FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Improv"

At the very start of this episode, Giada notes that we’re at the halfway point of this competition. And y’all, I don’t know how long it takes to make this series — I’ve long defaulted to the idea that any reality show can’t take longer than two weeks to film — but week after week, you really do seem to develop affection for some of these people.

Take Jay, for example. Likeable. Talented. Way back on day one, I would’ve been like, “Maybe that neon orange bowling shirt is part of his personal identity.” Now, in episode six, I know full well: that shirt was a mistake.

Pastry chef Duff Goldman and Cici’s Pizza CEO Darin Harris joined Giada to announce the challenge. Duff: “you have 30 minutes to create a pizza that features kicked up flavors.” Darin added that the winner’s pizza will be highlighted at the Cici’s chain. After 30 minutes, each competitor had to present their pizza to camera for one minute.

Dom — sweet sausage pizza with pickle relish. He also used a cast iron and cooked it over the stove. As for presentation, producers/editors prepped us and reminded us how he froze back during episode two and then cut to commercial. Yes, this is Dom’s wheelhouse and, like I said two episodes ago, he needs a challenge that’s in his wheelhouse so he shouldn’t disappoint. <insert commercial break here> He disappointed. Dom busted outta the gates and then hit a wall.  Of course, the judges loved his pizza.

Alex — compared his pizza to an open-face sandwich (naturally) and decided on an eggplant pizza. Presentation was criticized for listing too many ingredients and not enough inspiration. Judges found the crust doughy but liked the flavor. At least that’s what Giada said about the flavor later, edited in via voice over.

Arnold — called pizza an Italian-American version of flatbreads from Asia and so chose a vegetarian samosa pizza. Presentation wasn’t spectacular, as least the way it was presented to the home audience, but the judges LOVED the flavor.

Michelle — Mediterranean pizza. Michelle said she makes pizza every week for her family and so seemed nonplussed by this challenge. The judges saw nothing special with the flavors, that it tasted familiar. The presentation lacked a personal touch, and about 10 seconds on the end, too.

Eddie — fruit dessert pizza. Mango, pineapple, peaches, plus jalapeno.  Personally, I hate Hawaiian pizza but this sounds delish. As for presentation, Eddie had everyone rolling when, for his on-camera taste, he picked up the entire pie and took a bite. Judges loved the presentation as well as the pizza.

Emilia — samosa pizza with cilantro cream sauce and a chocolate agri-dolce (?) which, she said, means “sweet and sour.” Emilia's presentation has been criticized in the past for being too “teacher in the classroom” and that’s exactly where the criticism came this time too. Judges liked the flavor.

Jay — orange (he kept calling satsuma) and basil pizza. Presentation was impeccable but the pizza was grossly undercooked.

The winner was Eddie and his “dessert pizza.”

For the following challenge, comedian David Allan Grier showed up to announce “Improv Chef.” Displayed beside him was a huge board that on one side listed the competitors’ names and on the other, these categories: Protein, Color, Unlikely Ingredient, and Time of Day.

Then they went down the row of competitors, beginning with Jay, and everyone else shouted out an item from the list in each category to assign to him or her.

Jay — calamari, pink lemonade, late night, black

Alex — chicken livers, caramel squares, dinner, blue

Michelle — guanciale (cured pork cheek), dragon fruit, breakfast, green

Eddie — quail, salt & vinegar chips, dinner, red

Emilia — andouille sausage, bitter melon, late night, brown

Dom — duck breast, marshmallows, lunch, orange

Arnold — umeboshi (“sour and salty pickled ume fruit, similar to a plum”), smoked turkey leg, breakfast, white

They had 45 minutes to cook and then “demo one key component” of their dish to 30 “hardcore food and comedy fans” during a four minute cooking demo.

DAMN! You know how you’re watching a TV show and everything looks easy, and you’re like “I could easily win a million dollars, if only I’d signed up for this show.” Not here. Not this time. This is like difficulty compounded by more difficulty. Done in 45 minutes… and then present it in four?! Some of these folks can’t stay afloat on camera for 30 seconds!

For the presentation portion of the challenge, the judges included Food Network execs Bob and Susie from episode one, along with Bobby and Giada. At the very last second, in front of the audience and judges, the competitors were shown a new huge board and from it came these presentation categories: “Tell us a story about” and “Give us an expert tip on.” The audience chose one of three options inside each category. (And, also… DAMN!)

Arnold — smoked turkey potato hash and egg. Arnold’s presentation was first. He had to tell a story about a family member and how to maximize the flavor of food. Judges loved the presentation (“he seemed comfortable with the punches thrown at him”) and the food.

Alex — sausage burger with chicken liver. He had to talk about the best dish he’s ever made and describe a cooking term that nobody knows. Alex swore a couple times, and didn’t even touch on the two points the audience voted for him to speak on. By the way his segment was edited, it appeared as though he was just getting started when the four minutes were up, and that no relevant information was shared. Judges loved the food.

