The contestants are greeted by Bobby, Giada and Maile Carpenter, who believe it or not, is not a one-time B-list actress whose career has seen better days. She is, in fact, the Editor-in-Chief of Food Network Magazine and therefore totally qualified to judge this bunch.
Bobby brings up one of the magazine's most popular feature: Name This Dish, in which readers are challenged to come up with the most creative name for a photo of a dish. The contestants are being challenged to reverse the process - they will be given some of the names readers came up with and have to create a dish based on that. Martita is not keen on the creative naming of dishes - if it's chorizo and eggs, she calls it chorizo and eggs, "...not something weird." I don't think Martita understands the feature.
Giada continues the assignment: after creating the dish, the contestants will work with a professional photographer to take a magazine-worthy picture of their creation. And in an additional twist they're going to see if Maile can match each dish to the title assigned. In other words, your dish better match the description, or you're toast. Yaku notes that Maile sees thousands of pictures of beautiful food every day and that they really have their work cut out for them. Maile, who needs to work on her posture, waves an awkward goodbye to the chefs and wishes them luck.
Here are the assignments, supposedly picked at random:
"Batter Up"/Joy (Joy's mind goes straight to deep-frying)
"Better Off Bread"/Monterey
"Meat Me Halfway"/Martita
"For Heaven's Flake"/Erin ("Sounds like a beautiful pastry dish. I know exactly what I'm going to do." After her crash and burn last week, I hope so.)
"Cold Hearted Cake"/Rob (Rob is not thrilled. "I'm not a baker.")
"Hot or Not"/Damiano
"Sea and Be Seen"/Jernard
"Carved For Attention"/Ana
They have thirty minutes (Martita: "Oh, dios mio.") And they're off.
Martita is confident she can whip up a good dish, but not so confident Maile will be able to ID it. Yaku is going for a crab salad with a Caribbean flair and asks Erin what she's making. "For heaven's flakes, I'm making a sugar buttered pinwheel. I can make this dough look like a star, and a star is in the heavens." I love her and this sounds like an amazing take on the challenge. She then cutely asks Damiano if he's baking, because for all his talk about being an Italian pastry chef, I don't think we've seen him bake yet. He's making a parfait that is going to involve liquid nitrogen. Smokin'.
Joy is making chicken and waffles with a praline sauce, one of the most popular dishes at her restaurant. Jernard takes his assignment as wanting to stand out, so he's serving his scallops dish in a martini glass, which I think Joy did last week. Tregaye is making a lobster bread pudding, but with the photography angle in mind is making them in the form of mini-Bundt cakes. "What's that gonna look like? A mountain!"
Rob admits that this is not his lucky day because again, he doesn't bake. It's the first time we've seen him less than brimming with confidence. He decides to go with pancakes in the shape of a heart, although what we seem him pouring into the skillet doesn't really look heart-shaped. More creative editing? Maybe not, on seeing the completed pancake. Tregaye thinks it's more United States of America-shaped than heart-shaped, and I have to agree with her.
Ana thinks her theme, a play on "Starved for Attention", sounds more like an episode of Real Housewives than Food Network. But since TV gets people's attention, she goes with a Cuban sandwich with squares cut out of the middle of the bread to resemble a TV screen. Unfortunately her sandwiches don't seem to be coming together, but we've seen this kind of misdirection where Ana in the kitchen is concerned, so I'll wait to see the final product.
Monterey is doing grilled cheese sandwiches will five-minute eggs. Her photography concept is that the runny yolk will look like blood running out. She admits this is a little morbid. Unfortunately her eggs are fighting her and her plates are messy as hell. She hopes that the taste will override the appearance.
The photographer comes in and starts shooting away. We aren't introduced to him; maybe his career hasn't tanked enough yet to make him show-worthy on Food Network.
Maile is back and Giada has a bombshell for the chefs: Maile has already reviewed their pictures and if she couldn't ID the theme from the photo, the judges won't be tasting that dish. I wait for Monterey to faint dead away.
