The Next Food Network Star, Season 10, Episode 8 “One-of-a-Kind Experience”

By Alex Bates


The contestants are at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.  The six remaining chefs are brought into a large conference room, standing in a row across from judges Giada and Alton (Bobby is out again) with a Caesar’s Palace card dealer.  Next, the judges inform them that they will each be treated to an elaborate meal in one of the finest Restaurants in Las Vegas.

First Task:  Contestants will individually enjoy some of the finest meals in Las Vegas, all of which can be found at Caesar’s Palace.  The Caesar’s poker dealer then presents a card for each chef.   Lenny will be treated to a deluxe tasting menu at Guy Savoy; Nicole will gorge on the Serendipity 3′s $1,000 sundae; Sarah will feast on a rib eye lollipop at the Old Homestead Steakhouse; Loreal will enjoy the The $777 Burger at Le Burger Brasserie; Luca will enjoy the gourmet handmade noodles at Beijing Noodle No. 9 and Emma will experience the awesome Nobu hibachi.  This journey is designed to inspire the chefs in preparation for the second half of the challenge (and to advertise these elegant Casear’s Palace restaurants).

The remaining six cooks will be divided into two teams and must prepare a lavish feast for the judges.  Giada and Alton will be joined by Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelman of the Food Network and Las Vegas fixture and former Food Network Chopped and Rachel and Guy’s Celebrity Challenge contestant Penn Gillette (“The Selection Committee”).  Sarah and Emma, as the remaining members of the Bottom three from episode 7 are given the chance to choose the teams.  A large gold coin is flipped and Emma calls “tails”.  The coin is read and it’s tails; Emma will get the first pick.

Second Task:  Teams must present a “360 degree” culinary experience fit for Las Vegas to the judges. Emma picks Lenny and Loreal; Sarah chooses Nicole and Luca.  Both teams appear pretty strong as there only 6 chefs remaining.  Drawing from their earlier individual experiences at the restaurants for ideas, teams must prepare an elegant three course Las Vegas meal.  Each team leader is dealt another three cards and gets to decide which team member gets each of the sophisticated main ingredients.  Sarah draws the Wagyu Beef first and keeps it.  She then gives Luca the Muscovy Duck and Nicole the frogs legs.  Emma chooses the Mangalitsa pork loin (she’s never heard of it but it seems the most accessible); Lenny is given the sea urchin (he’s unfamiliar with it) and Loreal gets the langoustine (a cross between crawfish and lobster).  Teams are then dispatched en masse to the food market purchase items for their menu items.

Sarah is a bit worried when she notices Lenny and Emma are buying wine to match each course of their meal.  Emma’s team is going with an esoteric feast of the gods theme, while Sarah’s team plans a more down to earth foods of the world motif.

First up is Team Sarah.  They work very well together and seamlessly prepare their feast.  Nicole, inspired by the over the top Serendipity 3 $1,000 sundae, in addition to her assigned ingredient, she prepares a delicious, upscale version of s’mores with a candle and fresh marsh mellows for the judges to melt with their dessert.  Sarah’s steak – a generous cut of the Wagyu –  replete with elegant marbling –  is Texas sized.  She also prepares potato and corn side dishes.  She knows after her flop last week that she will have to pour it on.  She will also need to integrate her Texas POV into her food and presentation.  The massive steak, which she expertly seasons and grills, shows that she’s off to a strong start.  Luca, prepares the Moscovy Duck with his typical Italian flair.  He uses a recipe that his grandmother taught him (although originally for pheasant) and he adds the special gravy that she would add to the dish.  Luca is familiar with duck and he prepares it flawlessly.  Nicole prepares her frog legs with tamarind in a Thai inspired dish.  She prepares the frogs legs in a similar manner to chicken wings, dropping them into the deep fryer.

Next Team Sarah must present each dish and serve the judges, seated at long banquet table facing the cooks.  The first to present is Nicole and she does a decent job tying her dish to Thailand, although Susie Fogelman indicates that the link to her fireman husband is somewhat tenuous.  They love her Thai style frog legs and its dipping sauce.  Luca then presents his dish and he’s nervous.  His hands shake as he pours the gravy into each judge’s bowl containing the duck and risotto.  He pulls himself together enough to make a strong presentation, linking the recipe to his grandmother.  Sarah then wows the judges with her giant steak and tasty potato and corn side dishes.  As a bonus, she finally meshes her Texas POV into her presentation and food.  She does an excellent job.  Next up, Nicole presents their dessert.  The judges like the elevated presentation of the s’mores ice cream.  Overall, the judges given them high marks; they feel they have provided an excellent Las Vegas style feast.  Penn Gillette confesses that he thinks Luca has the most star power of the group.

Team Emma next takes to the kitchen to prepare their feast.  While at first it seemed they were in a strong position, their confidence quickly dissipates.  Emma has never prepared this elegant Mangalitsa pork loin and she stuffs it with sweet fruit and herbs, as one might do with a more pedestrian cut of pork.  Lenny is also a bit over his head in preparing the sea urchin, which he places on a bed of pureed cauliflower (he jokes that his buddies would laugh if he went to a sushi restaurant, never mind eat sea urchin).  Loreal readies her lackluster langoustine dish and burnt marsh mellow dessert.

Team Emma’s presentation immediately lapses into the bizarre, with vague references to  ancient deities or gods and goddesses.  Lenny is uncomfortable and brings his usual zealous delivery, which in this intimate setting, is too much.  Loreal at one point tosses fresh rose petals onto the judges table.  Loreal is out of her depth, professing no knowledge of Greek Myths.  Emma gives a pleasant introduction but her food reflects her inexperience; the judges don’t like it.  They refer to this experience as “bizarre” and “uncomfortable”.  It becomes clear that Team Emma is in trouble and that one of its members will be going home.


Both teams appear before the judges after Team Emma’s meal service is complete.  The Select Committee tells the contestants that those that survive elimination  will be headed to New York City. They are generally pleased with Team Sarah, although, there are a few criticisms of Luca’s nervousness and Nicole’s difficulty tying her POV to her Thai inspired dish.

Team Emma was a disaster by comparison. The judges did note that Team Emma did some good things including the wine pairings.  But the ancient deity theme seemed confused and the difficult to prepare dishes like sea urchin failed to impress.  Even Lenny had a down week, although he is the first to be told he is safe.  The Food Network executives noticed Loreal’s regression from earlier in Season 10.  Emma’s poor cooking and role as team leader for the losing team, however, tilted the balance towards her elimination.  The judges announce that it’s Emma’s time to go.  She hugs her new friends and is sad that she won’t be going the New York with the group.


Team Emma was the clear loser this week.  Unfortunately for Emma she took the fall for her team.  She had been in trouble the two prior weeks and this was the culmination of her slide into oblivion.  Emma is clearly talented and should be on camera somewhere.  She has a confident easy going demeanor.  I think her downfall was her relative lack of cooking experience (this week it was the poorly executed pork loin).  She also made questionable decisions.  In Episode 6 she did the French accent for her product commercial; last week she made visitors to her station at the pool party construct and prepare their own dishes and this week she came up with the confusing ancient deity theme.  It seems she was trying to fit into the Caesar’s Palace concept but her plan was never fully realized and it handcuffed both Lenny and Loreal.  As a byproduct, it sapped their usual confidence and left them looking confused and lacking confidence.  Make no mistake, Emma is young and talented and we should expect to see more of her in the future.  I would imagine that being on a show like Food Network Star is a turbo charged learning experience, which may take several months to fully process.  She will learn from her mistakes and be better for it.  Much like Chris Kyler, last week’s eliminee, she is great on camera but needs to work on her culinary expertise.

