Seems quiet in the palatial mountain stronghold without Paul Stanley and Big Chris banging about or getting in the way whilst everyone packs for their big trip to New York City without them because they were shown to the Plain Brown Closet Door To Nowhere last week. And because Jyll is the clear focus of attention throughout the ‘Previously on Food Network Star’ segment and because Cold Steel Whitney feels that she hasn’t ‘bounced back’ from the humiliation of having Emperor Puck show her how to make a nice meatless risotto, I am going to predict, here at the start, that Jyll will be going home.
With ‘no more pretenders left,’ Jeff says happily from the BNR, echoing Lord Flay’s line from the first episode, there are ‘only contenders’ remaining. As the final six look out over the yellow haze of another dreamy California morning from the balcony of their stronghold, Cold Steel Whitney, in a completely realistic, perfectly normal and totally non-scripted fashion winces her best Clint Eastwood wince at the courtyard below them, where the Black Ops SUVs await, and says, ‘Let’s do this, guys.’
‘This,’ of course is jetting away to New York City without Paul Stanley or Big Chris, a contention validated by Jeff, his voice used over an image of an airplane to solidify the point, who says, ‘New York, here we come!’ As a side note, I wonder if anyone has ever thought of using a modified version of the words ‘Here we come’ over and over and over again in some really annoying piece of music?
In a mere jump cut, the Padawans arrive in Manhattan at the Flatotel where, only just a year ago, Emily Henderson had been just prior to being crowned as the next HGTV Design Star, beating out Michael with her quirky delivery and her innovative twist on decorating a room for former cast-mate, Tom. Secrets From a Stylist, Saturdays at 9, on HGTV.
Hmm… Where was I?
Oh. Right. Vic explains to us that he is originally from New York and that, because his family lives here, he is feeling more confident than ever. ‘Mamma,’ he cries out from the seclusion of the BNR, ‘your boy is home!’
After five seconds of relaxation at the Flatotel, the Padawans are hurried off to the Chelsea Market, home of the famous Food Network, where they wait in the famous Food Network Kitchen, touching and gazing and Oo-ing and Ah-ing. From the depths of a side room, Dark Lord of the Sith, Bobby Flay, stalks into the room and announces menacingly, ‘Alright, you guys are in my house now!’ which seems a fairly arrogant thing and something I’m sure Bob Tuschman and Mister Ed stand-in Brooke Johnson might have something to say about. He welcomes them to New York, stretching out the words as if he were taking a wild stab in the dark as to where they are because he is somehow uncertain, and adds that it is ‘the culinary capital of the world,’ a contention with which I believe a little place called Paris might tend to take issue as New York ranked number six on a recent list of culinary capitals.
Lord Flay quickly introduces the Padawans to ‘very very special guest,’ the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, and Cold Steel Whitney bursts into tears. ‘That’s very sweet,’ laughs Ina, seeming uncomfortable outside The Hamptons and having to interact with the bourgeoisie. Because ‘the latest food craze’ indicates that ‘good things come in small packages,’ Lord Flay explains, with the exception of Ewoks, the Padawans are charged with making ‘You… in a cupcake.’ But not just any cupcake. ‘This is an iconic Barefoot Contessa recipe,’ Ina Garten proudly pats herself on the back regarding the coconut and almond creation before her, slurring as if she had needed a bracing shot of whisky before addressing the Padawans. ‘But you,’ she points at them, ‘have to make a cupcake that’s gonna be you. It can be outrageous, it can be fun, but it has to taste fabulous.’
‘You’ll have one minute,’ adds Lord Flay, ‘to present to the camera—’ (he means, of course ‘to camera’) ‘—and tell us how this cupcake represents who you are.’ No time frame appears to be alluded to in which this Herculean task must be accomplished, but the Padawans hurriedly scamper off to make their delicacies because they will probably need to rest again soon.
Susie makes a corn cupcake with a duck confit slaw and metallic sprinkles topping which, though tasty, lacks the ‘elegancey’ she had hoped for, though her presentation was spot on. Mary Beth, who ‘would rather chew glass than give Ina Garten a bad cupcake,’ has a presentation which was, according to the Contessa, ‘stunning’ and a roasted strawberry cupcake to match. Vic’s tartufo style cupcake is, in fact, made with panchetta and basil. Because bacon is a great substitute for ice cream. Though it was an ‘intriguing’ idea, in the mind of Bob Tuschman, all he could taste was ‘heavy chocolate.’