Up first, Tregaye. Per Maile, "So this was a no-brainer for me. I knew right away this was Mount Everzest." Tregaye is thrilled. The judges love the taste as well. My take: As a Bundt pan fan, I think of a lot of shapes when it comes to Bundt cakes: cathedrals, swirls, beehives...but I don't look at a Bundt cake and think huge mountain with an epic cliffside. And I'm not sure where the lobster came in. This should have been a pure fruit zest cake. The theme didn't say anything about seafood or the ocean.
Erin is up next. Maile: "I got this one in two seconds." She also likes how Erin incorporated her theme into every aspect of the dish and the judges love her pastry. My take: Best execution of theme. Girl's back on her game.
Jernard's dish is up next and we have our first miss, as Maile apologetically admits she couldn't guess the theme. She agrees that it's a beautiful shot that she would run in the magazine, but she didn't put it together with "Sea and Be Seen". Jernard is extremely disappointed that the editor-in-chief of FNM won't be tasting his dish. My take: Jernard got hosed. I'm surprised Maile couldn't figure this out. The elegance of the martini glass and of the dish as a whole screams "beautiful people who go out to be seen" to me. And there's a piece of seafood front and center, so again I don't see what the problem was identifying this one.
Ana: Maile was able to match it up after studying it a bit and realizing she was looking at a TV. It's not a really attractive image or dish and Maile even says it's not something they would run, "But I love your thought process." Giada also loves the idea but says the sandwich was hard to eat. "It needed something to bind it." My take: It looks awful and I wouldn't want to have to taste it. Ana's lucky that Maile figured out the TV angle, because all I saw was an unappealing mess.
Martita: We see a shot of the dish and it's basically beef with peppers, and there's more peppers than beef. Yaku: "Am I blind? I cannot see Meat Me Halfway in this at all." Maile had the same problem. "Nothing about it said 'half' to me." My take: Worst execution of theme. It was like she didn't even try. How she didn't even figure out to plate half meat/half veggies is boggling to me. This was probably the easiest theme and she completely dropped the ball.
Damiano: In the photo his dish looks like a smoking mess. I don't know what the hell it is. Neither does Maile, although she was still able to ID it. "I wasn't sure if it was hot smoke or cold smoke, and I think that's genius." Damiano is so happy with this he repeats it. "I'm a genius! Hot skillet and a cold dessert. Amazing!" It looks much better in person than in the photo and makes more sense when he explains it. The judges love it. My take: I think Damiano is lucky he made it to tasting so his dish could be better seen and understood, because again, that picture was a disaster.
Joy says she'll be crushed if Maile doesn't get it and the judges don't taste her dish. Luckily, Maile got it. Bobby: "I am a total sucker for this dish. I love that juxtaposition of the heat and the sweet. I'm coming to your restaurant just to eat this." Joy signals for a touchdown. My take: Now this I want to taste. Good execution and the food looked and sounded amazing.
Monterey: I hate to say it, but her dish looks like it was dropped and replated. Monterey: "Last week I had a 50/50 chance of going home. I don't think I can take it if the judges don't taste it." Nobody can figure out what it is, Maile included. My take: I think she had a good idea to execute the theme, unfortunately she didn't actually execute it.
Rob's pancakes still don't look like hearts, but thanks to "the red blob" (berries) in the middle of the cake, Maile figured it out. Rob really dodged a bullet there. He returns to form with, "It may not be a pretty heart, but she (Maile) won mine." Giada: "I would have loved to have had a little more flavor in it. But, it's cute. My seven year old daughter would love this." Rob: "Lunch lady. I know how to feed kids." My take: More like dodged a cannonball.
Yaku: His dish doesn't look terribly like crab salad in the photo IMO, but it did to Maile. The dish includes a fried orange peel for contrast and the judges are already biting into them when Yaku points out, "It's not edible, it's more for a spoon." The judges already have forks. This demolishes his momentum. Bobby: "Don't put things that you can't eat in the plate. I would never think this was a spoon." However, Bobby really likes the flavor and seasoning of the crab salad and tells Yaku he has "a really good palate". Giada agrees and Yaku is salvaged. My take: I think he had one of the easiest themes, so crab salad was kind of a no-brainer.
