Thursday, June 7, 2012

Next Food Network Star Season 8 Episode 4 Recap - Hats off to Ham

"I have ham glued to my head."
~ Emily  Ellyn Next Food Network Star

While watching Next Food Network Star tonight, it occurred to me that I really like Alton Brown. This isn't to say that I didn't like him before because I always have, but getting a chance to see him as a mentor has been refreshing because he's as good a teacher to his team as he has been to viewers over the years.

Show of hands... who went out and bought a tub to brine your turkeys in back in the day?

(And if you don't know what I'm talking about, you're not a food nerd).

Tonight's episode had our Network hopefuls at fashion Week in New York where the chefs were challenged to re-imagine tired classics like tuna casserole and meat loaf into fashion forward dishes that would be presented on the runway with a $10,000 prize for the winner!

Each chef was given a different dish to re-create and I had a bad feeling from the get go for Eric when he decided to re-imagine Fish Sticks with Tartar sauce as a deep fried spring roll. When he couldn't find spring roll wrappers, he substituted dry rice paper wrappers instead.

As someone who has been there and done that, I wanted to reach into the TV, grab the wrappers, and say "Don't do it man!" And when they disintegrated at the 15 minute mark, he had to think on the fly yet again to come up with something else.

When he was finished, though, it was the second time this evening I wanted to reach into the screen; this time to grab one of his beer battered salt cod and potatoes because they looked amazing!

As the hopefuls were cooking and plating it became more and more apparent that Team Alton had an edge and I was excited to see what Emily was going to do with Ham Steak, Pineapple, Maraschino Cherries and String Beans, or how native New Yorker Justin was going to re-invent Beef Stroganoff.

The competition began with Eric, and though his food looked amazing, his presentation fell short. The same went for Ippy and his Salisbury Steak, Linkie's Chicken Pot Pie, Judson's Seafood Alfredo, and Yvan's Shepherd's Pie. All chefs had well imagined dishes that lost something in the delivery.

Michelle, who chose Baked Flounder with Steamed Broccoli did a good job but the judges still feel she needs to bring more excitement to the table, and Martie - who worried about her presentation - scored points for personality and plating.

Our four front runners of the evening were Marita with Chicken and Rice, Nikki and a Grilled French cut Pork Chop, Malcolm and his duck meatloaf, and my hands down favourites Emily and Justin.

As an aside, there was tension between Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis when Giada suggested Nikki's pork chops were too rustic for the runway - adding yet another level of interest to this season because I'm fascinated by how invested the mentors are in their teams. And certainly, Alton Brown beamed like a proud papa as Josh took the runway and introduced the first dish in the Alton Brown Collection: a creative checkerboard of lightly seared beef  and gelled mushroom sauce that was fashion forward enough to win him points on any runway.

But as great as Justin was, for me, Emily stole the show.

With her "fierce old to new retro redo" I thought her presentation best married the world of food to fashion and her retro rad ham salad with pickled beans looked like something I would love to eat at a summertime lunch. Not to mention her Food Fascinator and the line "a look would not be complete without accessories."

I love smart people and appreciated the way she and Justin both brought a hip, intelligent, vibe to their presentations and dishes.

In the end, though, there could only be one winner and today that person was Justin. As predicted, Alton's team also won the challenge.

The big surprise for me, though, was who the Network chose in their bottom two: Eric, and Ippy - two of my favourites and the last people I would ever have picked for the bottom.

The rationale that both are talented chefs but lacking in star power made sense - though I don't really see it - if Eric had his own show right now I would watch it, not for his personality per se but because I love his food and believe I could learn a lot from him.

The Producer's Challenge had no cooking at all. Instead Ippy and Eric went in front of the camera in "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" style were tasked with deliciously describing  a plate of French toast and though both did well, Eric was sent home.

I think it's a shame, but then losing Ippy this early would also have been a loss.

Good luck to you Eric in all your endeavours. You were a talented and unforgettable competitor!

In honour of Emily, I have come up with a retro rad recipe of my own! People, you have to try my re-imagined update of a weekday classic; Wild Mushroom Stroganoff Hamburger Helper. Not to toot my own horn, but i could eat this by the pail ;)

To read my other reviews, hop in over to my Food TV page for all the links!


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