The Next Food Network Star, Week Four

Nine contestants left.

This week, the show opens with Brianna saying she needed that win last week. She’s been good at hiding any doubts she may have about her abilities in the contest.

Next up, the finalists file into the Food Star kitchens, were they meet up with Bobby and Giada and a table filled with baskets of chili peppers. Bobby explains that he’s made a career out of working and cooking with peppers, and they require an able hand.

This week’s camera challenge is to cook with peppers and the winner will have their dish featured on the menu at Bobby’s Mesa Grill locations. Giada instructs them that they will present to camera and since the audience cannot taste their food, it will be the contestant’s job to describe the food in a way that conveys the flavor of the dish and brings it to life.

The mad scramble begins as these peppers are first come, first serve. Brianna insists she will be getting the Fresnos, because they are the only red pepper on that table. Serena says she’s tiny, so she just grabbed what she could, the Anaheims, and she has never worked with them before. Brad has Thai chilies, and Herb has yellow chilies, that he’s never used before.

The dishes are presented and the contestants are called to present one by one.

Paul is first. He has the Habañeros, and the presentation wasn’t interesting or compelling, but Bob gives him a B, which may be Paul’s best showing yet.

DAS’s plate is very attractive, an Albacore Tuna sushi, but he talks about not being a sushi kind of guy, forgetting to mention anything about the flavors of the pepper he chose. Bobby complains that he could have used any pepper, because it is just sprinkled on top, Giada’s observation is that it lacked imagination and Susie mentioned that lack of describing the dish.

Aria comes out with her huge smile and realized at the end that she didn’t even mention the peppers. The judges didn’t even taste the peppers in the dish.

Herb remembers to mention his pepper, but he has a hard time eating and describing his dish. The judges don’t taste his pepper, either.

Brianna’s confidence is apparent in this presentation. She made Creamy Chicken Kabobs and nails it, describing her peppers and earning positive comments all around from the judges.

Serena has taken the judge’s critiques to heart and has a more measured presentation of her Salmon in Papiotte with Anaheim peppers with avocado and papaya, but the food was deemed bland.

Tom presents “Southwest meets Southeast Asia,” ably describing his Pablano peppers. Bobby mentions that he can see this dish as an appetizer on his menu and Giada observes that Tom has come a long way. (Yay, big, scruffy dude!)

Aarti is worried that 30 seconds is not much time to describe her dish. She comments that the Food Network stars make it look easy, because she barely has seconds to say anything about the Serrano puree with her Smoky Steak. Bobby liked the dish, while Giada and Susie lament that she didn’t have time to describe.

Brad comes out and you can see confidence, but he becomes a robot when it’s time to describe his Satay. Bobby says his mouth is on fire because Brad uses his pepper with finesse, but Bob notices that he changes as soon as that ‘go’ signal is given.

The contestants file in. The bottom: Herb and DAS. Brianna wins, and says she’s going to fly to the Bahamas, then Vegas to see her dish on the menu!

(Is anyone besides me getting annoyed with that Cupcake Wars promo music?)

Next, it is Star challenge time. The contestants are introduced to three chefs: Jonathan Waxman from Barbuto (and Bobby’s mentor), Susan Feniger, owner of Cuidad, whom Aarti appears to know-she says she really looks up to Susan, and Eric Greenspan, owner of the Foundry on Melrose.

Jonathan talks about chefs being in the hospitality industry and pleasing guests. Susan says the challenge is about recreating the best thing they ever ate, while Eric instructs that the finalist will be reinventing the foods from these three chef’s memories and make it better.

In groups of three, the finalists will be competing against each other to cook their selected chef’s favorite dish. Jonathan’s is Lamb with potatoes, and Tom, Aarti and Herb are assigned to make it; Susan’s is Fried Chicken and Iceberg Lettuce with Blue Cheese and Serena, Brianna and Brad are challenged; Aria, Paul and Brad are charged with making Macaroni and Cheese and a juicy steak.

Thirty minutes to shop, 150 bucks to spend and they’ll be meeting at Susan’s restaurant, Ciudad, the next morning. They’ve got an hour in the kitchen. In the kitchen, we see Serena saying “behind’ at every opportunity, Brianna making chicken and waffles, and Brad worrying about undercooked chicken. Their presentations brought a lot of themselves to the table.

Each took Susan’s description of the dish being from her childhood and made something that was inspired by family. Serena’s got lost in the cultural translation, Brianna’s chicken was a hit (but the waffles weren’t) and Brad’s dish pulled it all together.

Now for the Macs and Cheese with Steak. Aria goes for Fajitas and decides to add Jalapeños to her Macs and cheese, DAS is ambitious with a pan seared Prime Steak with a berry relish, while Paul decides to make Pork Tenderloin to stand out from the other two.

DAS didn’t impress Eric, because he buried the steak in berries. Bobby is unimpressed that DAS doesn’t know what Prime means, and Aria didn’t impress with her Fajita/Mac and Cheese combo, while Paul backpedals his culinary POV.

The final group is presenting Lamb and Potatoes. Tom speaks about Jonathan being Bobby’s mentor and sticks to simple with a Spice Rubbed Lamb with smashed fingerling potatoes, Aarti goes for some Arabic Lamb Kabobs with Fenugreek potatoes. She impresses Bobby with making molasses from Pomagranite juice. Herb has nerves and he’s making a Rack of Lamb with Horseradish Mashed Potatoes. He burns his Balsamic reduction, which Bobby happens to witness.

Alas, Herb’s nerves are showing when he presents last, because Aarti and Tom both had great presentations, but the judges get a glimpse at his insecurities. The critique was that Tom wasn’t inventive, but it was solid, and Aarti really impressed the judges all around.

Judgment time: the nine file in for their critique. The Mac and Cheese group are up first, Aria did not impress the judges because it wasn’t flavorful. Paul’s risk did not pay off and he’s told he needs to be authentic. DAS’s berry sauce was a mystery and Bobby puts him on the spot by asking about the prime cut again.

Fried chicken group-Serena is told that her food didn’t impress, but the personal stories should keep coming, Brianna’s chicken was awesome and they loved Brad’s chicken.

Tom, Aarti and Herb. Tom’s lamb was underseasoned, but they loved his presentation and is dubbed ‘most improved’. Aarti’s food was well seasoned and inventive and is told she is a fierce contender. Herb is called out on the self doubt and he tells them about his demons. Susie tells him that they want him to share his warmth and magic, not the sadness from the past.

Aria, Aarti and Brad are the winners of their groups, so they are safe. Then, Brianna, Tom and Paul are told they’re safe. (Hey, Paul’s not in the bottom for a change!). This leaves Serena, Herb and DAS, who are asked to leave the evaluation room.

Each has a reason that compels the judge to keep them, but ultimately, one hasn’t progressed enough in the previous three weeks, and DAS is sent home.

Next week’s promo hints at tension in the house and mobile food vans.

Top four: Aarti, Brad, Aria and Tom
Bottom: Serena and Paul.


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