Category: The Next Food Network Star

'Food Network Star' recap: Faking out the bakers

Alicia_gets_eliminated300 Did we not see this one coming from a mile away? And do you now know why I say Katy Clark of Long Beach was the wrong choice to go home last week?

Both Chris and Alicia have been on the very short list of "gotta goes" since, oh, the moment they stepped on set. Alicia once again melted down after convulsing her way through a compelling challenge that divided the contestants into two teams, and had them preparing "the most spectacular dessert imaginable" on behalf of the network's Darth Vader -- Robert Irvine -- and the "Ace of Cakes" Duff Goldman. Alicia, who allegedly made cupcakes for a living at one point, delivered barely consumable cupcakes and went down in flames. (Priceless moment: Alicia, unable to talk and count eggs at the same time.)

I actually would have sent the pie-flopping Chris home last night instead of Alicia, even though he was on the winning team. That guy can't cook, and he's too cocky to even realize he can't cook. Alicia could arguably get a few extra points for self-awareness. Moreover, if she stuck around at least one more week, it would have paved the way for some more fireworks with Penny. Bad move, judges.

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'Food Network Star' recap: The claws are out

This is how I like my villains. Completely, absolutely unapologetic.

Heck yeah, Penny Davidi of Los Angeles is here to win "Food Network Star." Let's give her points for clarity, sense of purpose -- and a "get outta my way" attitude. Or, as Chris puts it: "Wake up and smell the coffee: Penny's coming to get you."

The L.A. entrepreneur went right at it this week, painting a bull's eye on the front-runner -- Orchid -- and staging the subsequent challenge so that she could rest assured she would be at least one step ahead of the person she perceived as the weakest link, Katy Clark of Long Beach.

I have to say, that was some impressive, on-the-fly strategic maneuvering. Even Penny was proud of her bad self: "Mission accomplished, girl has zero culinary skills, you're out" she said of Katy, and later Penny had no problem owning and defending her jockeying: "When we picked out teams, I knew that Katy would be the weak link. She is."

Here's the big question, though: Can Penny follow through on the judges' advice to "show us your attitude in a friendly way"? Does she have it in her?

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'Food Network Star' recap: Who doesn't like a good catfight?

Thank you, Food Network, for this food fight.

I've watched "Food Network Star" from the very beginning. And I liked the fact that the show tended to keep it all a little high-brow, sidestepping a lot of the down-and-dirty reality TV stuff.

But I lke this a whole lot better.

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'Food Network Star' returns with new name, new judge and three local competitors

Season 7 of "Food Network Star" begins June 5 with a new name and three local competitors determined to take home the title: Katy Clark of Long Beach, Penny Davidi of Los Angeles and Jyll Everman of Glendora are in the running for the culinary world's equivalent of "American Idol."

L.A. is the star of the two-hour season premiere of the show, which is the channel's biggest hit. The finalists will find themselves facing challenges staged at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the city’s Original Farmers Market. Alton Brown will help competitors answer that all-important question -- what's your culinary point-of-view? -- and then each contestant will serve up a four-course meal to judges and special guests including "Extra" TV host Mario Lopez.

Bobby Flay returns as host and judge, and there's a new judge in town: Giada de Laurentiis. (I am mildly disappointed. She was outstanding as a mentor. But I'm sure she will shine at the judge's table as well.) And there's a new name: While it used to be called "The Next Food Network Star," now it's just "Food Network Star."

Are you looking forward to the new season? What do you think about the new name? Do you know any of the local competitors? Care to tell us how you think they'll fare in this cutthroat competition?

Read more about the show at our food blog, Daily Dish, including a look at the rest of the competitors and how you can get a look at casting videos.


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--Rene Lynch

Photo: Season 7 "Food Network Star" competitors. Credit: Food Network

'Next Food Network Star': It's a Party for Aarti and Tom, but what about Herb?

L.A. blogger Aarti Sequeira is having the best week ever. She's celebrating her birthday. (She's 32.) This week marks her seventh wedding anniversary to actor Brendan McNamara.

Oh, and she just won Season Six of "The Next Food Network Star."