Cold Steel Whitney makes a coconut almond cupcake just like Ina Garten’s iconic coconut and almond cupcake because Ina Garten is one of her inspirations and she wants to impress her. Thankfully, the ‘presentation was lovely,’ beams Ina Garten, and the cupcake was ‘moist and delicious.’ On the downside, Bob T still has lingering fears that Cold Steel Whitney lacks the Star Power to ‘make a huge nation want to listen’ to her. Jyll’s chocolate and orange cupcake is, in the view of Ina Garten, ‘well executed’ and ‘perfectly balanced between chocolate and orange’ and surprises Lord Flay by being ‘two flavours and lots of impact.’ One again, however, the so-called ‘artificiality’ of Jyll is called into question. Have any of the Jedi Council ever watched Darth Giada or Rachael Ray or Melissa D’Arabian? Lastly, Jeff’s ‘shmorgasbord of Italian meats and cheeses’ is represented in an Italian sub cupcake with five meats and a cantaloupe and ricotta frosting with parmesan cheese. ‘What’s better than five meats in a cupcake?’ he asks. And the answer is white chocolate mocha cheesecake filling with a raspberry icing. ‘Am I right,’ queries Ina Garten, ‘that you prefer to cook rather than bake?’
‘Aw… yes,’ says Jeff in his best John Wayne.
‘Yeah,’ responds Ina. ‘I think that shows here.’
After Jeff sulks away, Lord Flay turns to Ina and Bob T and says ‘Well, I just went on a diet.’
‘Not one part of it,’ Ina generally indicates the Horrifying Five Meat Italian Cupcake, ‘was really delicious.’
Once the Padawans are regrouped in the famous Food Network Kitchen, Dark Lord Flay mentions that Jeff ‘took savoury to a new level’ and, suddenly, Ina Garten must rush back to the Hamptons to feed her husband Jeffrey who could be home at any moment. Thrown off his game and thus forgetting to announce a winner, Lord Flay explains that the next challenge ‘is really gonna put you to the test’ and says, via an awkward bit of cross-editing that makes him sound moderately inarticulate, that ‘someone had the very important message for you.’
As we’ve already been graced with the presence of Ina Garten, it is absolutely no surprise at all that the someone who had the very important message is Rachael Ray – hence the title of this episode Ina Garten & Rachael Ray. Rachael Ray, in a pre-recorded video spot much like Chairman Mark, simply oozes artificiality as she tells the Padawans of the ‘little tradition’ of having them on The Rachael Ray Show, and the Padawans seem surprised by this information as though they’ve never seen an episode of The Next Food Network Star before submitting an application to be on it.
The Padawans are then charged by Lord Flay to put their ‘own twist on a traditional family dinner’ not of their own choosing for which they will do a three minute cooking ‘demo’ (or ‘demonstration’) on The Rachael Ray Show with Rachael Ray whilst taking questions from the studio audience. They will also have to introduce themselves in ‘an open’ (or ‘an opening’) to their cooking segment to entice the viewers not to click the remote and switch to the Perkier Boobs infommercial or Ask Aida and her perky boobs.
Without a time-frame or a budget, the Padawans are set loose in the famous Food Network Kitchen to do their twisting and then, what must be hours later, beneath the glow of a waxing moon, they return to the Flatotel to rest their weary heads. Vic tells us from the confines of the BNR that he can think of nothing more extreme than being on The Rachael Ray Show other than being dragged behind a Bugatti Veyron by his nipples round the Nürburgring whilst being chased by ravenous animals or sticking his face in a fan.
The next morning, the Padawans are transported to an undisclosed location in New York City where The Rachael Ray Show is recorded and they wait in the tiny tacky yellow ‘Green Room’ kitchen somewhere off stage. At last Rachael Ray comes for a short visit, coffee mug in hand, eyes darting everywhere as though she, too, finds the company of non-celebrities to be disconcerting, and she tells them with disinterest whist avoiding their gazes that becoming the Next Food Network Star is ‘always about the story telling and about your personality and the ability to say “yummo.”’
