Episode seven of the Next Food Network Star still takes place in Las Vegas and we’re down to 3 contestants: Aaron, Lisa, and Adam.
Challenge #1: Prepare a 30 second promo for what could be their new show. Unlike in previous versions of this, each promo was carefully scripted (including wardrobe) by the Food Network and the contestant had a fair amount of time to do it, with multiple takes, a director, and rehearsals. Each promo was broken up into 2 or more mini-scenes.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t done completely fairly. Aaron just had to walk down a hallway then he had to say something before throwing dice down a craps table. Adam had to stroll along a stage with a showgirl on each arm, with some closeups. But Lisa was harnessed to a rig where she went up a couple of stories, grabbed a bottle of wine from a shelf, and had to say her lines in multiple locations along the way. Needless to say, the quality of the promos was inverse to the difficulty.
Challenge #2: Prepare a buffet for 50 guests (the selection committee, hotel chefs, and Vegas performers). They had a reasonable 6 hours to cook and a $1000 budget. The buffet was supposed to be “over the top, Vegas style” and they had to do an “entertaining” intro before the service. Although they didn’t state any rules for the foods, each contestant appeared to have 3 main courses, one vegetable side dish, and a dessert.
How did things go? My favorite, Aaron, did the best with his promo but totally bombed at the buffet. His intro was embarrassingly bad and all three of his main courses were pasta (the reviews of the food were that it was okay but not great). Lisa did so-so with the promo (hard to do when dangling 15 feet in the air), fabulous with the buffet intro, and well with the food. Adam did decently with the promo, well with the buffet intro, and was the runaway favorite with the food.
It’s been obvious that the selection committee loves Aaron, likes Lisa but has reservations, and isn’t too fond of Adam. But because they traditionally gave immunity to the person who won a particular challenge, they couldn’t get rid of Adam. And they didn’t want to dump Aaron for having one bad week. So they wimped out and are bringing all 3 contestants to the final episode this Sunday. At least it’s in New York.
So, enough of that, what the heck would I make if I were feeding 50 people? The budget isn’t an issue, even with expensive items, because everyone ate all 3 buffets, so portions were small. $1000 is $20/person and you can do a lot with that (catering budgets include labor, not just ingredients, and they weren’t serving alcohol). I’d want to be true to my personal food restrictions, at least the basic ones.
Sweet peppers stuffed with shrimp paste with a hoisin sauce (hot)
Grape leaves stuffed with fish (cold)
Vegan soup, maybe chickpea with Georgian Walnut paste (hot)
A beautiful raw salad (cold)
Mango sorbet topped with pine nut cream and toasted almonds (cold, but with hot almonds if possible)
The shrimp I envision is the kind you get in dim sum restaurants stuffed into tofu. You take raw shrimp and process it with some other ingredients. I’ve made it before but it was years ago. I’d add spice and something to bind it, egg or flax goo. Maybe peas or something like that for texture and a fresh flavor. Stuff into those gorgeous colored sweet peppers that are 1-2 bites each. Roast. Serve with a salty intense dipping sauce based on hoisin.
The grape leaves came to me as a great choice but, if I were really in a competition, I might swap them out since I don’t have much experience with grape leaves. I’d cook a mild white fish like halibut and mince (not process) it well with a lot of fresh flavors like parsley then either add chutney or use similar flavors.
I’ve made the soup before from one of my favorite cookbooks, Olive Trees & Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World, and it’s simple but really good. The walnut paste has a unique flavor and is used regularly within the country of Georgia.
The raw salad would have no lettuce but lots of carefully cut items to make it special. Lots of long thin strips like noodles. Avocado, some more of the sweet peppers, pea pods, bean sprouts, specialty mushrooms. I’d have to see what looked good in the store and went together. A variety of colors. Served either with a chimichurri sauce (lime juice, parsley, mint, cilantro, very good olive oil, and garlic) or something else with an intense flavor that would pull all the other ingredients together.
Mango sorbet is very simple, which is the best way to do it. Take very ripe mangoes, remove the skin and pits, and puree them. A touch of salt, a squeeze of lime, some vanilla is all you need. It’s plenty sweet enough. Most people would add simple syrup but mango doesn’t need more sugar and all that water will just dilute the flavor.
I’d serve it with some vanilla bean pine nut cream (because you don’t have to soak pine nuts) and some toasted almond slices on top. If the kitchen didn’t have an ice cream maker, I could freeze half the puree in ice cube trays and then blend it up and then freeze again (watching it carefully so it doesn’t get too hard).
My meal could be done by 2 people (each contestant got a former contestant as a sous chef) in 6 hours with no problems. Granted, it did take me a few days to come up with the dishes, instead of near instanteneously like the contestants are forced to do. And I might not be able to get every ingredient I needed (in January, in the middle of the desert…oh, they’d all be in the store, just not at their peak). But hey, I’m a blogger in front of a computer, not a trained cook trying to smile for the camera. I get to imagine success.