Posts tagged ‘amy finley’

NFNS 5: Why Should I Watch?

On June 7th, the Food Network kicks off it’s fifth season of the Next Food Network Star.  My question to the Food Network is Why should I watch?  I mean, your track record is dubious to say the least.

Season one was historical in a couple of ways.  It was the first such contest of it’s kind.  Second, the winners were a gay couple which, too, made it ground breaking.  Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh are bright and talented caterers from Chicago.  Their winning show, Party Line with the Hearty Boys, was not very entertaining but that wasn’t as important as the standards set by that first season.

Season two yielded the only Next Food Network Star winner to ever actually become a Food Network star, Guy Fieri.  And a star he has become.  Those TGIFriday’s commercials speak to the California culinarians mass appeal.  He has hosted Guy’s Big Bite, Guy Off the Hook, Ultimate Recipe Showdown and another show you may have heard of, Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives.

Season three is where things started getting – what’s the word? -oh, yeah, suspicious.  JAG would have won, should have won, but for the last minute revelation that he had exagerated his resumé.  This resulted in an 11th hour return of recently booted Amy Finley who, given a second chance, ended up winning the contest (just like in a Hollywood script).

Why is this suspicious?  Having been through the NFNS process I know how thorough their background checks are.  Honestly, it’s easier to slip something past the FBI than it is The Food Network.  With that in mind the idea that FN hadn’t bothered to check the accuracy of resumés just doesn’t wash.  I do know this, the inncident was huge for the ratings.

Season four the shinannigans were even more outlandish.  A stand-up comedian who was so unfunny it was actually painful, a boorish elitest who described anyone who has ever eaten boxed macaroni and cheese as “white trash” and a chef who was scared of fish and stayed weeks too long because she was pretty and satisfied a missing demographic at TFN, Indian cuisine.

There were two contestants who blew away the competition every single week.  Shane Lyons and Kelsey Nixon were both perfect packages, however the judges (Bob Tuschman in particular) kept harping on their youth.  It didn’t matter how well they performed, they were too young to take seriously.  That of course begs the question, why let them into the contest at all?  Nixon, by the way, won TFN’s fan poll on their own web site in a land slide.

After eliminating the two best contestants, in succesive weeks no less, we were left with the trio of Liza Garza, Aaron McCargo Jr. and Adam Gertler.  Garza arrived as a foppish diva with serious cooking chops who, more than anyone else on the show, listened to the judges and turned herself into exactly what they alleged they were looking for.  Gertler was good on camera but had limited culinary skills.  McCargo was a passable cook but was terrible on camera; still is.

In an episode designed to whittle it down to two ccontestants McCargo, who had been a model of mediocrecy, bombed.  He bombed hard.  In fact, it was without a doubt the single worst performance in the history of the show.  Adam was okay and Garza blew the doors off the studio.  Easy choice right?  Boot the guy who bombed, right?  Nope, the judges decided to change the rules and bring all three back for the finale.  Aaron should have been gone but given a second chance brought home victory (just like in a Hollywood script).

Then there was the slip on the web site.  Apparently, some web geek accidentally revealed the outcome of the show days before the final episode was to premiere.  The web fiasco turned into a boon as fans who had tuned out because of the questionable antics (the elimination of Kelcey Nixon, especially) tuned back in to see if the web screw-up was a deception.

Rumors swirled about the controversial outcome.  Many allege that recent complaints about the snow white line-up of the Food Network had led them to tilt the board in favor of a person of color.  Others suggested that McCargo’s personality was so amiable that FN brass just fell in love with the big man with the even bigger heart.  One thing seems certain, the judges had decided the winner weeks before the contest actually ended.  Why else manipulate the rules to keep McCargo in the contest?

The past two seasons have proven that regardless of the show’s title it’s goal is anything but finding the Next Food Network Star.  The casting calls for this season were only done on the west coast and the east coast therefore it should not suprise anyone that all of the contestants save one are from major cities from those regions; more than half are from LA or New York.  Hmm.  So again I ask, Food Network, why should I watch?

Recap of past winners:

  1. Hearty Boys – back in Chicago running their catering business and using their six episodes of experience to teach others how to cook on TV.
  2. Guy Fieri – a bona fide star, host of four shows (and counting), and expanding his brand.
  3. Amy Finley – did her six shows and was rumored to have been offered a second season.  Now lives in France and has written for Fodor’s travel guides.
  4. Aaron McCargo Jr. – despite mediocre ratings and less than steller critical reviews of Big Daddy’s House he received a second season then was tucked away in a time slot that pits him against regular church services and the NFL.

