Food Network Star Recap: Don’t Touch Those Dials

Hello, Trashmi, and welcome to the Vegas episode of Food Network Star. Sadly, unlike SYTYCD, this show’s Vegas episodes will not include choreography (and secretly, don’t you want to watch Lenny and Crazy Eyes get assigned the samba?). Instead, our intrepid contestants will beg vacationers hanging out at the Caesar’s Palace pool for votes in the form of the Dials of Doom. It’s about the most fun you can have in Vegas. Well, not really, but join us anyway, why don’t you?

We open with the contestants in their product-placed vehicles, driving into Vegas. Luckily, the cameras cut away before they get stuck in hours of traffic jams on the Strip, to show us that the contestants’ faces are being flashed on a Jumbotron outside of Caesar’s Palace. Of course Sarah reacts with her usual glee at seeing her vapid mug on camera. Have you ever watched a parrot stare at itself in a mirror? It’s very much the same thing with Sarah.

The contestants arrive at Caesar’s to find Giada and Alton waiting for them. Bobby Flay is not. Giada’s dress sense has reached new heights (or depths?) with today’s ensemble: spike heels paired with a short blue and white colorblocked dress that not only plunges down her cleavage, but zips all the way down the front.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.29.42 PM

Guess who this outfit is for?

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.29.56 PM

Got it in one.

That’s right, Luca is back from Star Salvation. Giada is clearly thrilled to have her Italian Stallion back, but the contestants seem less enthused. As Emma puts it, they thought they were top six, and now they’re back to top seven again.

Alton attempts to justify their trip to Vegas by claiming it is known for world-class food and entertainment. Please. I love Vegas, but it’s known for gambling. While Vegas pretends to have world-class food, what it has are copies of restaurants that are successful elsewhere, dumbed down in Vegas to appeal to what casino owners think Middle America wants. Meanwhile, the restaurants everyone piles into are the $4.99 all-you-can-eat-prime-rib buffets. In other words, when it comes to dining, Vegas is the Food Network of cities. Kind of proving my point, Giada instructs the contestants to meet her at the buffet inside the casino.

Once at the buffet, they are given the assignment to describe dishes to Giada. Each contestant is given three dishes and 90 seconds, but they can’t move on to the second and third dishes until Giada tells them the is first description has succeeded in making her hungry. Shyeah. Like that bitch eats. I agree that a food show host needs to be able t evocatively describe flavors and tastes, but the only thing that’s going to make Giada hungry is using sexual imagery. Or having an Italian accent.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.30.31 PM

Did you roofie my seafood?

Spiffy Chris is up first, and is given three Italian dishes, which Giada identifies with as exaggerated an Italian accent as possible. Chris gamely starts in on the papardelle carbonara, mentioning the earthiness of the mushrooms and creaminess of the sauce, but Giada keeps a tight little smirk on her face the whole time. She’s not buying it. Sarah — who you’ll notice is always good for a soundbite kicking another contestants when they’re down — crows that Chris is slowly melting. Remember that level of snottiness about 20 minutes from now. Chris’ 90 seconds expire without being passed on a single dish.

Nicole is up next, with three Asian dishes. She mentions the viscosity of the broth, and Sarah giggles loudly enough to distract the judging. Was “viscosity” the kind of word that makes your mouth water? No. But can Sarah do any better? Most definitely not, as she immediately shows, fumbling her way through a description of gazpacho, calling it “hard to describe.” It’s cold tomato soup, lady, not nuclear physics.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.30.16 PM

Let’s just enjoy this moment, with the cameras on us.  Why spoil it with nonsense like gazpacho descriptions?

So we’re 0 for 3 so far. Then Emma steps up to the plate, being given tatter tots, brisket and shrimp and grits. She sounds completely natural, as she smoothly ties the maple flavor to reminding her of Vermont, discussing the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the brisket, and she passes all three dishes!

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.30.47 PM

It’s a good thing you’re flat chested, or I’d feel a lot more competitive with you.

Back to Loserville with Loreal, who’s given three Mexican dishes to describe. She tells us these are not flavors she connects with, and it’s apparent in her description, which focuses on the colors of the dishes, not their flavors.

Luca is next, and he’s given three seafood dishes. He starts discussing how much the ceviche remands him of Italy, and pairing it with a glass of prosecco, and while he’s not described the flavors at all, Giada is imagining herself on a date with Luca, sipping prosecco and feeding each other ceviche, and believe me, she is hungry for it. Luca passes two dishes, to the obvious jealousy of Lenny.

Lenny is given an Italian meal, and he makes jokes, finally clearing one dish. Giada tells the group she is underwhelmed with their performance. Gee, I wonder if that could be because you’ve spent the season having them make viral videos and play with green screens instead of, you know, actually practicing instructing viewers in how to cook?

The next day is a new challenge, out by the pool, and as the contestants walk out to meet Giada and Alton, they see cooking stations set up around the pool, each emblazoned with a contestant’s name. While several of them smile at this, three guesses as to which contestant reacts by pointing and squealing, “Omigosh, that’s me!” Hint: starts with crazy-eyes, ends with Sarah.

