Rodney was up first, and as you can imagine, he didn't fare well. Using phrases like "this is out of sight," and going blank when he described "creamy beans" (or something like that), you could tell he was disappointed in himself at the end of the challenge. Ditto for Chad.
But though Bobby said he ran out of words, I thought Chad did a good job and gave some nice descriptives including "tenderness, woodiness, and outside char" - all of which made me want to try the dish.
Demaris was another one who I thought did a great job - Bobby said her presentation was boring but I think just by the virtue of being Demaris, nothing she could ever do is boring. I would tune into her show tomorrow if she had one. Not only does she bring her own natural charm to the camera, I also feel like I could learn a lot from her.
And then there was Russell. During his descriptive segment he got tripped up on the words - but what he didn't say with his voice, came out in his eyes. He had this great playful look about him and when he took his first bite of the salmon, you could tell just by his facial expression how tasty it was.
As an aside, I would think being on a show like Food Network Star would be hard on the confidence; especially when being subjected to this level of scrutiny. To see finalists beating themselves up after a challenge or apologizing to a mentor when they didn't do well drove me crazy. Being selected for a show like this means you have something special to offer, and as such, each finalist should be very, very proud.
The challenge wasn't disastrous for everyone, though. Nikki got through it and because she only used the word "delicious" once, Bobby thought she did a good job.
And Stacey, as per usual, rocked it.
Her poise, comfort, and confidence on camera is going to be difficult to beat and, though some of the judges and finalists have said she comes off as rehearsed, I didn't see that at all in this challenge. I love that she told a story comparing Bobby's dish to some of the traditional foods she experienced growing up and fully thought she deserved to win today giving her an advantage in the Star Challenge.
The Star Challenge - Food Network Auction
The finalists were given one hour to create a dish that would tell people what kind of food star they will be. They would then have one minute to describe their dish before putting it up to auction with the proceeds going to Share Our Strength, a charity devoted to combating childhood hunger.
As the Mentor's Challenge winner Stacey was given a ten dollar advantage - meaning an additional ten dollars would be added onto her highest bid. And the focus group doing the bidding: The Gastronauts - a club for adventurous eaters.
Chad: Texas Poutine
Russell: A Bacon and Egg Sandwich made with trout eggs, pork belly, and horseradish ice cream
Stacey: Maple Bacon Cheesecake
Demaris: Green Bean Casserole with Shitake and Goat Cheese Mornay
Rodney: Blackberry, Strawberry, Rhubarb Pie with a crust made from rendered bacon fat and butter
Nikki: Wild Mushroom and Shrimp Pasta
Sadly, when it was time to plate, Chad's oil hadn't gotten hot enough and the most important component of his dish, the fries, were a little soggy. Stacey also had some difficulty with plating and it was awesome to see Nikki rush over to help her.
Equally awesome was to hear Nikki say "I'm done with the insecurity." Ha ha ha! I literally jumped from my chair and shouted "Towanda!" when she presented her dish to the gastronauts. This was the Nikki we saw in the first episode and I'm glad to see her back.
On the other side of that, from Day 1, I thought Chad was the finalist to beat. But lately his star power hasn't been shining as brightly - and as he presented his poutine, I missed the real Chad - the Chad we saw in earlier episodes and not this version who seems to have forgotten just how engaging and likeable he is.
Russell also struggled with this one. His presentation started strong but then it seemed like he got into his head a little too much. There was also some confusion about his point of view - is he a revolutionary or a sinner? I think he should stick with the sins. In a world where everything is low this and free that, I'm ready for a little more bacon and bourbon in my life. Oh, and horseradish ice cream. Russell should package and sell it.
"The Seven Deadly Sins - Food That's To Die For"
Stacey nailed it, Demaris made me crave casserole, and Rodney did some kind of hilariously uncomfortable skit that he claimed to be totally confident about afterward. Luckily for him, the person who bid on it, along with the mentors loved it too so despite the crazy skit, he was sent to safety.
In the end, it came down to Chad and Russell and even though Chad's dish went for the second highest amount of money, he was sent home.
Reaching for a dream is a difficult pursuit, and most times that thing we've been searching for has been with us all along. No matter what happens next, I'll never forget the reaction we all had to Chad in the first few episodes and hope he knows just how great he really is.
In the end, though, there's truly no place like home and things tend to happen exactly the way they're supposed to.
Oz, after all, isn't for everyone.
Lyndsay Wells is a professional trainer, writer, and program developer with a passion for food and cooking. She is an award winning recipe developer, and a website ambassador for Kraft Foods Canada. Lyndsay believes cooking should be approachable and easy and has great tips and ideas for putting together sophisticated looking dishes that cooks of all levels can accomplish.
Visit her daily on her blog, The Kitchen Witch or on her YouTube Channel, CHARMED With The Kitchen Witch.