Food Network Star Season 9 Episode 5 Recap: 4th of July Live
Jul 04 2013 11:48 am CET

Happy Fourth of July! The aspiring Food Network Star contestants have to put together a summer picnic buffet on live television while fielding questions and the unwavering gaze of Alton Brown.

Last week on Food Network Star: The show went to the movies with genre-inspired dishes. The contestants had to film trailers to go along with their creations. Rodney sounded crazy in his and Russell's teammates carried him through despite a lackluster entree. Viet also underwhelmed and was put on notice by the panel. Unfortunately, Connie AKA Lovely was all "wham, glam, thank you, ma'am," and sent packing.

Nikki Dinki lets us know this is the halfway point in the competition as the eight remaining contestants meet with Giada DiLaurentiis in the Food Network kitchen. Giada explains to the contestants the need to be comfortable in all TV environments and situations, and this week's focus will be live television. The mentor challenge features guest Terrence Jenkins from E! News working with each contestant in a three-minute cooking spot to present a sausage-and-pepper sandwich. Whoever does the best job keeping the segment moving and informative will win an advantage in the star challenge. What the contestants don't know is Giada, Terrence and the crew will be screwing with the spots as they happen. This could be fun.

Viet goes first. A PA tours the kitchen with him prior to filming, pointing out tools and the pre-made peppers on the stove. As soon as Viet leaves to get ready for the spot, the PA saunters over to the stove, grabs the pan, and dumps the veggies. The spot begins and Viet doesn't notice the peppers have vanished until he gets ready to start cooking. He spends the rest of his time in a fugue state, repeating "where are the peppers?" Time expires and Giada reminds Viet these things happen and it's all about how you bounce back.

The lights go out during Russell's segment, but he is completely unphased. Stacey notices her whisk has gone missing, but quickly substitutes a fork instead. "You just have to go with what you've got sometimes," she says to Terrence as she fork-whisks her ingredients. Terrence fakes a coughing fit during Chad's segment and leaves the set. Chad continues to cook, but he has stopped talking and has a sour-looking expression on his face. Giada reminds him he is always on camera.

Damaris has a smooth-looking segment until a set of cake tiers fly off the countertop. "It loos like we have a poltergeist," she jokes as she continues to cook. Fire alarms go off during Nikki Dinki's segment. To her credit, she doesn't evacuate the building, but she just stands in place covering her ears for about 30 seconds before realizing the bells and buzzers are part of the challenge. About 15 seconds into Rodney's spot, he's told he has only 30 seconds. Rodney gets his full time, but Terrence continues to egg him on about time.

Chris goes last and is beyond pumped. Terrence "accidentally" knocks over a bottle of oil, but Chris pays it no mind. Instead, he's become the Billy Mays of the kitchen by shout-speaking everything. Terrence even says dude, I'm standing right here. With the last segment done, Giada reassembles the cast and tells them all being natural while on live TV is an essential skill for Food Network. The contestant who did that best in Giada's opinion was…Rodney? Eh.

Later, the cast returns to the Food Network kitchen, which is decked out in 4th of July regalia. Alton and Bobby have joined Giada to explain this week's challenge: 4th of July Live. This will basically be like the Food Network's Thanksgiving Day Live, where there are cooking demos and viewer questions. The focus group will be significantly smaller: it's Bob Tuschman, last seen during the first Star Challenge. Each contestant will work one of eight cooking stations, to be assigned by Rodney. The pie man gives himself desserts. Nikki Dinki gets fried chicken while Chad gets veggies. Rodney is playing the game. Russell gets potato salad, Chris cole slaw, Viet chips and dips, and Stacey will be the butcher. Finally, Damaris is put in charge of cocktails, which could be brilliant, a disaster, or a brilliant disaster.

The contestants get 15 minutes to prep their stations and the show will be 45-minutes of live television. Stacey is the most nervous, as she has no experience butchering meat. She goes to her remote location which features two guests, who have provided pre-butchered meat. Crisis averted. Prep time ends and Alton hosts the live show. He starts with Chad who has the other remote segment with a guest. You wouldn't know there was a guest, since Chad did not introduce him and Farmer Lee was all "it's your food" when asked to help. Hmm.

