Another summer, another season of Food Network Star.
But the question remains: will the Next Food Network Star reach the success of Season 2 winner Guy Fieri? Or fade into relative obscurity like most other past champions?
Let’s get to know the twelve culinary contestants (aka “culi-testants”) first:
Aryen Moore-Alston, 31, is a self-taught cook, who has traveled the world.
Chris Kyler, 32, received his culinary training in the Navy before opening his own catering company of fresh, healthy foods.
Christopher Lynch, 39, previously worked with such famous chefs/restaurateurs as Emeril Lagasse, but now works as an executive chef.
Donna Sonkin Shaw, 42, is a holistic health coach and natural nutritionist, who sincerely believes in the power of great tasting, nutritionally sound comfort food.
Emma Frisch, 30, is a well-traveled food blogger and business owner.
Kenny Lao, 36, rode his passion for Chinese dumplings all the way to creating his own fast casual restaurant and servicing two food trucks.
Lenny McNab, 42, is an executive chef at a hunting ranch, who embraces the cowboy within.
Loreal Gavin, 26, is a professional butcher, who developed her passion for food from her grandmother.
Luca Della Casa, 38, is an adventurous, outdoorsy type who worked his way up from dishwasher to executive chef.
Nicole Gaffney, 29, grew up in a seaside town and wants to bring her take on “coastal cuisine” to Food Network.
Reuben Ruiz, 27, and formerly overweight, now concentrates on creating healthy dishes with Latin flare in his Colombian/Cuban liquor store-restaurant.
Sarah Penrod, 30, is a bubby Texas native and proud owner of her own business.
Quickly putting the phrase “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” to use, Food Network royalty and fellow judges - Alton Brown, Bobby Flay, and Giada De Laurentiis - ask the competitors to give a 30-second descriptive pitch on what makes them unique and why they should be the next food network star.
As no surprise, for the first time out, many aren’t able to get their points across in a focused manner, but that ability should come with time. The stand outs were Loreal, who brought her badass, saucy grandma soul; and Luca, who did a great job at telling viewers who he was and what he plans on teaching Food Network watchers.
After getting feedback from the judges on what they need to work on for tonight’s big presentation at a Hollywood style premiere party to be thrown in their honor, the contestants hit the kitchen. They have 90 minutes to prepare distinctive “party bites” that represent their points of view.
The only contestant who seems to be having trouble in the kitchen is Sarah, who claims her food isn’t cooking fast enough. Sounds more like a personal problem, right? Shouldn’t she have decided on something that could’ve been well prepared in the allotted time frame?
Just a thought, Sarah.
With the food prepared and the silly red carpet stretched out, our competitors hit the carpet in front of not only 100 partygoers and the judges, but also the real determiners of the Next Food Network Star: Bob Tuschman, General Manager/Senior Vice President for Food Network; and Susie Fogelson, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Brand Strategy at Food Network and The Cooking Channel.
Oh, and E! Red Carpet correspondent, Ross Matthews, is there too. He's serving as a guest judge.
While some were able to address the audience with ease, delivering well thought out, authentic points of view, Kenny, - with his fast and casual POV - showed great stage presence.
Nicole, who faltered in the 30-second pitch earlier, used her winning personality to promote her “de la mar” POV. Loreal, riding off the praise from her earlier pitch, continued to impress with her “grandma soul” POV.
Others cracked under the pressure... or, in Sarah’s case, didn’t have the chops to pull it off. From the moment Sarah hit the red carpet, her past as a pageant girl shone through and through, making her come off incredibly fake, especially to the judges. Alton even suggested getting her a tiara.
However, as we all know, the real star of this show is the food, and plenty of the contestants were able to whip up some scrumptious delights. The panel of judges especially liked Lenny’s delicate, but delicious chicken fried lobster with duck fat French toast, sweet corn gravy, and maple onion reduction, which represented his gourmet country food POV perfectly.
They also enjoyed Nicole’s sesame crusted tuna with spicy soy glaze and Loreal’s grandmother’s sour cream pound cake with caramel sauce and orange kissed bacon.
So, as no real shocker, Lenny, Nicole, and Loreal were the top three chefs this week. On the bottom were Sarah, Donna, and Emma. The judges weren’t fans of Sarah’s pageantry or her chunky, yet somehow still smooth mushroom soup.
They also weren’t fans of Emma’s bland personality or her forgettable food. And finally, they most definitely weren’t fans of Donna’s kooky personality (she stuck out her tongue like Miley, y’all!) or her bitter BLT of endive, arugula, bacon, and avocado mousse, ultimately deciding to send her home this week.
Bad move, judges. Sarah or Emma should’ve gone. Donna’s nutritional comfort food POV was much stronger than Emma’s lame farm to table POV. And Donna may have been a bit cuckoo, but at least she wasn’t fake like Sarah! Just my two cents.
Overall, a pretty sound group of competitors this year. Looking forward to seeing what these talented culinary artists cook up next!