Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Is Rodney a Shoe In to WIn? - Next Food Network Star Season 9

Just a quick disclaimer - my blog contains the ramblings and conjecture of a food network junkie. Nothing I've written has been substantiated in any way. This is merely the sad result of having far too much time on my hands. Everything should, therefore, be taken with more than a little grain of salt.

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This week's episode began with a brain storming session with the mentors to help the finalists create a pitch for their pilots. They were asked to come up with two ideas that they would then bring to Alton, Bobby, and Giada who would help them decide on a final concept. From there, they would each present their concept at a pitch meeting with Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson. Only three of the final four would be moving on to make a pilot so everything would be riding on that pitch.

The Brain Storm Sessions

Stacey was up first, and still feeling uncertain after learning she had her guard up last week, came into the brainstorm session looking worried. However, she presented her two ideas clearly to the mentors - and as an at home viewer, I truly don't know what they're talking about with the whole guard up thing. Stacey is clear, articulate, knows her stuff, and even though the whole vintage/modern thing isn't as appealing to me, I think she would do an amazing job.

The mentors helped her craft an idea for a show that would feature some kind of recipe repair, either at a restaurant or at somebody's home, where she would update a dish that had become tired.

Next up was Russell and I have to tell you I LOVED his initial idea to feature sinful dinner parties. I could just picture him giving us all kinds of cool insider glimpses into the food party scene, designing edgy menus featuring a culinary sin (or two), and keeping us on top of what's new, and edgy, and "to die for" in food right now.

Not surprisingly, the mentors didn't seem as jazzed.

In fact, there was one uncomfortable point where Bobby stared at Russell stone face as a statue and I wondered, what do you do in that situation? Do you say something? Do you stare back?

And memo to Bobby: From a strictly aesthetic point of view, get thee to the sunless tanner. Stat.

In the end Russell was steered away from the dinner party idea and instead came up with a concept that would see him going to varying restaurants bringing his culinary sins with him. There he would create a sinful dish and see if he could get it on the  menu.

Are you starting to see a theme here? Each pilot, so far, has involved the finalists going on site somewhere and I'm going to go on a limb and tell you what I think...

I believe the Food Network had their winner chosen before Next Food Network Star even began. 

I think they're looking to make a show with the same kind of vibe and appeal as Diner's, Drive Ins, and Dives and they're looking for another Guy Fieri - that is, someone with an offbeat, likeable, over the top personality to host it - which would explain a lot about why Rodney is still on the show.

I'm not saying it's a done deal because the viewing public has the final say, but there are subtle ways a pilot, for example, can be made to stand out over the rest in order to nudge the public to vote a certain way - I'll get to that later.

That being said, Rodney was given a great idea for his pilot from the mentors: to go into a restaurant and issue a pie style challenge (much like Throwdown) where he would take an item off the menu, make a pie out of it and the diners would vote on what they liked best: pie style, or the original dish.

Finally, Damaris. I've made no secret that she and Russell are my two favorites, and that at this point I wish they'd all get their own shows, but when she started talking about her idea to teach men how to cook their way into women's hearts, I got nervous because it sounded a lot like the point of view Andres came onto the show with (remember him - the guy who didn't want to exploit over weight people by using his 150 pound weight loss as his point of view?)

He went home because the mentors claimed he alienated the males in his focus group by inferring they couldn't cook. So to my mind, even if you dress it southern, I think Damaris was given a bad piece of advice to go ahead with her idea.

The Pitches

Stacey came up with the idea of selling "Modern Magic" where she would take people's vintage dishes and update them - but her downfall came when, at the 11th hour when she decided to add emotion to the pitch in order to bring her walls down. While she was talking, Susie Fogelson looked like she was in physical pain and made the observation: "it sounds a little sad to me," while Bob tried to explain why using words like "broken down" aren't a good idea when pitching a show.

However, Giada's comment to Susie Fogelson, "I think it's her attempt to convey some kind of human emotion," gets the award for being the most ironic hilarious comment of the season.

Moving on.

Susie and Giada looked like a couple of she lions ready to pounce as Russell described his show "Guilty Pleasures."

Everyone was on board with Damaris and her show "Eat Pray Love," and Bob Tuschman felt that "pie style somehow suggested good times."

(there is so much more I could say about that...) 

At the end of the day Damaris, Russell, and Rodney were selected to make pilots and Stacey was sent home. As she said, "It's been an amazing ride" and she has every reason to feel proud of herself.

The Pilots

Before I talk about the three pilots, I would like to go on record by acknowledging Guy Fieri for giving the tip of the year: How to take a bite out something and then talk about it with your mouth full of food. The trick; move the food to the side of your mouth - and I'm here to say  it works. I tried it out yesterday doing a cooking video.

So there. Now I've said something positive about Guy Fieri. There's a first time for everything.

But let's talk pilots. Remember how I said there might be ways to nudge the viewing public to vote one way or another? Well let's start with Rodney. Right off the bat his pilot came across as compelling just by virtue of the fact that he was in Chef Eric Greenspan's beautiful Hollywood restaurant. Eric Greenspan is not only one of the best chefs in the United States, he has also done a lot of TV and is highly engaging to watch.

Rodney was challenged to turn Eric Greenspan's famous grilled cheese sandwich into a pie and it would stand to reason that we, the viewing audience, would be mighty impressed if Rodney's pie won.

Which it did because 8 out of 10 people chose pie style. 

People, this is the same chef who deep fried a chicken cacciatore pie last week and I'm supposed to believe he came up with a recipe by himself that would beat Eric Greenspan?

But then, what do I know?

Russell's pilot was as good as it could possibly be considering he was at an ice cream stand and not out chewing the fat with a well known celebrity chef. Where Eric Greenspan was an engaging and interesting counterpoint to Rodney, the owner of Bennett's ice cream almost looked hostile at points and even though Russell's bourbon and bacon ice cream has me up at night with uncontrollable lusty cravings, Bennett didn't give him a "win" per se because he didn't confirm whether or not the new flavour would be added to his menu. Instead he said "it might make it."

I mean, what was that? 

But if you thought Russell had it bad, the dingy looking kitchen with red painted walls they stuck Damaris in took the three layer cake. The place looked more like someone's basement suite apartment than the set of a professional cooking show. And though I love and adore Damaris, it was difficult to get past the fire extinguisher hanging on the wall behind her guest or all the clutter stacked onto the fridges and shelves.

Seriously?

How is any of this fair?

Let's not even get started on the guy she was teaching. I mean, he was cute enough I guess, in a revenge of the nerds sort of way - but if they had her in a nice kitchen and teamed her with a hunky, sweet, engaging guy, as opposed to a man of wood - dollars to sweet potato biscuits her show would have knocked it out of the park.

Let's not even talk about the lime green dishes they plated her food on. The entire pilot was like a "what not to do" and I am absolutely flabbergasted on Damaris's behalf.

To both her credit and Russell's they each did an amazing job working with what they got and I HOPE all of us who have been big fans since the beginning are looking at the entire season, the skill set each finalist brings to the table, and is voting - not on the pilots - but on the entire package.

So VOTE HERE  people - you get a maximum of 10. VOTE. VOTE. VOTE. And let's see if we can even the odds.

In any case, guess we'll all know next Sunday.

And that's the blog.


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Author:

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.

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