Star Challenge: Reinvent Unappealing Dishes for the Runway
Because it's Fashion Week and Food Network Star is in New York, they obviously have to do a fashion-related challenge. The contestants are tasked with taking ugly, plain dishes (think ham steak with pineapple and maraschino cherry) and making them appealing (both to the eye and to the palate). They will each describe their dishes as they are carried down the runway by models, and this week, there's an added motivating boost: the winner gets $10,000!
After each being assigned their homely dishes, everyone gets to work and -- surprise, surprise -- Eric is panicking. He's assigned fish sticks and tartar sauce, but when the rice paper wrappers he bought turn out too soft for the deep fryer, he has to come up with a plan B with only 15 minutes left. He frantically whips together a beer batter, and after throwing the first fish stick in the fryer... it comes out delicious. This guy deserves an award for pulling a culinary rabbit out of the hat at the last second, every time.
Eric: Unfortunately, it feels as if Eric has come straight from his kitchen whirlwind to the podium on the runway. He's spouting a lot of words, but even he admits he had no idea what he was saying. The network (and everyone else) can sense how uncomfortable he is. On the plus side, his beer battered fish sticks are "outstanding."
Michele: After describing a road trip to Rhode Island to put context to her pan-roasted sea bass, Michele loses the judges when her story suddenly jumps to Maine. Susie is sad that Michele seems to be getting smaller each week, because she believes she's so much more exciting.
Nikki: Nikki looks like she could probably fit in with this Fashion Week crowd, but I still feel her presentation is scripted. The judges love her grilled pork chop, but Giada feels it's more rustic than "runway food." Bobby thinks she's just jealous.
Malcolm: In probably his best moment on the show so far, Malcolm walks onto the runway and strikes a Zoolander pose. The crowd laughs and he manages to keep that fun energy the whole way through. Bob and Susie are both impressed.
Justin: Being the master of reinvention, this feels like Justin's challenge. His damier (fashion translation: checkerboard pattern) take of nearly rare beef and mushroom gel brings beef stroganoff to a whole new level. The network finds him incredibly inventive and winningly smart.
Emily: I have to say, looks-wise, Emily's ham steak and pineapple dish leaves the strongest impression. She's playful, brainy and effusive, which matches her colorful, flavorful food. The network is notably impressed. Plus, she made a food fascinator (fashion translation: fancy head piece)!
Martie: Though she baked her tuna casserole in small metal rings, they're too hot to remove, so they must go down the runway basically encased in metal. But Martie manages to keep her rambling to a minimum and bring out the charm and Bob notes she is the most natural and comfortable person in the competition.
Judson: Judson's presentation is about how "food + fashion = love." No one quite understands what this means and Susie finds his words hollow. Unlike some of the other stumbles we've had so far, Judson's food doesn't really make up for his lack in presentation either.
Yvan: Like a kid eager to please, Yvan takes his low energy critique from last week and overcorrects by yelling his description at the Fashion Week audience. His sheperd's pie reinterpretation, however, is a beautiful dish of lightness.
Ippy: Like last week's Chopped challenge, Fashion Week does not seem like the ideal setting for Ippy's laid-back Hawaiian style. Susie finds his presentation "very canned" and she's "done" with his laidback thing. But Bob gives him points for his precise and expert cooking, which has been consistent week to week.
Linkie: Linkie starts off her presentation strong, but ends up tripping on her own words and struggles to recover. Her chicken pot pie is decent, but Bob points out the dangers of memorizing a script.
Martita: Finally that Latin spirit comes through when Martita walks on stage with her arroz con pollo (chicken and rice). Bob likes her generosity and welcoming presence and after tasting her "jewel box" of a dish, Susie declares this is her favorite moment from Martita so far.
Producer's Challenge: All About the Camera
After the Fashion Week audience voted for their favorite, the network announces Justin is the winner of the $10,000 prize (courtesy of Discover). Alton (who is pulling of this scruffy, nine o'clock shadow look well) looks truly proud. As expected, Team Alton wins this week's challenge, and Judson rightly thanks his teammates for saving him. Now for the bad news: Eric from Team Bobby and Ippy from Team Giada are the bottom two. Ippy is a surprise, as I think Yvan's shouting and Linkie's stammering could have placed them in the bottom before him. But then the network announces the Producer's Challenge: no cooking, just describing a pre-prepared dish. Obviously the network knows Eric and Ippy can cook (they're probably some of the best in the competition), but they don't know if they can bring it in the spotlight.
The dish is revealed to be French toast with a berry compote. Bobby coaches Eric to relate this to the French toast he's had in his own life, and Eric feels the weight of doing his team proud (apparently a huge motivator for the chef). Giada has just one word for Ippy: "fun!" She wants him to make it fun, but Ippy's feeling "flabbergasted," which, considering his mellow temperament, probably means he's sweating under pressure just as much as Eric.
The Pitch Room
With Eric's segment, we finally get the title to his show, "Handcrafted in Wine Country." He tells a nice story about his mom's French toast as a kid, but Bob dislikes how he once again listed off the ingredients without describing the texture and flavors. The network feels Eric is an intelligent chef, but they're still looking for that exciting spark.
Ippy does a far better job of describing the food to the viewer as he takes a massive bite of French toast. Susie says there are moments when she's captivated, but that there's a lot of other things going on that need work. Ippy says he understands their concerns about his laidback nature, but at the same time, he wants to represent his people well. I could see how this could come across as unwilling to adapt and grow, but I give credit to Ippy for staying true to who he is.
Bob and Susie discuss one of the hardest decisions they've had to make, as Eric and Ippy are both excellent cooks who love food and being in the kitchen, but they need someone who loves being in front of the camera just as much. They bring everyone back and they regrettably let Eric go. For someone who struggles so much in front of the camera, he sure got a lot of air time during his FNS run. Eric tells his team he loves them and everyone looks shocked and Bobby is bummed. Meanwhile, Ippy feels sad Eric had to go and sees this as a wake-up call.
Things have certainly changed from last week's episode, proving that any week could be a contestant's last - even a strong contender like Eric or Ippy. Next week, Guy Fieri makes and appearance and Justin the culinary magician is "scared for the first time."
(Image courtesy of Food Network)