The judges name a winner for the combination of interpretation and best dish. I'm torn between Erin, because I think she nailed the concept far and away better than anyone else, and Joy because tastewise, her dish seemed to be the big hit. The judges give it to Tregaye and she's just as shocked as I am. The judges were impressed that she was able to make a cake in thirty minutes (true, that's not easy to do) and felt she nailed the interpretation. I think her dish was good, but not great and ranking them I would have put her in fourth place at the most. I'm dumbfounded they thought hers was the best. But since it's not my call, Tregaye will have an advantage in the next challenge. In response, Tregaye uses the word whimsical to describe herself yet again. If you have to keep telling people you're whimiscal...
For the next challenge, the contestants are assembled on a residential street so Main Street America that Rob describes it as looking like "the set of Leave It To Beaver". I'm not sure it isn't a backlot. Giada tells them that Food Net is always creating new shows and pitches Family Road Trip, a show that each week creates dishes inspired by various family destinations. This is music to Joy's ears - she and her husband have five kids. Jernard has nine of the little buggers, so he should be all over this. Per Giada, the contestants are the hosts of this new show. They will work in pairs and will each be assigned a Volkswagen Passat (product placement alert!). In the trunk of each car are clothes and props that hint to the destination and ingredients to be incorporated into a family meal. They will then shoot promos for their episodes of Family Road Trip.
We now find out the advantage Tregaye earned earlier: she gets to choose her co-host. She picks Yaku. I guess she enjoyed being paired off with him last week, but they didn't exactly light the screen on fire. I would have gone with Joy or Rob, since they've been so consistently strong. Oh, and part two of the advantage? Tregaye gets to pair up the other contestants. Sabotage City, anyone? She goes with Erin/Damiano, Rob/Monterey, and "the two Latinas" as Tregaye describes them, Martita/Ana. That leaves Joy/Jernard as the final pair, and the contestants are turned loose on their product placement vehicles to find out their destinations and ingredients.
Rob/Monterey: Beach vacation. Rob doesn't seem to think they're well-matched until they get in front of the camera. Then they do their spot and they absolutely shine together.
Tregay/Yaku: State Fair. Tregaye: "I'm the queen of fun. When you think of whimsical and you think of fun, you think of the fair." I don't really think of fairs as whimsical (that word again), more like a throwback to a simpler time, but whatever. It is a family destination. The good news is that Yaku has apparently learned to speak on camera. The bad news is Tregaye is over-the-top enthusiastic, as she was in her initial spot in the first week. Yaku tries to explain this to her tactfully ("It's like a little tiny person driving a big, gigantic machine.") Tregaye doesn't seem to agree: "I would want to come with me to the fair."
Joy/Jernard: Lake House Escape. Joy is liking her chemistry with Jernard, and points out that they both cook Southern and have fourteen kids between them. Jernard, based on previous advice, doesn't want to just be the big loud guy. They do have great chemistry and Jernard doesn't yell in the promo.
Martita/Ana: Grandma's House. Martita: "I'm worried about working with Ana. Ana doesn't do very well in front of the camera." Ana: "I've always thought that Martita is overly rehearsed. I think it's important that our promo sounds like a very natural conversation." They're not agreeing on what to do and Martita plays the "I've done this before, I know what they're looking for," card. "Just let me take the lead on this one." And she does, much to Ana's displeasure and I don't blame Ana - you're partners, share the dialogue. Ana finally just interrupts Martita so she can be part of the promo too.
Erin/Damiano: Camping. Neither strike me as the camping type. For some reason Damiano wants to make ricotta gnocchi for their first course and Erin asks the obvious question: "How does gnocchi tie into camping? How are you going to make gnocchi while you're camping?" They're good on camera together, but Erin is concerned that they're going to get dinged for not driving home the camping theme.
The contestants are then off to the kitchen to create their meals, which have to include the ingredients found in the product placement cars.
Rob/Monterey: (Beach) Potato chips and Salt Water Taffy. Monterey apparently isn't much of a baker, but she figures she can "cobble together some functioning recipe". Since she can't just put the taffy in the ice cream, she hits them with liquid nitrogen, then smashes them and seems happy with the result. Now if only her cookies turn out...
Joy/Jernard: (Lake House) Crawfish and White Bread. Since both are Southern cooks, a Low Country Boil (Shellfish in a Pot of Vegetables and Sausage) is a no-brainer. They're also making Garlic Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. Jernard tells Tregaye she did him a big favor pairing him up with Joy.