June 7, 2009 at 9:06 am 1 comment

Literary Tapas

Originally posted at Paper Palate on July 23, 2008.

A collection of small dishes from the realm where paper meets palate.

  • Playboy continues to be on the cutting edge of modern American life. In their August 2008 issue, they give three different bits of information of interest to the foodie community. First they give you information on how to get the authentic flavors of a Texas BBQ without having to mortgage the house to buy the gas to get there. The world famous Salt Lick located just outside of Austin has a mail-order package that serves 8 to 10 for $100 and includes a rack of pork ribs, two lengths of pork/beef sausage, and the capper is a whole smoked beef brisket. It’s the perfect gift for those BBQ Sauce of the Month Club members. They also preview a new teapot called the Sorapot that looks like modern art and retails for $200. They say of the Sorapot creator Joey Roth, “His success is a beacon for garage designers everywhere who have dreams of turning pro.” Finally they touch on the newly legalized absinthe craze by profiling the newest offering in the genre that is produced by absinthe enthusiast Marilyn Manson (yeah, that Marilyn Manson), which is made with real wormwood and a high content of thujone (the purported hallucinogen responsible for the spirit’s notorious reputation). True to its creator’s peculiar nature, the name of this wicked elixir is Mansinthe. Yep, seriously.
  • For those of you who prefer Family Circle to Playboy and Mansinthe, the perennial lifestyle magazine has a nifty trick for garnishing your summer cocktails. They use the channel knife on a zester to create long strips of orange peel to make a twisty curl of fun. It’s like every goblet has its own personal ray of sunshine. The step-by-step instructions are in the August ’08 issue in the Cooking School section. There is even a recipe for sparkling sangria so you can try your new adornment out.
  • In the July ’08 issue of Bon Appetit, last year’s winner of the Next Food Network Star, Amy Finley, prepares a healthy family meal of grilled tuna with provençal vegetables and easy aioli and orange-scented couscous. Being a busy mom and food writer, Finley has really learned how to get the goody out of a meal. She uses the leftovers to make Moroccan couscous and chicken salad. Both recipes are printed and explained with helpful tips to boot.

July 30, 2008 at 6:38 am

Food TV Baffles Me Sometimes

Hello, I am Stuart, and I’m a foodie.

Where do I start?

Last week’s Iron Chef: America:  I have been blogging this show for quite some time now and I have never seen any challenger capture the imagination of the public like Gabrielle Hamilton.  The hits I get on her are amazing.  I hope TFN is paying attention, they may have accidently found the Next Food Network Star.  And Bobby Flay’s sous chef Renee ain’t bad either.  I should know I thought five years ago that Anne Burrell needs her own show.  Are you listening Tuschman?  I got the sight.

Which now brings me to all of the turmoil of NFNS:  Fixed!  Aaron had one of the worst performances of anyone in the history of the show last week and now (thanks to a network blunder) we know that he is the winner.  Fixed!  Well, actually Mary Nolan was the real winner.  Fixed!  She got a show and didn’t even have to compete.  And oddly enough Kelsey Nixon, the brightest face to come on the network in a while got axed (presumably to make sure Aaron would win).  Fixed!  But TFN was on to something with Mary Nolan.  My stats on her are off the chart as well.  She’s a solid fit for the network, but apparently a lot of you love her.  I like her, she’s nice, but Kelsey had star (Rachael Ray cross-over star) written all over her.  Instead of calling Aaron McCargo’s new show Big Daddy’s House they should call it One And Done.  Out of the ten chefs they had to choose from they went with the guy who was horrible on camera.  No wonder the winner’s show never gets picked up for a second season.  Except for Guy Fieri.  I see why Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen smoke NFNS in the ratings.  Sure they are just shows about people screaming and there is little actual cooking to them but you at least feel that they find the best person in the end.

July 25, 2008 at 8:58 pm

NFNS: FN Website Accidentally Reveals Outcome

And last week’s episode, where contestant Aaron was inexplicably allowed to continue on to the finale despite his poor performance, reeked of stacked deck and pre-determined outcome. Oops, hope that isn’t too much of a hint about who the final winner is.

