Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Next Food Network Star, Season 9, Episode 3 - A Star is Chopped

In tonight's episode of Next Food Network Star the finalists were set to face the ultimate CHOPPED style challenge, but before the action began, we were treated to another one on one interview with Danushka who shared her desire to show a kinder, quirkier side of herself and, in doing so, was hoping to make the mentors love her.

Danushka, for what it's worth I love you - in some kind of weird and inexplicable way that I couldn't put my finger on until this evening. I know I remembered you from CHOPPED and had enjoyed your KGB like efficient presence there, but I've been racking my reality TV addled brain trying to figure out where else I've seen you.

And then in what I consider the Oprah lightbulb moment of the week I remembered!!

Danushka was on one of my favorite seasons of The Bachelor - the one they shot in New York with cutey pie Charlie O'Connell. But not only that, she delivered what host Chris Harrison has deemed as one of the most memorable Bachelor lines ever when one of the other women said: “So I did a body shot – that doesn’t make me a bitch.”

Danushka replied “No, it makes you a slut.”

That being said, I think she deserves an A for effort for toning it down on the Food Network.

The Mentor Challenge

According to Alton Brown, a Food Network Star has to be a food authority so for the mentor challenge each cook was given a bag filled with a mystery ingredient. They would have thirty minutes to prepare a dish featurng that ingredient as the centerpiece. At the end of the thirty minutes, they would  present their dish to Alton or Bobby who would then pick two winners.

The Mystery Bags

Each cook's mystery ingredient was as follows:

Chad: Salsifya white root vegetable, that resembles a thinner version of the humble parsnip. It’s planted in spring and can be left to grow all summer until the first frosts of fall bring out its flavor. Chad opted to create a grilled corn, bacon, and salsify hush puppy - and if I didn't know better, I would say Chris might be feeling a little threatened. When Chad pronounced salsify incorrectly, Chris had a good on camera laugh about it that I found lacking in class.

Chris: Botargo or Bottarga which in very simplistic terms could be thought of as "Italian fish jerky." Botargo is a fish roe pouch that has been dried and cured in sea salt for a few weeks and is usually sliced thinly or grated. Chris, who actually did seem to know a lot about this product, made a salad with apples and fennel that Alton was intrigued by.

Damaris: Mango pickle. These spicy little pickles are popular in South Asia and India. Over the last few years pickles of all kinds have become more and more popular on the North American dining scene and I would think that the mango pickle would be a fun, and somewhat easier, ingredient to work with. Damaris agreed and made sauteed purple cabbage with cauliflower.

Danushka: Dragon fruit. To my mind this was one of the easiest ingredients of the challenge. Dragon fruit, which is very similar in taste and texture to kiwi, would be excellent in a salad, or interesting as a cold soup. Danushka opted to put it into a chicken lettuce cup which Bobby thought sounded good - and so did I.

Russell: Arrowhead root. This is a tuberous plant that grows in standing water and is a traditional food to many indigenous peoples of North America. As the challenge kept going I began to appreciate the thoughtfulness around which these ingredients had been chosen. Each ingredient was well suited to its finalist and Russell, who strikes me as being very creative, put his own unique spin on the arrowhead root by making a pecan and dried papaya pesto to go with it.

Viet Pham: Umeboshi. These are pickled plums, traditionally served as side dishes for rice or eaten as rice balls. Viet used the umeboshi to make a vinaigrette for a crab and avocado salad.

Stacey: Durian fruit. The first time I ever heard about this stinky Asian fruit was while watching No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. Shortly after the episode broadcast I gave it a try myself and the best description I can come up with for the way durian smells would be very stinky, slightly ripe cheesy smelling feet. I know, how edible. But if you can get past the smell, the fruit is actually sweet and quite nice tasting. Stacey very cleverly decided to make a custard.

Lovely: Rambutan. Rambutan is another popular southeast Asian fruit that is quite similar to a lychee. Lovely glammed it up by putting it into a bread pudding with a raspberry champagne sauce.

Nikki: Cuttlefish. A member of the squid family, cuttlefish is popular in Italy where it is used in risotto, Spain and Portugal where it is grilled or deep fried, and in East Asia where its dried and sold as a snack food. Nikki opted to make a Cuttlefish salad with carrots, zucchini, peppers, and a raspberry vinaigrette.

Rodney: Bitter melon. Another fruit popular in Indian and Asian cooking, bitter melon is typically served in Asian stir fries or in Indian potato dishes. Rodney combined blueberries, blackberries, sliced apple, the bitter melon and gin to make an incredible looking fruit salad.

