Well, here we are. It’s been a long, bumpy, perilous (Penny-less?) road. But this is the last episode of Food Network Star season 7. In an hour, we’re going to have our next celebrity chef. Who will it be? Momma’s boy Vic Moea? Latin-inspired Susie Jimenez? Or sandwich king Jeff Mauro?

You all probably know who I’d like to see win it all (hint: he’s not bald or a woman). But we do have a pretty powerful trio for our final three — probably the best final three in Food Network Star history, and I mean that, I seriously do.

I’ve been watching this show since Guy Fieri won and seized control of the network in a violent, greasy coup (creating a dystopian, post-apocalyptic society I like to call Fieriworld), and I don’t think I’ve been drawn to anyone like I’m drawn to Jeff. He’s real, he’s funny, he’s laid-back — and he makes great food.

Who is everyone else rooting for? And if it’s not Jeff, what the heck is wrong with you?

By the way, did anyone watch the reunion show? Because I totally did (and by totally did I mean I had it on in the background while I wasted time on the internet). It’s the first time they’ve done a reunion show, and it was … eh, it was OK. Mary Beth sure was snippy, wasn’t she?

But hey, enough of my yapping. Let’s boogie!

This. Is. It. We have our final three, and in an hour, three will become two, and then two will become one. And that one will become the next Food Network Star. And then the other one will probably get their own show anyway because that’s how it works.

The Dish to End All Dishes

The finalists head to Food Network’s NYC studios, and Giada’s waiting for them. She drops a bomb: there are three finalists, but only two are going to be filming pilots. Which means somebody is going home after this Camera Challenge.

The challenge? Create the best dish of your life.

Oh, OK. That doesn’t seem too daunting.

Jeff is doing a deconstructed eggplant parmesan sandwich, and it. Looks. Awesome. I want one of those things. Vic is doing zuppa di pesce, an Italian dish containing seven types of seafood. Susie is doing carnitas.

Jeff presents first and does a fantastic job, recalling a funny story about his father. The judges love the presentation and the sandwich, but Susie Fogelson says Jeff could use more energy. Jeff, don’t listen to Susie Fogelson. She gives the worst, most bass-ackwards advice (remember when she told Whitney Chen to show more emotion, and then eliminated her after she cried?). You have a perfect energy level, and you don’t need to become an overcharged human caricature like Guy Fieri to make people watch you. Just keep on making those awesome sandwiches.

Susie presents next, and she also has a cute story about her father. The judges just eat it up (the story and the carnitas). They have no criticism for her.

Vic is up last, and he spends his entire minute telling a story without discussing the dish, which I think is a major slip-up. The judges love the soup, but I think Vic is going home.

Susie is safe. Giada does a golf clap and it’s really awkward.

Vic is going home, folks. He takes it all in stride. I have to say, Vic’s come a long way this season. Jeff says it perfectly: “I’m really proud of Vic. He started out so low in the beginning and improved so much.”

So our final two is Susie and Jeff, and they’re going to be making pilots.

Pilots A-Go-Go

Jeff and Susie arrive at what looks like Anne Burrell’s set from Secrets of a Restaurant Chef and are greeted by what looks like a giant douche. Yes, that’s right, Guy Fieri will be directing their pilots. Which means he’s going to tell them to yell, make up words and wave their arms around like idiots. He may also force them to put sunglasses on the backs of their heads. We just don’t know at this point.

These pilots will be viewed by the selection committee as well as a focus group of Food Network viewers.

Jeff is filming his pilot first. He’s nervous beyond all reason, to the point of feeling a little nauseous. He’s rambling, he’s yelling and he says “boom” about eight dozen times. He gets one last take. And then he remembers his family — he even puts a photo of them up on the fridge.

And then he. Just. Kills. It.

Seriously, I have never seen anyone on this show film a pilot like that. That was the best thing I have ever seen on Food Network Star.

Jeff is going to win this. He absolutely has to.

Susie is up. Like Jeff, she’s nervous (who wouldn’t be?). Her first couple of takes are rough. She has a disconnect with the camera, and she’s scattered. And, like Jeff, she remembers her family — specifically her father. And finally, like Jeff, she kills it on the last take. Definitely not as awesome as Jeff, but Susie did a great job.

Jeff and Susie head back to the apartment and pop open the champagne. Tomorrow, they find out who wins it all.

The Next Food Network Star

Jeff and Susie arrive at Food Network’s NYC studios to meet the focus group. And, oh, surprise, the focus group is this season’s eliminated contestants. They all take a seat and watch the pilots.

Susie’s pilot is aired first. I honestly find it a little boring. I mean, Susie is charming and pretty¬† and knows her stuff, but she isn’t doing anything I haven’t seen before on Food Network. She gets a big round of applause from the focus group and the judges, though. Penny speaks up first (of course) and says Susie wasn’t engaging. Jyll and Chris beg to differ, though. They both loved the pilot. I actually agree with Penny on this, and that’s the only time you will ever hear me say that.

Jeff’s pilot airs, and I love it even more. His jokes are great, and his personal stories are endearing without hitting us over the head. I repeat: Jeff needs to win.

Vic loved the pilot. Howie (WAIT, WHO’S HOWIE?) thinks there was too much schtick. Howie, hush. Only people who weren’t eliminated in the first episode are allowed to speak. Penny loved it. (Crap, I agree with Penny there too.)

And now it’s decision time.

The judges spend the next few minutes talking the finalists up, but then Bobby keeps it real: there can be only one (like Highlander). Instead of dueling with swords, Jeff and Susie just have to go wait in a room while the panel deliberates. Boring, I know.

The judges deliberate, and they’ve decided. The president of Food Network, Brooke Johnson, swoops in to deliver the news.

The next Food Network star is…


Called it! I’m quite pleased with this result. And by quite pleased, I mean ecstatic. I’ve wanted Jeff to win as early as episode 2, and I am legitimately excited to see his show, Sandwich King, which will air Sundays at 11:30am.

Congrats to Jeff, and thank you all for wading through this season of Food Network Star with me. Until next summer, when we do this all again … it’s been a pleasure.

Signing off, food fans.

(Image courtesy of Food Network)

Matt Click

Staff Writer, BuddyTV