Continue Reading July 25, 2008 at 8:50 am 5 comments

NFNS Update – Nothing Settled

As I alluded to in my Bold Prediction yesterday, the Next Food Network Star contestant who got sent packing was, drum roll please, no one.  I am truly lost as to what the goal of this show actually is.

The two challenges were to record a 30 second spot for your own show and then prepare a Vegas style buffet for a group that included serious chefs and not-so serious performers. We’ll look at each contestant and their performance.

Aaron McCargo Jr.:
For his 30 second spot, Aaron had to walk the floor of a casino and then stand at a craps table while he delivered his lines.  Aaron did really well for a change.  His last take had everything it needed.  Danger element: he had to throw a pair of dice without taking out anyone’s eye.

For the buffet, Aaron went against the obvious of big blow out meals, his strong point, and instead opted for simple, everyday food.  He was assisted by former NFNS contestant Jennifer.  For his presentation he did something indefinable.  To this day I don’t think anyone, Aaron included, knows what the hell that was.  What ever it was, it stank, oddly enough his menu failed to resonate either.  Tuschman described his menu as “thin.”

Adam Gertler:
For his 30 second spot, Adam had to walk across the stage of an empty theatre and deliver his lines.  Adam did well at this, as he should being a veteran of the stage.  Danger element: he had to escort two showgirls without anyone pulling a hammy.

For the buffet, Adam decided that it was time to prove to the committee that he could cook so he put together what he called his Smoke-tacular!  He was assisted by former NFNS contestant Shane.  For his presentation Adam stripped all personality and humor from his demeanor as he explained his menu which went over well and even included the most popular dish of the day, smoked bone-in pork chops.  More on Adam’s menu later.

Lisa Garza:
For her 30 second spot, all Lisa had to do was get strapped into a harness and make like Peter Pan through a three story wine tower.  The clips they pieced together left one with the impression that she never even managed to get her three lines out.  On the upside she looked fabulous in the sleek black jumpsuit and matching boots.  Danger element: Not falling to her death.

For the buffet, Lisa was in her element going all out with her kind of panache and style which fully captured everyone’s idea of a true Vegas buffet.  She was assisted by former NFNS contestant, Kelsey.  Lisa had a few problems with her menu; she mis-figured how much fish she would need and the ovens cooked inconsistently so she ended up burning some of her crown pork roast.  Still her display was stunning.  For her presentation Lisa brought the house down with a custom written blues ditty that, if nothing else should put her into the finals of next year’s American Idol.  She has better pipes than most of their contestants.

When they pieced together Lisa’s promo it was easily as good as Adam’s.  In fact, Lisa was surprised how well it came together.  Aaron still was the winner of the 30 second spot challenge, but not by much.

Lisa’s presentation blew the doors off Adam’s Ben Stein imitation and Aaron’s thing.  Her buffet display was also light years ahead and was the only one that offered the variety of foods one expects at a casino buffet.  Aaron’s food was mostly pasta dishes which did not go over well with the judges or the others in the audience especially when you add in the fact it had little flavor.  To prove that he could really cook, Adam smoked a bunch of meat.  Smoking is an art to say the least, but this was a cop out menu.  If you understand the basics of smoking then it is easy for anyone to put out a flavorful menu without really knowing how to cook.  I really think Adam should have been penalized for his approach not praised.

During evaluation Bob Tuschman said about Aaron’s buffet challenge that he has had seven great weeks and one bad one and shouldn’t be sent home for that.  Correction, Bob, Aaron has had seven okay weeks and one bad one.  Bobby Flay told Adam that the presentation for the buffet was his to win but he was flat.  Unfortunately, guest judge Guy Fieri got one of the overcooked cuts of Lisa’s pork roast and it came up in the evaluation. 

Considering all the elements of the episode Lisa was clearly the winner.  In fact, this contest should be over now.  There is little doubt that Lisa’s promo would have gone better had her challenge been on the same level of difficulty as the other two contestants, something like sitting in an easy chair holding a remote.  It is safe to say at this point that the three best contestants in this entire contest did cook in the buffet challenge, unfortunately two have them have already been 86’d, Kelsey and Shane.  This point was further driven home when the committee was uniform in its desire to have one contestant that combined the style, on screen persona, and cooking chops of the remaining three contestants.  They did, her name is Kelsey Nixon.

