Ten new finalists are vying for the grand prize on the fifth season of “The Next Food Network Star,” which premiered Sunday, June 6. This crop of contestants is competing for a chance to have his or her own cooking series on the wildly popular Food Network. The show’s new cast consists of the usual array of characters who will attempt to charm and cook their way through a variety of culinary challenges, trying to impress the demanding judges – Chef Bobby Flay and Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson.
Three finalists, Debbie Lee, Eddie Gilbert and Jeffrey Saad, are from the Los Angeles area. Brett August and Michael Proietti are from New York. Jamika Passoa is from Atlanta, Jen Isham from Orlando and Katie Cavuto is from Philadelphia. Melissa d’Arabian is from Keller, Texas and Teddy Folkman hails from Alexandria, Virginia.
For those not familiar with the show, each week the contestants are given challenges which allow them to demonstrate a variety of skills that illustrate their cooking and on-camera presentation expertise, while working in a variety of stressful scenarios to impress the team of judges.
For the first week’s challenge, program host Bobby Flay divided the contestants into two teams, and had them work together to design, cook and serve a meal to 75 guests attending the Food Network’s 16th anniversary celebration. They were given five hours and a $1,200 budget to plan the menu, buy the ingredients and prepare the dishes, before they was served to Food Network executives and a virtual who’s who of culinary luminaries. In attendance were Giada de Laurentiis, Alton Brown, Aaron McCargo, Jr., (the winner of Season Four of The Next Food Network Star), Ted Allen, Alexandra Guarnaschelli, Chef Masaharu Morimoto, Duff Goldman and Sunny Anderson, in addition to members of the media, such as Access Hollywood, and the series judges, Flay, Tuschman and Fogelson.
Watching the teams shop and chop was sometimes painful, as viewers know that every mistake they make would be caught on tape and have a direct impact on whether or not they survive the night’s elimination round. Someone would be sent home at the end of the first episode. And when their food was served and critiqued by the pros, they were ruthless in their comments.
“They were just unpleasant,”said Flay, about a dish of bland green beans that Jen Isham prepared.
“The potatoes were raw,”observed Ted Allen, after he took a bite into a hot but undercooked gratin.
“The tenderloin, it just didn’t look appealing,”said Giada de Laurentiis. ” The mushrooms were spongy, like wet snails”
“The cake was an embarrassment,”said Susie Fogelson, about a store-bought angel food cake that was served in crumbled pieces for dessert. ” My daughter could have done that, and she’s three”
Not Everything was Bad
Not everything was deemed bad. “The filet, it was cooked perfectly,”said Aaron “Big Daddy”McCargo, Jr.
“Melissa’s apple tart with caramel would have to be my favorite,”said Flay, noting that De Laurentiis and Brown scarfed up about eight between them.
This was probably one of the most difficult first challenges for a new group of contestants who had just met each other for the first time, and were immediately expected to coalesce and bond as a team. Despite the harsh comments and critiques, both teams were able to turn out some decent food and no one left the party hungry.
At the elimination, Tuschman stressed that the challengers only had a limited amount of time to make a good impression on the judges, and they should take advantage of every opportunity. “Show us who you are .. and demonstrate your culinary expertise,”he advised them.
The First One to Go is Always the Most Difficult Decision
In the end, 30-year old Jen Isham, who prepared the unappetizing green beans that Chef Morimoto said could be “bought in the grocery store around the corner,”was sent packing. But in reading viewer comments on the show’s Web page, it seems that many fans felt the wrong person was sent home ” including possible regrets by Tuschman.
The Next Food Network Star airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. with selected repeats throughout the week. Check out their Web page to get in-depth biographical information, interviews and more.