?!?!" tirade aimed at Justin B.

Justin B was honestly and completely shocked at the judge's decision. He certainly didn't expect to be eliminated, because he was expecting top honors in the "Cougar Town" challenge. Really, Justin? The judges have all but told you that you are so wooden you could be a stand-in for Pinocchio, and yet you act like it's all news. Really, Justin? The Flayman captured it: Justin talked about his dishes like he was a waiter reciting the menu for the 900th time.

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