Food Network Star 2012: Preview

Zin blogged this last year, but due to an obsession with Italo Calvino, is unavailable. I’m still debating whether I want to recap or not, but it’s easier to drop out after the first week than to catch up, and Food Network is always good for some primo snark, so here goes. Addendum: I finished debating: I’ll sit this one out. Re-addendum: Zin to the rescue! There will be blogging starting with episode 2!

It’s Season 8 – oh, lord, really? – and the format is a little different. Each mentor (Bobby Flay, Giada DeLaurentiis, Alton Brown) will have a team of contestants. Seems like they’re bringing in a little Worst Cooks in America, which isn’t a bad idea, since much to my surprise (and embarrassment), I actually enjoyed the most recent run with Bobby Flay going up against Anne Burrell. I’ve always liked Good Eats though Alton Brown has never translated to FNS – here he isn’t a loveable goofy geek, he’s a nasty, hypercritical SOB without a kind word for anyone. And Giada, well, snark bait. But that’s what we’re here for, after all.

I’m trying to recall the past FNS winners: Guy Fieri is really the only success, which speaks for itself. The first winner, the gay team of The Hardy Boys, disappeared. The second winner, chosen after the front-runner disclosed he wasn’t really in Iraq and Afghanistan as he’d claimed on screen, quit after her six-episode run. I think Guy was third, but I’m not sure. Then there was the hospital cook Big Daddy, who participated in FNS though his 14 year old son ran away from home a few weeks before filming; from what I understand, the kid is back and all is well. And Aarti, who was supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, has pretty much disappeared into the background. Last season was Sandwich King Jeff Mauro, another singularly forgettable entry in the interminable line-up of banal cooking shows aimed at buffing stars to sell products at K-Mart. Or maybe it’s Target, or QVC, I don’t pay that much attention.

So why do I bother with this mess? It’s the train wreck you can’t help but stare at. Everything is a lie. Contestants are coached to say what “viewers” want to hear at the same time they’re exhorted to “be yourself.” Then they’re eliminated for not having a handle on their Culinary Point of View. It’s interesting that the recent winners – the Sandwich King and Aartie – came into the competition with C-POVs that remained unmodified. And you still can’t convince me they’re going to let a reality show determine the major expenditure of even a limited run (six episode) series. Smoke and mirrors. How earnestly they try to peddle it, makes them look like fools. And, though it’s election season and fools abound, it’s always fun to laugh at a few more.

So who is it this time? Here’s the roster of the fifteen so eager to be on TV that they’ll make total fools of themselves licking FN butt:

Team Alton Brown:

Cristie Schoen, 35, from NOLA – no, California. Oh, wait, from Europe. She’s got an IMDB listing as both an actress and a caterer. I didn’t know caterers got IMDB listings. Her C-POV is farm-to-table, fresh, organic, and all those things, but she learned Cajun in NOLA and European cuisines while traveling there. I’m dubious: she’s the poster girl for “you need a better C-POV.” And her bio seems jumbled, which usually means someone’s fibbing somewhere.

Justin Warner, 27, self-taught chef-owner of Brooklyn’s “Do or Dine”; he was a waiter when he and a buddy decided to open a restaurant, not knowing how to cook anything normal. So they went for joke food. Fois gras doughnuts. Tempura’d deviled eggs. It got a good review from the New York Times – “The whole scene sounds too ironic, too hipster-ish, too Brooklyn. Instead, it is charming.” I hate him already. Seriously, I do – he was the guy on “24 Hour Restaurant Battle” who created “& Jelly” and treated everyone, including his teammate, like dirt. I hate it when this kind of “I don’t need to learn how to cook because I’m a genius who puts taco toppings on gyoza and everyone loves it” fraud gets rewarded. He must be the season villain, which means he’ll be around for a while. I love that he’s on Alton’s team. I think Alton can handle someone who won’t listen to anyone. Squash him like a bug, Alton!

Emily Ellyn, 29, CIA grad, spent time in Paris, and is pursuing a PhD in hospitality (in Orlando, where else). And she’s currently working at a gourmet donut shop, expanding the gourmet doughnut scene, which shows you how misleading the resume can be. She grew up on a farm and knows how to butcher a chicken. C-POV is something incoherent about relationships and retro rad; is that like Nadia G, or is it one of those things I’m too old to get? “I’m going to be funny, smart, cute as a button.” What she’s gonna be, is toast. Though she may appeal to Alton, who quit his videographer job and went to culinary school for two years so he could make his “Mr. Wizard/Julia Child/Monty Python” show.

Martie Duncan, “slightly over 40″ (now that’s trouble, when someone won’t admit her age; on her video she says “somewhere over 30″), from Alabama. She’s a party expert. She claims to have done a lot of different things – police officer, cattle round-up in Argentina, hiking up a volcano – which, considering she can’t tell the truth about her age, doesn’t impress me much.