Viet swings around his lit smoking log as he explains the dip he's making. He's then asked a viewer question about his suggestions for a trio of dips. He is caught completely off-guard by the question and stammers through a five-paragraph essay about salsa and other dips. Giada, watching on a monitor with Bobby and Bob, says "salsa, guacamole, hummus. Boom." Oh, Viet. Rodney tries to guide Alton through his baked meringue, but he is almost impossible to follow and keeps referring to everything as "sucker." Rodney handles his phone-in question the same way, which does not impress the panel. Nikki Dinki works her meat-on-the-side concept into creating fried chicken she hopes you will only need one piece of to be satisfied. Throughout her presentation she's super-giggly and too amped up. Russell is the opposite, looking like he doesn't want to be bothered while he makes his potato salad. He's basically the guy mumbling to himself on the subway when Alton goes to talk to him. But then Alton asks Russell to throw it to commercial and the dude becomes personable as he sends it to ads.

Damaris does an okay job bringing the show back from commercial. She's already feeling the effects of her cocktail as she chats up Alton and offers him a drink shoulder first. Bobby wonders if she's trying to seduce Alton. Chris has calmed down since the mentor challenge and offers some tips on how to prevent your grandma's cole slaw from getting soggy. That sounds grosser than I intended. Stacey and her new besties the butchers offer a solid presentation on spatchcocked chicken and provide a good conclusion to what was a less-than-stellar live show. Giada calls Stacey's segment flawless.

The contestants bring out the food they prepared for evaluation. The panel says Damaris seemed drunk, but they liked her peach drink. Viet's crab dip was watery, probably because he used creme fraiche instead of something heavier. Chad's grilled veggie sandwich was a pleasant surprise. Also a surprise: the crunch and moistness of Nikki Dinki's fried chicken.

Giada dislikes the cole slaw made by Chris. The chilis he added got slimy in the mix and there isn't much flavor. Russell's mashed potatoes are in the same boat, particularly because they were supposed to be potato salad. Stacey presented a pork dish instead of the chicken. The meat was overcooked, but the panel loves the pineapple sauce she made to go with the pork. Rodney undercooked his meringue, which is not a surprise given the time constraint.

The contestants return for formal evaluations. Giada tells Rodney he is unpredictable and fun, but he doesn't make any sense when he opens his mouth. She calls the dessert underwhelming (instead of undercooked), which makes me think Rodney may be who the producers want to win. He wears hats! He'll fit in perfectly on the network. Damaris can cook and has natural humor, according to Bobby, but is she taking this seriously? Also, would Sandra Lee allow Damaris on her turf? Viet lacks authority and confidence in front of the camera. Bobby praises Nikki Dinki's first-ever fried chicken, but she needs to get control over her nerves so she doesn't get giggly.

Chris improved performance-wise, but his food was not good. Alton delivers a stern lecture to Russell, saying if you innovate and the food isn't good, all people will remember is that the food was not good. However, the throw to commercial was good, so more of that please. Bob tells Chad it is important to make the guest of a spot the star, which he did not do with Farmer Lee. However, the food was fantastic. Bob continues on this thread with Stacey, who had an almost perfect segment. However, she can't coast otherwise she will get boring.

Bob declares Stacey the winner of the challenge. Also safe this week are Nikki Dinki, Chad, Chris, Rodney and Damaris. That leaves Russell and Viet up for elimination. The judges deliberate and realize Viet and Russell are two sides of the same coin. They are both innovators who can cook, but the camera is not friends with either of them. Russell thought he and Viet would go to the end together. I think they both entered the competition thinking it would be Top Chef, which this isn't. The two return to the evaluation room and learn they have essentially tied in the judges eyes. Double elimination? Nope: the throw to commercial offered a glimmer of hope that Russell could improve. That means Viet will go home.

Next week on Food Network Star: The Top Seven have to pitch to executives who are not Bob or Susie. Good, we might get to learn what Chris, Stacey and Damaris are actually about.

Mike McComb –

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