When I watch competition shows I do sometimes get caught up in rooting for the people I like but I usually end up wondering what I would do if it were me up there. The Next Food Network Star does include home cooks (though most are professional caterers, chefs, or restaurant owners, nearly all with professional training), all ages are represented, and I could always apply, I prefer the sidelines. Although I’m comfortable in front of audiences (and have even taught cooking before), I’m not photogenic and don’t have the culinary skills or television personality they want. But, hey, if they ever have a “create the recipes and write the script for the Next Food Network star’s new show competition,” I’m ready.
I’ve seen a couple seasons of this series before and it’s different each time. Sometimes the camera skills challenges (pacing a cooking segment, facing the audience (camera) as you do it, explaining things just so) start immediately (which means they expect some bumpiness because everyone’s new) and sometimes they come later (when they expect contestants to be more polished).
For one season, they kept emphasizing choosing recipes for the home cook, yet most of the challenges involved cooking for dozens or hundreds of people. Very odd. And pretty much always, they focus on fast fast fast. You’re lucky if you have a few hours to prep and cook (vs a few minutes) and the longest period I’ve ever seen for cooking is overnight (with no tending allowed). This rules out a huge percentage of dishes: bread, pickles, roasts, marinades, slow cookers, even beans. It’s an odd, but consistent, restriction.
Thanks to my trusty DVR, I’m a bit behind with the shows. I just watched the first one which aired June 1, 2008. Ten finalists were put through two challenges.
Challenge #1: Face the camera, with or without a prop, and state your culinary point of view in one sentence (or very quickly).
I know exactly what mine would be–I thought about it in past seasons too–though I’m still not sure how to articulate it succinctly. No props for me.
Vegetarian? food allergy? special diet? I’m Cyndi Norwitz and I’m going to show you how to turn a dietary restriction into an opportunity.
Challenge #2: The 10 contestants were randomly paired into 5 groups of 2. They had to present a 3 dish meal to 9 Food Network stars and producers (plus make a “beauty plate”). Each person in the pair had to make one dish that represented their culinary point of view, then collaborate on the third. The hard part was they had 10 minutes to plan their menu, a few minutes to shop, then only 30 minutes in the kitchen to prep, cook, and plate everything (with no help).
The time element made this one really hard. Just having a few more minutes to plan and another half hour to cook would have made all the difference. But I think I would have done this dish:
I would wash and slice mushrooms, sear the fish with mushrooms, then pop it in the oven (7-10 mins total, could save 3 minutes if I had pre-sliced mushrooms). Then wash and prep the salad veggies and blend the dressing (7-10 mins, assuming I had an electric shredder and a salad spinner, or I could save time with prepacked salad greens). The fish would be done in 10-15 mins, leaving a couple minutes to plate it all up. And with time to work on whatever dish I was sharing (as the fish cooked).
What would go with that dish? Let’s see…
Pine nut cream over fresh fruit (pine nuts can be creamed without any soaking, or they could soak for 10 mins if timed right)
Soup made with finely chopped butternut squash or carrot and ginger, cooked for as long as possible then blended smooth with plenty of spice and a boxed pre-made broth.