“I think I’m failing in the ‘food authority’ category.”
Let’s be honest, when you’re dropping that kind of self-assessment on Episode 3 of Food Network Star, the only dish on the menu is toast. And yes, you are that toast.
Thus, we bid an overdue goodbye to sour, monotone, Danushka, a former model hungry for fame, but not for any burger bigger than a slider. A woman whose proud ennui during a challenge that emulated Food Network’s dizzyingly difficult Chopped had guest judge Alex Guarnaschelli needing to take a moment to compose herself. A gal who repeatedly insisted that her biggest challenge was getting her personality across, while failing to realize said personality was about as pleasant as a pie-crust made of tin foil (and as uncreative as her use of dragon fruit as the bowl of a reimagined lettuce cup).
Danuska’s exit was an obvious one, but the week’s dual challenges continued to separate contenders from pretenders.
The first task was using an unusual ingredient to create a dish — then present it with authority (even if the contestant wasn’t familiar with his or her item). Damaris scored a win in her group after Bobby went bonkers for her skillet cabbage with mango pickle, while Viet served up a side of sour grapes by complaining that the wacky southern gal got the easiest ingredient. Rodney triumphed in the other showdown using bitter melon seeds and gin (!) to top off a colorful salad. The winning duo received immediate immunity and got to sit at the judges’ table while their eight rivals went on to the next challenge — which played out like an episode of Chopped: Two heats of four chefs each, whipping dishes in 30 minutes built around four inscrutable ingredients.
Nicki and Chad won their respective cook-offs: Nicki via a chicken and broccoli spring roll, Chad with a peanut waffle and fried hot dog. (Side note: Anyone else think Nicki still needs to deliver her message with a greater air of authority?)
I came away from the episode with three revelations:
* Viet may be the best chef in the bunch, but even his confessionals are coming across as stilted — and he might be running out of time to put the “Star” at the end of “Food Network.”
* Damaris was definitely a more discerning and believable judge than Rodney, who worked way too hard to be nice, and not hard enough at looking like someone who might be sitting on one of those judging panels in a couple years’ time.
* Disconcerting as it was to hear the judges get excited by Chris’ admission that he’s a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, they were right that his frankness about being saved by food gives him a point of entry with audiences. The challenge for the food-truck operator will be tapping into the spirit of culinary rebirth without feeling like he’s selling his soul or using his past pain in a gimmicky way. (Side note: I’m not sure I bought his story about falling in love with a dried fish rub in fourth grade, either.)
My best guess on the next four eliminations: Lovely (getting the “took slick” critique every week); Nicki (doesn’t seem committed quite enough to her “semi-vegitarian P.O.V.); Rodney (fun, but does the pie man have enough true expertise?); and Russell (his “seven sins” idea feels too much like shtick, and not enough like an authentic way of cooking).
That would make for a final five of Stacey, Viet, Damaris, Chad and Chris. Does that prediction sound realistic to you, or do you see it another way? Sound off in the comments on all that, and bid your fond “good riddance!” to Danushka.