The two finalists who the mentors felt did the best job were Rodney and Damaris - who won the big advantage of being safe from elimination and each won a spot on the judging panel for the Star Challenge.

The Star Challenge - CHOPPED Style

Iron Chef and CHOPPED judge Alex Guarnaschelli joined the group as a guest judge for the Star Challenge and with a basket in front of them, four ingredients inside, and 30 minutes to prepare a dish, the nervous finalists were divided into two groups and got ready to see what they would be cooking. In today's challenge for group one, it was all about foods you would find at a sporting event.

CHOPPED Basket, Group One:

Cotton Candy

The finalists in the first group got going and put together combinations like Hotdog and Beer Ramen from Viet, Waffles with Fried Hotdog and Cotton Candy Sauce from Chad, and Peanut and Beer Battered Hotdogs from Danushka - who, as she described her dish, sounded like a sorority girl at an art film.

Chef Guarnaschelli looked on dumbfounded, as Danushka, claiming to be bored, fried up a whole mess of brown looking weirdness that had me thinking "Maybe she should go back to The Bachelor."

When the finalists presented their dishes Russell rambled and went over, Viet was nervous and didn't convey his passion (but presented a dish filled with complex, sophisticated flavors) and Chad rocked both his presentation and the dish. Go Chad!

And then there was Danushka. To this point she was not doing a stellar job of making the mentors love her. In fact, if my amazing powers as a world renowned fake psychic are correct, methinks Chef Guarnaschelli is not going to be signing up as Danushka's BFF anytime soon.

CHOPPED Basket, Group Two

The second group baskets were filled with foods kids love:

Chicken nuggets
Fruit leathers
Cheddar fish crackers
Apple juice

Stacey took a huge risk with a chicken pot pie (who cooks a pot pie in 30 minutes????) while Lovely stuck with her party theme and did stuffed peppers. Nikki did a broccoli chicken nugget spring roll and Chris, who spent the last minutes of his round helping Stacey get plated, did  a Buttermilk Fried Chicken with a fruit leather and apple juice gastrique.

And then Chris surprised us when he referred to "A broken light that I used to have" during his presentation.

When questioned about the statement by Bobby, Chris shared his past as a drug addict and alcoholic.

I always say people are like ice bergs. Each of us has a tip that sits above water - that part of us we're willing to show - but a whole world exists beneath the surface in all our lives that most people never see and it's easy to form opinions and make judgements based on that. But when someone is brave enough to show us more, like Chris did, a whole new world opens up and we can put away our assumptions about who we thought that person was and get about the business of truly getting to know them.

So though Chris is still not my favourite finalist, his courage in sharing his story and willingness to help Stacey out in the 11th hour have *almost* redeemed him for making fun of Chad.


Finally, there was some buzz about  Damaris who did an amazing job as a Star Challenge judge. I think she surprised quite a few of the finalists with her knowledge of food. Underneath her quirky surface is a culinary instructor and, as such, the other finalists should be taking notice!

In the end, the writing was on the wall for Danushka. She and her bored, deep fried hotdogs were sent packing.

Which makes me wonder where's she going to turn up next?


Because I like to play along with my reality shows, today I'll share my own CHOPPED style challenge. Last year I began a series on my Youtube Channel, CHARMED with The Kitchen Witch, called "What If?" where I took an ingredient and cooked with it in an unusual way - and for this one I took black cherry ice cream and made it into a delicious sauce for pork tenderloin.

Please enjoy!

Espresso Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Black Cherry Ice Cream Sauce
Visit the printable recipe here

  • 1 tablespoon finely ground espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetabl eoil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine espresso powder, chili powder, brown sugar, hot mustard, coriander, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in a bowl.  Mix well, making sure to break up any small clumps.  Dump spice mix onto a plate large enough to accommodate the length of your tenderloin.  Pat tenderloin pat dry with a paper towel. Roll the tenderloin in the spice mix, coating the entire outside.

Coat a cast iron skillet with vegetable oil and bring to medium high heat.  Let the pork rest, covered in spices, while the skillet heats up.

Sear tenderloin, about 4 minutes on each side until the entire tenderloin has a nice crust on the outside. Once the tenderloin is seared, place into the oven and let it cook for 20 – 45 minutes, or until the thickest part of the tenderloin registers at between 140 degrees - 165 degrees for well done.  Remove from oven, tent with aluminum foil, and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Slice and drizzle lightly with the cherry cream sauce.

Cherry Cream sauce
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp fresh garlic
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cherry ice cream
1. Mix the stock, cream, garlic, and pepper, bring to a boil and then turn to medium low and continue to simmer until the liquid reduces by about half. Add the ice cream, melt and continue to simmer 3-5 minutes

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