I am not alone in my suspicion that this show is not about finding the Next Food Network Star but rather putting together ten episodes of compelling ratings-driven reality TV.  If the winner accidentally becomes a star like Fieri has then it’s a bonus.  Let’s face it, they already found this year’s winner in Mary Nolan, who if you remember was offered her own show during the interview proccess for NFNS.  I will watch next week’s final but whomever wins I will feel that the best person did not and the resulting cooking show will be another one-and-done for the network.  Can you say Amy Finley?

July 21, 2008 at 1:59 am 12 comments

NFNS: Vegas, Baby!

 NOTE: I have added links to TFN’s page with recipes for the show.

Paula Deen joined Bobby Flay, Adam, Aaron, Kelsey, and Lisa for dinner at Bobby’s Mesa Grill Las Vegas before they got back to the competition. Lisa was star struck. Her moments when she is in the room with the likes of Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and now Paula Deen are absolutely precious. If we could see more of this Lisa she could be hard to beat.

The challenge for Vegas had the four finalists squaring off into two one-on-one Throwdowns with the most accomplished cook in the contest, Lisa taking on easily the worst cook Adam, and Kelsey and Aaron who are both solid in the kitchen pairing for the second battle. This Throwdown had a twist – each had to prepare their signature AND their opponent’s signature dish in 75 minutes.

Lisa went with the French country classic cassoulet and Adam stuck with good old mac and cheese. Many folks may not know that macaroni and cheese is also a French comfort food first introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson. Adam had never tasted cassoulet which did not bode well for him going against Lisa. To add to the stress the contestants had to field questions from the judges and a “field reporter,” Extra’s Dayna Devon.  Susie Fogelson was rather subdued this week.

Adam was somewhat humorous in the interviews but never looked at anyone. Lisa was great – she made eye contact and spoke from the heart. It was shocking when Paula confessed to hating Lisa’s mac and cheese especially after she told Adam that she loved his lobster mac, a dish she had never enjoyed before.  For those of you scoring at home this brings the total now to two things Adam has prepared that were edible the other being chili cheese fries. Lisa brightened when the judges gushed about her cassoulet, Paula loved it, Bob Tuschman told her that it tasted like it had simmered all day, but Flay knocked her out when he proclaimed it the best he had ever eaten. Adam’s cassoulet did not go over well. As odd as it sounds, if this challenge came down to personality and camera presence then Lisa would prevail.

Kelsey and Aaron then took their 75 minutes to prepare chicken Parmesan (Kelsey’s signature) and stuffed pork loin (Aaron’s best dish). Kelsey was adorable when she referred to Aaron as “Big Daddy.” Aaron’s struggles to be warm on camera surfaced again but he did do a slightly better job though he failed to cook and talk at the same time. Kelsey was going great until she brought up culinary school again; something that Tuschman has scorned her about repeatedly and the look on his face showed his distaste. Both struggled to get their two dishes done which leads one to believe that the loser of this challenge is the one who goes home. Aaron actually forgot to do Kelsey’s dish until there was less than 20 minutes left and Kelsey over cooked her tenderloin. Kelsey clearly took the personality part of the challenge. Aaron’s “Big Daddy” chick parm was actually better than Kelsey’s designer version. Aaron edged out a win in the cooking aspect.

Going into judgment I would have to say Lisa was the overall winner and that most likely Kelsey is headed home. But what do the judges think? I mean they sent Shane home last week when Lisa clearly did the worst job on the episode. Will their prejudices continue to influence their decisions? If so Adam may be history.

Surprisingly the panel was not impressed with Lisa’s on camera performance – which I thought was great but they did agree that it was better than Adam’s. The panel also reinforced that they brought the final four to Vegas because they wanted to raise the stakes, to see people gamble big which is what Kelsey did, and then they ripped her a new one for it. Kelsey has repeatedly done whatever the panel asks of her but for some reason Tuschman is never happy with it. She says that it is beginning to make her over think things and as a result she has lost touch with her “culinary point of view.” After this week’s evaluations I really do not know what the judges are looking for and honestly, I am not sure that they do either. Going into the final decision I have now idea who is gone but considering Bob’s dislike for Kelsey I am still thinking that she is toast.

Big Daddy was the first to get to stay (huh?). Then Lisa which leaves us with two: Kelsey and Adam. Both are great on camera but only one can cook (Kelsey) while one cannot (Adam). So naturally they sent Kelsey home.