Tregaye/Yaku: (State Fair) Cheese Curds and Corn on the Cob. Yaku is whipping up Chicken Fried Steak because, "What's county fair more than something that's deep fried?" He's making a bechamel sauce with the cheese curds to go with Tregaye's Crab Corn Muffins.
Martita/Ana: (Grandma's House) Canned Chicken Noodle Soup and Dried Prunes. Martita is using the soup to make Sopes (soft shell tortillas) and Frijoles. Ana is using the prunes for Chicken Marbella. Ana: "Grandma's gonna love it. One pot big family meal." Ana is concerned that Martita makes pretty much the same dish every time. "It's either a taco, or a tostada. I want to show the judges different things." She also whips up a combination mojito/margarita that Martita keeps interfering with. They aren't working well together and if Martita is this week's elimination, I'm okay with that.
Erin/Damiano: (Camping) Marshmallows and Trail Mix. Damiano is bringing his Italian heritage, but I'm not sure how that's going to represent camping. Erin is making a S'mores Junkyard Blondie. Damiano immediately starts interfering with it, feeling her dish needs more "finesse". Damiano: "Erin is a baker. I'm a pastry chef. In order to plate properly we're going to need to add some element to this dish, otherwise it doesn't look like a nice composition." That really rubbed me the wrong way. Someone remind him that we're talking camping, not fine dining. Erin isn't thrilled either.
Monterey's cookies didn't turn out, so she just crumbles chips on top of the ice cream to give the crunch of the cookies. Ana is happy with her dishes, but feels like having Martita trying to take over cost her time. She runs out of time before she can put her sauce on her plates.
It's time to be judged on both their promos and meals with guest judge actress Ali Larter, who is introduced as, "An actress, a cookbook author, and a mom." Don't even get me started.
Joy/Jernard: They work really well together and mention all their kids. Jernard isn't bellowing and Monterey wants to know, "Where was this Jernard when we were doing our promo at Grand Central?" Martita: "These two are adorable together. This is the perfect family show." They wrap their promo with Jernard: "Let's get going!" Joy: "Yeah, before the kids have time to say, are we there yet?" Bobby: "I thought you guys were really good. I mean it just seemed so natural" Joy: "Jernard and I could have a show called Fourteen Kids and Not Counting." Hot damn she's a natural. Their Low Country Boil is a big hit with the judges. Ali likes the idea of grilled cheese sammies for the kids, because it's something they can just grab and go. Jernard: "Kids running around. That's right up my alley."
Erin/Damiano: Ali is charmed by Damiano's accent, of course, but despite his explanation that he made gnocchi when camping with his dad, nobody sees the connection. Jernard: "Who goes camping and makes pasta?" Otherwise the promo goes well. They work well together, at least on camera. The judges aren't buying the gnocchi as camping fare. Erin: "Oh, I saw this storm coming." Even Giada, who always seems overly taken with Italian contestants, tells him he didn't sell it, although she does like the dish. As for the dessert - the presentation of which Damiano insisted on fancying up - it's deemed by Bobby as too elaborate for a camping trip, but other than that he really likes it. Giada: "It's beyond good." Bobby: The cookie had wonderful flavor to it and it's incredibly inventive." Erin takes the high road by saying that she and Damiano could make, "Beautiful dessert babies."
Tregaye/Yaku: At first it seems like the 6'9" Yaku is doing the spot himself until the diminutive Tregaye jumps out from behind him. Unfortunately, she's firmly back in the schticky, over the top act again. Monterey: "That little entrance was genius...but it starts going downhill rapidly." Tregaye won't stop bouncing around like a little kid and even refers to herself in the third person ("Tregaye loves the state fair!") The judges are not impressed. Bobby tells her she was distracting. Their dish looks great, but not particularly state fair-ish. Like the previous dessert, it looks awfully fancy for the destination. Bobby loves the Chicken Fried Steak. Tregaye busts out "whimsical" yet again while discussing her Crab Corn Muffin. Jernard: "I'm still trying to figure out what whimsical tastes like." Bobby is sick of it too: "Whimsical doesn't mean anything to me. You better start giving us some descriptives in terms of what we're going to be eating when you cook." The judges are meh on her muffins, but they may have just cured Tregaye of her whimsical addiction.
