My coverage of this episode was held up by precisely one-half hour, as I was fascinated by a new ep of Ace of Cakes.
Do I love this wacky little show about a bunch of seriously stoned twenty-somethings making beautiful cakes in Baltimore?'Deed I do.
Every time one of the boys or girls turns to the camera with that "Dude. I thought this was study hall, dude!" expression on his or her face, I go right back to the '70's in my mind, and this, surprisingly, is actually kind of pleasant.
This particular episode involved Duff Goldman, the insanely good-humored master baker, entertaining Guy Fieri at Charm City Cakes (you wouldn't think these two guys could both fit in one tv shot, would you?) and being entertained, as only she can, by Miz Paula Deene (the shot actually had to stretch to fit both of them).
This was fun to watch, but, if FN means to take Duff out of the bakery and thrust him into the unholy FN Family Alliance, where he can concoct plum puddings for the Christmas Feast, grill semolina cakes with Bobby Flay, and ride shotgun with the Neelys on that debatable new show of theirs, we wonder if this has some meaning for the contestants in The Next Food Network Star.
Such as, "If we can do without Emeril and Mario, we can do without you."
Well, the Six Remainders (Lisa, Kelsey, Jen, Aaron, Adam and Shayne) were not at their best tonight. Guest Interlocutor was Cat Cora, a woman of steely wrists and not much huggability; personally, if I found myself in circumstances where she had to judge me in anything, I would take the precaution of sending a couple of quarts of Ouzo backstage and hoping for the best.
Here she was judging a fairly routine "surprise box" challenge, where each contestant had to make a dish out of the five or six ingredients in the closed box before them.
I found it interesting that this kind of challenge is as old as restaurant cooking itself, as a new chef in any kitchen is routinely challenged to create something palateable out of a limited number of ingredients. Apparently the contestants were used to this as well; the ingredients in each box were sensible, though not un-sophisticated, and each of the six came out with a classic and apparently tasty dish.
The challenge continued: the contestants had to show off their presentation skills by introducing each other's dishes. No one was great at this; Shayne was the only one who got beyond "mm, mm, this is delicious". Aaron just chewed for 60 of the 90 seconds. Jennifer once again looked like a deer in the headlights.
I was eating some rather eccentric whitefish salad at that moment; I had thought it contained scallions, but these turned out to be chunks of green apple, and the combination was really good. I tried to describe it out loud but when I found myself saying it was like "someone dragged the whitefish into an apple orchard" I decided to shut up and not be interactive. Not that my cat isn't still laughing hysterically about this.
Next challenge: form into teams (oh god no no no no I hate this I hate this No, wait, I'm in the audience; no one's asking me to do this...phew!):
-- Aaron and Adam (both looking thrilled to pieces, I mean not);
-- Lisa and Jen (much eye-rolling from the Beautifully Basic Diva, and I think I saw Jen go down on her knees in thankful prayer) and
-- Shayne and Kelsey (we're young! we're cute! Yaaaaay! Oh, shut up!)
Each team was to create a 45-minute version of a classic, long-cooked dish; the main course to be worked together, and each contestant to prepare a side dish.
Aaron and Adam had a dreadful time with their Coq au Vin. I would have as well, because I always thought the dish had chocolate in it. Aaron has the cooking smarts and Adam has the personality; together they could have managed something a little better than the incomplete and apparently undercooked plate which was served to the judges, plus Cat, plus Barbara Fairchild and the entire editorial staff of Bon Apetit magazine, featuring Severus Snape, I mean Andrew Knowlton.
I always make comments about Knowlton's greasy hair, so this time I'll change it up a little and mention his snivelling voice and strange, toothy smile.
Lisa and Jen were given the task of turning Turducken into a 45-minute romp through weeknight dinner, and had as little luck with this is you could have expected; Jen broke a bottle all over the flattop, ruining another three ingredients, and the sauce never did get on the plates. The judges belched and wondered politely if they could still order from Domino's.
It would be great to tell you that Shayne and Kelsey's Beef Wellington was an unalloyed winner, but, after all that, the best they could come up with was a comparative win: their dish was much better than those of the other contestants, but kind of middling on its own.
I mean, re-thinking a Beef Wellington, if you've got a supply of good beef, pre-made pastry shells, and decent mushrooms, is just not difficult.
Compared to the other offerings it must have seemed like manna from heaven, and so everyone dragged their butts into the Star Chamber and settled in for a nice, cozy Night of the Long Knives.
For myself, I was in some suspense about how they could send at least two people home on one night, which they really needed to do. Do I need to spell this out?...Okay, then: Jen, because enough was enough. And Adam, because, in the course of eight or so challenges, this poor fool has only produced one edible dish. And Aaron too, because he needs to look for his kid.
Unless Shane and Kelsey are his long-lost twin kids, and Lisa is the Greek Goddess of Family Reunion, and then the whole thing could get quite early-Shakespearean and Bob could take the part of "Chorus" and end the play with one of those couplet-thingies without which the first-nighters at the Globe Theater never felt they had really gotten their money's worth..."Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Knowlton shall restore amends...)
(Ed. note: It was very hot in Annie's house as she was writing this, and apparently she flipped back to her days as a Frosh BFA candidate at Ithaca College, and that early "Shakespeare for Thespians" course. Excuse it please.)
Where was I? Oh yes. Well, they only sent Jen home, darn the luck. Then everyone sat around the carriage house looking very, very burnt out.
As was I. As was the Terducken. How long, oh Lord, how long?