Soon, however, the stage is set and Rachael Ray goes before the studio audience of The Rachael Ray Show and exclaims that ‘It’s a big day in the kitchen!’ She goes on to inform them that the big day in the kitchen includes everything that Dark Lord Flay had told the Padawans just three paragraphs ago, except that she explains it with large and animated hand gestures as though she were using semaphores to guide in an injured aircraft or some strange derivative of American Sign Language for People Standing Rather a Long Way Away.
Cold Steel Whitney is up first. Her traditional family dinner is Chilli and her twist is, after her confident introduction, to make it a ‘gourmazing!’ white chicken chilli. She gets her audience question in, makes her CPOV clear, tells a bit of a story about her brother in a shocking display of personal warmth, and seems to genuinely surprise the Jedi Council, even Dark Lord Flay, who admits ‘job well done’ apart from the fact that he feels her dish is more of a chicken tortilla soup. ‘It’s good, though,’ he shrugs.
With a traditional Shepherd’s Pie to put her twist on, Mary Beth is full of energy during her introduction but, not having a terribly complicated dish and not really having an entire plan in mind for how to fill the three minutes, she lags a bit towards the middle – a fact noted by the mysteriously arrived Susie Fogelson – but hits all of her requisite marks. Bob T believes her not so ‘beige-y’ Shepherd’s Pie is the perfect ‘Mary Beth dish but it’s eleganted up one level.’ Lord Flay, not quite knowing what ‘eleganted’ means, frowns and confesses the carrot purée on top ‘makes it actually look really pretty’ like the charred, mangled ribs of a smouldering Tauntaun after it has taken a close-range Blaster hit and Susie Fogelson says ‘Mm-hm.’
Vic, in contrast, so confident about being back in New York, starts ‘unravelling a little bit’ and forgets that the critical element of his ‘Lachanga’ – a chimichanga made with a filling of left-over lasagne – is that the filling is made with a left-over lasagne, giving a confused Lord Flay pause to reflect that ‘This is the weirdest dish I’ve ever seen.’ Clearly Lord Flay has never enjoyed the high privilege of an eleganted un-devilled egg with a dry bread brioche or is seemingly forgetful of the earlier Horrifying Five Meat Italian Cupcake. Susie Fogelson correctly notices that Vic had offered them ‘nothing about ingredients, no recipe,’ and, in his rush to complete his dish, forgot to field a question from the audience.
Susie is encouraged by Rachael Ray to ‘Relax and speak from your gut.’ Most people are encouraged to speak from the heart but, given that Rachael Ray seems to be fast approaching maximum density, I would imagine the word ‘gut’ is weighing heavily on her mind. And the rest of her anatomy. In her opening, Susie gives the Jedi Council the idea that she is somehow apologising for or denouncing Mexican food. It was clear enough to me that her intention was to imply that Mexican food is more than simply Taco Bell, so unless the Jedi were seeing an alternative version of this opening, their critiques seem unwarranted. Unfortunately, like Vic, Susie becomes too involved in the process of twisting her given Chicken Stir-Fry into fajitas and is oblivious to the uncomfortable-looking woman in the audience anxiously waiting to ask a question, a fact pointed out vociferously by Susie Fogelson who tosses her napkin in irritation. ‘She forgot her fun,’ Bob T makes a sad face.
The blatantly obvious path to Jyll’s impending departure is clearly seen throughout the entirety of her ‘demo’ (or ‘demonstration’) of the traditional meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. Lord Flay’s bias is seen as he gruffly mutters ‘What kind of vegetables?’ at the television monitor whilst, on the screen, Jyll is busy explaining that ‘whatever you have left over’ is fine. Bob T frowns, shouting at the screen ‘Engage the audience! Look at them!’ which she had been doing all along until she needed to look down for a moment or two in preparing her dish for the oven. Susie Fogelson shakes her head in apparent disbelief that Jyll could be so bold as to take a query from an audience member. Under the pressure of three minutes to jump through all of the hoops, Jyll suggests that she wants to put a California twist on Wisconsin comfort food prompting Lord Flay to bark, ‘Where did that idea come from?’ He also is discouraged by the fact that Jyll did not appear to acknowledge Rachael Ray though, frankly, none of the other Padawans paid her much attention either so the criticism feels somewhat misdirected. ‘I won’t remember this,’ concludes Susie Fogelson.