Judson Allen, 30, self-taught with a Bachelor’s in Food Science (aren’t those two different things?) and restaurant trained (make that three different things), now runs a catering company in Chicago. He lost 100 pounds so he wants to cook healthy, and he learned Creole cooking from his NOLA grandfather. He’s the architect of flavor, bringing in cultural influences. He and Alton can reminisce about all the weight they lost.

Team Bobby Flay:

Malcolm Mitchell, 41: Private chef, soul food specialist, radio personality, culinary school grad and teacher, former navy man from DC. He has a sharp, professional website, a CAA agent and a PR flack. Doesn’t every cook? I like the dreads, but I’ve always liked dreads. On paper, he’s great. We’ll see how he does.

Eric Lee, 44, CIA grad and UCLA sociology major; he cheffed at a California winery for 11 years, so wine features prominently in his dishes. His mom had a bakery. His bio says something about deconstructing, which can get awful in a hurry, but when done right, it’s pretty cool. He’s Asian, and if they do to him what they did to Susie Jimenez last year, I’m gonna be really mad. Cooking in Wine Country – again, with the fresh local ingredients. Does anyone ever say, “I want to cook out of cans?” Besides the First Lady of New York, of course.

Nikki Martin, 31, self-taught private chef in West Hollywood, and a food and beverage consultant, which seems to mean opening a restaurant with someone else’s money. C-POV is SoCal comfort with a twist of sexiness. I still don’t know what sexy food is, but it usually means runny egg yolks. She has the kind of personality that goes over well on tv.

Kara Sigle, 31, Chicago caterer and fitness guru. They have a “health” oriented chef on every time, and it never works. But she’s got the “food is a story, a memory” spiel down, and she doesn’t mention healthy food, so maybe she got that memo.

Michele Ragussis – 42, NY/New England, executive chef experience, seafood specialist; she was on Chopped (lost) and 24 Hour Restaurant (won). I don’t clearly remember her, possibly because her Chopped episode was the one that introduced Madison Cowan and Lance Nitahara, the best things to ever come out of the Food Network. Seems she used to work at Beast, Naomi Pomeroy’s restaurant. This could be good. She looks vaguely like Elizabeth Falkner. Not sure if that’s good or bad.

Team Giada DeLaurentiis:

Phillip “Ippy” Aiona – 23, culinary school grad, exec chef, but don’t take that too seriously, it’s at his mother’s Italian restaurant in Hawaii. His C-POV is Euro-Pacific, combining his Italian and Hawaiian heritage. That’s unique right there. He made cooking videos in third grade. He’s awfully young, but since when has TV had a problem with that.

Yvan Lemoine, 30, originally from Venezuela. His CV is very impressive: he went through C-CAP (the Culinary Arts program Marcus Samuelsson supported in the recent Chopped All-Stars) and has apprenticed with the likes of Cyril Renaud, Jacques Torres, and Jahangir Mehta; he’s worked all over New York. In addition to pastry, his thing is a combination of molecular gastronomy and mixology – yes, liquid nitrogen frozen drinks, drinks served in an ice cream cone, and like that. He owns iFood Studios which seems to be an excuse for putting videos all over YouTube. Most of them are 5 years old (and several are of Spanish-language television appearances), so I’m thinking he’s improved since then.

Linkie Marais, 28, originally from South Africa (does that mean “Linkie” isn’t a cute nickname she got when she was three years old, I hope?), owner of Cakes by Linkie, where she makes some decent cakes – but why isn’t she on whatever show that was to replace Duff? Maybe she was, obviously I didn’t watch. C-POV: Food is art. And cake decorating is fun. Ok, I believe she’s good at that – but can she cook?

Josh Lyons, 42, former rock musician, culinary school grad, former touring rock musician, now makes sushi, thus he is the Rock & Roll Sushi Chef. He’s a fair singer. But I’m getting tired of all the shtick.

Martita Jara, 35, self-taught home cook and interior designer in California with “a few semesters” of culinary school. Her parents have a Mexican restaurant. She wants to simplify the food her mother and grandmother made; that’s tailor-made for FNS. She’s ahead in the “who do you like” poll, which is interesting since the series hasn’t started yet.

Of course, no one turns out like their casting video. But on paper, Alton should just stay home. Right off the top, I’m thinking Martita, Yvan, Ippy, Nikki, Eric, Malcolm.

A “Casting Special” airs on Saturday, May 12 at 9pm; the series actually starts on Sunday, May 13, at 9pm.

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2 responses to “Food Network Star 2012: Preview

  1. I see you also realized that Justin Warner was the &Jelly guy!! The lightbulb just went on for me. He seems so much more pleasant than he did on the Restaurant Battle show. No wonder it didn’t click!

  2. Hi Gwenwyn – yeah, Zin’s been making me eat my words for my comments. It’s funny how these things go – boy was I off. ;)

    He was a supreme jerk on the earlier show – But I guess I can believe people are capable of change. He seemed to get along with everyone, even allowing for editing. Maybe he had a moment where he realized his attitude wasn’t doing him any favors. I do think Justin will have the most interesting show, especially teamed up with Alton – but I still would’ve rather seen Eric of the homemade pasta and mozzarella win.

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