Hello I am Zin and the theme of the day is: Stacey vs Nikki, a Culinary Joust! Oh the stated theme is “A Food Network Star is a Culinary Problem Solver” but that is just the pretense for the Grand Battle that awaits! It starts from the first moment as they are in separate cars and size each other up and ends with of course tears and defeat.
Product Placement Challenge:
For the little challenge in the beginning they have to take product placement cereals and make a dish with them. They are assigned either breakfast, lunch or dinner. Then they give a one-minute presentation that explains a creative way the cereal was used, and includes a culinary tip.
Stacey is a working mom so this is what she does! She can make a gourmet dinner from any pantry item as long as your idea of “gourmet dinner” includes a cereal crust on chicken. Alton warns her before her presentation that she has intimacy issues which is a terrible thing to say to someone about to go on camera! She did so badly last week she wants to do a really good job this week. She is not trying to keep people at bay! I thought her presentation was pretty much the same as she always does but Alton says she was more at ease. These are not the droids you are looking for. He tastes her dish and says “If you are a mom cooking for kids this is a sweet spot” which I think means a grownup would not touch it, right? Except somehow Stacey Wins. Shrug. She get an advantage for the main challenge. Nikki looks sad.
Russell makes his dinner with grilled ribeye, Provençal salad, and potatoes crusted with popcorn chip sea salt. I was wondering what “popcorn chip sea salt” is and I find out it is an actual thing, or at least sea salt flavor popcorn chips are an actual thing. Does that mean he just put them on the plate? That does not sound like a solution to any kind of problem other than the problem of what am I supposed to do with cereal for dinner. Alton tells him for his presentation his only goal is to finish as strong as he starts. I do not know what that means. He starts with “At home you want something simple.” No, that is what the Food Network thinks people want. I think he runs out of time but I am not sure, he just stops talking when they say Time. I do not think he started as strong as he finished but all Alton says is he needs to make more “eye love” with the camera. Eye love? You want eye love? I will give you eye love, Steve Almond style (warning, that story is not only rated R++, it is also very, very weird, and pretty disgusting but you want eye love, that is what you get). The point Alton was making before I got carried away (I never miss an opportunity to include a good eye love story) is that he keeps looking to the side when he is talking and it appears he is looking to someone else for an answer. Alton likes his dish.
Nikki watches Chopped and she is not going to just sprinkle the cereal on the salad to make her lunch like they do on Chopped (though they usually get yelled at for it and often go home)! She is going to make cereal croutons! Alton tells her to be sure to show depth of authority by answering the question “Why?” in her presentation. But she has bigger problems than Why because she burns the croutons! She was deep-frying them and either the oil was too hot or she forgot to take them out so they are burned to cinders! Alton holds one up with tongs and mugs to the camera, “Do not do this at home!” Now she has only two minutes so she ends up going Chopped style after all and sprinkling cereal on salad! She is nervous about her presentation because she had a good speech about the croutons but this is a crappy dish and she is not sure what to say. She talks about using the little bit of cereal at the end of the bag which sounds like a terrific thing to say! She says the acidic dressing is good to balance out the sweetness and that sounds good too! Alton tells her she did not say where the sweetness was coming from. The cereal right? He is really reaching for a reason to criticize her! He liked her salad a lot. It was a salad.
Rodney does a Pie Style Breakfast! More popcorn chips! See I learned something from Food Network! They have expanded my knowledge of junk food! He wants to make it hearty not heavy so he makes a popcorn chip crust pie with ham, egg, canned crab (ewwwww… that shows a lack of culinary authority right there) and cheddar cheese sauce. That phrase “not heavy,” Rodney: I do not think it means what you think it means. Alton warns him to include useful information about why. Why what? Why he is still on this show when he should have been sent home in week 3! Alton says he needs to move from Entertainment to Authority. When he finishes Damaris in the back says “Well Done.” Afterwards Alton asks him what his tip was. “Catfish and fried chicken,” he says. How is that a tip? But it turns out it does not matter because he did not say it anyway. He does not even realize he did not say it until Alton assures him he did not.
Damaris is going to make cereal-crusted French toast for breakfast! Alton reminds her to teach when she gives her presentation. He worries that she does not have stale bread! Alton seems to think everyone soaks French Toast bread in egg overnight but that is crazy. I thought she did very well, but Alton says “When you give answers, it is nice to tell us what the problems were.” See, she was playing Food Network Star Jeopardy! When Alton goes to taste her dish she warns him not to taste it which sounds really scary but he thinks it is good.
Culinary Impossible challenge:
They meet Alton, Giada and Robert Irvine at a restaurant; Bobby Flay has the night off. Stacey tells her Restaurant Impossible story. I have not seen that show but it is strange that her restaurant was so bad off they needed Robert Irvine to fix it and now she is a potential Food Network Star. The restaurant has a menu that needs updating, so to further test their skills as culinary problem solvers, they each get to reformulate one dish. Since Stacey won the pantry challenge she gets to assign all the dishes. Three people from the restaurant are there to tell them what the problem is with each dish and to join the judges in tasting and will give their impressions of the presentations the contestants give.
