Welcome to the first recap of this season of Food Network Star! We’ve got 15 FNS hopefuls. If you’re unfamiliar with them, check out my breakdown of each contestant.

This season promises lots of celebrities, plenty of appearances by Food Network royalty like Alton Brown and Ina Garten and more yelling, screaming and meltdowns than ever before. Is this the season that our Food Network Star contestants stop playing nice and bring out the claws?

The two-hour premiere opens with our contestants meeting up at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. One by one, they appear and start sizing each other up. Penny immediately describes herself as voluptous and starts hating on Alicia for being skinny.

And here’s Katy, who has the nerve to call some of the other contestants annoying. And then she makes fun of Juba’s name. Way to go, Katy. Susie trips on her way up to the theater. But she rolls with it. Here comes Jeff, one of my early favorites. Guess what? His proposed show is about sandwiches! Totally called it. I’m psyched for Jeff now. And here comes Vin Diesel Vic Vegas.

Out comes Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis. Bobby lays it out for the contestants: this is the shot of a lifetime — don’t blow it. Giada says everyone needs to look within themselves to find their inner star. And Bobby has a challenge for them already! Yes! Here we go. This season of FNS has officially kicked off.

Breakfast of Champions

The contestants have to cook the most important meal of the day: breakfast! Chris is making a frittata. Alicia is making a crepe. Penny (who, in case you’ve forgotten, is Middle Eastern and sexy) keeps hating on Alicia. Alicia is running around talking to herself and repeatedly saying “OHMIGOD OHMIGOD.” Vic is making a lobster slider, which doesn’t really scream breakfast to me.

Penny reminds us again that she is, indeed, Middle Eastern. She’s making some French toast with an Iranian flair. Jeff is making an awesome-looking steak and egg breakfast sandwich with chipotle. So far, his food looks the tastiest. Susie is making a crepe too! Look out Alicia.

Vic realizes with ten minutes to go that he’s overdone it and can’t finish everything. His plate goes out without the lobster, and he announces, “Looks like I’m the first one going home.” We can only hope, Vic. Alicia is still losing her mind. Chris didn’t cook his chicken all the way through. Mary Beth has taken on the role of the person who yells out how much time is left. I guess somebody has to do it?

Now the contestants have to present their meals in front of the camera. Here to oversee the challenge are FNS mainstays Susie Fogelson and Bob Tuschman. Vic is up to present his food first, and has a minute to do so. Bobby and Giada both like Vic and want to know more about him. Sucks he couldn’t get the lobster on the plate.

Alicia is up now. I really can’t stand her voice. All of the judges agree that her voice is horrific and ask her to work on her accent. Orchid kills the presentation, and the judges like her and her food. Whitney, Jyll and Jeff kill it too. Mary Beth is cold and nervous. Howie comes out and says “basic” about 47 times and then calls himself a novice. He might be trying a little too hard to be the underdog.

Chris biffs it and is really hard on himself. He’s the first contestant to get misty-eyed! Susie presents her dish, and the judges want her to cook Mexican food because she’s, well, Mexican. And it’s confusing if she doesn’t cook food befitting her ethnicity, I guess? Really, judges? Katy comes out and talks way too much. The judges like the food, but are a little put-off by her personality.

Just as I suspsected, Juba is super nervous in front of the camera, but the judges love his food.

Orchid wins the first challenge! Giada says she’s “warm, charismatic, and the camera loves her.” Juba gets the best dish of the day (yay!), and Mary Beth comes in dead last.

This first episode is rocketing past! With 15 contestants up for the prize, there’s no time to waste. We didn’t get to see everyone’s dishes and presentations, but there’s so much dead weight at this point, it’s not necessary.

The Farmer’s Market

The next morning, the contestants head to the local farmer’s market. And who’s waiting for them? Alton Brown, my favorite person on the network. Alton is always really scary and up-front on FNS, so I love when he drops in. The contestants are all grouped up in threes and must produce promos for their proposed Food Network shows. They’re only given four takes!

The first group up is Mary Beth, Whitney and Justin B. Mary Beth does decently, despite dropping her pen in take one. She keeps talking about her personality, but I have yet to see it. Justin keeps messing up, so Whitney tries to offer him some advice, which pisses off Justin and Alton. “Don’t direct him!” he growls. Justin messes up all four takes, fumbling over his words and generally being rigid and uninteresting. Then Whitney just nails it in one take like a boss. I’m liking Whitney more and more, you guys.

Next group up is Katy, Chris and Susie. Katy seriously will not shut up. I’m starting to feel bad for Chris. Katy is splayed out on a counter and knocks her props over with her leg. Susie starts out with a guitar, and Alton tells her to lose it. Chris starts rapping and says “what’s up” like six times. Alton seems frustrated with all of them, and I’m right there with him.

The third group is Jyll, Howie and Vic. Howie is already messing up in front of the camera. Howie, what the hell, man? You were supposed to be super comfortable in front of the camera! And then Vic forgets Jyll’s name. They’re down to one take, just like that. Jyll requests a prompter and doesn’t look at the camera once.

Group four is Orchid, Juba and Jeff. Jeff and Orchid are both concerned that Juba is going to flub his take (and so am I). Jeff ruins the first take by mispronouncing Orchid’s name, and then Juba just completely blows it. But on the fourth take, they all nail it. Good job, Juba. Keep it up.

Penny, Justin D. and Alicia are in group five. Penny continues her crusade against Alicia, which is starting to irk me. Now she’s just being mean. On her first take, Alicia just starts mumbling and tells Alton that she’s self-conscious about her accent. Aw, now I feel bad about making fun of her voice (kinda). Alton gives her an awesome Alton pep talk and she’s good to go. Penny obviously has a short fuse, because she is annoyed by everything, somehow not realizing that she is a horrible, horrible person who needs a serious reality check.

