You all know how much I love Food Network. You’re also likely aware how little I hesitate to call them on their shit when I see it. And as the finale of the latest season of Next Food Network Star approaches, I find myself with plenty of shit to call.
The format of this season of NFNS was scattered at best. The “mentors” seemed less like mentors and more like judge, jury, and executioner. I’m sure plenty went on behind the scenes to which I’m not privy, but near as I could tell, they were not grooming stars. They were throwing into an ocean of options a bunch of people who want to be stars, and seeing how well they could float.
Example: You claim you want food authorities. Yet people continually referenced notorious alien crime boss Mars Capone when listing ingredients, and no one said a word to correct them. Allow me to restate that, to make sure you really get it: GIADA FUCKING DE LAURENTIIS stood there and let numerous people mispronounce “mascarpone” on multiple occasions, and never uttered a peep. That is not mentoring. I don’t even let my friends get away with that crap.
Oh, on a side note: I know the ratings game necessitates you have your villain in every season, but there are limits. I find it damn near impossible to believe that anyone is as unmitigatedly cuntish as your careful editing made Danushka Lysek appear, but your presentation of her brought me very close to not watching the show. Just something to keep in mind when you’re picking out a bad guy next year.
But I digress. And now, after a season of floundering, flopping, and fuckuppery, much of which seems like it could have been avoided with a bit more guidance from the experts present, it is down to the final 3 contestants and show ideas.
|The Final Three: Damaris, Rodney, and Russell|
Russell Jackson: Guilty Pleasures
Before I say another word, let me say this; when this NFNS season opened, I was all about Russell. Seriously. All. About. Russell. I would have stuck forks in the face of anyone who dared speak a word against him. I liked his message, I liked his style, I thought that with a bit of coaching he could work through his on-camera awkwardness and go on to great things. ‘Great things’ in this case being, making a show I would watch. Then, his message started getting a little mixed, and then a little more, and in his attempts to distill it into something marketable, he lost the part that appealed to me most strongly; the part where he would show us fun decadent sexy food styles that we could re-create in our own kitchens.
His pitch opened with “I go to other people’s restaurants and...” Red flag, but I was willing to give him the benefit of every possible doubt. Then I saw his pilot. He did indeed go to someone else’s restaurant, and tried one of their products, and had wonderful things to say about it. Okay, you’ve advertised for someone, now show me something I can use. So he borrowed that restaurant’s kitchen to make his Bacon Bourbon Ice Cream. I like alcohol and pork products, I can get behind this.
Except. He is going along, step by step through the process so we can follow, and BLAM! Straight into the brick wall of liquid nitrogen we run. Here’s the thing, most home cooks don’t have large tanks of liquid nitrogen in their kitchens. I know. I’ve asked for one, many times. So there’s really no point in explaining your process in detail if you’re just going to have a pretty significant step that I can’t copy. He then gives the finished ice cream to the restaurant owner and asks if it’s something they might someday consider putting on their menu, and is told yes, that could maybe happen.
At the end of the show, I’ve seen one product I can’t try because I don’t live where the host restaurant is located, and one product that I can’t buy anywhere yet and can’t make at home because it requires a piece of equipment that I SWEAR TO YOU, MAN OF MINE, WILL HAPPEN SOMEDAY but I do not currently possess. I’ve watched you do fun stuff, but gleaned nothing useful. If I want flashy improbable scenarios with a side of sexy, I’ve already got Rex Linn in CSI: Miami reruns
WOULD I WATCH RUSSELL: Yes
WOULD I WATCH THIS SHOW: Heartbreakingly, no
Rodney Henry: Pie Style
Of the three finalists, Rodney is, in my opinion, the one who would have benefitted most from a firm hand to help rein in his all-over-the-map exuberance and channel his natural energy and charisma. Because he is fun to watch, but “overly focused” is not something I think any teacher ever had to write on his report card. After spending the entire season with him, the only conclusion I can reach is that the definition of “pie style” is “whatever the hell I feel like doing, because I’m the one doing it, and I wear cool hats.” Unfortunately, this is not the kind of conclusion that compels me to watch any show.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Rodney. There is no doubt in my mind that going out drinking with Rodney is one of the coolest and most anecdote-producing experiences any human being could hope to have. I’d love to meet the guy. But that’s not the same as wanting to watch the guy on TV.