Of the remaining 5 contestants, Lenny is still the favorite.  I think that any of the other 4 can still win it, but they don’t have much room for error.  Sarah was finally able to connect her POV to her food and presentation.  Nicole and Luca, despite some shaky moments did a great job as well.  That leads to this week’s rankings

1. Lenny – still the one to beat, in spite of his underwhelming performance.  Can he dial back the Lenny Show for a smaller audience?

2. Nicole – She has a solid POV and has proven to be a good cook and solid on camera.

3. Luca – Although already eliminated once, he has regained his footing.  But can he conquer his nerves and keep progressing quickly enough?

4. Sarah – She rallied this week and delivered perhaps her finest performance to date.  Can she continue to weave her POV into her presentations and food?

5. Loreal – The Butcher Babe can still bring it in the solo competitions, particularly with her presentations.  She’s by no means out of this but she appeared to regress this week on Team Emma.


© Copyright 2014     Photos courtesy of Food Network.

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J.J. Abrams Reveals X-Wing in ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’

Pure Fluff:

Not sure about this one….but will have to wait and see.

Originally posted on Variety:

In a new video from the set of “Star Wars: Episode VII,” director J.J. Abrams showed off a first look at the X-Wing starfighter that will appear in the film.

The teaser gives a good look at the spacecraft well-known from George Lucas’ first trilogy of films, with Abrams’ version clearly meant to reference the existing sci-fi franchise’s universe. It’s already been revealed that Han Solo’s Millennial Falcon also appears in the seventh film.

The introduction of the X-Wing is the second video from the set of Abrams’ “Star Wars: Episode VII.”

In announcing “Force for Change,” Abrams provided a look at a creature from Tatooine, the desert home of Anakin and Luke Skywalker’s dusty home planet, recreated in Abu Dhabi for “Episode VII.”

SEE ALSO: J.J. Abrams Teases ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’ with UNICEF Charity Initiative Video

The introduction of the X-Wing is the final push in Disney, Lucasfilm…

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The Next Food Network Star Season 10, Episode 7 “Vegas Pool Party” – Recap and Analysis



The contestants arrive in Las Vegas by van and notice their faces on the marquis of Caesar’s Palace.  They are excited to arrive at the plaza outside of the casino.  Giada and Alton greet them but Bobby is back in New York.  Alton announces that one contestant has earned their way back into the competition in the Star Salvation competition.  Emerging from behind the curtain is Luca the Italian chef eliminated early in the competition. Giada then asks them to meet her at the Caesar’s Palace Buffet.  The contestants assemble there and Giada introduces their first task of this episode.

First Task:  The chefs must describe three dishes that Giada has selected from buffet.  They must describe each dish in mouthwatering detail in order to move onto the next dish.  They have only 90 seconds to describe up to three dishes.

Chris goes first and fails to get past the first of the three Italian dishes.  Nicole is up next and struggles with the proper words to describe the broth she tastes.  She uses words like “viscosity” and “unctuous” and falls flat.  Sarah then cannot describe a pepper gazpacho.  She tells Giada that is difficult to describe.  Emma is up next and ties each dish to her personal experience using lively language.  She nails it and is allowed to describe all three dishes, while the others are stuck on one.  Loreal is given Mexican food and lacks the passion to describe it eloquently.  Luca must next describe seafood.  First up is ceviche, which he aptly describes and Giada is impressed enough to allow him to describe the second dish.  He’s really grown in his absence.  Lenny is up next with polenta and a meatball.  Lenny cracks jokes and is able to get through one dish and Giada says “you got me”.

Overall Giada is unimpressed as only Emma got through all three dishes.  Giada tells them to meet her at the Venus Pool the following day for the next challenge which will require a better performance from most of them.

Second Task:  The chefs will have 60 minutes to prepare a dish for a 100 person pool party.  They will then have 3 minutes to present their dish to the crowd assembled at the pool and convince them to visit their station and leave a casino chip in exchange for their dish.  Each member of the crowd will have 3 tokens to give out, one for each chef.  The audience members will also be given a meter to turn up or down during each presentation.  The farther up the meter goes, the more buzzworthy the presentation.

The drama starts immediately when Chris beats Sarah to the beef tenderloin.  Sarah wanted to prepare beef to present her Texas POV.  She is forced to choose pork to go with her grits instead when Chris refuses to share the beef with her.  Loreal prepares a Louisiana Surf and Turf while Emma goes with a Thai calamari and mango satay.  She decides to setup a self-serve area at her station.  Lenny is making coffee crusted lamb burger sliders with curry ketchup.  He combines the cowboy elements of coffee and meat into a zesty burger.  Luca goes with an Italian seafood salad or insalata di mare.  Nicole sticks with her POV by offering a scallop with prosciutto, although she tells everyone its Serrano Ham.

Chris is the first to present and once again he provides an entertaining, energetic performance but once again is unfocused. Alton notes that he fails to describe his food.  Sarah has a decent presentation but doesn’t truly describe her POV (Texas); she just mentions Texas over and over.  It fails to inspire the judges or the crowd.  Nicole does a good job describing her POV her scallop and Serrano ham.  Loreal is bubbly but doesn’t really describe the food.  Emma does another lavish description of the food and how it fits into her life and POV.  The judges love it.  Lenny is up next and delivers a power packed performance.  He promises to do a belly flop into the pool if he gets enough chips.  The judges like his presentation.  Luca wants to impress the judges after his early failures.  He does a great job and all of the women in the crowd love him.  Alton is also impressed.

Now the partygoers will have to select the food they would like to eat.  Lenny is the big winner but his neighbor Sarah has virtually no visitors to her booth.  She’s frustrated looking over at Lenny’s successful performance while she lounges in anonymity.

Nicole does a good job attracting visitors but Alton and Giada see that she is using prosciutto.  They call her out on it and she’s embarrassed.  They like her scallop and romesko sauce but don’t like the prosciutto.  Loreal is getting a healthy number of chips and the judges enjoy her food.  Luca’s station is full of women.  The judges enjoy his seafood dish as well.  He seems to be on the right track.  Chris is getting visitors but his dish is disappointing.  The judges like the mushroom chip but the beef tenderloin is massively overcooked.  The judges like Sarah’s grits better than her pork, which they don’t feel fits her POV.  Emma’s do it yourself station is a big flop.  She is concerned with the dearth of traffic.  The judges think her presentation is off putting and poorly thought out.  The judges love Lenny’s dish and it’s a hit with the crowd as well.  He has the most tokens by far.  In celebration of his obvious victory, Lenny unbuttons his shirt and belly flops into the pool.


Giada and Alton now assemble the chefs to render judgment.  Giada tells them at this point you either have it or you don’t.  Alton tells Emma that she gave too much power over to the client; she should not do that but rather prepare the food herself.  Giada tells Chris his presentation was decent but his food was awful. They loved the mushroom chip, though.  He must deliver on his promise to elevate everyday food.  Loreal’s food was good but she did not connect it with her Butcher Babe POV.  Giada tells Nicole not to mislead her audience otherwise they won’t trust her.  Sarah’s POV was not properly connected to her pork.  Luca was the “comeback kid” according to Giada and he did a great job.  Alton gives Lenny a lot of praise for his dish and performance; he’s the winner.  Luca, Nicole and Loreal performed well enough to avoid elimination.

