Food Network Star Season 9 Episode 7 Recap: Star Charity Auction
Jul 17 2013 07:58 am CET

After a game of culinary Taboo (Bobby Flay loves that buzzer), the Food Network Star top six turn their signature dishes into fundraising fodder for Gastronauts. Shade gets thrown, nerves unravel, and a former frontrunner may be in danger.

Last week on Food Network Star: The top seven had to pitch food products to a panel of branding executives. Rodney was told to keep it simple, so he presented a song he wrote in the shower that morning. Because unexpected, erratic behavior is totally who Food Network wants for their brand. Russell finally won over Giada with his food revolution aesthetic (read: bacon candy). Nikki Dinki faltered a bit, blaming diminished confidence. However, it was Chris who was asked to leave the competition.

Bobby Flay cooks in the Food Network Kitchen as the six remaining contestants walk in. He steps away from the range to chat with the cast about the importance of talking about food in a descriptive yet captivating way. Today's mentor challenge is a game of Culinary Vocabulary Taboo. After he describes the salmon dish he created, Bobby says each of the contestants will film a one-minute segment describing the dish without using crutch words. He has a buzzer, so no saying delicious, awesome, sexy, incredible, wonderful or anything else lacking substance.

Rodney goes first. As you might expect, the buzzer goes off almost instantly as Rodney uses the word "dynamite" not once but twice. He receives the most buzzes in his 60-second bit and Bobby says it was a total disaster. Nikki Dinki goes next and has a better go of it. She does slip midway through and drops in a "delicious," but overall she maintained composure and got through the segment.

Chad takes his turn and it quickly becomes uncomfortable to watch. Bobby might as well have told Chad not to use the letter E. He tries to stall by taking another bite of the dish, but there aren't any additional words hidden in the salmon. Sorry, Chad. On the other end of the spectrum is Stacey, who ties the dish into a story about her grandmother who lives by the Mexico border and made similar dishes growing up. We don't see her getting buzzed at all.

Damaris enters the studio and Bobby hits the buzzer. That's just mean. And funny. Bobby says it was a demo of the sound, but Damaris gets spooked. She goes on to describe the dish the way an impartial witness would describe a car accident. It reminds me of a paper I had to write my freshman year where I had to describe a work of art without explaining it. The assignment was interesting, but not compelling text or television. Also not compelling: Russell's deer in the headlights expression after he gets buzzed a few seconds into the task. Much like Chad, Russell can't find the words and his face is a slow-motion demonstration of one's tongue getting tied.

Bobby offers evaluations to the full cast after the challenge. He calls Rodney a disaster again. Damaris continues to be inconsistent. Chad needs to outline his content before he presents. Nikki Dinki did a nice job, but Stacey blew away what little competition there was by telling a story. Bobby saves the harshest criticism for Russell: "you're just killing me." Stacey wins the challenge and will get an advantage in the Star Challenge.

Alton and Giada join Bobby for the description of the next task which will continue with the theme of culinary messaging. The contestants will have one hour to create a signature dish. After cooking, each cast member will do a one-minute presentation in front of the focus group: foodies known as Gastronauts. After each presentation, the dish will get auctioned off and the winning Gastronaut will join the panel as they evaluate it. Proceeds will benefit Share Our Strength and the player that raises the most money will be safe from elimination. Stacey's advantage will be a $10 bonus added to whatever amount she raises.

Cooking cooking cooking, then it's time for the prospective stars to present. Damaris goes first, selling her elevated version of a Green Bean Casserole. She taps into the part of herself that caught the judges' attention during the very first focus group challenge, personifying her ingredients as she describes them in a goofy yet endearing way. Also: no shoulder shimmies or drunken slurring! Time expires and Damaris leaves the stage so Alton can hold the auction. We don't find out how much she raised, but we do see the winning bidder sample the casserole. The bidder is a satisfied customer.

