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

May 28, 2012 |  2:16 pm

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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--Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch

Photo: Food Network