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The Next Food Network Star: 6/29/08

July 3rd, 2008 · by Cyndi · No Comments

Episode five of the Next Food Network Star had some challenges that finally seemed worthy of candidates for a cooking show.

Challenge #1: Using a mystery basket with 6 ingredients, create a dish using them, and prepare to describe the dish on camera. The twist was that each contestant had to switch baskets with another, without being told what it was. Then they had 90 seconds from reveal to taste and describe the dish, focusing on conveying the attributes (taste and smell) that the audience couldn’t sense. I probably would have bombed like most of them did.

Challenge #2: Each of three pairs of contestants had to take one classic dish that normally took hours to prepare and create a version that a home cook could make in 45 minutes. Each team also made two side dishes.

I think this was a great challenge but, again, it was done with a very limited time frame. I just don’t see why. Anyone with a cooking show would plan this out and run some tests. These contestants had an unknown (but short) time to plan, 30 mins to shop, and then had to do everything, including plate for around a dozen people, in 45 minutes. Granted, they had two trained people to do it all vs one home cook, but it didn’t really make sense to force them to guess what would and wouldn’t work, when a 2 hour prep period could have done that. Then give them 45 minutes to actually prepare the dish (including prep work that would be done at home) and another 10 minutes to plate.

All three dishes were meat-based foods I have never cooked. Beef Wellington seemed the easiest (and, indeed, it not only was picked first but it won the prize of having the recipe featured in Bon Appétit magazine). It is a tender cut of beef, covered in a mushroom paste, and baked in puff pastry. The team constructed a seared beef fillet with mushroom paste (it has a fancy name but…) on top and all sitting on a puff pastry round. I would have done something similar (assuming I had someone to tell me what Beef Wellington was before I tried this) except I would have made a puff pastry turnover.

Their sides were roasted summer vegetables and creamed pearl onions. The veggies were perfect because they added color and had a fresh contrast to the heavy main dish. The pearl onions were too white next to the tans and browns of the main dish (the judges pointed this out but it was pretty obvious even to us amateurs). I would have blended some parsley into the cream sauce to turn it green, and mixed in some minced parsley too for texture.

The next dish was Coq de Vin, which is chicken in a wine-based stew. The team grilled boneless chicken breasts and topped it with a sauce that the judges loved but said had nothing to do with the target dish. I haven’t cooked chicken in over 25 years but I think I would have tried sauteing some flour dredged chicken cubes then putting them into a wine-based soup with stock and vegetables and boiling down into a stew. I don’t know if that would just remind people of the real thing too much (as a bad comparison) or if it wouldn’t work at all. Their sides were polenta and pasta. Where were the vegetables?

The hardest dish by far was Turducken. That bizarre thing some meat-loving folks go ga-ga for. Duck stuffed in a chicken stuffed in a turkey. The team did a dish with all 3 meats but it wasn’t a cohesive unit. I think I would have aimed for a lasagna. Or whatever you would call it when it’s all meat meat meat. You’d have to use pre-cooked meats so most of the 45 mins would be spent baking and blending. I don’t know what other flavorings are involved.

So, not Cyndi food this week either. They don’t make it easy to bring out your own style. You have to be a general cook to make it. One of the contestants was an Indian cook, who only did that style, but she wasn’t good enough to continue and left last week. Basically though, you have to know how to do everything, which means a focus on mainstream cooking. Not just “American” (which is fine as a base point) but meat, dairy, wheat. All those things I do without.

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