Rodney sneers at Chicken Cacciatore with pasta! It is old school, it is not pie and it is not seasoned well but mostly it is not pie and he will change that. He will make Chicken Cacciatore Pie! He makes some chicken in tomato sauce and puts it in a pie crust then deep fries that but it does not seal well and the tomato sauce leaks out. He makes more but they are very pale! It looks barely cooked. When he comes out the lady from the restaurant looks him up and down, takes in the Pie Style belly he shoves in her face and the flour on his shirt and the tattoos… “Oh…” she says. Next to the guy who sassed Bobby Flay it is my favorite FNS moment ever! You can find it at about minute 26 on the video. I try not to make fun of physicality but I have to make an exception in this case because the look she gives him is priceless! He does his shtick for the judges and the restaurant people and tells them all about Pie Wave, Pie Style and Contagion! Robert asks what Pie Style is and I held my breath because I thought we would get an answer but no we get the usual words without meaning: “Pie Style is a Way of Life.” The restaurant guy thinks it is a good concept but will not work for his restaurant. Alton likes dough but not raw. I confess: I have been known to eat raw pie dough. Go ahead, laugh. They used to laugh at me for eating raw cookie dough until everyone started eating it that way. You sprinkle a little salt and cinnamon sugar on raw pie dough and it is pretty good! But you can not serve it in a restaurant as dinner especially with chicken cacciatore inside.
Damaris has to make tournedos of beef and mashed potatoes. She does not like steak so she is not thrilled. The restaurant people say the problem is the toothpicks holding the mushrooms on the top of the steak are tacky. Why do they not take them off? I do not understand! It is not like it is a requirement! And sometimes the bacon that wraps the tournedos is overcooked or undercooked. Hey! That is an easy fix! Cook it properly! Also they use half instant mashed potatoes and half fresh which is again puzzling. You need expert help to tell you not to use instant potatoes? What is wrong with you people that you can not figure that out? If that is the level of expertise expected from these people it is a pretty low bar. Damaris turns the tournedos into beef filets which seems like a completely different dish, not a reworked dish. Does the restaurant not have beef filet on the menu already? If not it is probably because it is too expensive. She replaces the button mushrooms (sneer… “I did not know they still grew button mushrooms”) with shiitakes. Again they are twice as expensive so she has now tripled the price of this dish! Tip of the day: Use more expensive ingredients! She steams some broccoli and makes garlic smashed potatoes. She has a hard time with the potatoes because the skins do not break down and it gets gritty and thick. She is shoving it through a sieve which may be why it is thick! I love gluey mashed potatoes (I have weird tastes) but that means I know that the more you handle, stir, whip, beat, and sieve potatoes the glueier they get. She finally gets a food mill which is what she should have used in the first place. No what she should have done is peeled the potatoes if she did not want peel in them! She gives her presentation and Robert asks where she is from. “New York,” she says with a perfectly straight face. Then she laughs and says she I kidding. That was pretty good! She faked me out! I though wow she moved to New York? Alton asks how they liked her and they say she is a sweetheart. Robert does not particularly like her food though. Alton agrees it is more simple than it should be.
Stacey takes crab stuffed halibut with baked potato as the dish she will remake. The restaurant people say the problem is that it looks like an omelet instead of seafood. I think it takes a lot of talent to make fish look like an omelet. This is what Stacey does, she updates vintage food. She makes a crab cake halibut roulade with green beans and white truffle potato. She tells them she liked the “crab cake fixings” so she just went with that. She uses canned crab too. They use canned crab because nobody can taste the food anyway and what do you think this is, Top Chef? And canned crab can get a product placement fee but real crab can not. And these people may not know what to do with real crab. America’s Test Kitchen just did a very good taste test on crab and explained what the problem is. But this is not America’s Test Kitchen is it. The restaurant people think she is intelligent and speaks well but seems fake. Everyone says that but I do not get it! Alton agrees she is not connecting. They also think the dish is too dry. Stacey worries because this is her challenge and it would destroy her if she were went home on this one. It does not sound good though.
