'Food Network Star' Recap: Eastward Ho!
'Food Network Star' Recap: Eastward Ho!
Matt Click
Matt Click
Staff Writer, BuddyTV
It's a new day, Food Network Star fans. Penny Davidi and Chris Nirschel were both sent packing last week in a double-elimination that restored my faith in Food Network Star, the Food Network and food, competition and TV in general. I feel renewed and reinvigorated, ready to tackle tonight's episode. So bring it on, Food Network. Hit me with your best shot. I can take it. I survived Penny Davidi. I can survive anything.

Except maybe Rachael Ray. Is there anyone more grating on this planet? Maybe Sandra Lee. But Rachael Ray is a very, very close second. Luckily, we have Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa herself, to brighten our day and save the episode. I wonder if she'll bring her husband Jeffrey. Or maybe some good mustard.

So stay tuned as our finalists head to New York in pursuit of their dreams.

Remaining still: Jeff Mauro, Jyll Everman, Mary Beth Albright, Susie Jimenez, Vic "Vegas" Moea and Whitney Chen.

"Chris and Penny are gone, so that means all the drama is gone," Jeff says. "No more pretenders. Only contenders."

Amen, Jeff. I am pumped to finally get this competition underway. No more bickering, no more scheming. Just pure culinary talent and stage presence.

The finalists depart Los Angeles and arrive in Manhatten, where they're staying at the Flat Hotel. Vic feels comfortable and confident. After all, this is his turf. The top six head to Food Network's New York headquarters. Bobby Flay introduces a very special guest: none other than the Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten.

Whitney starts crying and tells Ina that she learned how to cook by watching her (does this mean Whitney only uses good chicken stock?). Ina is sort of standoffish and says, "That's very sweet," to the woman who is in tears over meeting her.

Cupcakes of Character

This week's Camera Challenge entails the finalists creating a cupcake that represents them. Ina says they need to be fun, but also taste "fabulous." I know cupcakes are all the rage right now, but I am so over them. Vic is doing a really decadent chocolate-dipped cupcake with pancetta and basil. Susie is doing a corn muffin with duck confit. And my boy Jeff is doing a sandwich cupcake with five Italian meats. Alright, lots of savory recipes going on with these cupcakes. I'm intrigued. But I'm also still over cupcakes.

Whitney is doing a coconut almond cupcake (which is Ina's own recipe). Interesting move, Whitney. Mary Beth is doing a roasted strawberry cupcake with a red wine balsamic frosting. And Jyll is utilizing her favorite flavor combination: citrus and chocolate.

Susie is first up to present her cupcake to the camera (and the judges, which include Bobby Flay, Ina Garten and Bob Tuschman), and she totally nails it. Ina really likes Susie's personality, but the panel is iffy on the cupcake.

Mary Beth has a story about her son, so of course the judges love her presentation. And, hey, they like her cupcake too! Bobby tells her that it's the best thing he's had from her. Vic presents next, and does well with the presentation. The cupcake's just OK for the judges, though. Whitney's goes over pretty well, and, huzzah, Ina loves Whitney's take on her cupcake recipe. Bob Tuschman starts talking about "star power" again so I tune him out.

Even Ina finds Jyll fake, but her cupcake is well-liked. Jeff's sandwich cupcake does not go over well. Ina asks if he prefers to cook, rather than bake, and he says yes. Ina goes, "It shows." Ouch.

Mary Beth and Jyll win the Camera Challenge, and Jeff is at the bottom.

Reinventing with Rachael Ray

The moment Rachael Ray appears on screen, my head starts to hurt. All the finalists are pretty psyched though, because they're going to be appearing on The Rachael Ray Show. Each finalist will be responsible for reinventing a traditional American family dinner and presenting it on Rachael's show. They'll also be fielding questions from Rachael's audience.

Vic: lasagna
Jyll: meatloaf
Mary Beth: shepard's pie
Whitney: chili
Susie: chicken stir-fry
Jeff: pork chops and apple sauce

They immediately set to work making their dishes. Vic is doing a lasagna inside a tortilla, deep-fried. Holy lord in heaven, I want that. Jeff is reworking pork chops and apple sauce into a sandwich by braising the pork and putting it on a roll with apple slaw. I also want that.

The finalists head to the studio to film with Rachael Ray. Whitney is up first, and she introduces herself well. She's confident and classy, and she absolutely nails it. She fields questions while she's cooking, and she works in a little personal story as well. I can picture Whitney on her own show after that, and I like it.

Mary Beth is up next. She introduces well, but loses steam about halfway through her cooking demo. Then she tells the audience to go to their butcher and get a good bone. Was that another wiener joke courtesy of Mary Beth? I swear, she will never run out of penis jokes. The judges are feeling pretty meh about her presentation.

Vic rolls out, and he's comfortable and confident. But like Mary Beth, he loses his energy and the cameras start to spook him. He makes his lasagna-chimichanga hybrid (and it looks awesome, by the way), but forgets to take a question from the audience. Uh-oh.

Susie comes on out to spice things up, but she's anything but spicy. She's running low on energy (and fun), and she forgets to take a question (even though Vic warned her not to).

Jyll is up next. She gives her intro, and she still seems so fake to me. The judges like her introduction (huh?), but she falters during the presentation. She remembers to take a question, but kind of blows it with the answer. One step forward, two steps back for Jyll.

My boy Jeff is up! He kills it with the intro, and even amps up the audience a bit. He's bold, he's charismatic and he makes a kickass sandwich. He's Jeff Mauro, and he should win this thing. He answers a question and even acknowledges Rachael (the first finalist to do so). He cracks some jokes, gets some laughs, but he's not too overpowering with his energy. Jeff does perfectly. Literally, he did nothing wrong. I want to watch Jeff's show, and I think the audience (and Rachael) does too. Jeff has won this challenge, hands-down.

Judgement Time

It's elimination time! I'm feeling like Jyll is going home. The judges have concerns about her. They ask why they should choose her to the next Food Network Star, and she can't answer them. She fumbles for words, questions herself and overall just comes off as tired, defeated and broken.

Susie Fogelson wants to talk about something sensitive with Susie. The judges feel that Susie is always apologizing for her Mexican-inspired dishes. Susie says she's trying to elevate Mexican food and make it more elegant. The judges bring up Penny, who was always proud of her heritage and the food that was derived from it. You know, as much as I disliked Penny, the judges do have a point. Susie needs to present her food and heritage unabashedly, unashamedly.

Jeff and Whitney are the top two, and Jeff is the winner of the Star Challenge.

I knew these two were my favorites for a reason.

This means Vic, Jyll, Susie and Mary Beth are the bottom four.

The judges deliberate, and make their decision: Jyll is going home.

Called it. Even after being eliminated, Jyll has the creepy smile plastered to her face. You know, Jyll seems like a pleasant-enough person, and I wish her well. I just wish she would have been more real with us and with the judges. Bottling up emotions and pretending like things don't faze you will only work for so long.

All in all, another good decision by the judges.

Next week, our finalists are preparing dishes for a bunch of comedians who will then roast them. If you're unfamiliar with the idea of roasting, it's when you crush somebody's soul using words. So, that should be fun.

Tune in next week: same food time, same food place.

(Image courtesy of Food Network)