That means Emma, Sarah and Chris are in the bottom three.  Emma did well in 2/3 of the challenges but flopped in her food delivery.  Sarah and Chris have both failed to define their POVs and the food has underwhelmed.   The judges now make their final decision.  Emma’s food description ability saves her for the week.  Chris is a charismatic and entertaining guy but he has not delivered on his promise to elevate food.  Sarah’s Texas POV is weak and she hasn’t gelled yet.  The judges then deliver the bad news, Chris is going home.  Chris is philosophical about it, saying he used to be homeless.  He’s happy to have gotten this far but obviously badly wanted to win.  Still, he takes a lot of good from the experience.


This week offered another knockout performance by Lenny.  Luca, Nicole and Loreal were able to connect with the judges enough to impress them.  Emma did well describing her food, but her food station was so poorly executed she got the fewest tokens.  Sarah barely hung on after failing once again to define her POV and connect it to her personal experience.  There are six chefs remaining.

It’s easy to see why these six remaining chefs were chose as contestants for season.  They all have some level of ability.  But it’s becoming clearer which chefs are the most able to put it all together – combing their POV, on camera charisma and cooking skills.  Lenny clearly has delivered the best overall performance, alhough not without mistake.  The rest have had more ups and downs. All have shown flashes but in order to win you have prove that can deliver the whole package.  It’s hard to bet against Lenny at this point.  I think Luca, Loreal and Nicole are still in it and have an outside chance if Lenny stumbles.  I don’t think Sarah or Emma and can make up lost ground, absent a miracle (but I’m rooting for them).

Time for this week’s power rankings:

1. Lenny – He’s back on top and is the clear winner.

2. Loreal – She continues to impress with her cooking, although her presentation was a bit flawed.

3. Luca – He’s back with a vengeance and is now a real threat to win this competition.

4. Nicole – She steadied herself with a solid performance.  She will be tough to eliminate if she competes like this each week.

5. Emma – She did an amazing job describing the food but fell flat with her food station.  This was just poor planning and is a mistake that probably won’t be repeated. Still, for the second week in a row her bad decisions have put her on the bottom.

6. Sarah – She’s very likeable but keeps making the same mistakes.  She needs to clearly define her POV and connect it to her own life.  If she can finally get this she might have a chance.  Otherwise, she will be the next to go.

© Copyright 2014     Photos courtesy of Food Network.

The Next Food Network Star Season 10, Episode 6 – “Product Commercial” – Recap & Analysis


Giada instructs the chefs that the judges are trying to guide them to finding their Point of view (POV), their unique angle that will make them stand out.  Towards this end, this week, the remaining 7 contestants each must develop a packaged food product that personifies their POV and produce a 30 commercial to market it.   Alton is not in the studio with them but rather at Zoot Studios where they have an advanced stage which allows for the contestants to pitch their product in any place around the world.

Task:  Contestants have 60 minutes to prepare their product.  They will then consult a packaging expert who will help them create an attractively constructed product which they can sell in their commercials.  They will then head to a modern digital Hollywood studio to film their commercials.

Chris makes innovative butter coins called Culinary Treasures. Lenny is making a hot sauce which includes several hot peppers.  He calls it Black Mamba’s Brandin’ Iron Hot Sauce.  Lenny, per Giada’s advice, tries all of the peppers as he selects them for inclusion in his sauce.  He begins to sweat and gulps down a carton of milk.  Sarah Penrod makes Little Chef’s Baby Food with Texas South Western Flavors.  She uses black beans, lime, coconut and roasted baby bell peppers.  Sarah has two young boys, aged 1 and 2.  The judges like the Caribbean flavors of the baby food.  Loreal also makes a hot sauce, with peppers and watermelon, bourbon rind pickles.  She calls it simply, “Dang”.  Nicole makes New Jersey Tomato and Onion jam in a nod to her New Jersey roots and Coastal Cuisine POV.  Reuben also makes a hot sauce.  His sauce is raw and very spicy.  Giada finds it too hot so he adds sugar.  Emma is making pickled beets, which celebrates her heritage farming Point of View.  Giada says she needs to find a way to make it stand out, as beets can scare people.

Next, chefs are assigned different backdrops which they must use in their commercials.  Loreal gets a tomato patch;  Rueben gets the moon;  Lenny the Great Wall of China; Emma Paris; Chris gets the desert; Nicole gets a tough test for her in the Old West and Sarah a laid back tropical island.

The contestants consult with the packaging expert, a graphic designer named Mercedes.  They have varying levels of success.  Chris Kyler wraps his coin shaped butter in tin foil which is the most eye catching and marketable; he could put this product in stores now.  The rest look decent enough given the time constraints, with simple labels on jars.  Reuben makes “Miami Spice”; Nicole makes “Coley’s Tomato Jam”.

The chefs then head to the studios to make their commercials.  It’s just a giant green arena with a virtual set – the background will be added later.  They are met by Mike and Sal from Zoic studios and John Dexter from Niant Studios.  They are at the only 360 degree green studio in the world.

Teams work with an experienced director who guides them through the production of their commercials in the overwhelming green set, which contains only a small screen with each contestant’s background on it.

Sarah films her beach scene where she will harvest the coconuts for her baby food.  Unfortunately she has written too much for her 30 second spot.  She decides to freestyle and keep it natural.  She finds it a bit frightening.  Nicole is overwhelmed by her surroundings and the giant green screen.  She cannot pull herself together and can’t quite navigate the Western Theme.  Loreal is jazzed to be in her set with a giant tomato garden.  She decides to wing it and feels comfortable and happy in her tomato world.  Reuben seems a bit out of his depth on the moon set.  He fails to tie the moon to his Miami Spice hot sauce.  Emma creates a French character to sell her product in the Paris scene.  Chris Kyler goes with an Indiana Jones theme for his “Culinary Treasure” Butter Coins.  Lenny is a bit confused by the green set which contains just a couple of rocks.  He doesn’t feel comfortable in the middle of the green set and overcompensates by laying the cowboy charm on too thick.

The chefs will be judged for their performance in both parts of the challenge. Food Network Executives, Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson are brought in to help bobby and Giada decide the winners and losers and assess their progress.

Emma is up first and her overzealous French accent is unintelligible.  The judges didn’t enjoy it at all and she didn’t present her POV.  She should have been an American in Paris.  The judges love her beets, though.  She seems to be safe, in spite of her French faux pas.

Lenny blazes through his cowboy shtick and fails to reference the Great Wall of China, where he is standing.  He oversells the product and doesn’t integrate the Great Wall in any way.  They love his spicy sauce, though.  Lenny is probably safe as well.

Chris Kyler’s commercial rambles.  He doesn’t present his POV or the product well.  He gets lost in the Indiana Jones theme.  Giada tells him to focus “all the way through”.   Bob and Susie love his product but his commercial weighs him down.  His product should bail him out, though.

Nicole tightens up and offers a tepid product endorsement amidst the Western Theme.  She seems out of sorts and lacks star power.  Her Tomato and Onion Jam wows the judges though.  It’s hard to say if she’s going to squeak through or not.

Loreal hits a home run.  Her giant tomato garden is a perfect fit for her personality and POV.  They love her sauce too.  It all seems to fit and her brand is beginning to gel.

Sarah does a great job on her commercial but fails to tie her product to any of her personal experiences.  Bobby says it is the best they’ve seen from her yet.  Giada feels this is a big miss for her, not bringing in her sons.  The judges like her baby food, including the underlying coconut flavor.

