The Next Food Network Star, Episode 1

It's that time again, Food Network's lineup during the summer includes their reality show, The Next Food Network Star. Those who watch the Network know that one of their biggest stars, Guy Fieri, was the winner of season two-so it can be a good way to find new talent who have great charisma, cooking ability and an idea of their own that's not already on the air.

Last night, rather than ending up on the phone with a friend, I got texts-gotta love the technology advances several of us made in the past year. :)

Shall we talk about the show? Here's what happened!

Bobby Flay introduces the show, what it's about and what the winners will do, then we cut to a house in the Hollywood Hills, where the twelve finalists (up from 10 in previous years) enter the house, a la 'Real World'. They are, in order of arrival:

Doreen Fong, who began cooking because she grew tired of her mom only cooking Chinese food. (She looks like Brenda Song, from various Disney Channel shows)

Aarti Sequiera, born in India and raised in Dubai, she is an attorney and food blogger who hasn't cooked professionally. Honestly, she's got a culinary POV that Food Network needs.

Paul Young, trained chef who did improv at Second City. Seven years experience as a chef, currently a waiter/bartender. Out of the box, he's confident he'll take out everyone and win this competition.

Herb Mesa
, personal chef, personal trainer and stay at home dad from Atlanta, Georgia. He'd love to do a show that focuses on cooking and fitness.

Brianna Jenkins, a caterer, who says she can be sassy and a drama queen. She went to cooking school in Paris and her bio annoys me, because she doesn't get Julia Child's name right.

Tom Pizzica, a currently unemployed executive chef. He looks like the guy you'd meet at a kegger, and seems comfortable in his own skin.

Alexis Hernandez, food writer, who wants to share all his knowledge about food with others.

Dzitra Dzenis, cooking instructor, who tells the viewers that she is quirky and is from Planet Dzitra. She started cooking when she was five.

Brad Sorenson, who opened his first restaurant at 22 (he's 25) and finds that people underestimate his cooking ability because he's so young.

Serena Palumbo, another attorney, who is not professionally trained, but she is accustomed to cooking for her family back in Italy (please, Food Network, we dealt with "I'm Korean" last season, let's hope this "I'm from Italy" is just because it's the first week!) She cooks Mediterranean home style, so food for a lot of people.

Darrell A Smith, a/k/a DAS, whose goal is to have a show for guys who can't cook. He's got confidence and knows he can cook.

Aria Kagan, a culinary instructor from Miami, she's a single mom and she just exudes 'fun' from the very moment we see her.

No sooner does Aria arrive than the finalists get their first challenge and they are whisked off to Food Star Kitchens in LA. In walks Bobby Flay, and they are introduced to the judges, Susie Fogelson, Bob Tuschman, and mentor for this season, Giada DiLaurentiis. Each speaks about what lies ahead for the finalists, with Giada telling them that seven years ago, Bob Tuschman contacted her after reading a magazine article about her-and the rest is history.

As it is NFNS, there will be raw chicken-it's a law. We get snippets about each of the finalists and their rationale for preparing what they feel best exemplifies them. Tom is overambitious, stating he's going to make gnocci-which is a time consuming process, even with cooked potatoes, but he has 45 minutes.

DAS is going to make a chicken roulade, filled with various herbs and spices. He finds that it's not cooked-and both Ed and I look at each other and ponder why the dude decided to roast it instead of broiling (it would have looked more appealing on the plate, anyway. Aarti also has raw chicken, but she doesn't discover this until a minute time is up. The rest of the dozen appear to be doing okay, no equipment issues or ingredient issues.

Now, a 30 second presentation of their dishes to camera and the four judges. Smart choice, as in years past, people have done well, then tripped up once the cameras arrived. Aria is first up and she's a ray of sunshine, talking about her love of growing up in Wisconsin farmlands and how it inspires her to cook with locally grown foods before time runs out. Her dish looks great. Doreen trips up on presenting her potatoes and chicken and has has to stretch her time, which she does with "I looooove butter." The judges say she didn't present well and the dish doesn't give them any idea of who she is.

