It’s certainly a good June for food TV fans. We’ve got Top Chef Masters wrapping up (sniff), Top Chef: DC gearing up, and now The Next Food Network Star amping up. Yes, the oft-overlooked but no less awesome Food Network series is back, and unlike those two other esteemed culinary competitions, this one features a component that viewers at home can actually pontificate about legitimately: star power. That’s right, this show is more than just cooking. It’s about personality and taste-level and discerning who we want to see staring back at us on umpteen pots and pans in Target. I’ll be honest: it’s neat watching the would-be celebrity chefs put together a meal, but the real thrill is watching them either soar in front of the camera or crash and burn in an avalanche of stammers, tears, and pit stains. And let me assure you that we had plenty of that on last night’s two hour season premiere. There were some epic disasters, and I truly felt bad for some of these people who embarrassed themselves so thoroughly. (But I didn’t feel that bad.)
After the jump, I’ve compiled a list of everything I loved about the premiere. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts too…
Bravo to whomever put this cast together. Unlike last year’s pleasant but generally dull group, we have a batch of contestants here that all seem to offer great potential. Most of them have pretty defined culinary points of view, and if they don’t, they’ve got personality to make up for it. We have fewer dullards (cough, Jeffrey Saad, cough, Teddy Folkman, cough, Jen Isham, cough Jamika Pessoa — remember any of them? Me neither) and way more vibrant personalities. Granted, not all the finalists make me giddy. Herb Mesa makes me want to throw myself in front of a train. He has enthusiasm, yes, and he’s telegenic, yes, and his healthy culinary point of view is actually something I would welcome on the network (we need someone other than wet rag Ellie Krieger to give us nutritious recipes), but damn, he’s the most annoying thing since Guy Fieri first inserted his woodchuck face into pop culture four years ago.
The good news is that we have many promising personalities to offset Herb. Aria seems like an early frontrunner (even if her charms seem like they might wear thin); Brianna has the potential to be a total mess (only because she seems to have no idea what she is beyond “fun”); Aarti looks like she’ll bring a much needed ethnic vibe to the network (even though her proposed show name, “Aarti Party,” is so cutesy and annoying that I just want to vomit); Serena feels like a drama time-bomb waiting to go off; Doreen is an apologetic catastrophe in the most tragic yet entertaining way; Dzintra looks about ready to give us ten cringe-worthy moments in a row; Das is just hilariously awkward in front of the camera; Tom is immensely likable (sort of like the closest thing the Food Network has come to having its own Chris Farley); Brad seems talented and likably shy; and the rest? Well, Paul is the improv-trained chef who has yet to be funny, and Alexis, well, he’s already gone (watching him croak an apology to Wolfgang Puck after serving a raw beignet was both heartbreaking and perversely entertaining). Point is we got a good cast this year.
Joining the show in the role of “Mentor” is Giada De Laurentiis, one of my favorite Food Network personalities. I gotta admit that I don’t really watch her new show (I simply can’t deal with its yuppie-mommie-baby focus — almost every single show ends with everyone cooing over a toddler), but that being said, one of the great thrills of watching Giada is watching her go from sweet and friendly to total control-freak bitch on the turn of a dime. It doesn’t happen all the time, but the potential is always there.
On The Next Food Network Star, Giada’s not so warm and friendly. I’m not saying she’s a bitch or anything, but she certainly can level a passive-aggressive glower if need be. AND I LOVE THAT.
Here’s a fun fact. Every now and then, some of the B-Side Blog readers convene in Los Angeles for a weekend of debauchery (or at least a few cocktails). Last year, our very own honeybunny booked a cottage at the fancy Chateau Marmont for the festivities. This time around (just under a month ago), honeybunny, dsc805, and Jennifer30309 all rented a house in the Hollywood Hills, and guess what? Turns out the house in the hills was the VERY SAME ONE THAT ALL THE CONTESTANTS ARE STAYING IN FOR THIS SHOW. Now forget for a moment about how bizarre and perhaps dorky it is for us internet people to convene for a weekend. Let’s just focus on the fact that we were all gathered together ON A REALITY SHOW SET WITHOUT EVEN REALIZING IT. Kind of awesome.
I alluded to these earlier, but let’s talk about them again. When these wannabes get in front of the camera, sometimes they do amazing things. And sometimes they fail utterly. Aarti and Aria were great, and Herb was pretty solid too (at least for his first screen test. He totally choked the second time around. Heh). Others were not so lucky. Brianna gave us a feeble attempt at “fun,” and holy crap, Alexis was a disaster. I’ve never seen a lemon be made to look more awkward.
Doreen was no great shakes either, and her choice to wing her promo was not her finest moment. And let’s not forget Das who got in front of the camera and acted as if he were in a fierce boxing match with a flock of butterflies. Yes, there were arms swinging everywhere, and it was not making him look particularly suave. OR suavÃ©, as he says.
Let’s be honest. At the end of the day, there’s only one true reason to watch The Next Food Network Star. It’s to see Susie Fogelson lay the cold, corporate smackdown on the contestants. I’ve sung her praises before, and I’ll sing them again. She is quite possibly one of my favorite judges on TV. Everything about her is fantastic, and when she’s disappointed in something, her reserved disdain is unparalleled (except for perhaps Martha Stewart and Diane Sawyer). Oh how I’d love to see her talk with Anne Slowey.
But don’t forget about Bob Tuschman! The lovable Bob always makes things better with a supportive pat on the back and some constructive criticism. He’s a sweetheart… which is why it’s always amazing when he’s bored, unhappy, or concerned. He gets a look on his face as if his brain simply CANNOT COMPUTE the trainwreck he’s currently witnessing. Aw, Bob. He’s like the Joe Zee of Food Network. (And yes, I am aware that I am slowly converting this post into a slew of The City metaphors).
But seriously, SUSIE
Susie Fogelson. End of story.
What did you think about the premiere? Happy with who went home? Who are your favorite contestants?