Reuben’s moon shot falls flat.  He flatly describes his product and doesn’t use the moon at all.  He gives “a bunch of excuses” according to Giada.  They like the flavor of his product but his on camera performance has regressed and once again underwhelms.  He could be in trouble.

Bob announces that the 6 remaining contestants will be heading to Las Vegas for next week’s episode.  The chefs celebrate chances of going to Vegas.


Emma, as usual shows a lot of spirit, but her POV is relatively generic and tough to bring out; she leaves a lot of room for improvement.  Reuben did not do well and continues to make excuses and he says, “No more excuses”.  Giada tells Nicole to believe in herself and that her product was great.  Lenny did not integrate the Great Wall of China.  Sarah did not effectively combine her POV with baby food.  Chris did not plan his commercial well and did not sell his excellent product.

According to the judges, Loreal made the best commercial and Chris the best product.  So they are the first chefs to earn their trip to Las Vegas.  Lenny and Sarah also did well enough to avoid elimination and they will join Chris and Loreal in Las Vegas.  That leaves Reuben, Nicole and Emma on the block.

Nicole, according to Giada and Bobby has done a good job overall but this was a big step back.  The judges are concerned that Reuben looked small on camera.  Emma made a good product but had a big miss with her French accent.  The judges have made their decision, as two of the cooks have more potential.

Emma gets the good news first and she is spared elimination.  It’s down to Nicole and Reuben.  Bobby Flay announces that it’s Reuben’s time to go home.  He just didn’t deliver on camera.


It was sad to see Reuben go, but he seemed to make the same mistakes week after week.  His on camera performance never really evolved into a coherent identity that reflected his naturally upbeat personality and fun POV.  It’s always an unhappy moment when you see someone’s dreams disappear before your eyes, but it’s competition and the rest of the group is off to Vegas.

The big losers this week were Nicole and Emma.  Both had gained some momentum in prior weeks but clearly lost it in on camera performances (although their products were good).  Emma’s energy was great but her French accent was not well conceived or received. Nicole’s product was solid but her time in the green zone left her flustered and a hot mess.  There’s still time to recover though, as every week presents new challenges as long as you don’t eliminated.

Loreal took the favorable setup and crushed it in the tomato patch.  She seems to be up and down though, like many of the competitors.  Chris has great camera presence but is too scattered in his presentations; he’s likable but fails to deliver a focused POV.  But his product was so good it gave him a pass until next week.

Sarah and Lenny muddled through with solid products and middling presentations.  Sarah seems to have a lot of potential but has not yet been able to combine her POV and personal experience into a compelling narrative.  Lenny had a bit of an off week but should be back at ‘em next time.  Until next week’s addition of the Star Salvation winner, we are down to six contestants.  This leads to this week’s power rankings.

1. Lenny – had a bit of a tough week, but managed to keep moving along.

2. Loreal – She hit on all cylinders this week and had a positive impact on the judges.

3. Nicole – She had a tough week and fell into the bottom three but she still remains a natural talent that needs to keep her confidence up.  She is attractive, can cook and generally does well on camera.

4. Sarah – She had a solid performance this week but hasn’t put it all together yet.  While she remains a photogenic, compelling on camera performer her POV is still not quite congealed.

5. Chris – Although his product was a home run, he struggled to develop a coherent on camera message, in spite of his on camera charm.  He has the problem week after week.

6. Emma – She has a bubbly personality and does well in challenges, but her POV is weak and she is prone to making blunders, like this week’s French accent debacle.  She has talent but will she put it together before it’s too late?

© Copyright 2014    Photos courtesy of Food Network

Master Chef Season 5, Episode 8, Top 14 Compete, “Cutting it Close, Again” – Recap and Analysis


This episode begins with the home cooks on a bus, headed for their next challenge.  Led by Chef Elliot, they are dropped off at Dinah’s the iconic Culver City, CA diner.  Given its signage and décor it appears to have been opened in the early 1960s.  Judges Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich greet the home cooks.  Dinah’s serves over 1,000 plates of food per day and it will be the home cooks’ task to prepare this famous menu for a group of loyal Dinah’s patrons.

The All American Diner Challenge:  Teams are divided into two teams of seven; each team is responsible for cooking for one half of the diner during its busy time of day.  The judges decide to pick the team captains who will lead their respective teams during the competition.  Teams are divided into boys and girls.  Each team selects one member from the opposite team.  The women select Christian and the men select Victoria.  Diners will be given a blue or red colored dollar to tip for their meal if they enjoyed it.  If the service or food was bad, they won’t tip.  The team that collects the most tips will win the challenge and have immunity.  The losers will face the dreaded Pressure Challenge.  Christine will lead the all women team and Big Willie will lead the all guy team.

The competition starts as the customers begin arriving.  Christine is calling out orders for the Red Team and Willie for the Blue.  Willie struggles keeping track of the orders. Leslie is also having trouble cooking the eggs in an expedient manner.  Their service is unbearably slow.  Daniel asks Willie if he wants him take over but Willie says no.  A true home cook, Willie has never worked in a professional kitchen and is in the weeds. Graham Elliot gives Willie a few pointers.  Daniel is the quality control chef and he keeps pushing back against Leslie’s inconsistent eggs.  Willie replaces Leslie with Victoria on the egg station.  Leslie is demoted to toast.  Unfortunately for the Blue Team, the orders have backed up.  Eight diners walk out before being served and others finish their meals without tipping.  Advantage Red Team.

The Red Team is operating more efficiently for the most part but Elise is having trouble making the bread for her club sandwiches crispy enough.  Elizabeth jumps in to help her out.  The Red Team is falling behind now but catches up amidst the Blue Team’s meltdown.  It looks like the Red Team will be spared the Pressure Test but they have issues with the fried chicken that Christian is preparing – it’s rather raw.  This problem is fixed, although some diners don’t like the chicken.  Christine pushes her team to get every tip possible.  The competition ends as the last diners deposit their tips.

The following day the teams reassemble in the Master Chef Kitchen.  The other cooks continue to abuse Leslie, but he takes the high road as usual.  The final tally is in and one team made just $5 more.  The Red Team wins with $87 dollars, the Blue Team $82.  The 8 diners that walked out had a giant impact on the results.  Too bad to for the guys team – they must face the dreaded Pressure Test!

Before the Pressure Test, however, Willie is given the choice of whether to take immunity for himself or save three members of his team.  He offers to save three members of his team instead of being selfish.  He led the team and takes responsibility for its failures.  He saves Daniel, Scottish Francis and Victoria.  The rest of the Blue must cook for their aprons.

Pressure Test:  The home cooks will have 90 minutes to prepare red velvet cake, a “Southern Classic”.  It has cream cheese frosting with a dense cake with at least three delectable layers.  At their stations they will have the all the ingredients required.  The key will be the density of the batter and the cream cheese will have to be tangy and thick enough to act like glue.  The cake will need at least 25 minutes to cook and the contestants will have to prepare this first and get this going first.  One of the four home cooks, Willie, Leslie, Dan Wu and Cutter will be going home.

Big Willies feels at home at this challenge, he has made red velvet cake many times.  The key, Willie says, is not to overwork the batter.  He seems to be well on his way to immunity and adds roasted pecans to his cake.  Leslie also seems on top of it.  Dan Wu and Cutter, on the other hand, are having trouble (no surprise here).  Dan Wu is taking far too long to finish the batter and it’s too thick.  This is Leslie’s third pressure test, while many others have not even had one.  Dan Wu’s cake appears to be in trouble and Cutter tries to decorate his cake (but it looks fur that fell off of Sesame Street’s Elmo).