Nikki Dinki comes out swinging, making some rather bold claims about the awesomeness of her dish. She doesn't waver as she speaks, nor does she apologize for her aesthetic. Nikki Dinki makes a strong pitch, but she has found the confidence to support it. She made a mushroom and shrimp pasta that I would like to steal the recipe to. The panel and the winning bidder loved the dish.

Chad comes out next and he did not learn his lesson from the mentor challenge. He made a sausage and cheese poutine but the potatoes did not cook all the way through. That probably shook up his confidence, but his grasping for words suggests he did not practice in front of a mirror when he had some down time. He's able to talk up his barbecue expertise, which likely drove up the bidding. The winner and the panel liked the meat and cheese, but found the potatoes lacking.

Russell improved on his presentation from earlier slightly. Rather than stammer for words he. Takes. His. Time. Listing.

Ingredients. His dish is a deconstructed bacon and egg sandwich, served with horseradish ice cream and a bread puree. Although he talks up his food revolution concept, Stacey nails it on the head backstage when she says "the revolution doesn't sound exciting." Overall the judges liked the dish, though the bread puree added nothing to the plate.

Stacey comes out with maple bacon cheesecake. $500. Oh. I don't get to bid. She talks a bit about her vintage kitchen concept and how this dessert is a riff on a cheesecake her mom used to make. Backstage, all the other contestants throw shade at Stacey because she is owning this competition. Look, I think she's kind of boring, but every single contestant all the way back to what's-her-face from the first episode should be bringing their A-game the way Stacey does every week. The judges think the crust on the cheesecake is perfect.

Rodney closes out the auction by spending the first thirty seconds on this bizarre skit about how he thinks he's presenting to astronauts. He does the Jon Stewart thing of pretending Bobby's talking in his earpiece, but Bobby glares from his seat at the panel's table. What the hell, dude? I really wish Susie was in the room for that, because I want to see her destroy Rodney, even though he will probably win. Ugh, this show. In happier news, Rodney finally made an edible pie, so good for him, I guess.

The contestants join the judges in the evaluation room. Bobby tells Damaris the panel saw the contestant they were hoping to see and she sold the dish. Alton warns Russell that his two points of view – culinary sins and revolution – are now at odds with one another, so he needs to pick a path. I propose culinary sins – viewers aren't going to be able to pull off molecular gastronomy. Giada praises Stacey's presentation, but girlfriend needs to get spontaneous (or at least fake spontaneous). Bobby doesn't even know what to say to Rodney. The challenge was to sell the food and he basically sidestepped the objective. The good news for him is that the pie was his favorite dish of the set. Giada asks Chad why he went with poutine. Chad's signature dish is loaded fries with brisket, but he didn't have 14 hours to make the meat, so he tried to adapt. Along with the sloppy presentation, Giada says Chad has basically plateaued since the start of the competition. Nikki Dinki had the best presentation of the bunch, according to Alton, and an exceptional dish to accompany it. Nice work.

Now for the totals. Despite good presentations, Damaris and Nikki Dinki each raised only $130. Rodney's pitch brought in $140. Russell and Chad, despite the awfulness of their presentations, each raised $150. Stacey had the $10 advantage, which was pointless because she raised $180 without it. The group raised $890 total. Stacey is automatically safe. Nikki Dinki was the judges' pick for the win, so she's safe too. Damaris did a good job this week and Rodney's pie was good enough to grant safety. That means Russell and Chad are up for elimination. Everyone leaves so the judges can deliberate.

Russell is inconsistent, but he has had highs and lows. He seems to be on a trajectory now, but it may be too little, too late. Chad started strong, but he has been mostly a non-entity in the competition. Chad hasn't failed horribly, but he hasn't wowed either. Giada speculates that Russell might be the better cook, which may have been the tie-breaker. Chad is sent home. Although I do agree with the judges that Chad became one-note, I'm not excited about the inevitable Russell-Rodney-Stacey final this show is marching toward.

Next week on Food Network Star: The winner of Star Salvation re-enters the competition. The new top six will be sent out to the mall to create a field-based food store.

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