"It's the most magical week ever, in history," she said with a laugh as she was headed for the airport and another trip back East where Food Network is based. Sequeira had been sworn to secrecy until the finale aired Sunday night on Food Network. "I'm just so happy to finally be able to talk about it," she said. [Sequeira will also make an appearance at the L.A. Times Food & Wine Festival on Sept. 5]

She said the on-screen journey was an emotional one. Many pegged her as the front-runner, given her experience making YouTube videos for her food blog. But that was not the case.

"I started off with not a lot of confidence, I was so intimidated by the rest of the finalists, their cooking ability and their experience," she said, adding that she had at least some reason to be nervous, noting that at one point she served raw chicken.

But she rallied back.

"I really feel like this was not only a victory in terms of me getting to do a job of a lifetime, but it's proof positive that the second that those demons come back and start pestering me...[I can face those demons and say] I won!"




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'The Next Food Network Star': Let's Paarti!

Aarti Sequeira Sister, that was close.

Overcoming self-doubts that continued to nag her until the very end, Los Angeles food blogger Aarti Sequeira was crowned the Season 6 winner of "The Next Food Network Star." More remarkable, she beat out Herb Mesa and Tom Pizzica, competitors who stumbled badly at the start but ultimately delivered cooking concepts that were hits with test groups.

Mesa finally nailed down a clever POV. -- "Cooking con Sabor" -- that underscored his Latin roots and allowed him to slim down his culture's fattening dishes in flavorful fashion. Although he found himself on the chopping block several times this season, he ultimately made peace with a sometimes unhappy childhood as an obese kid. Tom, meanwhile, was almost booted early on for a lazy demeanor that had the judges wondering whether he even wanted to be part of the competition. He turned that into the "Big Chef," bringing big, bold flavors into the kitchen.

Frankly, the judges could have picked any of the three.

But Herb and Tom just couldn't outshine Aarti's sparkle. From the beginning, she had a relaxed, humorous style, and it certainly doesn't hurt that she still manages to be sexy in a way that won't turn off viewers. (Brianna, take note.)




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'Next Food Network Star': Your final three

Aarti She's back!

The judges pummeled Aarti last week, wondering aloud whether she was too needy, to insecure to be their next star. But our hometown girl battled back this week to prove that she's not an entourage-needed diva -- but she does need to learn the fine art of acting like an expert, without acting like a know-it-all, especially when she doesn't know it all

This week's challenge was arguably the hardest one of the season: Cook like an Iron Chef, for the Food Network's Iron Chefs, including Cat Cora, Michael Symon and Morimoto, as well as the judges. They went two at a time. The first team up was Aarti and Herb, and their secret ingredient was shrimp. Their styles could not be more different: Herb was like a Tasmanian devil tearing up the kitchen with energy to spare, and Aarti was puttering about, at one point literally losing her gazpacho, and wandering here and there to look for it. But the results on the plate were what mattered, and both shined. Aria and Tom pulled bacon, and their dishes were a disaster, proving that bacon does not always make everything better. Aria appeared to have missed the point of the challenge completely: She made bacon the side dish, not the star. Tom took it too far in the other direction, making a bacon cake, and a bacon steak, but neither wowed the judges. The bacon steak was so tough that judge Susie Fogelson was practically calling for a Sawzall. 

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'The Next Food Network Star': Be careful what you swap for

What is more joyful than the man you love proving himself to be a lout who leaves you and your son to fend for yourselves?

That's Aria's world!

The "Next Food Network Star" hopefuls had to cook to an emotion. Aria ended up with "melancholy." Tough for someone with a megawatt smile, but it would have forced her to stretch and grow, which is what the judges clearly wanted. But Aria wanted the easy way out. So she swapped with Herb, who had "joy." But then, instead of delivering a JOY-ful meal to the judges at Beso -- including the restaurant's chef, Todd English, and owner and actress Eva Longoria -- Aria delivered one that almost moved them to tears. It was a story about how she and the man in her life hit a rough patch and broke up, he left her to care for their son, and how he finally returned to tell her that he would do "anything to rebuild our family." And one of those steps is getting together each Sunday for a family dinner.

Now, technically, you could have totally turned that into a joyful story, right? But she didn't. And that just might be the biggest misstep of the season so far: If Aria had stuck with "melancholy," and explained to the judges why her dish represented that bitter sweet emotion, I think she would have won the week. Her show concept is "family style," and how wonderful would it be to have that conceit embodied by a woman fighting for her family's life. Talk about real. Oooh, what a missed opportunity.