It’s windy by the pool, and Giada’s Grecian-style gown is cut low enough that things are liable to start flying free at any minute. So the assignment is given quickly: Contestants will be hosting a pool party. They each must create a dish, which they will have one minute to pitch to the crowd. The partygoers will then decide which dishes they want to taste. Oh, and the partygoers will be given what Alton calls the Dials of Doom, which they can twist up or down as a contestant speech excites or board them. Sadly, turning the dial does not deliver an electric shock to a boring contestant, but merely gives the judges another rating to consider in the final judging.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.31.07 PM

So it’s a pool party, plus presentations, plus Doom Dials….Yeah, we did totally run out of ideas a few seasons ago.

Sarah tells us the pressure is on, since entertainment in Vegas is judged against some significant competition: Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Rod Stewart. I’m tempted to let that statement stand on its own, but (without offending any Celine Dion fans out there, since I hear y’all can be a crazy bunch) let’s just say I highly doubt anyone is passing up on Celine Dion tickets in favor of hanging out at the Caesar’s Palace pool in the hopes of hearing the crazy-eyed lady ramble on about date nights in Texas and how it relates to whatever slop she’s put on a plate today.

Contestants rush into the kitchen and it seems like both Chris and Sarah spot the tenderloin. But Sarah leaves the walk-in fridge to grab a pan, while Chris simply grabs the tray of beef and takes it with him. Sarah runs over to his station, demanding that he give her half of it, and he refuses. She calls him a jerk, and tells us she is through with him. I think Chris will learn to live with that devastating news. He’s going to cook his beef in a red wine reduction, served over a cauliflower puree, with a mushroom chip, which sounds really interesting. However, Loreal the Butcher Babe is cringing over his treatment of the steak. She notes that he is overcooking the meat, and that does sound like a kiss of death.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.31.24 PM

The Stealing of the Beef

Meanwhile, Sarah decides to make her dish with pork tenderloin instead, which she is pairing with corn, grits and some sort of cream sauce. She still seems flustered and upset over the whole beef debacle, and I think it’s likely to affect her cooking ability — which was not exactly tops to begin with.

In more appetizing news, Loreal is making a “Louisiana surf and turf,” with skirt steak, shrimp and a bourbon blue cheese sauce. Has Loreal made a dish that doesn’t involve bourbon yet?

Emma is making grilled to order skewers of calamari and mango, with sides of peanuts, scallions and chili sugar to roll the skewers in. I’m not a big fan of calamari, since it’s got such a tough, chewy texture, and not a lot of flavor on its own. So I would think pairing it with mango means it gets totally overwhelmed by the fruit’s strong flavor. Plus, putting stuff on a skewer sounds more like assembling than cooking.

Nicole wants to go with a seared scallop wrapped in a bacon equivalent, which sounds like the perfect Food network product — totally overdone and not that interesting anymore, but definitely tasty, and looks pretty elegant in a non-threatening way. She found prosciutto to wrap it in, but tells us she plans to tell her audience that the prosciutto is actually Serrano ham, because Serrano works better for her “coastal cuisine” story. You see what happens, Food Network, when you force your contestants into these narrow little POVs? Now this nice lady is going to get up there and lie to us all.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.31.55 PM

It can be whatever kind of pork product you want, if you just believe . . .

Lenny has grabbed some already-made mini-buns and has decided to make sliders out of ground beef and lamb, with a coffee crust and a homemade curry ketchup. Sounds like a lot of good flavors that I am not at all convinced will taste good together. Lenny tells us his curry ketchup is so good it will make you wet your pants and I pray that he uses just that phrasing to sell himself to the Vegas pool party.

Luca is making a cold seafood salad, marinated in wine, lemon and Italian-accented memories of his grandmother. Just describe it with your shirt off, Luca, and you can probably win serving deep-fried dog crap.

Back out at the pool, the party is in full swing already. You can tell it is a Food Network sponsored party, though, because every female has her bikini top still on, no-one is puking in the potted plants, and people are actually tossing around a beach ball. As pool parties go, it’s much more Annette Funicello, much less Snooki and the Jersey Shore.

Oh God. Before the contestants can begin their spiels before the pool parties and their Dials, Giada sends the mover to pick out props. Didn’t we already have to do this? Several times? Why does the Food Network think its hosts need oversize forks and funny hats in order to host a show about cooking? I agree with Chris, who says, “I don’t need props. I’m going to be me and sell myself.” Sadly, he doesn’t sell his food so well. I counted at least six “verys” in his sixty second spiel.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.34.21 PM

Our funny outfits make us much more credible as food experts.  Julia Child used to wear clown wigs, I hear.

Sarah is up next. She has apparently picked out a tiara from the basket o’props. I know, try to contain your shock. She is also applauding for herself as she strides up to her presentation spot. Sarah is annoying me more and more as the episodes go by. She tells us and her audience she’s from Texas, several times, and mentions her love of Southwestern flavor. Both Loreal and Alton — kindred spirits, apparently — tell us that repeating the word Texas? Not the same thing as selling a Texas POV.

