Last week the Food Network launched Season 9 of the “Next Food Network Star,” also known as the show that gave us Guy Fieri (whether we’re glad about that depends on just how many hours of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” one can handle). There has never been a breakout star of that magnitude before or since, and yet each season we gather to see if some new foodie will take the network by storm.
After the twelve new contestants were introduced, it looked like the weather around the network will be staying calm. That is not to say that the contestants lack personality — but smarmy, phony and aloof are not the type of personalities that we really want coming into our home every week. On one end of the spectrum, we have “Lovely” Jackson, an LA-based private chef who thinks a cute nickname, big dimples and calculated friendliness are an unbeatable combination. On the other, we find Danushka Lysek (drinking game for every mention of her being a former model!), a NY-based private chef who acts like the surly Greta Garbo of the kitchen.
Early standouts, both for their culinary POV as well as their ability to connect with an audience, include Chad Rosenthal, the BBQ guy, Rodney Henry, the pie guy who bears an uncanny resemblance to Travel Network’s Andrew Zimmern, and Viet Pham, the “I beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef” guy. Another early favorite is Nikki Dinki, whose semi-vegetarian (while something of a misnomer, like a semi-virgin) approach is an interesting food concept to get the viewers to eat more healthy without scaring us first.
This week the remaining eleven contestants were challenged to make a great burger. This is always a terrific food competition challenge because a burger is somewhat of a blank canvas and gives you leeway to be creative and inventive, while still staying true to what makes a burger great — the seasoning, the juiciness, the balance of elements. After conceptualizing their dishes, the contestants each had two minutes to sell an audience on their burger being the best. Each audience member had one token, entitling them to try just one of the eleven dishes. In addition, the dial of doom was back, giving the audience the opportunity to give instant feedback on whether the contestants were likable or not.
At the end of the Burger Bash, the token counting, dial reading and food review was completed and taken into consideration in evaluating the top and bottom. At the top this week were Chad, whose Memphis barbecue styled burger and easy-going pitch was a wining combination, Russell Jackson, who grabbed the audience with his “seven food sins” including bacon and booze, and Stacey Poon-Kinney, who had fun with her Baja Betty Burger and her bubbly presentation. At the bottom were Andres Guillama, who started his presentation by accidentally insulting half the audience by informing them that men can’t cook, Danushka (for her second week!) and Nikki whose culinary point of view failed to excite and whose mostly veggie burger was a turn off.
In the end it was Andres Guillama who was let go and Danushka dodged her second bullet. Andres had a great story about how he has maintained a 150 pound weightloss through healthy eating, but his aversion to being the “weight-loss guy” and his insistance on focusing his pitch around teaching guys how to cook was his undoing. Danushka may just be blogger fodder, here to amuse and frustrate us. But her slider was tasty and that bought her at least one more week.