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

July 19, 2010 | 12:27 pm


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.

There was an opportunity to be had. But several blew it. Serena, who had to reinterpret pineapple upside-down cake, delivered a disjointed dessert. Herb delivered a twist on beef Stroganoff that was barely edible. Brianna, who pitched a fit over getting tuna noodle casserole, turned in an luscious crab-and-brie casserole, but her presentation to the judges was all negative Nelly. She started by pointing out that there were no bread crumbs on top because she burned them. Hello! No need to tell anyone that! Aarti had a clever premise -- devilish egg curry, for deviled eggs -- but dramatically under-seasoned her food and then yammered on about how it was a thrifty, inexpensive dish. The judges pounced: That was not a selling point when you're sitting in the courtyard of the palatial Palm Springs home of Frank Sinatra.

Only Brad seized the moment, saying that he decided to make chicken cordon bleu "my way" -- get it? -- and made the whole thing magical and effortless, just like 'Ol Blue Eyes.

Brad, the Chairman of the Board would be proud of you.

In the end, Brianna, Aarti and Herb ended up in the bottom three. And Brianna went home. I actually felt a little bad for her. Her food was loved by the judges, but she just had no sense of self -- no doubt due to a difficult upbringing. Good luck, Brianna!

What to watch for next week: Will Brad pay attention to the Flay-man's gentle nudging and ditch the "pro" moniker in favor of something that plays off his boyish charm and subtle male swagger? And will Herb finally make peace with his childhood and get over it? Not to belittle what happened to him, but he clearly has found a way to meld food and fitness in his own personal life. Can't he just deliver that? Former fat kid turns it around and eats good food doing it? In this country, wouldn't that be a fantastic selling point and role model? Or how about finding a way to slim down Latin cuisine? As someone whose single favorite cuisine is Cuban food, I say this: If you can figure out how to make skinny tostones and bistec empanizado, I will be your No. 1 fan, Herb!

This week, it was Food Network honcho Bob Tuschman who was delivering the verbal karate chops that had me reaching for the remote, among them:

On Aarti's botched camera presentation: "I thought it was flawless -- up until the car crashed."

On Aria finally getting the message and toning it down: "I'd rather have this than that dentist smile."

On Serena visibly trying to think: "You could see her brain working to try to put the sentences together."
On Brianna's awful party menu: "That might be the scariest 5-year-old's birthday party ever."

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: A scene from "The Next Food Network Star." Credit: Food Network