The home cooks finish their cakes and it’s time for the Judges taste them.  Chef Ramsay says Willie’s cake is slightly off visually, but his layer ratios and taste are spot on.  The batter and frosting are perfect, the judges agree.  Next up, Leslie has prepared another knockout dish for a Pressure Test.  He adds pistachios to the outside and uses vanilla in his icing and the judges agree it’s great.  Even though the other contestants dislike Leslie, he says that he only needs to impress the judges.

Dan Wu’s cake is overcooked.  The red velvet cake has a wooly texture and Joe says it seems homemade.  Chef Ramsay says the outside of his cake looks like a “hairy back”.  He has put too much frosting on his cake.  It is moist and delicious but it’s far too sweet.  His ratios are off though with too much sweetness.  Cutter disagrees with Chef Ramsay that his cake is too sweet.  Chef Elliot tells him that he should know that the judges have the better palate and can better judge the level of sweetness.  Joe then accosts Cutter, who continues to defend himself.  Cutter is getting extremely defensive.  Chef Joe continues to push him and Cutter flounders.  Joe asks Cutter who he thinks should be sent home and says “Leslie”.  Leslie laughs at Cutter and says, “Are you still here”.  The judges confer in order to decide who is going home.

Big Willie is the first to be safe from elimination.  Leslie’s excellent cake also has earned him a spot on the balcony.  The bottom two once again are Cutter and Dan Wu.  Cutter squeaks through and Dan Wu has cooked his final dish.  His cake was too dry with the texture of a biscuit, so it’s time to turn in his apron.  There are now 13 Chefs remaining.

Once again Cutter slides by in a Pressure Test.  But to be fair, many of the cooks have not been forced into even one such task.  Chefs like Elise and Jaimee have skipped through largely unscathed.  The way the competition unfolds, it allows for the less talented to survive by being on the winning team. The Pressure Tests reveal the top competitors.  Leslie is a beast in these tests and has given the judges a lot of good work.  Other talented cooks (Elizabeth, Victoria, Frances, Christine) have not had as many chances to show their skills.  Now that we are down to 13 contestants it will be harder for Elise and Jaimee to hide.  Judging from the preview for next week’s episode, Elise has some sort of medical issue which may be due to the stress of actually having to cook under pressure.   We’ll have to wait and see what that is all about.

Predictably Dan Wu was sent packing.  He seems like a nice guy and a decent chef and not everyone can successfully prepare new dishes under pressure.  It was clear the Dan Wu had not ever prepared anything similar to the red velvet cake in this week’s challenge.  Leslie contines his success in the challenges and remains in the upper tier of competitors.  That brings us to this week’s rankings….

First Tier – Likely Final 4

1. Leslie – Despite the other contestants that want to do him in, he remains the King of the Pressure Tests.

2. Courtney – She didn’t do much this week but remains a viable competitor.

3. Ahran – She was also on the winning Red Team this week so we didn’t see much from her.

4. Francis – He was on the losing team but spared the Pressure Test by Willie.

The Second Tier – Potential Threats

5. Christine – She showed the ability to lead her team and emerged from the pack.

6. Big Willie – He did not shine as the team leader but his red velvet cake wowed the judges.

7. Daniel – He stepped up for the Blue Team, although in a losing effort.

Third Tier – Middle of the Pack

8. Elizabeth – Did well a couple episodes ago but largely invisible this week.

9. Victoria – She pitched in for the Blue Team in a close loss.

10. Christian – He undercooked chicken for the second time.  He seems to be overrated as a chef.

11. Jaimee – Has proven little beyond her ability to bake blueberry pie.

Fourth Tier – Most in Danger of Elimination

12.  Cutter – He had a major meltdown trying to defend his overly sweet cake.  His days are likely numbered unless his attitude improves. Strangely though, his cake was not that bad.  Is his cooking actually improving?

13.  Elise – She was almost eliminated in first episode and has managed to slide through without having to perform a solo Pressure Test in recent weeks.  She is likely a goner when she does.

© Copyright 2014    Photos courtesy of Fox

Master Chef – “Top 15 Compete” Recap and Analysis – “Can’t we all just get along?”


This week the Chefs are required to work in pairs.  Courtney, as the winner of the previous challenge, has won immunity in this challenge and the honor of picking the teams.  She gets to watch it all from the safety of the balcony.  Gordon Ramsay asks Leslie whom he would *not* like to cook with and he says “Ahran” (pronounced Ah-Rahn, which Leslie says as eye-ran).  Courtney then picks the teams.

The Teams:  Christian and Francis B., Jaimee and Elizabeth, Victoria and Christine, Big Willie and Daniel, Leslie and Ahran, Francis L. and Elise.

The Challenge:  The 7 teams will have one hour to prepare a delicious combination of surf (seafood) and turf (land based meat).  They will have only 5 minutes of the 60 to collect their items from the pantry.  Once they leave the pantry and they cannot return for more items.

Cutter and Elizabeth both express their excitement at the endless possibilities of this challenge.  Yet, Cutter and Dan Wu cannot agree on the ingredients for their dish and they fail to execute a coherent strategy, choosing only 7 items from the pantry.  Ahran and Leslie, somewhat surprisingly, work well as a team.  Is the drama over?  Christian and Francis B. also seem in synch.  Francis L. and Elise also seem to be on the same page, although she seems to be dragging Francis down.  Cutter and Dan Wu do not appear to be on the same page and Gordon Ramsay takes note.  Cutter expresses rage at Dan Wu and calls him “an idiot for a partner” who won’t listen to him.  Cutter continues to melt down as they try to prepare a winning dish.  Dan Wu, tells Cutter to “not worry about it” and to not “flip out”.

Christian and Francis B. seem to be cooking well together, but it remains to be seen whether their cooking will be any good.  Gordon Ramsay notes that Leslie and Ahran are working well together.  He corrects Leslie’s mangled pronunciation of her name.  Leslie tells Ramsay that Ahran is in charge; Chef Ramsay quips to Ahran that Leslie is now “your bitch”.  Teams finish their dishes and must now present them to the judges.

First up are Ahran and Leslie.  Courtney notes that they worked well together and have prepared a solid dish or so it appears from her lofty perch.  They have a prepared a Pork Belly Tostada with Crab Guacamole and Kimchi Fried Rice.  Graham Elliot notes the excellence of their dish; Chef Joe notes the true marriage of flavors; Chef Ramsay notes the harmonious seasoning.  Ahran comments that she has a newfound respect for Leslie and the hatchet is now buried.

Next up are Dan Wu and Cutter.  Gordon Ramsay is embarrassed that they have done such a poor job with all of the pantry ingredients available to them.  He asks them “what the fuck is that?”.  Their sad plate consists of tuna and venison with a sprig of baby carrots in the middle. Cutter expresses his fury at Dan Wu for failing to work with him.  They then introduce their less than spectacular Seared Venison Loin on a bed of Cauliflower and Parsnips with Seared Ahi Tuna on a three radish salad.  Ramsay comments that this could be the worst dish in the competition so far.  Joe takes a look at the dish, then grabs the garbage can asks Cutter to “do the honor” of dumping it in the trash.  Dan Wu takes the high road and does not blame Cutter. They appear to be in big trouble.  Have they prepared the worst dish?