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'The Next Food Network Star': Making the Chairman of the Board proud


I need a flow chart to keep this all straight. When we started out, it seemed like it would be the battle of the A's -- Aria versus Aarti, and while they were duking it out, Serena was poised to find the opening to take it away from both of them.

But while the ladies were fighting among themselves, shy guy Brad and scruffy slacker Tom made their way out front. They are both just so appealing, which is so pleasantly surprising: I never in a million years would have predicted that those two would be among the last folks standing, but ...

This week offered up the best one-two challenge yet: First, the cheftestants had to prove their ability to be become authoritative experts and offer up party tips. Each was given a theme. It would seem that Tom and Brad got the hardest ones -- a women's luncheon and a bachelorette party, respectively. But they ran with it, and each ended up on top. Herb, meanwhile, seemed like he had a perfect basket. He was supposed to throw a pool party. Well, he's the healthy chef, so why not some healthy-minded bites that you can eat poolside, that will allow you to still fit into your swimsuit? Instead, he hemmed and hawed and fumbled.

Serena was a bust too. She looked like she was trying so hard to think that I am pretty sure I saw smoke coming out of her ears, and she kept looking skyward, like she was trying to read the caption beneath the cartoon bubble over her head. She is just so overbearing. I just can't see tuning in to watch her each week. Brianna was supposed to be hosting a party for a 5-year-old, but made a dish that no kid would ever eat. (I actually got the impression that she might hate children.) And Aarti was doing well with her New Year's Eve bash -- until she botched the timing during her on-camera presentation.

When that was over, the competitors had to reinterpret a classic dish. And what better place to do it than at Frank Sinatra's cool-cat home in Palm Springs, where classics never go out of style -- they just get better with age.

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'Next Food Network Star': Oh, you did not just say that to Bobby Flay

Paul, as a comedian, you must be familiar with the first rule of comedy: Know your audience. In other words, don't mouth off to the very people who are deciding your fate. And don't mouth off to the very people who are deciding your fate when they are trying to help you!

I was stunned when Paul gave lip to Bobby Flay, who has been actually pulling for Paul, trying to give him a chance, giving him some tips, encouraging him to use his quick comedic timing to connect with the audience instead of repelling them. But Paul was determined to offend to the end. I think Bobby was giving him one last chance to describe his culinary point of view, to finesse the "blue collar on a dollar" theme -- which actually could have legs -- but Paul couldn't do it. When Bobby pressed him to describe what he would cook for a potential audience, Paul amped up the 'tude and responded: "Food." Worse, he acted like it was Bobby who had the problem. I thought Bobby handled it perfectly: The Flay-man was seething, controlled fury. You could feel the blood drain out of Paul as he realized what he had done.

Farewell, Paul!

As we got down to the Final 7, I was struck at what a solid group it was -- and just how dramatically fortunes have changed.

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'Next Food Network Star': Saying goodbye to Primetime

Let this be a lesson to you: Berries do not belong on steak.

A mucked-up tri-berry sauce served over steak was one of the reasons that Darrell "DAS" Smith of Beverly Hills was sent packing. That, and because Smith didn't (really) seem to know his "prime" cuts of beef, thus earning him a new nickname, Primetime. But really, he was sent home because even though he was so charming, warm and handsome, he turned awkward, flustered and confused when the cameras were pointed at his face. Not a good thing when you are trying to become "The Next Food Network Star." DAS, you will be missed.

This week started with a chili challenge that was won by "Please Tell Me I'm Sexy" Brianna. (The dish will appear on Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill menu.) Her victory was a surprise to me. Clearly, she earned the win. But until now I have written her off as someone who is trying SO HARD to convince everyone that she is sexy that it's hard to take her seriously. Finally, she is showing us a more personal side that may explain why she is the way she is (Daddy issues!), and let's hope that she will continue to let her guard down and relax.  Audiences would flock to her. However, we're also getting a sense of personal drama between her and "Please Tell Me I'm Pretty" Serena, and a catfight won't do anything to help either of them win over fans. (Although if there is an out-and-out battle, I think I will have to side with Brianna. At least Brianna wears her chip on her shoulder. Serena strikes me as a bit backstabbish. What do you think? Am I judging my fellow women too critically?)

