It’s a Dom-free week here on Food Network Star, and his personality and great narration will be missed. His witty every-man narrations were a large part of the previous eight episodes, and I’m curious to see how the episode flows without them.
We are left with the final four, and they are faced with a challenge involving live TV. In walks television’s own Catherine McCord to help guide the guys through the unpredictable wilderness of live television. Per usual, Eddie gets very excited at the site of a real-life woman. Because of this, I am confident Eddie will nail this first challenge.
The 30-minute cooking session begins and the vibe is tense. Everybody is going for the gold here, except Jay, who is keeping it simple and concise, just like an after-school snack should be.
The live presentations with Catherine play out as what I believe are morning-news-esque live TV segments, albeit a somewhat awkward version of them. Eddie is up first, and predictably the guy is ready to combust into a fireball of sinew and muscle. He pulls it together, and right out of the gate he engages the audience with two key words: beer and burgers. He plays well with our host, Catherine, who just couldn’t contain herself and squeezed one of his 14-inch pythons (biceps). Eddie kept his cool, played it well and had a great demo.
Arnold is up next and a bit nervous at first. Just when he was about to get back on track, he got a quick dose of that classic live TV snafu known as “The Food Processor Fumble” — a constant in this business. Regardless of how many times you have successfully snapped in that carafe at home or at the restaurant, all that muscle memory gets obliterated once the live cameras roll. It’s like live TV is a black hole of successful food processing. I’ve been doing this for four years and I still manage to flub up such a seemingly simple maneuver, especially in the heat of the moment. The key is to harness its power and use it for good. Never admit failure, never let the food processor win, never give in. This is what Arnold did, and his smooth handling of the “The Food Processor Fumble” saved his demo.
Alex begins with too much story, not enough cooking, and a whole lot of romantic garlic and clam juice. He lost track of time and was too hurried to finish his dish. Big Jay took a big food dookie by serving Bobby Flay ants on a log. Luckily, Jay had one hell of a presentation, which will hopefully overshadow his food.
The winner of this first challenge and an advantage on the next challenge is Eddie.
The Star Challenge begins and we are paid a visit from this week’s guest judges Katie Lee and yours truly, Jeffrey Michael Mauro! I loved getting the call to guest judge on Star. It’s been a couple of seasons since I’ve been back, and I gladly accepted the opportunity, even though it’s somewhat like voluntarily going back to Shawshank (as in the prison in The Shawshank Redemption). This time, though, I am not Andy Dufresne, but rather one of the friendly guards who runs the prison library. Catch my drift? That being said, I was excited to get a preview of the final four and meet one of my potential future co-workers. At first glance, I was like: “There are a lot of dudes here. One guy looks fabulous, one guy obviously benches more than I do, one guy looks friendly, and one guy looks like he can drink a crapton of beer.” I knew it was going to be a fun challenge.
Since Eddie won earlier, he gets the advantage of choosing who gets what theme. In a surprise twist, Eddie chooses summer vegetables, Arnold gets assigned indoor grilling, Alex is stuck with family reunions and Big Jay gets big desserts. It’s time for … Summer Live, an ensemble show like The Kitchen, complete with an eerily similar light-blue set. The name of the game is to play nicely with each other while trying to demo your recipe. Hold your own, but also engage in normal banter with your co-hosts. Shows like The Kitchen are a team sport and cannot succeed without passing the ball.
The gang begins planning and Arnold is eager to shine in this format. Jay and Eddie are excited as well, but my boy Alex is making some odd choices. Alex — God love him — decides that the best way to celebrate a summertime family reunion is by whipping up a hot cauldron of bacon ramen. Nothing says reunion like: “Hey, Aunt Bea, so nice to see you! It’s been, what, six years? Man, you look great. Do you need help with your walker? Here, sit down and try this piping-hot pork ramen. It’s good, right? Aunt Bea? Hello, Aunt Bea … wake up! Wake up! HELP! Someone, HELP ME! Call 911! NOOOOOOOOOOO!” Am I right?
The boys start cooking and there are some interesting choices being made. Jay is making a tart and a cocktail, Eddie is wisely making a zucchini-noodle pasta, and Alex, of course, is ankle deep in a vat of ramen. The cooking ends and the inaugural episode of Summer Live begins, complete with a live audience. Eddie takes the lead with the first demo and starts out with his usual confidence. Jay stole the show with a witty “Does beer count as a summer veggie?” line. What Eddie did very well was organically include his fellow cast. As for Arnold, he kind of steamrolled through the whole demo. He needs to breathe more! Alex’s choice of meal, even though it was DELICIOUS, did not go over well for the theme. It could have gone over well had he tied in a cute story about being a fish out of water in Indonesia, in the hot sun, eating ramen at his first family reunion. It looked like Jay was going to end up with too much time left in his demo, but he was saved by a strawberry-bourbon smash cocktail.
It’s time for the evaluations and eliminations. It’s never easy choosing someone’s fate and sending someone home, and in the instance, it really wasn’t clear-cut. We honestly deliberated for quite some time because it was a split decision, but this week, Alex goes home. I truly like Alex and I know for a fact that he is a highly skilled chef who makes clean and inventive food. He’s the type of guy you meet and instantly want to hang out with. Hindsight is 20/20, but, man, I would have loved to see him enter Star with an Asian-fusion POV. Not that his choice of sandwiches really ever offended me, but you can tell that his true passion is for international travel and the wonderful food that comes with it. It may not be the last we see of him, though, because he still has another shot at fighting for a spot in the competition on Star Salvation, which, BTW is a must-watch show! Head over NOW to watch me and Alex G. choose who gets one more shot at Food Network Stardom. I’m telling you guys the truth when I say this: Next to Ray Donovan, Star Salvation is the most-riveting show currently on the air. And for the record, Star Salvation was just voted Best Web Series of All Time by my Uncle Nick and Aunt Phil.