Francis L. and Elise are next.  It’s a Rack of Lamb, with Yogurt, Risotto and Caviar.  It’s not up to Francis L’s usual standards.  Elise did not prepare the lamb properly and Chef Ramsay is not impressed.

Jaimee and Elizabeth offer Joe a Lamb & Red Snapper with Carrots and Kale. Joe likes the dish and comments that it is nicely seasoned.  It captures the spirit that the Chefs were looking for; they appear to be safe.

Big Willie and Daniel have prepared Seared Ahi Tuna with Buttermilk Miso Fried Chicken.  Chef Ramsay likes the flavors and thinks they captured the spirit and character of the challenge.  They are clearly safe.

Elizabeth and Christine’s Pork Belly & Monkfish with Green Apple Risotto is a hit with Chef Elliot.  He says they have made a “really good dish”.

Francis B. and Christian have prepared a Moroccan Spiced Rib-eye with King Crab.  Courtney believes their two egos will clash and result in a failed dish.  She is proven correct, as Chef Ramsay is seriously underwhelmed.  He says they could have easily prepared this dish on their own and this is a “school dinner”.  They each now have one foot out the door.

And the winners are….Victoria and Christine.  Also safe are Jaimee and Elizabeth, Big Willie and Daniel and Ahran and Leslie.  Francis L., Elise, Francis B. and Christian and Cutter and Dan Wu are the bottom three and in danger of having to compete in the elimination challenge.  But it revealed that Elise and Francis L. are safe from elimination, which means the other two teams must now compete in the pressure test, as individuals.

Pressure Test:  The home cooks have just 60 minutes to make a six springs with a delicious dipping sauce.  They should be light, crispy and crunchy and bursting with flavor.  They all have the exact same set of ingredients.  Up to two chefs could be sent home.

Dan Wu, born in China, seems to have an advantage.  Cutter is pissed that Dan Wu has been lobbed a softball he can hit out of the park.  Cutter is frustrated and fears the axe while Francis B. exudes his usual cockiness.  Christian and Cutter have never prepared spring rolls but Dan Wu has many times.   He uses a pasta roller to make smooth wrappers.

As time winds down, Chef Ramsay expresses concern for Francis B., who seems out of his element.  Cutter seems to in trouble too, as he needs to bang out another spring roll (one of his rolls has unwound in the fryer).  Francis B’s fryer is not hot enough and has to put his rolls into a pan for another fry.  The judges note that this could result in greasy spring rolls, which would likely result in elimination.

Christian’s spring rolls have good flavor but are unevenly rolled.  Graham Elliot likes them and calls them “better than average” takeout food. Joe notes that Francis B’s rolls are greasy and tells him that if he goes home tonight he can “order in some spring rolls”.  He seems to be in trouble.  Dan Wu succeeds, with an excellent sauce, although the rolls have far too much dough, as Chef Ramsay notes.  Cutter does not provide enough sauce and his rolls are “all dough” according to Joe.  His rolls are very sweet, no heat at all.

Graham Elliot explains that this was one of the hardest challengers ever for a Master Chef Pressure test.  But somebody will be going home.  Christian prepared the best spring roll and is safe.  Dan Wu failed to measure up the Judges’ high expectations but his sauce saved him from elimination and he’s safe.  That means both Cutter and Francis B. are in danger.  But in the end, Cutter escapes and Francis B. is sent home for his greasy spring rolls.  Joe says that Francis B. started off as a tough competitor but went into freefall and now must go home.  Francis B. must now turn his apron.  But he leaves the competition inspired to be a better cook.


This episode marks the departure of Francis B. from the competition.  It also ended the Ahran – Leslie fued, at least for now.  If they are able to work together, they present a greater threat to their competitors.  Once again Queen Courtney presided of her minions, watching like Rapunzel from the balcony.  Christine and Victoria emerged as serious competitors with their victory in the Surf and Turf Challenge.

Since we are now down to 14 cooks, it’s time to prepare our first Master Chef Power Rankings for Season 5.

First Tier – Likely Final 4

1. Courtney – She rules this roost at this point.

2. Ahran – While only a teenager, she continues to wow the judges with her sophisticated beyond her years cooking.

3. Leslie – Remains a tough competitor, many of his competitors don’t like him but the judges do.

4. Francis L. – Still a great cook, although being paired with Elise dragged him down this week.

The Second Tier – Potential Threats

5. Big Willie – we have not heard from his recently, but he has been a solid performer

6. Elizabeth – She won last week’s challenge and cooked well enough to be avoid this week’s pressure test.

7. Victoria – She continues to climb the ladder of success in this competition.

Third Tier – Middle of the Pack

8. Daniel – He’s been a solid competitor but we haven’t seen a whole lot of his work as he continues to slide under the radar.

9. Christine – We have not seen much of her, although she and Victoria won this round.  Hard to place her at this point.

10. Christian – He won the pressure test, although this doesn’t say much.  His ego exceeds his skill as a chef

11. Jaimee – She did well this week but has been spotty.

Fourth Tier – Most in Danger of Elimination

12.  Dan Wu – He did not impress the judges with his second rate egg roll and he’s Chinese.

13. Cutter – on the bottom again and is dangerously close to extinction

14. Elise – She has largely been carried through by the others and she is battling it out with Cutter for the worst remaining cook.  She has yet to impress the judges with any of her dishes.

© Copyright 2014    Photos courtesy of Fox

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‘Hunger Games’ Teaser: The Mockingjay Lives

Pure Fluff:

Looks excellent!

Originally posted on Variety:

The latest teaser trailer for “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1″ has an important message for the citizens of Panem: unity.

While President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) latest propaganda campaign — which features captured victors Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) — is again meant to instill conformity for fear of retaliation, it doesn’t go as well as his first. Instead, the rebels of District 13 break through the telecast to give the citizens a dose of what is perhaps Snow’s biggest fear: hope.

The first half of the “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” premieres November 21 and is directed by Francis Lawrence from a screenplay by Danny Strong and Peter Craig. Jennifer Lawrence stars as the fearless Katniss Everdeen in the story based on the popular Suzanne Collins novels.

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Food Network Star, Season 10, Episode 5, “Live Demo at Knott’s Berry Farm” – Recap and Analysis


This week, the remaining “Elite Eight” contestants head to Knots Berry Farm to make presentation before hundreds of park guests.  Christopher is worried that he has remained the bottom.  Many of the chefs (including Emma) aren’t aware that Knot’s Berry Farm is actually a theme park, not a working farm.  Lenny is happy to see the Western theme of the park.

Knots Berry Farm Challenge Part One: They will have one hour to prepare their version of a Classic American food pairing.  Teams are provided envelopes containing the dishes they must prepare.  After they finish preparing their food, they must make a 3 minute presentation in the outdoor Wagon Camp Amphitheatre taking the hundreds of guests through the preparation steps required to prepare their delicious food preparations.  The judges, Alton Brown, Giada DeLaurentis and Bobby Flay will also taste their dish and critique it for flavor and presentation.  Chefs need to present their POV and a personal way they connect with their dish

Sarah Penrod:  She decides to abandon her date night POV and goes back to her Texas roots.  She has hamburgers and pasta salad.  She makes spicy green chili burgers and pasta salad.  She says you only need the recipe for the pasta salad.  You can then add any ingredients that you like to complete the dish. She wants to show Giada that she knows how to cook pasta.  Giada, though, says it needs more seasoning.