Nikki hates salmon and Stacey knows it so of course she assigns Nikki the salmon with onion pepper relish and rice pilaf. The assignment is such a big deal they actually put a commercial break in between “I’ll assign this to…” so everyone can wonder if she is really going to screw Nikki over. Everyone hates Stacey already (really, TWoP is brutal on her for reasons I do not understand) and this is not going to help. The restaurant people say the issue is dryness (again, they should not overcook it so badly!) and it is not really rice pilaf (so why do they call it that? I am so confused by these people I could scream!). She focuses on the broccoli cake and a “vibrant” rice pilaf that looks like the rice rings they used to make in the 60s. Her “meat on the side” thing which is beginning to sound like “make your usual meal but serve less of the meat.” The restaurant guy asks her “Is this what you call a rice pilaf?” She defines pilaf as “rice with stuff in it.” That is true as far as it goes but pilaf like risotto is a technique. In fact they are similar techniques except the risotto is stirred to create a creamy starch sauce where the pilaf is simply baked. I thought it had orzo in it but I guess that is just the Rice-a-Roni version! Hey do not laugh I love Rice-a-Roni! Nikki interviews “There are plenty of people out there who do not know what makes a pilaf” but the problem is, as a Food Network Star she is supposed to teach them! Apparently there are some diners who know exactly what a pilaf is either that or producers told them to say “This is a plate of rice.” I strongly suspect the latter. Apparently it is Dump Nikki day and they will do what they must to do it. Backstage she asks Damaris the teacher (I keep forgetting Damaris teaches at a culinary school) what a pilaf is and Damaris tells her the rice is sautéed before which is pretty much the jist but she should have asked before cooking not after. At judging they really let her have it. Alton thinks her body language looks like she is apologizing (he says while scolding her for not knowing the definition of pilaf… can Rodney define a pilaf?).
Russell has to fix the dry feta-stuffed chicken with rice pilaf (uh oh more pilaf!). He wants to prove he is not just bacon and bourbon (wait… that is your shtick!) so he focuses on a more health-conscious dish. What? He gives it a safe, comfortable amendment. Huh? He makes spinach-wrapped chicken poached in onion vermouth broth with lemon risotto. Now risotto is something a lot of Top Chef people go home for so I am surprised no one comments on it. Robert asks why he should be the new Star and he says “I am the old dog with new tricks” which is a good line and this is all about good lines. Alton is surprised by the dish! In a good way!
They have to pick the four people they will turn over to The Network (that is Susie and Tush) next week so they think in terms of who could actually be successful on a show.
Russell had the most successful dish so he is safe! Alton tells him he has shown real growth throughout the competition.
Damaris made a dish they could get anywhere. It lacked her Southern mark (wait… Russell deliberately made a dish that lacked his Sin mark and he won! I love the inconsistency as they trip all over themselves figuring out how to explain the decisions that were actually made a long time ago). Her presentation is memorable; she is comfortable; now she has to turn up the volume. You are perfect now change! This was filmed before Paula Deen self-destructed and anyway you can never have too many Paula Deens in your lineup (has anyone asked Damaris if she has ever used the n-word or planned a plantation wedding complete with well-dressed slaves? Maybe that should become part of the casting process for Southern chefs to avoid potential problems down the road because Damaris can not use age as an excuse) so Damaris is Safe!
Rodney is outgoing and nuts and it worked for Guy Fieri so why not get another one since Guy Fieri suddenly wants to direct (he will direct the test pilots next week). Robert says the concept for his dish was good but the execution was bad. Everyone around the table said “Star.” That is because Alton said, “Hey, everyone, say “Star!” and they did. During the private negotiations Alton points out that his shtick is Pie and pie is hard in an hour which is what all these challenges have been. Giada has seen glimmers of cooking chops but he has been inconsistent. Add in the hat and the shtick and it is good enough: Rodney is Safe!
Stacey is still guarded but her presentation was good. Robert tells her people want to know who she is. I am not in the slightest interested in who Christopher Kimball is or Jack Bishop or Ming Tsai or any of the PBS cooking people and I watch them all the time. No one ever knew Julia Child was a spy in China until long after she stopped making regular episodes. I do not even find Stacey particularly guarded. But that is how they are selling her. Privately Giada says as a package she has all the elements she is just missing the connection. Still Stacey is Safe.
Which leaves Nikki. Alton says she does not know what a pilaf is and she says I do now but it is too late she did not know yesterday when she made rice with stuff in it. Alton thinks her ability with food outstretches her ability to explain what she is doing and she does not know enough to teach. Robert thinks she is the one who stands out least. Alton worries about her authority but she has a good POV. This is the problem: she does not wear a silly hat or say “Pie Style” and act like a fool so Nikki is Out.
If they thought she knew what a pilaf was, it would have been something else. This was decided long ago I am sure of it. She says, “With a name like Nikki Dinki you are not easily forgotten.” Oliver North is getting rich selling gold; Mark Sanford came back from the Appalachian Trail; Eliot Spitzer is running for office. You would be surprised what people forget.
Backstage they say goodbye and everyone is weepy as Nikki leaves. Then Rodney says “You know, I am sad and all, but guess what, this is pretty awesome – Final Four!” and everyone cheers up and parties. You would be surprised how fast people forget.
The four do a pitch meeting with Susie and Tush and then three of them make pilots with Guy Fieri who has suddenly decided what he really wants to do is direct.