Finally, Jeff, with his Brady Bunch-inspired Pork Chops and Apple Sauce, announces that he is from the mythical land of ‘Illinoise’ and proceeds to dominate the stage and run the demonstration (or ‘demo’) with ease, juggling the camera, the audience, the cooking, and host Rachael Ray in one fluid movement. Lord Flay shakes his head and demands ‘I just wish I would have learned a little more about the food.’ In the largest and most unbelievable admission of double standards I have seen on this programme in many years, Bob T says in rebuttal, ‘Given the complexity of the challenge and how engaging he was, I forgive him that.’
Exhausted from having to deal with so many of the small people all at once and not being the centre of attention, Rachael Ray, now backstage, plops her considerable backside on a seat across from the Jedi Council and says, ‘The sandwich guy killed it for me.’ She admits to disappointment that ‘Mamma’s boy’ didn’t remember to talk to the audience (which he did do, had she been awake to notice) and ‘the Meatloaf was very cute’ but she couldn’t connect it to ‘her concept.’ Nice that she could remember the complex names of Jeff, Vic, and Jyll but, then, she’s a big star with a lot of ways to work ‘E.V.O.O.’ into casual conversation on her mind.
Gathering together before the Jedi in the Council Chambers, the Padawans are told by Susie Fogelson that they had ‘the cooking demo [or ‘demonstration’] on Rachael Ray’s show’ just in case they hadn’t noticed how they had spent the last 47 minutes.
‘In just three short weeks,’ Lord Flay acknowledges that there will, in fact, be an end to this torture, ‘one of you will start filming your own show on Food Network.’
Mary Beth is at first praised for making Shepherd’s Pie look ‘incredibly beautiful’ and for doing ‘a very good job’ of describing herself and her concept, but then is slammed for getting ‘bogged down a little bit’ in the midst of her presentation. The Jedi tell her she lacked her trademark humour, that she could have covered more and that, if she was given ‘a bottle of red wine and some lamb’ she ought to be able to offer a fifteen minute dissertation on them. Jeff is told that everyone had ‘the best time’ watching him on The Rachael Ray Show but he ‘kicked the food under the table,’ according to Dark Lord Flay, meaning that, despite Bob T’s assertion that he could forgive Jeff’s inattention to the food, Lord Flay was still displeased that food took a side seat to the glory of Jeff from Illinoise.
Jyll’s fate is sealed almost immediately when nothing good is said about her ‘demo’ (or ‘demonstration’). ‘Here are my concerns,’ Susie Fogelson launches her attack. ‘I didn’t feel the funny, and I don’t know what the point of view is.’
‘I share Susie’s confusion,’ Bob T concurs. ‘Why should we choose you? Why are you our next star?’
Jyll’s defence is a jumble: ‘I don’t… I can’t… like I’m more the girl who can get more rel – I don’t want to say Ina’s not relatable because she’s a goddess amongst all of us, but… like I’m more the girl on a budget… uhm… sense of humour… fun… relatable… entertaining girl. Maybe. And maybe that’s confusing. So I don’t know…’
When it comes to her presentation, Jyll confesses that she was ‘trying so hard to relate to the audience’ that she didn’t really properly ‘sell’ her food which garners yet another snarling comment from Lord Flay who demands, ‘You gotta do both.’ Though he explained this very same thing to Jeff only seconds earlier, her did it with far less vehemence, making it abundantly clear that Jyll is unappreciated by the Jedi Council.
Vic’s ‘first thirty seconds were brilliant,’ says Bob T, ‘and as you went on it got more difficult for you.’ Vic acknowledges he missed a ‘key, simple sentence’ regarding the nature of his lasagne (i.e. that it was supposed to have been left-over) and Lord Flay insists ‘It was not a finessed dish’ and that Vic had ‘killed it.’ But did he ‘kill it’ bad it or did he ‘kill it’ good? Susie is admonished by Susie Fogelson for trying to overcome ‘a perception for what people feel about Mexican food in this country’ and Lord Flay tells her that, with only six Padawans remaining, ‘every mistake is critical’ and she needs to bring ‘that firecracker attitude’ which has so endeared her to the Council.