Next up is Herb, who says he's just going to be himself, leading to a presentation of marinated chicken, potatoes and salsa to which he's added cilantro. He says that he's a lot like cilantro, either people like him or they don't. There were two "Yes, please" when they showed the beauty shot of Herb's dish.

Tom shows up next, and he's dragging out describing what he's made. They like his shaggy dog look. Dzitra describes her chicken napoleon much like she's got ADHD, but Bobby says 'she knows how to cook'. Serena created roasted chicken thai, and she was so nervous the presentation was poor, but Bob states the dish is feel good Italian home cooking.

DAS is next with a raw roulade and he's so embarrassed, he can't look them in the eye. Aarti's presentation great, which the judges loved but the food got a 0 for being raw. Paul came in and did a dry presentation and served food that didn't get raves-strange to hear he's been a stand up comedian.

Briana comes in and wants to show the judges she's fun, so she describes her 'sticky chicky wrapped up in a piggy' and used so much effort in coming up with a cute name that the presentation was blah, with her final statement being "I'm fun." Fun is not a culinary point of view, but Bobby likes her food.

Brad is next and does a ho hum presentation of what his dish was, not how it represented him, but the judges loved his chicken parm. Alexis is up next and he also described his dish in a way that came off as timid.

DAS was called out for the raw chicken, Tom for seeming like he doesn't really want to be there. Herb is commended for enthusiasm and food, then Aria for her youthful exuberance and great flavor. Then the twelve are told there is another challenge the next day. They were going to head over to Paramount studios in the morning to make promos for their shows.

Fifteen second promos with props are on the agenda and it's a good measure of how they think on the fly when it doesn't relate to food. Andy Fickman will film them, and the finalists get fifteen minutes to write the promo and pick props.

Brianna so does not seem to fit the persona she's trying to portray (and when she says prior to filming "We're grilling, we're chillin" I said to myself that Bobby Flay did that show a dozen years ago, babe!) The promo seems fake.

Doreen comes up and she needs a lot of takes because the promo doesn't show what she wants to do with the show. Dzintra doesn't seem to have a handle on what fifteen seconds is, spending too much time with a phone prop and then talks fast and loud. She walks off set saying "I want to have your babies," to which the others give her "WTF?" looks.

Paul's shows that the guy is used to improv, but the promo has an Anywhos and that drives me bonkers. Alexis is nervous as all get out, and seems so earnest, which will put people to sleep in a 15 second promo. Brad comes up with a bland presentation, which they quickly learned to add an action like cutting an onion to give him more life.

Tom comes out with a life preserver and a chef hat and that promo just jumped out of him. The guy made one that screamed "I'm your buddy who can hang with you and drink brewskis, but I know how to cook, too!" And Aria nailed hers in the first take, showing this lady means business, but she's got a big smile and a great show idea.

DAS's turn and he looks like he's swatting at killer bees while he talks-definitely not the 'cool dude' persona he wants us to know him about. Aarti's turn and her promo was okay, but Andy directs her that if your promo talks about giggling, you'd better giggle in it. At the end of her take, she jumps up and down because she's so happy.

Serena comes and sits on the counter, then looks like a marionette while she talks "I'm Serena and I'm from Italy" and she shoots her idol, Giada, the look of death when she is told she looks like a puppet. Meanwhile, it's looking like we have this year's "I'm Korean" replacement!

Herb's promo earned a plastic, phony smile and the energy the guy had the day before wasn't there. He's having a hard time with this challenge and it shows.

And note to Food Network, those commercials for Cupcake Wars inspire us to stay away.

When we return from commercial break, Giada tells the dozen that the second part of the challenge is that they will be split into two teams, headed by Aria and Herb, winners of the previous day's challenge. Each chooses their team and assigns a course to that person. The teams will be preparing a six course meal for a famous chef to be named later and have fifteen minutes to prepare their menu.