Reuben Ruiz:  He has fried chicken and bean salad.  He’s bringing the flavors of Miami.  He spices up the chicken with Siracha and deep fries it.  His chicken is not completely covered in oil and it comes out unevenly cooked.

Chris Kyler:  Grilled chicken and Macaroni and Cheese.  He wants to elevate the classic dishes per his POV.  He is doing chicken lollipops with mustard spiced Mac and Cheese; Chris was kicked out the military for doing drugs, although after he recovered he was given an honorable discharge.

Emma Frisch: Is making Crab Cakes and Cole Slaw.  She makes a coconut infused crab cake.  The judges tell her to amp it up a bit in the presentation, as she is a naturally mellow Earth Goddess type.  She needs to make sure to not lull everyone to sleep during her presentation.

She tells the story how her husband first thought of marrying her while he caught crabs in Martha’s Vineyard.  Her first attempt to grill the crab cakes is disaster and she needs to go back to square one.  She adds a lot of bread crumbs.

Nicole Gaffney:  She makes a Mexican inspired dish, with pork and pineapple skewers with fried onion rings.  She wants to link this Mexican coastal dish to her POV.

Christopher Lynch:  He does a spicy New Orleans inspired boiled shrimp.  They tell him he needs to step up his presentation.  He’s not worried, although making presentation has not been his strong point.

Lenny McNab:  Lenny makes Grouper Tacos with roasted garlic and Guacamole.  The only problem for Lenny is that he cooks all of his fish and does not leave any for the presentation.  He will have to showcase his guacamole presentation.

Loreal Galvin:  She is happy that she got steak and potato salad.  As a butcher, this fits directly into her POV.  She is hoping to make a comeback this week.  She is using a Hooiser ribeye doused with bourbon.  The judges tell her to keep her good energy going.  She’s trying to find a middle ground between being over exuberant and too quiet when she tries to restrain natural bubbliness.

Chefs complete their dishes as time runs out. The chefs move on to the presentation phase of the competition.

Knots Berry Farm Challenge Part Two -Wagon Camp Amphitheatre Presentation: The judges announce the competition to the crowd.

Reuben is up first and starts off strong, and announces his dish in English as well as Spanish.  He then apologizes for using Spanish.  He tells the crowd to use hospital gloves.  He speaks well, but did not finish his presentation.  Bobby Flay says, “No Bueno”.  The chefs then taste his dish.  The bean salad has no flavor and the chicken is inconsistent.

Nicole is up next and does an excellent job presenting her pork and pineapple kebabs.  She fails to mention the Mexican Connection which would have provided the link to her POV.  The judges liked her presentation and her food, but the POV link failure was noted.

Chris Kyler starts off with an Obama imitation, which loosens up the crowd.  He describes his POV and walks them through his dish.  He does well with the presentation and the crowd likes him.  His food however, does not measure up.

Loreal, then presents her Hoosier Ribeye.  She tells the crowd not to season the beef before she cooks it.  Loreal the “Butcher Babe” wows the crowd.  Her food fails to impress the judges.  She did not season the steak properly.  However, they were impressed with her presentation.

Lenny starts next and leads with jokes and wows the crowd.  He references the theme park and how he fits in with its Western décor.  He just mashed avocadoes, as he has no more fish.  His presentation was great but his failure to discuss the Grouper was noted.  The judges did like his food, though.

Christopher Lynch does not touch any food until the end of his presentation.  He bombs his demo again.  The judges don’t like his presentation at all but his food is spot on.  He thinks he has done a good job but he hasn’t.  The judges say that he can cook but he cannot demo.  He appears to be in trouble.

Emma starts off well, connecting her crab cakes to her relationship with her husband.  She does a competent job in her presentation.  Her food, however, is bad and the coconut milk does not mix well with the slaw.  Giada says, “everybody loves Emma, the problem is can she cook”.

Last up is Sarah Penrod.  She does well with her new POV but her food is panned by the judges.  She explains her dish well and feels she has done an excellent job.  Bobby calls her pasta salad “deli pasta salad” and the burger is “not impactful”.  They liked her presentation though.  Sarah is worried because this is the second burger that they didn’t like; she wonders if she’s going home.

The next day, the group is assembled in the studio to learn how the judges have graded their performance.  Loreal did a great job on her presentation but her food was lousy.  Christopher was the opposite – he made the best dish but the worst presentation.  Sarah’s presentation was great but her food was not impactful.  If she cannot prove to them that she is the Texas food expert, which she hasn’t done then she will be off the show.  Lenny did the best job on his presentation, although he failed to show how to cook his Grouper.  He was the only one to mention the roller coaster.  Emma is up next and the judges have harsh words regarding her crab cake.  They know she can present well, but can Emma cook? She will have to prove that to them or she will be on her way out of the competition.  Bobby says the most important thing about crab cakes is the crab.  Alton did not like her cole slaw either.  Chris Kyler’s presentation was great but he’s not sticking to his POV.  Reuben did a decent job on his presentation but the judges tell him not to apologize for using Spanish.  Nicole food was great and her presentation was fun, but she did not make the “slam dunk” POV connection with Mexico.

The judges feel that Lenny and Loreal did the best job and are safe for this week.  The chefs that did the worst job were Reuben and Christopher Lynch.  Chris is worried because he’s been in the bottom before and that will likely mean he’s done.  Christopher can cook and the question is whether he can learn the on camera aspects.  Reuben has been on downward trend.  Reuben can’t really cook but does a better job with his presentations.

In the end, the judges are split, Bobby still likes Christopher but Giada and Alton think Reuben has a shot to improve.  Christopher’s failure to demo was the final straw.  He’s heading to Star Salvation for a final shot.  Reuben is relieved to last another week.

In Star Salvation, unfortunately Christopher fails again to make a winning presentation.  As always his food is spot on but his presentation fails to grab the attention of the judges.  He cannot personalize the dish and gives a rather rote description relating to his work in his kitchen.  Chad and Luca, on the other hand, relate their dish to personal, not professional, experiences, which was the assignment.


This episode featured the predictable ouster of Christopher Lynch.  While he is unquestionably an accomplished chef (and probably the best cook of the group), he again didn’t connect with his presentation.  His failure was that he could not talk and cook at the same time.

So what’s up next?  The competitors that are near the bottom I believe are Reuben, Chris Kyler and Sarah.  All three of them are great at presenting but have failed to deliver with their cooking.  At some point you have to be able to prepare dishes that the judges like.  So far, Chris and Sarah have not impressed them much in the food department.  Reuben has been equally weak but has also had trouble making coherent presentations.  Chris has also had trouble restraining himself and focusing his presentations.  Sarah is comfortable in front of the camera and has generally done well with her presentations.  I’m also not convinced that Emma or Loreal have what it takes to win the Season 10 Crown.  Loreal and Emma have both performed well at times, but their cooking is not strong.  I do like Loreal’s POV better than Emma’s which seems somewhat ambiguous.  Farm to table is more of a cliché than a POV.

That leaves Lenny and Nicole as the strongest competitors.  I would imagine that one of two these will win the grand prize.  Both are clearly worthy of the victory, with clear POVs and top notch cooking skills.  I would watch either one of their shows.  I think Sarah has the ability to win it, but she seems to be stuck in the middle of the pack, with mediocre cooking.  She also recently changed her POV which may also present problems.  I agree that the date night POV is weak and that her new Texas theme is far easier and more compatible with the show, though.  She has not managed to break out of the pack and has not created any noteworthy cooking performances.  This leads me to this week’s Power Rankings.

