This week proves first impressions can be deceiving when some of the strong contestants from last week’s premiere struggle with their second challenge. As we’re just getting to know this newest batch of Food Network Star candidates, it’s clear every week sheds new light on who is most likely to make it to the end.

Star Challenge: New York City Food Tour By Bus
Each team is challenged with providing a food tour of a Manhattan neighborhood to a bus of 20 tourists. Within the team, each contestant is in charge of creating a dish inspired by their neighborhood that they will present as they describe their neighborhood landmark while connecting it with their food.

Team Alton: Lower East Side
Alton’s team is tasked with representing the traditionally Jewish neighborhood of the lower east side. He lists off the four spots on his list and Martie, Justin and Emily take their picks, leaving Judson with Pickle Guys, a pickle store that leaves him extremely uninspired. After the team visits their stores to get some background information and sample the food, they head back to the Food Network Star kitchen to prepare their dishes.

Then it’s game time as the contestants get on the bus of tourists and begin their individual presentations of their food and its connection to the neighborhood. Justin, the young “rebel with a culinary cause” goes first, impressing Susie and entertaining Bob with his unpredictable persona. Martie tries to keep her rambling tendencies in check this week, while retro Emily flops when she experiences a bout of motion sickness. Lastly, Judson tries to upsell his coleslaw-featuring-pickles, but the judges see right through his salesman attitude.

Team Bobby: Harlem
Bobby’s team is appropriately given soul food via Harlem and much like Alton’s team, all the eateries are taken until Kara is left with Melba’s, a spot known for their eggnog waffles and fried chicken. And much like Judson, Kara is not feeling the inspiration or confidence. In the kitchen, Eric once again seems bent on making the challenge as difficult as possible for himself by handcrafting each element of his sweet cheese pastry with an espresso caramel sauce. Meanwhile, Michele, one of the rising stars from last week, blatantly admits she dislikes catfish (her spot’s signature dish).

After preparing their dishes, the team boards the bus to Harlem and Malcolm conveys his enthusiasm for the neighborhood through his presentation and tasty ribs. Eric seems to have pulled a rabbit out of the hat once again when his Danish wins over the crowd. Unfortunately, Nikki’s high energy comes off a little impersonal and Kara and Michele both struggle.

Team Giada: Arthur Avenue
Giada’s team aptly gets assigned Arthur Avenue, the original Little Italy of New York. Both Linkie (with her “cafeteria food” pie) and Josh (the erratic rocker who was in the bottom two) need to up their game this week, but Linkie is clearly out of her element when she is forced to use ricotta instead of cream cheese for her cannoli cheesecakes in the kitchen.

On the bus Yvan charms the tourists, but his mozzarella on a stick comes off as elementary to the judges. Ippy, the laid-back Hawaiian, once again gets high marks for his genuine vibe and well translated eggplant zuppa soup. Martita gives Susie the best ceviche she’s had with a likable presentation and Linkie manages to do the best job offering specifics linking her food to the inspiration – plus, Alton deems her cheesecake “not cafeteria food.” Josh the rocker flails for the second week with a long-winded story and “very basic” sausage crostini.

Producer’s Challenge: The Humble Potato
Everyone gathers for the network feedback and Team Giada is named the winner this week (lucky for Josh, who probably would have been in the bottom). Kara from Team Bobby and Judson from Team Alton are named the bottom two and are sent off to turn the meek potato into the most memorable dish.

Judson seems to come up with a fresh idea by slicing the potato thinly and using it as a sort of crust for the salmon, but Alton is concerned with his on-camera segment. “Just talk to me,” he says earnestly to Judson, stressing his need to stop talking about the dish like a product and start making it personal and intimate. Meanwhile, Kara cooks her mom’s twice baked potato dish and her practice segments go well enough, but Bobby tells her to have more fun.

Pitch Room: Who Can Be More Genuine?
In the pitch room, Kara’s segment is high energy, but she comes across cheerleader-y and her dish isn’t quite memorable. Judson still can’t surmount his spokesperson vibe and ends up breaking down in front of the judges when discussing the difficulty of having his true passion (food) come across, rather than his day-to-day corporate job persona. His dish is sophisticated and complex, but Bob feels he didn’t really follow the challenge, as it is more of a salmon dish than a potato one.

The contestants and their producers leave, and the judges must decide who has more potential going forward. It seems both Kara and Judson grapple with being genuine to an audience, but in the end, Judson’s more interesting and unique culinary point of view seems to give him the edge and he’s deemed safe.

Kara’s sent home, but she seems grateful for the opportunity. Next week Food Network Star is getting Chopped in a special episode that seems a bit daunting for the FNS hopefuls (is it just me, or do the contestants generally seem in over their heads these first few weeks of season 7?) Tune in next week for the continued search for the next Bobby/Giada/Alton!

(Image courtesy of Food Network)

Jenn Lee

Staff Writer, BuddyTV

Jenn grew up in Ohio before moving to Seoul, Korea, where she attended international school and failed to learn Korean. From there she went on to earn a BA in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania before settling in Seattle, where she now spends too much time pondering the power of narrative in TV shows and novels. While she loves a good smart comedy (a la Community or Parks and Recreation), her favorite current show is Breaking Bad; all-time mentions include Arrested DevelopmentLost and Friends. When she’s not consuming television or literature, she’s savoring pastries and searching for the city’s ultimate sandwich.