As many know, I'm quite excited about cooking. In fact, I should probably quit my day job and enroll in culinary academy, then proceed to work in a kitchen. I know a lot about cooking, and I'm always looking to learn more - which is one of the reasons I watch the Food Network.
Recently, Food Network has been airing a new season of the popular "Next Food Network Star" series, in which they take 11 or so original candidates, and eliminate them one through a series of tests, challenges, cooking and television experiences. Whoever is the last person remaining gets their own 6 part TV show and a new car. It's reality TV for the chef.
Last night was the last elimination, reducing the three competitors to two. Here is my quick summary about the three competitors:
The Gourmet Next Door. She can't cook worth crap. During one competition, in which the contestants needed to create a dish using their least favourite ingredient, she chose goat cheese. Her dish? Salad, with a slice of goat cheese. During the last episode, she was asked to make her signature dish and she created a baked egg. Amy took an egg, cracked it into a ramekin, added half a cup of cream and a bit of butter. Then she baked it, and as a side dish, added some type of lentils -- she didn't explain what type, how they were cooked, or their ingredients. She basically poured the lentils on the side of the ramekin and plate, making an ugly unappetizing mess. Plus, the lentils looked burnt. However, during the Iron Chef challenge, she did very well, developing a Moroccan Chicken Stew with Cous Cous & garbanzo beans, which I want to watch again and replicate.
Texas Cowboy Food -- I think, since she's changed her style every episode, it is hard to tell. Rory's cooking makes Amy look good. For her signature dish, she prepared steak, potatoes, and asparagus. She prepared the steak by rubbing a New York strip with salt, pepper, and ground chili flakes. That's it. Her potatoes were chopped into inch sized cubes, mixed with bacon chunks, and roasted as is in the oven. The most creative and least appetizing dish on her menu was asparagus. There are thousands of tasty ways to cook this delicious tender vegetable, but she chose to coat it in some liquid (she didn't tell us what it was, or I just missed it) then smother each shoot in sugar, and grill. She told the audience to get as much sugar on the asparagus as possible, and while grilling it, don't worry about it browning, because that'll just be the sugar caramelizing. Blech. The rest of her food is flat out unremarkable -- I don't even remember what else she's cooked. Rory's food knowledge is also sub par. When on the Iron Chef Challenge, she was asked by Alton Brown to describe Amy's dish I mentioned above. Alton asked what made the Moroccan Chicken Stew Moroccan, and Rory came off with some answer like "the basil?" Uh hello? Maybe the Cous Cous would be a good first choice. If not that, you could talk about the garbanzo beans, which are also used in Moroccan type food.
This guy can cook. When you get compliments from Bobby Flay about your cooking, you know you're doing something right. Not only does Jag consistently return high quality product, his food looks appetizing, tasty, and makes me want to watch and learn more. He's very fast and has an incredible amount of cooking skill. During the last episode he sautéed thinly sliced onion with some oil and some cactus spice which turned the onions red. Then he added garlic and lobster, and gave a short tidbit about lobster. After cooking for several minutes, he deglazed the lobster with white wine, added some spices, and added some pasta and tomatoes. He then lightly fried some broccolini for a minute with sliced cherry tomatoes and served it with the pasta. His meal was far more complex than either other cook. His dishes come out wonderful -- with one exception: the Iron Chef Challenge. Jag is a professional cook, who just loves to cook. During many of the previous challenges, JAG was asked to "tone down" his cooking, simplify it, make it easier for the television viewer ship. Jag makes gourmet style food you'd want to pay to eat. It's that good. When he gets to Iron Chef, Jag practically flips out -- here he is in front of the men and women he -idolizes- doing the show he -loves-. We see him jumping and smiling and incredibly happy -- this is his trip to the candy store. When the other contestants were interviewed, they almost gave up the day when they saw it was Iron Chef, because they believed Jag would beat their chef hats off. Woe, but a surprise. Jag's secret ingredient was chicken. Ugh. Finally Jag listened to the judges and makes simple dishes. However, his execution is terrible. He makes a wonton soaked in vinegar, a grilled chicken soup (he burns the chicken so bad that the smoke alarms go off) and a chicken/cream sauce dish. For the first time on the show his food comes out awful looking, and awful tasting. None of the judges finish eating anything. Not only does he get no compliments, he gets trashed by his idols. Bobby Flay tells Jag that he knows Jag could cook better and that Jag screwed this one up. So, 10-1.
I don't think we can forget that three episodes ago Amy quit. After the final show, she's a two time loser. She rescinded her original "I quit" after thinking about it in front of the camera. She says she wants to be on TV, but I think she'll quit again and go back to her family.
Rory doesn't look good on television and she doesn't draw me into the show. The only memorable thing I have to say about her, is that she's got nice looking breasts. Which, has been speculated, is the reason she's on there -- to provide competition to Rachel Ray for nicest rack in the kitchen. Unfortunately she doesn't even do this very well, because Amy is hotter. Amy is always hotter. Also, why would you wear such a low cut shirt in a kitchen? You're going to get hurt and burned!
If there's anyone who wants this, it's Jag. He's new to television, so he's a bit raw looking, which isn't surprising. However, he has a few quirks he needs to work out. First, he doesn't work very well with others -- with the exception, surprisingly, of Paul, who he worked great in one episode. Jag also is quick to lay the blame elsewhere. During one show he was missing an ingredient and he went off on a tangent about bad help, even after the judges showed him the original list of requested ingredients he wrote, which did not include the missing ingredient. But, Jag had another dark dirty secret lying in his proverbial closet..
Jag's rather secretive. He also mis-represents the truth. During the original application process, he claimed to have served in Afghanistan, be a corporal in the Marines, and a graduate of a culinary academy. About two weeks ago the Army Times did some undercover work and found out that Jag was demoted to private, did not graduate culinary academy, and did not serve in Afghanistan. When Food Network called him in, he promptly withdrew himself from the content, even though he had already been selected to be one of the final two contestants. I imagine it must have been exceptionally difficult to give away his dream forever. While I respect him for withdrawing, I don't understand why he embellished the truth to start with, though we've all done it too. One white lie just grows. Only Jag can tell us why he did these things; the applicants are not required to have attended culinary school, nor must they be veterans or servicemen.
So now America, who will be the next Food Network Star?
My vote goes to no one. Both the remaining contestants -- Amy, and Rory - suck and don't deserve to have their own show. In my opinion, they will only degrade the network. Sorry Food Network, I suggest you go back to the third to last episode and take Alton Brown's advice --- just start all over with new people.