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'Next Food Network Star': Your final three

August 9, 2010 | 10:59 am

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. 

While one team was cooking, the others had to help Alton Brown with the play-by-play -- and all were a disappointment, except Tom. He was cool, confident and even when he didn't know something, he found out the answer with ease. (As we head into the finale, could this be the quality that separates the would-be stars from the star? At the end of the day, the Food Network audience needs to completely trust the host.) The others fumbled, smiled, joked or mugged for the camera, which just doesn't cut it with the cooking authority that is A.B.

Aria brought "unmatched vivaciousness" to the competition, but her weak food and faltering commentary in this challenge did her in. She was sent home, leaving Tom (Yay!), Aarti (Double yay!) and Herb (Huh?) in the finale.

I never would have expected that Herb would have made it this far, but kudos to him for gutting it out. I love his new POV, as they say, and that megawatt smile. I'd be hard-pressed to choose among the three -- I'd watch them all.

But if I had to choose, I'd lean toward Aarti: Of all the wonderful dishes we've seen this season, hers are the ones I would most like to eat and make. And I'd like a big bowl of that coconut milk gazpacho, please. Aarti's still my pick to win it all. She's got some tough competition, though.

Who do you think will be this season's winner, and why? 

And here's to wishing Aria all the best, and many happy Sunday night dinners.

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Aarti. Credit: Food Network