Martita/Ana: Martita starts off and Tregaye compares her to an on-scene TV reporter, and not in a good way. In her defense, Martita is extremely comfortable on camera. They start off pretty well but as the promo goes on it gets to be a bit rambling, more like they're chatting than selling a show and never mention what they're going to be cooking, except for a lot of booze. Giada tells Martita she was very polished, and Ana that she was very conversational and not overly polished. Ana introduces her Chicken Marbella and tells the judges she didn't have time to put the sauce on (I'm wondering if she should have just let that go unless they asked her about it). Giada: "I like the chicken. I could have used the sauce. I can feel that you can cook. You are just not good with time." Unfortunately Martita's sope is undercooked. Yaku thinks he's starting to see a pattern with Martita's dishes and goes so far as to suggest she might be a one-trick pony. The "Mo-Garita" on the other hand is a hit.
Rob/Monterey: They have great chemistry. Rob describes potato chips as his favorite vegetable, which gets a laugh. Monterey describes her ice cream cookie sandwich that Giada seem stoked about. This really sucks for Monterey, because the dish she's presenting isn't what was in the promo. Rob somewhat callously comments that she shouldn't have mentioned it in the promo, "If you couldn't pull it off." I have a bad feeling about Monterey. The promo itself is a hit. Giada: "I think it was kind of close to perfect." Ali also can't wait for the ice cream sandwich, forcing Monterey to admit that the cookies didn't work out. Ali thinks there's too much crunch and not enough refinement in Rob's Cheddar Potato Chip Baked Clams. Rob takes exception with her expectation of refinement in a dish made with potato chips. The judges like Monterey's ice cream, but Bobby dings her about promising viewers a dish, then not giving it to them. Everyone loved the idea and were disappointed they didn't get it. Monterey is hoping that she'll be saved by how well their promo was received, describing it as "Probably the only thing that is standing between me and going home." I have a bad feeling she might be right, which is sad because I would watch her on TV.
We come to the moment of truth. Bobby tells them that everyone did a pretty good job and showed a lot of growth. Giada: "There's one pair whose promo stood out and delivered the family food they promised." I'm going with Joy/Jernard. Giada agrees and they are safe from elimination.
Bobby mentions that there were a couple others that did pretty well. At this point it's a hard call to determine who will be in the bottom four because they all did a pretty good job with their promos. But since I have to pick:
My bottom four: Ana/Martita (because their promo was weak and the missing sauce) and Tregaye/Yaku (because their promo was weak and Bobby's bitching her out about describing her food accurately, although because Monterey didn't deliver her ice cream sammies I think the judges will go with her and Rob).
The judges bottom four: Ana/Martita and Tregaye/Yaku. I was pleasantly surprised for Monterey. The judges made it clear that the amazing promo saved her and Rob.
Bobby calls Tregaye out about her performance, saying she didn't give them a lot of substance. They loved Yaku's Chicken Fried Steak and that was it. I think he's the most obviously safe one in this bunch because they didn't offer any criticism or advice. Giada tells Ana she has got to improve on her timing. Ana tries to explain that's she feels like she needs to stop overdoing things and when Giada tries to cut in, Ana insists she's not giving excuses, but Giada tells her she makes excuses all the time. Bobby gets that expression he had last week when Aaron started arguing with him. I think Ana may have just hung herself, which is too bad because I think she's a great cook and I'd watch her on TV. Giada reminds Martita that her sope was undercooked, and also tells her it's the second similar dish she's made in three weeks. Apparently it isn't just her fellow contestants that have noticed Miss I Know What The Judges Want repeating herself.
My choice for elimination: Martita
The judges' choice for elimination: Martita
I was surprised by this. I really thought they were going to cut Ana.
Martita is gracious in front of the judges, but away from them doesn't agree with their choice. She states that she still thinks she'll still be on Food Network one way or another. I don't agree, she's now had several shots and hasn't sealed the deal, but she still has Star Redemption to look forward to, so maybe she'll get yet another chance.
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