His pitch also opened with “I go to other people’s restaurants and...” which is, as previously stated, a huge red flag for me. But the basic premise, that he goes to other people’s restaurants to taste their signature dishes and turn those dishes into pies, translates far better to a home cook than Russell’s “I go to other people’s restaurants and borrow their kitchens because I can” platform. I like turning things into other things, and when the other thing is pie, so much the better because you can make two with very little extra work and freeze one for later.
So Rodney is given a dish, a grilled cheese sandwich with all sorts of yumtastic stuff in it, and he turns it into a pie. The translation from one to the other is pretty literal, a bit more of a personal twist would have been nice, but the personal twist is “it’s now a pie” so I can let that go. Am I ever likely to turn my grilled cheese sandwiches into pies? Not really. But there were a few things he did that made me think. Like, the original sandwich had nuts and raisins in the bread, so Rodney put nuts and raisins in his pie crust. Which made me think “hey, I bet adding some golden raisins to the crust next time I bake an apple pie would be really good.” So, kudos to Rodney for giving me an idea I wouldn’t have had otherwise. This is why I watch Food Network.
But before I got that idea, and fighting to drive it from my head after it was got, is the loud, extremely boisterous, at times downright manic presence of Rodney himself. He is absolutely an entertainer, and an awesome one at that. What makes him difficult to accept as a teacher is how exhausting it can be to pick the useful information out of his presentation.
WOULD I WATCH RODNEY: Yes, but only in small doses
WOULD I WATCH THIS SHOW: Yes. Because it’s pie, which has been scientifically proven superior to all other foods
Damaris Phillips: Eat Date Love
I am actually surprised that Damaris made it as far in the competition as she did, but in that “please please PLEASE you can do it just hang on you can DO THIS” weekly internalized prayer meeting kind of way, rather than that “what the hell is she even doing here?” kind of way. I wanted Damaris to grow and develop and focus and hone her natural charm and awkwardness into something that would force the FN execs to see just how marketable she really is, and that happened. And it made me happy.
Her pitch was “I’ll teach guys how to cook so they can impress women”. Right there, she is ahead of Russell and Rodney because of two little words: I’ll teach. I don’t recall hearing anything about teaching in either of the boys’ presentations.
And as someone who, while in the throes of the worst flu this side of bubonic plague, was once told by her well-meaning and always supportive guy, “I can make you anything you want for dinner, as long as you want bacon and eggs”, this idea of teaching guys how to cook specifically for their women struck a spectacularly melodic personal chord.
So, we have a show I can get behind completely, hosted by a woman I find almost ridiculously adorable. Aside from her imparting useful information, I know there will be that moment in every episode when she puts her foot in her mouth, backtracks to try to cover whatever awkward thing she just said, makes it even worse in the process, and is laughing right along with us at her own slightly risqué clumsiness. Half the fun of watching the show will be waiting for that to happen.
And there will be sweet potatoes. Oh yes. There will be sweet potatoes.
WOULD I WATCH DAMARIS: Yes
WOULD I WATCH THIS SHOW: Yes
There it was. After careful evaluation of not only the personalities but the shows themselves, I am brought to the conclusion that there is only one place my vote can go, and that is to Damaris. Russell, Rodney, please forgive me.
So off I went to cast my vote.
Except, in order to vote, I have a choice between giving Food Network a piece of information that is none of their damn business, or giving them other information that is even less of their damn business. Yes, I can only vote by letting them know my phone number, or giving them access to my Facebook profile. Neither of those things is going to happen, so I ended up not voting.
Congratulations, Food Network. I thought you dropped the NFNS ball with your handling of Justin Warner. Turns out you were just getting started.