Well, my time on Food Network Star has come to an end.
Before I get into a breakdown of the show, I’ll start by giving you a pulse check. I’m okay! No need to be sad on my behalf. I checked off a major item on my bucket list. I cooked food that was applauded by some of the most accomplished chefs in the country. I pushed myself so beyond my comfort zone that I can confidently look fear in the eye and say, “ok, what’s my time limit?”.
I cooked alongside inspiring go-getters who are making big moves in food and entertainment. I proved to myself that I can perform on the biggest stage of my life in front of millions of people. I have a lot to be happy about.
But let’s get into the show!
The Mentor Challenge was to create a dish based on a character from Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. I had a plan for Drac and Mavis (Drac’s daughter), but most of all -- I wanted Blobby.
As I mentioned in my How I Prepared for Food Network Star post, I spent the weeks leading up to filming studying up on my go-to dishes and interesting techniques. I’ve experimented with a technique called gellification in which you drop liquid + dissolved agar-agar into cold oil. This creates little gel droplets. Here are little “caviar eggs” I made with olive brine and balsamic vinegar. If I got Drac or Mavis, I was going to create little “blood” droplets in a fruit soup, but if I got Blobby… well, he’s just one giant gel droplet and I thought I could really have fun with that.
But, alas. I was too late in picking my character and Drac, Mavis, and -- yes -- Blobby were gone before I got to the table. So… Murray the Mummy it was.
At this point, the clock was ticking and every moment in thought was time taken away from cooking. So I just started picking up ingredients and lo and behold, my body was still thinking about a fruit soup while my mind was still thinking: uh, what now??
So, a fruit soup it was. I decided to make the base of the soup red with blood orange, watermelon, and raspberry, in a nod to the main character, Drac. And then I added my mummy components: a frozen mango-wrapped, lime-laced pineapple and a candied ginger condensed milk “mummy drizzle”. Bobby and Giada introed the challenge by saying movies are a favorite summer pastime, and I wanted to keep the light and summery vibe.
I also considered wrapping something in bacon or prosciutto, but I couldn’t think of any personal connection to anything like that. Remember -- this isn’t the Cook Whatever You Want Show. It’s your show, where all your stories and dishes need to tie to YOU.
Fruit soup is a dish I often have in Hong Kong, where the summers are unbearably hot and humid. The typical order is mango soup with pomelo pulp and a puff of whipped cream wrapped in durian skin. With some modifications, I could make it work with what was available in the kitchen (swap mango and pineapple for durian), the challenge (add complexity), and my character (add the mummy drizzle and mango “bandages”).
In my presentation, my plan was to tie Murray = old and wise = Grandma who lives in Hong Kong. Was it a stretch? Yes! Of course! But I was willing to pursue a stretch of a story if that meant I could also make a dish that nodded to Murray the Mummy and was also delicious. I didn’t have any better ideas, and with only 30 minutes on the clock, I figured I'd have to act now, figure out later.
At the judging table, we were joined by none other than Fran Drescher, who voices Eunice, Frankenstein’s wife.
I LOVED The Nanny growing up, so this was a huge thrill. Fran is just as sweet and funny as you’d imagine, and the first time she burst into her distinctive laugh, we all lost it.
Judging goes… ok. Bobby, Giada, and Fran were confused by my choice to make a fruit soup, and didn’t pick up on the mango-wrapped pineapple and condensed milk drizzle as my mummy components. But once the dish came out, Bobby said the dish was “very refreshing” and Giada said it was “wonderfully balanced”.
So now I felt like I was on a total roller coaster. Last week, I had won the Mentor Challenge and was in the winning half of the Star Challenge. Now I felt like I had lost all momentum (and judges’ goodwill).
I’d have to do better next challenge.
Star Challenge time! Since Amy won the Mentor Challenge, she was able to choose which finalist got which show title. The choices were: Ooey Gooey, Stacked Snacks, and Cheat Day Eats. We had to cook a dish that fit our show title, then do a 3-minute proof of concept video, demoing a cooking tip.
Of the three, I wanted Stacked Snacks. I was picturing a tower of dumplings, with the skins folded so they perfectly stacked on one another. I love a good cheat day or ooey gooey dish, but they aren’t part of my regular repertoire, and I thought I’d have a hard time relating those dishes to my life.
But you can't always get what you want... and I was assigned Ooey Gooey.
About ten years ago, I actually wrote a cooking show treatment with a producer, so I was already familiar with how to pitch a cooking show.
This was my downfall.
A show treatment is about market research, structuring the show, audience size and upside. You need to show your concept can have legs for multiple seasons.
A proof of concept video is all about personality. Does this person win me over with their energy?
I didn’t realize this until it was too late.
When I hear Ooey Gooey, I think, can you really do a whole show about cheesy, fudgy, caramel-ly? Maybe, but that didn’t really seem very me, so I had to think of an angle that could work for my culinary POV, international twists you can easily add to your cooking. My solution: international sauces. One part would be ooey -- emulsions, gravies, and vinaigrettes -- and one part would be gooey -- sticky and sweet.
I made ooey coconut rice with gooey char siu pork. The starchy arborio rice would create an ooey “sauce” with the coconut milk, and the honey + hoisin + soy sauce + clove/cinnamon/star anise char siu sauce would be my gooey. Every episode would be Ooey *and* Gooey, and would come together to create a complete dish that showed you new ingredients and techniques.
Did I just bore you?
Well, turns out the judges weren’t all that impressed with my program development efforts, and were looking for something more dynamic. Less business proposal, more bubbly personality.
As soon as I saw everyone else’s presentation, I knew I was in trouble.
Oooooooooh. That’s what a proof of concept video should be. Smiling? Personal stories?? And no bullet points of every segment??? Bleh.
By the time we got to judging, I wasn’t surprised to be on the bottom. But you never know what the judges’ main elimination criteria will be. Maybe it’s missing the mark on the challenge, or botching your dish, or not showing growth… or something else you haven’t even thought of…
In the end… it was me.
I’ve posted my thoughts about elimination in my previous Episode 5 post and don’t really have anything to say beyond that. I fell, but I will pick myself back up again. I don’t have time to mope!
And with that, don’t forget there’s still Star Salvation, a contest in which eliminated contestants compete to re-enter the competition. So there’s still hope! Each episode is posted right after the East Coast airing of Food Network Star and can be viewed online here.
Plus, all four episodes of Star Salvation will air on July 29 at 8pm, ahead of the Food Network Star episode when the Star Salvation winner will rejoin the finalists.
I’m down, but not out. Star Salvation, I’m coming for you.