Next Food Network Star, Week Nine

Week Nine

The final four are in New York City, where they find a really nice hotel suite. They walk around Manhattan, get hot dogs and Central Park. Tom says “You are all my mortal enemies” and everyone laughs.

The next morning, they talk about being nervous and not knowing what the challenge will be. They walk in to smoke, and blue lights and they notice four iron chefs in front of them. The words “I smell fear” are uttered by Alton, and it’s then that they realize that the challenge is Iron Chef!

Two one hour challenges, contestant vs. contestant. The Iron Chefs will judge. If you’re not a contestant, you’re a commentator. Aria realizes that Alton is an encyclopedia of food, and he instructs that they should not dismiss this part of the challenge. Herb aptly describes this as the “Super Bowl for foodies.”

Then these four are introduced to their sous chefs-Brad, Brianna, Serena and Paul. Tom chooses Brianna, but the other three have to pull from a bucket and the pairings are:
Herb and Paul
Aarti and Brad
Aria and Serena

Aarti and Herb are the first to battle, and the secret ingredient is Shrimp.

Aarti’s dishes
Turmeric Stuffed Shrimp
Prawn Masala

Herb’s dishes:
Scallop mousse stuffed Shrimp
Shrimp Soup (almost like a Cioppino)

On the commentating side, Aria isn’t paying attention or giving it the effort it needed, while Tom was taking notes of the ingredients that Aarti was using. He even did the bumper perfectly. Alton had to chastise Aria on several occasions, and when the cameras cut to Bob and Susie, both had looks of annoyance.

Meanwhile, Alton and Tom have a good rapport. When Tom didn’t know what Masala was, he asked Aarti what it was and got back to Alton about it. Aria is bantering with Alton like they’re having small talk at a cocktail party.

It’s clear that Aria does not have any basic food knowledge behind the cooking skills, definitely not something that one wants to go into a situation like this.

Herb presents first. His first dish was Enchilada de Camerones, and he explains that his Mom would make it for his Dad on Sunday mornings because it’s a good hangover cure. All the judges love the dish and Morimoto loves his energy.

Second dish is the Shrimp soup. Herb hadn’t soaked the clams, and Bobby gets a gritty broth, after the other three chefs rave about the complexity of the broth. Michael Symon says that you have to take the time to make it perfect.

Smoked Shrimp with Avocado is not as well received as this one. The shrimp did not do well with roasting and the stuffing was deemed poor. Bob says the first two dishes show he can cook with finesse, but it’s sad that they are left with this final impression.

Aarti’s turn. Her first dish is a Tomato and Coconut Gazpacho with a season roasted shrimp. The description scared Cat Cora, but she loved the flavors in the dish. The second dish is Stuffed Shrimp and Bobby raves about the bold seasoning and Michael raves that this is outstanding, while Cat says this could be served in Kitchen Stadium.

The last dish is the South of the Border Prawn Masala and it earns raves across the boards, Michael says it is the third year he’s done NFNS and it is the BEST dish he’s ever had. Bobby tells Aarti that he wants to open an Indian restaurant with her tomorrow, and Cat says she wants in on it, too. Bob and Susie offer that they are members of the clean plate club.

Now it is time for battle number two, Bacon with challengers Tom and Aria.

Tom’s dishes:
Bacon Cakes
Bacon Steak
Savory Brioche with Clams and Bacon

Aria’s dishes:
French Toast with Bacon
Omelets with hash browns and bacon
Waldorf Salad

Tom’s PoV is about going bold, and he says that Kitchen Stadium is the perfect venue. He wants bacon to be the star of the every dish and comes up with bacon cakes, similar to crab cakes. Then, he’s cooking huge slabs of bacon as a steak. Finally, he’s got a savory French toast dish with clams and bacon (EWWWW)

Aria decides to cook family style and she’s serving breakfast. The judges are going to serve themselves off of platters, because Aria is keeping to her PoV of family style.
First, it’s a French toast ‘taco’, then omelets with bacon and home fries and finally, a Waldorf salad.

On the commentary front, Herb’s doing good, but gets tripped up and Alton insists he redo his throwback. Aarti was unenthused throughout and wasn’t proactive about getting the information that Alton needed for commentary.

Aria presents her dishes. It’s family style and she says they have French Toast tacos and she is beaten up for using the bacon as a side. Her omelet was not Iron Chef worthy and the Waldorf Salad did not have any bacon flavor. The bacon was not the star of any of the dishes. I don’t think one judge had anything to rave about, with the highest accolade being ‘it’s good’

Now, it’s Tom’s turn. He does a Bacon Cake with a Citrus Salad. It has good flavor, but is very dense and Morimoto’s was overcooked. He’s told it is an inspired idea.

They can’t even cut into the Bacon steaks. The presentation is nice, but the bacon is hard and inedible. Susie told Tom he shouldn’t have served.

Clams and French toast is horrible, but he gets points for trying new things. Now, I love clams, good crispy French toast and adore bacon, but I think I’d pass if all three were on one plate.

And we’re at evaluations.

Aarti is addressed first, and she is told that her food shone, while they worried that she’d get done in time. They expected good commentary and reporting from her, but she was tentative and meek. She agrees that she could have been more aggressive.

Herb is told that he is fun to watch and the Iron Chefs all felt his personality just popped upon their first meeting with him. Susie states that she can see his PoV easily fitting into the Food Network lineup.

Bobby tells him that the finesse of the first dishes were wonderful, but he should have taken the third dish and not presented it. The commentary was not well received. When he talked to Alton he was fine, but when he had to talk to the camera, he didn’t do well at all. Herb says that it will come with practice (and he’s absolutely right), but it’s a case of others getting there before he does.

Aria’s turn. (the stills of her dishes look mediocre). Bobby says that she did not push the envelope at all. She was supposed to hit them over the head with bacon and they didn’t even get the bacon. She was hell bent on doing her PoV and not doing what she was asked. Morimoto called it diner food, and Bobby says she needed to kick ass.

Susie says the commentary was bubbly, but had no culinary expertise whatsoever. Bob says this week was all about culinary authority and she showed neither in her commentary duties or the cooking.

Tom is last. His critique was confident and Susie says that his passion shines through. The food was three swings and three misses. Bob says the Bacon steak was easily the WORST dish he’s ever had in the history of NFNS. Ouch.

Judgment time. Aarti won her battle against Herb and will be going to NY. In Tom and Aria’s battle, both didn’t bring good food, but Tom won on the commentary portion. They’re both safe.

Now, we’re down to Herb and Aria, but I think it’s clear who is going home at this point-because the food is king. Bob says Aria made the simplest of food, but didn’t make them well. Herb’s food was wonderful, but he’s unpredictable.

Herb has more of the elements they are looking for, but he needs to be polished. Aria has a natural rapport with the camera, but not the culinary authority.

Aria is going home.

Next week, three pilots!

I will be completely honest-I would be happy to watch ANY one of these three. I’m kind of gunning for Tom first, because I just love his casual nature and nonchalance with his expertise. However, I would love to learn how to cook Indian and it would be amazing to learn how to cook the Latin cuisine we adore in this house, but in a healthier way.

No matter who wins at this point, I feel like I’ve won-because there will be a show worth watching.

Part of me suspects that there will be a runner up or two on the Cooking channel, because they can work with all three of these finalists.

Let’s see what happens Sunday night.


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