Kelsey, Shane, and Lisa were the only three people in this contest that truly had star quality and two of them got sent home . . . in successive weeks . . . when there were others who did not perform as well as they did. I have already thrown my name into the hat for NFNS 5 but now I am unsure. What I have seen this season makes one wonder.  After last week’s episode Sunny Anderson (Cooking For Real, How’d That Get On My Plate) predicted an all male final – was she prophetic, or was it informed foreshadowing?  Funny, during her exit interview, Kelsey predicted the same thing.  Watching the extended previews for next week’s challenge it looks like Lisa is being set up for failure, but we shall see.

I frankly think that they need to take a look at what they want out of this competition. Look at their track record so far – they are 1 for 3. Only one winner of the Next Food Network Star has actually become a Food Network Star, Guy Fieri (who guest hosts next week). If Lisa goes home then it will be between Big Daddy and Adam which means they will likely be 1 for 4. So are they actually trying to determine the Next Food Network Star or are they only looking for controversy and headlines and the ratings that come with them? At this point I sincerely don’t know but perhaps they should consider changing the title to the Next Food Network One Hit Wonder.

July 13, 2008 at 10:47 pm

NFNS: Sayonara Shane

First a little confession.  I have not seen this week’s episode of the Next Food Network Star.  I was at a friend’s house, a friend who hates Reality TV and finds Food TV boring.  The DVR is on the fritz so I did what every obsessed fan would do.  I went crazy.  Then I went to the NFNS website.


Imagine my surprise when I saw an exit interview with Shane.  Shane who had finally gotten over his awe at meeting the TFN celebs and had really been on a hot streak.  I was even more surprised to see that he and Kelsey were the last two left in the room after the others were given a pass.  I think that more than once I have mentioned that I think Kelsey is by far the best talent in this group.  I was even more surprised when I saw just how bad Lisa stunk the joint up with her performance on Rachael Ray’s show.  She should have been booted off.  Aaron hit a grand slam, finally we saw an Aaron that was fun to watch.


The site has a nice string of behind the scenes interviews and previews that really give you an in-depth feel for what the judges are thinking and how the contestants really feel.  There is a vlog with Susie Folgeson in which she reveals that Bob Tuschman just never liked Shane’s youth and inexperience.  I think that Susie has a similar problem with Kelsey, but that is just my own conjecture.  Bobby Flay joined Susie on her vlog and it is clear that if Bobby is actually rooting for anyone it is Kelsey going so far as to say that if he needed someone to baby sit his kid it would be Kelsey hands down.  Even Susie agreed.

Sunny Anderson joins Adam Roberts on FN Dish to break down the episode.  They are both “shocked” that Lisa was not booted.  Sunny even says, “Dead air is deadly.”  She also said that Lisa, “has five seconds of material for a ten minute show.”  Sunny predicts that Kelsey will be the next to go and then Lisa.  If that is true then this year’s winner will be the next Amy Finley or Hearty Boy.  If they have another winner who does their six episodes and then disappears it will be a sign that the selection process is the problem, not the contestants.  Speaking of Amy, did you know she wrote a book?  Yeah, Me either.


There are two exit interviews with Shane and in both he seems genuinely grateful for the chance he was given and the experiences he has had.  Like I have said before Shane is so easy to root for that it is sad to see him go.  After watching all of the post show vids I, like most people who watched, cannot believe that Lisa isn’t gone.  This show is a Reality Show and the reality of life is that polarizing characters like Lisa bring viewers flocking to their sets.  When Lisa is good, she is very good but when she is not on her game it is painful to watch.


There is a 10+ minute preview of the next episode where Adam takes on Lisa in variation of Throwdown.  That should be ugly as Lisa is by far the best pure cook in the contest and Adam is by far the worst. They each have to prepare a signature dish of their own and then they have to prepare their opponent’s signature dish.  Adam chose macaroni and cheese for signature dish which almost seems like a gimme for Lisa.  Lisa’s signature dish is the classic French Cassoulet a white bean and sausage stew that Adam has never tried in his life.  Paula Deen also joins the Flay and the final four for dinner at Mesa Grill (Las Vegas) and the spoiler show a very interesting conversation that I am looking forward to seeing more of.







July 7, 2008 at 5:29 pm


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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."



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