At the end of the day, the teams are kept together, and they must cook a meal in two hours for members of the press. They have to shop together, which is bad news for Justin D., who is stuck with bickering Penny and Alicia. “It’s gonna turn into a wrestling match, and not even a sexy one I’d wanna watch,” Justin D. says. I know I said Justin D. seemed kinda boring, but he’s been cracking me up this episode. I hope he sticks around for a bit.

Chris tries to sneak a six-pack of beer into the cart, and he gets denied by Katy and Susie.

Penny will just not shut up about Alicia, and I’m just gonna say it: I’m on Team Alicia now. Penny is driving me nuts. In 45 minutes, Penny has managed to get me on Alicia’s side.

All the other teams seem to be getting along pretty well. Orchid and Jeff seem happy to have Juba now that they’re doing a meal together, because, damn, the boy can cook. I’m just gonna go ahead and say that Team Orchid-Jeff-Juba will probably take this challenge. Which is fine by me, because I’m digging all three of them.

Alicia is poaching some pears and puts Penny in charge of making sure the liquid doesn’t boil. This cannot end well. Yep, sure enough, three minutes later, the pears are boiling. Alicia starts screaming across the kitchen at Penny, who persists that they looked fine when she checked.

Meet the Press

The contestants and their meals are brought before a table full of entertainment press (including Mario Lopez), as well as Alton, Bobby, Susie, Bob and Giada. Penny, Alicia and Justin D. present first, and Penny keeps talking about how sexy she and her food are. God, it’s scary how quickly my hate for Penny materialized. Everyone seems to like their food, but most agree that Penny needs to tone it down, Alicia needs to toughen up and Justin D. needs to step it up.

Next up are Mary Beth, Whitney and Justin B. Everyone’s faces light up when Whitney starts talking during the promo. Bob Tuschman admits he has a crush on Whitney. Back off, Bob. I saw her first. Everyone likes the food the group presented, but is iffy on the personalities of Justin B. and Mary Beth. Pretty much everybody loves Whitney.

Vic, Jyll and Howie are the next group up. Jyll is tired of babysitting Howie, who keeps needing things done for him. I’m beginning to think that Howie just isn’t up for this. Vic and Jyll collide in the kitchen, and Vic loses his food again! That can’t be good.

This group is in trouble. They’re missing food on the plate, and their promos just suck. Nobody is happy with the dishes. Bob says Vic’s show should be called Empty Plate. Good one, Bob. Mario says he’s a bit put off by Vic’s image. Me too, Mario.

My team is up! Orchid, Juba and Jeff are in the house. But oh crap, Juba is talking too much. Juba, my friend! Let Jeff do the talking! The judges all think Juba’s food is awesome, but he needs to work on his presentation. Jeff’s food is just alright, but his personality rocks. And everyone loves Orchid!

Chris, Susie and Katy are up. Chris and Susie start arguing about the spiciness of her chipotle purree. The promos don’t really go over well, especially Chris’ segment, which the judges think seemed really forced. I agree. The judges love Susie’s spicy puree. Ha! In your face, Chris.

Judgment Time

At this point, it’s pretty obvious that Jyll, Howie or Vic is going home. The judges evaluate Jeff, Orchid and Juba first. They tell Jeff he isn’t the king of sandwiches yet — just a prince. They praise Juba’s food, but raise concerns about his performance. They have absolutely no criticisms for Orchid.

Team Orchid-Juba-Jeff win the challenge! Who called it? I’m happy with this. So far, this season is heading in the right direction.

Chris, Katy and Susie are up for evaluation. Bobby gets on Chris about trying to buy the beer at the store, and Bob tells him he needs to focus his personality. Bob tells Katy the same thing, because she seems to be all over the place. Everyone liked Susie’s food and her promo.

Mary Beth, Justin B. and Whitney are next. Bob tells Mary Beth she isn’t interesting and she gets teary-eyed. Susie tells Justin B. that she needs a crowbar to get into his personality. Everyone loved Whitney’s food, and they all think she’s beautiful and personable.

Final two: Whitney and Orchid? I know it’s early. Just saying.

The bottom two teams are Vic, Howie and Jill and Penny, Justin D. and Alicia. Everyone agrees that Penny needs to give the whole sexy gimmick a rest. They tell Justin D. he’s been playing it too safe, and he needs to step it up. They congratulate Alicia on her food and advise her to toughen up.

Jyll tells the judges about having to help Howie, and Howie pretty much denies it. Vic is surprisingly reasonable about the whole thing. Maybe I misjudged the guy. He seems pretty real. Jyll calls Howie out for eating up two takes during the promo challenge, and Howie seems completely unaware that he essentially cost his team the challenge.

Judgment time!

Alicia, Justin D. and Penny are all safe. It’s down to Jyll, Howie and Vic.

Jyll is safe. Vic is safe.

Howie has been eliminated!

The guy I called an early underdog in my post last week is gone! To be fair though, Howie did not do a good job presenting himself. He was weak in front of the camera and in the kitchen, and was kind of a jerk to Jyll about her helping him out so much.

This season of FNS is off to a crazy start. We’ve got rivalries and arguments aplenty, and it looks like next week is going to be even wilder. Did I hear that right? Are two people going home next week? What does everyone think of this season so far? Which contestants are catching your eye?

(Image courtesy of Food Network)

Matt Click

Staff Writer, BuddyTV