The more critical challenge revolved around L.A. celebrity chefs including Susan Feniger of Street and Eric Greenspan of the Foundry on Melrose. They recalled their favorite childhood dishes, and the cheftestants had to remake them. Or reinvent them. Or reimagine them. I couldn't quite get a grip on that, because some chefs seemed to be dinged for totally reinventing them, while others seemed to be rewarded for nailing the childhood memory with a perfect recreation. Brianna shined again, with a fried chicken dish so good that Flay praised it as "ridiculous."

Our Aarti shined once more, and Food Network honcho Bob Tuschman labeled her a "fierce contender" for the title. Yikes! We hope that does not trigger confidence issues. It was great to see Tom present well, but his cooking needs to come along.

Even though I was hoping for DAS to turn it around, I have to say I was glad that Herb did not get sent home. I know this is not rehab, but Herb needs the ability to rebound. He seems so fragile, and he said he still feels like the fat kid who could never measure up. Kudos to Flay for using the moment to boost Herb's self-confidence and tell him that he could be a great role model if he could rise above. (Maybe I am just biased: I, personally, would love a food-fitness show.)

-- Rene Lynch

Photo credit: Food Network

'Next Food Network Star': Haven't you seen this show before?

This is Season 6 of the Food Network's talent search. And if you'd ever seen even one episode from a past season, you know that having a razor sharp "culinary POV" is what it's all about. In other words: Doreen, haven't you seen this show before?

If you have the raw talent, "The Next Food Network Star" can probably teach you all the camera tricks that you need to know -- such as how to talk and cook at the same time. But they can't supply you with a point of view. Doreen had to know this, yet she struggled again and again -- and seemed a bit hostile -- when the selection committee tried to get her to narrow her focus.

It's what ultimately did her in. The poorly done pulled-pork didn't help, either. Which is a shame because Doreen held some promise, and I'm not just saying that because she's a hometown girl: She had a streetwise edge to her and worldliness about food. Why she couldn't find a way to play up that angle is beyond me. How about "The World on Your Plate"?

All that said, how could the same selection committee choose to keep loony-tunes Dzintra over Doreen after the pair fell to the bottom this week?!! Do they really think more viewers would tune in for "I talk to myself, and about myself in the third person" Dzintra over Doreen? Doreen's scattered approach could have been dealt with in a blunt, 20-minute session with mentor Giada de Laurentiis, who, by the way, is doing a great job, delivering sound, constructive criticism. Dzintra, though, is another case entirely. She is just unwatchable: She makes my stomach seize up.

Even if you stack Doreen against Dzintra on the food front, I think Doreen would win out, too, which makes the selection committee's decision all the more perplexing. This week's challenge was a sweet one: Set on the Santa Monica Pier, the contest required the cheftestants to take a sugarly carnival treat and transform it into a savory bite for Duff "Ace of Cakes" Goldman and his friends.

Doreen's inspiration was a root beer float, and her root beer pulled pork was a clever retort. Unfortunately, she didn't have enough time to cook the pork until it became buttery soft, so it was just too tough. But Dzintra, whose inspiration was cotton candy, brought the crazy with a three-part dish that had some of the judges talking to themselves, too. I cringed when Food Network honcho Bob Tuschman had to tell  Dzintra -- repeatedly -- to get plating because the clock was ticking. I do think it was nice that the selection committee cut her some slack last week when she suffered an eye injury and went to the hospital, and they allowed her to stick around for another week even though she didn't cook much.

But enough. It was a bad call to let Dzintra slide a second week in a row.

What did you think? Am I being too tough on Dzintra? Did Doreen really deserve to go home before Dzintra?

A few random thoughts: So glad to see DAS bounce from bottom to top. He has a soft charm about him. Aarti needs to stop with the second-guessing. So unattractive. Fake it til you make it, Aarti. Tuschman hit it right on the head with Paul: He could be a dynamo if he could bring the funny, without the meanspiritedness. I like Herb's fitness foodie approach -- that could be a winning show on Food Network. I'm still undecided about Serena. I go from loving her to . . . not loving her. And I hope that Aria doesn't become this season's Jeffrey -- so good from the beginning that the committee dings her for not improving enough. And, boy, does Brianna hate to be criticized. Maybe she's never seen the show, either. 

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Doreen during the lasagna challenge. Credit: Food Network


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Photo credit: Doreen during the lasagna challenge. Food Network


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