(The teams are Gray: Aria, Aarti, Paul, Dzintra, Tom and Brianna. Black: Herb, Brad, Doreen, Serena, Alexis and DAS. (and I think Doreen's days should be numbered because I keep typing Debbie)

The teams split, with some going to shop and the rest going back to the Food Star kitchens to do prep. We are shown Dzintra complaining of something in her eye, but she does keeps plugging away, saying "I'm the only one who can do this dessert" and then being informed that she should go to the ER. The other team does a first in NFNS shopping history-when Herb and Paul cannot find the veal that Serena said she would be preparing, they actually use a cell phone and CALL HER to ask what she'd like to substitute with.

The menus:
Onion Foccacia with Sonoma Goat Cheese
Arrugula Salad with Lemon Herb Vinagrette
Dal w/Cumin Oil
Spiced Scallops with Potato Hash
Pork Tenderloin with Spaetzle
Lemon Sabayon w/Biscotti

Ceviche with Plantain Spiders
Potato Puree with Beet Reduction
Crab Salad with Guacamole
Pan Seared Salmon with Asparagus
Sunburst Squash with Escavage with Orange Chicken Scallopine
Beignets with Honey and Caramel

They go home after preparing, and Dzintra is STILL at the hospital, where she was until the others went to finish making their meal (note to self: Never, ever, go to the ER Dzintra went to.) She arrives in the restaurant kitchen and tells them she's there for moral support, because she's been told she should not cook for 24 hours because she scratched her cornea.

Have any of you ever done it? I did-and I got some opthamologic bacitracin and it was covered for three days with NO restrictions. She's worried about what they will be presenting under her name, when she should be concerned about the fact that she didn't make it.

Puck honed in on the hits and misses of each presentation. Brad was very nervous about the quality of his ingredient and ended up getting very high praise from Wolfgang, as did Aarti, who was offered a job cooking at Puck's restaurant.

Evalution time! Honestly, going in, I thought Dzintra should be eliminated, as she didn't cook her dish.

Gray team was first in the room and Bobby asks the six if they should eliminate Dzintra for not making her dish, and she grovels to the committee. Aria is told that out of the gate, she has a good chance. Brianna was told her dish had good flavor, but that she is not the party girl she's trying to portray. Paul was called out for overdressing his salad, not even smiling in his promo and told he needs to bring his humor pronto.

Tom was told that his dish was a little dry and asked if he hadn't been working on the dessert, would his have been more polished. He waffles, because he doesn't want to make the case against Dzintra. Aarti is asked why she appears nervous, and she says it's because she's afraid Bobby will hate her food. He loves it and Susie states that she has the most unique culinary POV and needs to have more confidence.

Team Gray wins challenge one, with Aria winning the challenge. Now it's Team Black's turn.

Herb is up first. His ceviche got praise, but his promo wasn't showing his personality, Doreen was told she was unprofessional, because she came in apologizing for not seasoning her soup.

Serena was told her food was good, but the promo was plastic. Alexis is told the food and the promo were bad, neither showing the person they see in front of them. Brad's food won raves, and what he puts on the plate is good. He needs to stop being timid when the camera is trained on him.

DAS was told he put too many ingredients in his food and that he's trying to hard to be seen as cool on camera, which is killing his chances to move forward. Brad, Herb and Serena are told they are safe and can leave. Doreen, DAS and Alexis are asked to leave while the three judges deliberate.

The judges deliberate and Bob expresses frustration with the fact that these are three people who show such promise, but they seriously faltered this week. They are asked to return and then DAS is told he is safe. Doreen and Alexis are told only one who is going on, and Alexis is told he is going home.

We see a few challenges that are coming up this season and it's looking pretty exciting.

I will say this. Food Network, I'm really happy we now have a DVR-that two hour program had numerous six minute spot breaks and this premiere probably was really just an hour of content. I'm thinking I may just DVR the shows and watch them at 10 pm!


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