Turning on Cold Steel Whitney, Lord Flay expounds that her chilli was ‘more like a soup’ – re-opening the long-held debate over whether chilli is soup or stew – but that he ‘loved the flavour of it.’ She seemed, to Bob T, quite ‘confident and authoritative’ but must ‘work harder to entice and excite people’ to embrace her Culinary Point of view, perhaps through pole dancing. ‘I can’t know enough about you,’ openly admits Susie Fogelson. ‘I want to go deeper.’ Mm-hm…
To the surprise of none, Jeff and Cold Steel Whitney are ranked highest amongst the Padawans – Jeff, of course, being the winner despite kicking his food under the table exactly like Jyll did – and the rest are asked to leave the Council Chambers so that the Jedi might discuss just how to drag out sending Jyll to the Plain Brown Closet Door To Nowhere in the last four minutes of the programme.
Susie, they concur, should have thrived ‘in a big way’ on The Rachael Ray Show with Rachael Ray, ‘and,’ says a dour Lord Flay, ‘obviously that didn’t happen.’ As for Mary Beth, Susie Fogelson now wants to ‘go to her house on Sunday’ for dinner but is as yet unsure if she wants to ‘watch her week in and week out’ and Lord Flay feels she shows ‘flashes of good things in the kitchen’ but may be unable to sustain them. Jyll, in the words of Bob T, ‘doesn’t really embody her POV’ and, to Lord Flay’s mind, she ‘got exposed tonight’ and he questions her ‘authority to teach us about… about anything, really.’ And, not letting a moment slip past to beat the long-dead horse, Susie feels there is ‘an artificiality’ to Jyll that she simply cannot let go. Vic failed to ‘bring it to The Rachael Ray Show,’ complains Lord Flay. ‘Wrap a tortilla around some lasagne – what are you thinking about?’ Susie, on the other hand, is ‘in love with Mamma’s Boy’ but Bob T worries about ‘getting consistency’ from him.
As the bottom four Padawans assemble once more to the echoey hip-hop drums and the energetic string ensemble, the camera pans across each of their faces to remind us of who they are.
‘You four are all good,’ Bob T tells them with a heavy heart, ‘so these are painful cuts for us.’ Lord Flay turns to him with a questioning glance, evidently not quite feeling this eluded to pain as the electronic drums dramatically click away the last precious seconds…
boom-boom… cha… boom-boom… ticka-cha… boom-boom… cha… boom-boom…
‘Jyll…’ smiles Bob T, pausing for a few more seconds of now grating electronic drum sounds. ‘I’m sorry, you’re going home tonight.’
‘Okay,’ she smiles graciously in return, knowing someday she’ll likely have her own programme on The Cooking Channel.
Next time, Mary Beth will be having a tough time here because she has never cooked a whole duck before. ‘Meat,’ Lord Flay will announce as gleefully as a Sith Lord can do, ‘is not the only thing that’s gonna be roasted today. So are you!’ Gilbert Gottfried will call someone a ‘soulless zombie’ (rim-shot!) and some black guy with a bad case of diastema will laugh merrily at something. Jeff will be ‘absolutely terrified’ to likely see Louie Anderson and Wednesday Addams sitting at a table with other ‘comedians’ who have been put out to pasture on VH1. ‘You thought you were gonna get away with that, didn’t ya?’ Judy Gold will ask. ‘Ha-ha! Not here!’ The diastema guy will prod at a something on a plate and probably complete the statement ‘This is the most flavourful dish…’ and Lord Flay will enquire sternly (presumably of Susie) ‘How can we possibly get you to focus?’ Wednesday Addams will be scared of someone’s food (rim-shot!) and Gilbert Gottfried will squint down at his plate and ask, ‘Is this an animal I’ve seen on this planet? (double rim-shot!) and Vic will say, ‘Whoa!’ which may or may not then prompt Lord Flay to ponder ‘The Death of Vic Vegas…’
Set those DVRs, kids…