Poor Nicole comes up to present just as the wind kicks up, blowing her presentation scallop right off the plate, and her feather boa into some random dude’s lap. Frankly, the feather boa loss was a blessing in disguise. She recovers extremely well from the loss of her scalp, describes it well, and gets high marks, including applause from Giada.

Nex up is Loreal, also with an unfortunate feather boa. Loreal makes a tactical mistake of spending her presentation time talking about how much she loves to party, and that is just the wrong approach here. Even if you yourself partied all night long, you don’t want to be thinking that the guy cooking your breakfast was hungover and nauseated while cooking up your hashbrowns. Besides which, she runs out of time without even describing her food.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.32.17 PM

I’ve been drinking bourbon all afternoon.  The feather boa seemed like a good idea.

Emma strides to the podium with a flower wreath on her hair, and tells the audience about her dish, which she says is “spiked with rum, which my twin sister and I had for the first time while dancing to a reggae band in Jamaica.” These stories make me wish I had had some of Emma’s experiences growing up, but as a connection to the food, that one was a bit of a clunker. My opinion is clearly wrong, however, since Giada and Alton both love her presentation.

No, sorry. They like Emma, but they loooove Lenny and his shtick, both of which swagger up to the presentation spot next. Lenny describes his burger, and the dials swerve to the positive side of the measurement. After what is, admittedly, a wonderful description of his food, Lenny closes by announcing that, if people pick his station, he will do a belly-flop in the pool. Um. I’m not sure anyone really needs to see that, much less on a full stomach, but thanks?

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.33.07 PM

A shoutout in my next recap to the commenter who can best describe Lenny’s tattoo.

Luca follows Lenny, and he and his Italian accent start talking about the softness of the calamari and the tenderness of the shrimp and the juiciness of the clams. Female dials are flying to the positive side, and there is more hair tossing going on among the partygoers than you see on stage at a Poison cover band tour. Alton points out to Giada that Luca’s word choices are seductive, and she tries to brush it off. She won’t look Alton in the eye though, and I think we all know Giada plans to get herself a piece of Luca pie.

Presentations are finished, so there is a rush to the stations and there is cooking. The partygoers are each given three tokens, so they can try three dines. Still, the editing makes it seem like the entire pool party makes a mad dash for Lenny and his burgers. Sarah, whose station is next to Lenny, keeps yelling at people in his lines to come try her dish, but it appears she has not a single taker. Ha. Ha.

Nicole seems to be doing pretty well, but gets completely busted by Alton and Giada by the fake Serrano/prosciutto. They do appear to like her dish, though. Loreal is getting a lot of interest and the judges love her food. Most of the bikini-clad women, however, are spending their tokens on Luca.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.32.46 PM

Very few men came to this station.

By contrast, Chris’ dish is a disappointment. He gets a lot of visitors to his station, but they do not appear to like his food after tasting it, and Alton toes that his beef is overcooked. This makes the second time this episode that Alton and Loreal have said the same thing. I think they should co-host a show together, and I would totally watch that.

Sarah’s choice to use pork comes in for criticism, and you can tell the editors are looking to keep the Great Beef Theft of 2014 going as a controversy. But I think it really comes down to the fact that Sarah does’t cook very well. Emma can cook, but the judges think her dish is not well-thought out for a pool party, since it requires too much assembly on the part of the eater.

We close the pool party on Lenny, unbuttoning his shirt and doing a belly flop into the pool as promised. This now makes the second time this season Lenny has decided that the best way to sell himself as a Food Network host is to show off his hairy manboobs. Well, maybe he and Giada can team up as the cleavage twins, and I can totally not watch their show.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.32.31 PM

Totally not an attention whore.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.34.35 PM

At all.

The pool has now been cleared of partygoers, and our judges and contestants have changed their clothes. Giada is wearing a dress that completely covers her boobs. I barely recognize her. And Sarah has changed into green jeans, a coral-colored strapless blouse? with attached sleeves starting at the elbow? And a blue necklace?

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.33.25 PM

Maybe I can pass this blouse off as a funny prop of some kind.

The judge’s feedback is basically the same criticisms and compliments we heard during the presentations and testings. Alton is effusive with Lenny, calling him the guy to beat, and Lenny responds to this by pulling out a comb and touching up his beard. The hell? Is this some kind of good luck thing? Has Lenny been doing this all season and I just never noticed? In any event, Lenny, together with other top finishers Luca, Loreal and Nocole, are sent away to return on the next episode.

This leaves Chris, Sarah and Emma on the bottom. Sarah has been on the bottom again and again, keeps changing her POV, and can’t freaking cook. But, Alton points out, neither can Chris. And he thinks Sarah can be charming and bubbly. You say bubbly tomato, I say insane tomahto, let’s call the whole thing off. But no. Alton announces that he thinks Sarah has more potential, and Chris is sent home.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 8.33.42 PM

So long, Spiffy Chris.  Hope Food Network gives you a royalty on your butter coins idea.