Pure Fluff Food Network Star Power Rankings

1. Lenny – he has been the most consistent and the most polished presenter.  His food has been largely on the money as well.  He has recovered from his bottom three troubles of the last couple of weeks.

2. Nicole – She has the combination of looks, natural presentation skills and cooking chops.  She continues to be a serious threat to win the competition.

3. Loreal – She had a good week and appears to be on the finding her legs on the show.  She will have to improve her cooking, though and continue to impress with presentations.

4. Emma – She has fallen from her perch atop the competition with lackluster performances.  She remains a polished speaker, but she’s generally pretty boring and has a rather generic POV.  Her cooking skills seem rather underwhelming as well.  Still she is likable and photogenic and may stick around for a few more weeks.

5.  Sarah – an early favorite, who has fallen by the wayside a bit, failing to wow the judges with her cooking ability.  She remains a good presenter but unless her new POV creates some momentum, she will likely be out soon.  Too bad, she’s one of my favorites.

6. Chris Kyler:  He has an excellent on camera persona, but his best work was the non-cooking candy bar YouTube challenge.  He belongs on TV but not as a chef.  His cooking POV has really not taken off and he appears to be headed out of the competition soon.  Sooner or later you have to show the judges that you can cook.

7. Reuben Ruiz:  His POV is decent but he has failed to answer the bell in many of the demo challenges, having problems allocating his time.  For a chef and restaurant owner, his cooking has been rather poor.  I expect him to be chopped in the next 2-3 weeks, unless he rallies bigtime.

© Copyright 2014    Photos courtesy of Food Network

Master Chef – “Top 16 Compete” Recap and Analysis – “Who stole my Panna Cotta?”

By Alex Bates


The first half of the episode involves a Mystery Box Challenge.  They get right into it, with little fanfare.  Big Willie is back and is once again featured during the first challenge.  Leslie is almost invisible this week.

Mystery Box Challenge:  Contestants must prepare a savory dish made from only unlabeled canned ingredients.  They have 52 cans; they can open as many/few as they like in addition to a simple pantry with milk, eggs and other basics.  They will have 60 minutes to prepare their dish.

Contestants begin opening the cans and discovering the various ingredients.  The key, according to the judges, is best to use the pantry to prepare something handmade and then add in the cans to fill out the dish.

Elizabeth grew up on canned food and feels comfortable with these ingredients.  Ahran is only going to use a couple cans to fill out her roll cake which she prepared using the fresh ingredients.  Francis L. is once again pushing the limits with his use of the canned seafood broth to make a Thai style soup.  Chef Joe says this mystery box shows who the creative chefs are; Willie is preparing an eggs benedict with canned processed meat, which they find uninspiring.  Time’s up in the challenge and now it’s time for the judges to determine who has made the best dish.  They sampled the cooks during their preparation, so they have their top 3 ready for tasting.

The Top 3

Elizabeth (a first time in the top three):  She’s a made a borscht of sorts which she prepared with cream, beets and cayenne spice.  It has both heat and the saltiness from the canned ham.

Victoria (another first timer): She prepared a potted meat fritters.  She used 8 cans including 5 meats to prepare her dish.  She used the ingredients to perfection, punching up the meats with spice.

Ahran:  Joe calls it the “smartest” use of the ingredients; she just used one can to prepare her dish.  He calls it brilliant and she’s the only to have made dessert.  Chef Ramsay says that although she’s only 18, she has the “biggest set of balls” in the competition.

And the winner is…..Elizabeth!  She will have several advantages in the upcoming elimination challenge.  The judges bring her back into the pantry.  Luca last year’s Master Chef Winner is here to present the first possible dish for the upcoming challenge.  Alexander, the first Master Chef Jr. Winner is here to present the second possible dish for the challenge.  Elizabeth’s first advantage is that she won’t have to cook in the elimination challenge.  Her second advantage is that she will have to choose which cooks prepare each of the two possible dishes.

Back in the Kitchen, Luca and Alexander are introduced to the rest of the cooks.  Luca and Alexander each prepared one of their signature dishes, which the chefs will have to prepare.  Elizabeth will decide which cook will have to re-create each dish.

Luca’s dish is an extremely complicated layered Pancetta Wrapped Veal with Radicchio and Apples in white wine sauce.  Alexander’s Dish is a Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with berry coulis and hazelnuts dessert.  Both are restaurant quality, expertly prepared dishes.  Now Elizabeth picks the teams.   She wants to pick the chefs with weakest palette for the veal dish and those threats who might have trouble with desserts on the Panna Cotta.

Elimination Challenge:  Chefs will have one hour  to replicate either Luca’s or Alexander’s dish.

Luca’s Savory Dish:  Courtney, Elise, Frances L., Big Willie, Daniel, Dan Wu and Leslie.

Alexander’s Sweet Dish: Cutter, Christian, Jaimee, Christine, Ahran, Frances B., Victoria and Tyler

The judges move through the room checking in on the cooks.  Courtney seems to have the veal under control, but Willie is cooking it twice which may result in overcooked meat.  They ask Alexander who is doing the best job on his dish and he says Jaimee and Tyler seem to be taking the right steps to make a proper Panna Cotta.  Time runs out and the chefs must now present their dishes.  Alexander and Luca say good bye and the judges will now taste their work and determine the winner of the challenge as well as who is going home.

Courtney presents her dish first and she has nailed Luca’s veal.  All three judges love her dish even though she’s never cooked veal before.  Big Willie is up next.  Judge Ramsay says cooking it twice only dries out the veal.  The sauce and Brussels sprouts are perfect but his veal is not properly executed.  He could be heading “back to church on Sunday” according to Chef Ramsay.  Christian is up next, who is not happy with his Panna Cotta.  The judges don’t like it either and it’s worst thing he’s given them.  Cutter is up next, but he’s done a good job, to the surprise of everyone including Cutter, on his Panna Cotta.  Jaimee is next to present.  The usually solid dessert chef  is missing one of her ramekins of Panna Cotta.  The flavor is good but it didn’t set properly and looks terrible.  Tyler’s dish looks exactly like Jaimee’s dish.  For the very first time in Master Chef History, someone has presented a dish that they did not prepare.

Chef Ramsay walks to the back and finds a tray with four Panna Cotta’s that someone failed to use.  Tyler inadvertently (or not?) grabbed Jaimee’s missing dish and presented it as his own.  After a conference, the judges decide that Tyler must turn in his apron.  While no one accuses him of stealing Jaimee’s dish, there is no excuse for this mistake.  Tyler is saddened by this development but he will keep cooking.  He’s learned a lot on the show and is sad to go out in this manner but handles it with class.

The Chefs announce the winner of this challenge, with the best dish of the night, is Courtney.  She feels validated by her second victory.

Next Time:  Chefs must cook in pairs, which creates lots of drama on the teams.


The ranks continue to be thinned, as we are now down to 15 home cooks remaining in the competition.  It was sad to see Tyler go under such dubious circumstances; there will be questions whether he grabbed her ramekin intentionally or not.  I think it was a mistake.

As far as the rest of the competitors, Courtney returned to form and Elizabeth finally made her presence known.  Victoria also broke through and Ahran continued her smart cooking.  Big Willie and Christian appeared to have bad weeks and it remains to be seen who would have been chopped if Tyler had not grabbed Jaimee’s Panna Cotta instead of his own.

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