Sponsored by:
Green Bay Press-Gazette

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Can "Next Food Network Star" pick up the "Top Chef" torch?

Despite our collective grumbling about the Bandana-Wearing Chef With Multiple Derogatory Nicknames -- who during last week's largely uneventful "Top Chef" reunion, relayed a story about two lesbians giving her the stink-eye at a recent party -- the Bravo show delivered the goods until the lackluster finale.

Andrew was a quote machine. Dale punched a locker. The Blais remained consistently awesome. Stephanie, charming and inspirational. Spike ... er, soupy.

All in all, it was top-notch TV and probably every Channel Surfer would admit that Lisa's awfulness and subsequent defiance gave us plenty to get worked up about, which led to some rather amusing Thursday morning exchanges amongst our writing staff.

But bacon ice cream doesn't last forever. Which means "Top Chef" fans may have moved on to, somewhat predictably, the latest installment of "Next Food Network Star." On a channel that devotes round-the-clock coverage to food, you'd expect some higher stakes, maybe some brighter personalities that really grab hold of the camera. But while "Star" has filled a decent void during a summer lacking quality entertainment, the show is also a bit of a dud -- and no, not because of overexposed judge/host Bobby Flay, you haters.

Or maybe like "Top Chef" -- anyone remember how awful Zoi, Erik and Manuel were? -- "Star" just needed to trim the fat. After all, it has some built-in credibility. "Star" previously launched mega-personality/current TGI Friday's pitchman, Guy Fieri, and later spawned the Food Network's best show, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives." ("Guy's Big Bite" is pretty awesome, too.)

But on the heels of watching the Blais and the Izard top each other week in, week out, "Star" contestants still seem like awestruck amateurs who can barely make a bowl of cereal. Sunday night's latest casualty, Nipa, had never touched a dead fish in her life. Granted, her show format was to bring Indian food to the masses, but even with her original, yet one-dimensional concept, you'd think someone with kitchen experience would have handled everyday food items like fish before. (She later embarrassingly tried to fillet her fish, which led her to salvage one tiny piece and throw the rest away. Guest judge "Iron Chef" Michael Symon later called the move, "insulting.")

But it's also my gut feeling that the show will hit its stride starting this Sunday. All the pretenders are gone, and the six that remain have at least one victory to their credit.

Until last week, Aaron, an executive catering chef at a hospital, hadn't missed on a single dish. Jennifer, a self-taught executive chef with tremendous likability, can't stop apologizing for her lack of expertise or skill in challenges. She's the best candidate to drop next. Kelsey, a bubbly cheerleader-type, finally stopped overacting (the judges harshly told her to stop being "annoying") and won last week's Red Lobster challenge to become a legit contender. Uppity Lisa, who has a Posh Spice thing working in the kitchen, was poised to be this season's villain, but has since toned down the elitism and might be the best personality suited for her own show.

My two favorites, however, are Shane -- a former Nickelodeon child star and 20-year-old graduate of the Culinary Institute -- and Adam -- an extremely raw actor/restaurant server who pops on camera thanks to a natural "it" factor, timely jokes and an unpredictable personality. Though he took a huge step back last week on the comedy end (He faked tripping while entering a Coast Guard mess hall, completely killing the vibe in the room), Adam lists "The Wire," "Arrested Development" and "Lost" as his favorite TV shows on, so it's pretty obvious that he has the right outside influences. He also seems like the kind of guy you'd actually want to hang out with -- a good thing if you have your own TV show.

Anyway, if you haven't started watching, this Sunday is your best opportunity to dive in. "Food Network Star" Lisa might not be as evil as "Top Chef" Lisa. And so far, there hasn't been any jicama or sweetbread tossed around the kitchen with reckless abandon. But at least two or three of the finalists seem worth watching on their own Food Network show, and now that the cream is rising to the top, it'll be interesting to see who nabs a coveted spot alongside Giada, Rachael, Alton and the rest of the talented "Food Network" crew.

"The Next Food Network Star" airs at 9 p.m. CST, Sundays.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home