Eddie — salt & vinegar chip crusted fried quail. He had to describe his biggest kitchen disaster and describe proper heat for cooking. David Allan Grier’s affinity for Eddie is undeniable. It seemed like a cute one-time gimmick back when Grier first was introduced to the competitors but, at this point, I get the feeling he’d be willing to physically trip every other contestant on the way to the stage if he could get away with it. Perhaps it was the advantage Eddie received for winning that first (otherwise irrelevant) challenge of the episode. For his presentation: he blew it out of the water. Judges loved the food. Bobby: “I’m putting that on my menu.” Long story short, Eddie didn’t need David’s help.

Michelle — green eggs and ham with dragonfruit salad. She had to tell about the best meal she’d ever had on vacation and describe a great substitution for her dish. Judges loved that “she just wove” her challenge requirements into her presentation seamlessly, but that there wasn’t “a lot to go away with.” They loved the play on green eggs and ham but, overall, noted that she need something that keeps people interested.

Emilia — sausage and beer battered onion rings. She had to talk about watching Food Network and describe plating food beautifully. Before she even started, Emilia told the camera that she had to do something risky. As for “watching Food Network,” she chose to “go behind the scenes” and basically mimic her co-stars. It turned into a roast. She went after Arnold, Jay, Dom. At least those are the ones we saw at home. Oh, man, was it uncomfortable to watch. I found myself laughing the sort of laugh where you just can’t believe what you’re seeing. They edited this segment so quickly that none of her digs (on Arnold: “I’m a drag queen and I plate everything so beautifully that I forget to cook my food”) really had a chance to resonate. I mean, I had to rewind a couple times just to get that one. Here’s the thing. Over these past few episodes I’ve grown to LOVE Emilia and I’ll imagine there is probably an awesome way to go about this, but she didn’t do it. Audience members found her trying too hard to be funny. Judges said they felt abused by her. Loved the food though.

Dom — roasted duck breast with orange and carrot puree. He had to tell a story about something that happened to him when he was 5 years old or less and give a tip about knife skills. As for his presentation, Dom blew it out of the water… for the first minute. WHY IS HE STILL HERE? You know how on RuPaul’s Drag Race where the third time you’re in the bottom two that, regardless to how well you lip sync for your life, you’re still going home? That’s where Dom was in the previous episode. The judges have been spending equal time each week evaluating the competitors’ dishes and their presentation skills, and Dom hasn’t performed well even once. The Food Network General Manager Bob Tuschman, one of the judges here, said it himself: “Five weeks ago we were questioning whether he really wanted the spotlight or not and today he literally fled while he still had time left on the clock.” I wanted Bob to smack Bobby Flay upside the head, like in those V8 commercials. They all liked Dom’s food, though. Susie: “this is one of my favorite things today.”

Jay — fried calamari and pink lemonade chili sauce. He had to tell a story about a dish gone wrong and give a tip about meat. Presentation and food = he blew it out of the water. If anything, this moment didn’t last long enough for viewers to appreciate how seemingly perfect it all was.

After a commercial break, Bob and Susie reveal why it is they’re present for this episode. Bob referred to this week as the mid-term and an opportunity for them to see firsthand who has grown and worked with the direction provided by the “mentors” (as Bobby, Giada, and whatever other judges we’ve seen thus far are identified). They loved Eddie and Jay.

Giada: “Jay, you’re at the top of the rating.”

Bob: “Eddie, you made all the information relatable, engaging, and boy did we have fun.”

Also safe this week:



Bottom three:




The judges sent the final three away so they could discuss. Bob and Susie were critical of Dom and Alex, and immediately thereafter Bobby and Giada went about defending them. DEFENDING THEM! As well, Bob and Susie found a logical amount of fault with Emilia. Bobby’s response: “She knows a lot about food. I know she’s well-traveled. I just think she makes some bad decisions.”

Uh… no, Bobby Flay. She made one bad decision. I’ll admit, it was a super-bad decision. Compare that to his defense of Dom: “I believe that there’s a switch there and if you can just get the switch to flick in the right place, I think you’d have something really great.”

Bob looked at him like, “you’re not eating your vegetables either, Bobby, are you?”

And so Emilia went home. Right before the announcement, Dom leaned in to Alex and Emilia and whispered, “au revoir” because EVEN HE KNEW it was his time to go. Poor Emilia. She talked about taking risks and implored the rest of them to take risks. Of course it made no sense, given her example.

Back in the green room, Michelle acknowledged that she’s the last woman standing and all I could think was, “Why isn’t Rue here again?”



See also:

FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "The Perfect Match" (season 11 episode 5)

FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Improv" (season 11 episode 6)

FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Food Truck Throwdown" (season 11 episode 7)



Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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