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.
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