Last night’s premiere episode of The Next Food Network Star offered plenty of Teddy Folkman – how often did they cut away from the action for a reaction shot or a comment by Teddy? We counted something like ten! Sure, it gave us a chance to get to know his competition, but from our seats at the Capitol Lounge (where Folkman has just taken over the kitchen), it felt like we were watching the Teddy Show.
Now if we’ve learned anything from the hours we’ve spent watching Top Chef and TNFNS, it’s that there are two types of contestants who tend to get a lot of face time – those who are going far, and those who are going home. But try telling that to the home-team crowd that gathered to watch…support…tease Teddy throughout the premiere. They greeted each appearance with a cheer, but they didn’t hesitate to point out his numerous costume changes (three different shirts over the course of a challenge that supposedly happened in one day).
One of the most interesting things about watching the show with Teddy was the juxtaposition of his on-screen person with his demeanor as the premiere approached. After screening an early copy of the first episode, Joe Yonan over at the Washington Post warned that Teddy came off as ‘arrogant.’ But there was no arrogance as the clock ticked down to 9 PM. Teddy was gracious, thanking everyone that showed up. He was thoughtful, taking time to introduce old friends who knew him “before he came to us and told us about his plan to quit his job and start cooking for a living” to those of us who met him as the chef at Granville Moore’s.
But more than anything else, Teddy seemed nervous. Even though he was the only person in the room who knew the outcome of the episode, he was on edge as he waited to see what his friends’ and fans’ reactions would be. A beer or two later, he was settled in and watching, smiling and providing the “DVD commentary” to what was happening on TV. (Note to Food Network Execs: Don’t worry – despite the room’s repeated requests, he wouldn’t tell us anything revealing.)
A recap of the episode (complete with SPOILERS about who stayed and who got cut) after the jump.
For those who missed the episode, it opened with the requisite arrival montage, in which the contestants are introduced to each other and to the audience. Right off the bat, we meet Jen Isham, the “modern housewife two-point-oh” from Orlando, complete with a series of snapshots with her husband so we can better remember her. Can you say foreshadowing?
Jen is followed by Jamika Pessoa (who reveals that her first impression of Jen is “Barbie”), Katie Cavuto, Brett August, Michael Proietti, Eddie Gilbert, Melissa D’Arabian, Teddy, Debbie Lee, and Jeffrey Saad. There were more than a few teasing laughs when on-screen Teddy described Saad as “a Greek god.”
In true reality show fashion, the contestants are thrown into their first challenge right away – catering a “Sweet Sixteen” party for the Food Network at Butter, attended by some of the network’s recognizable talent and covered by Access Hollywood. The ten strangers are divided by Bobby Flay – who promises that he’ll be their mentor “if they have the chops” or that he’ll call them on it “if you’re faking the food” – into two random teams of five. They have five hours to come up with and execute their menus on a budget of $1200 (to be spent at Whole Foods).
If the whole thing sounds very Top Chef…it is. But remember – the challenge on the Next Food Network Star isn’t just how well can you cook. It’s also about presence, poise and overall likability. So we watch the contestants cook their food (mostly without incident on Teddy’s team, but with frequent complaints about missing ingredients on the other side) and then we watch them introduce themselves and serve the food to the likes of Alton Brown, Ted Allen, Aaron McCargo (last season’s winner), Alex Guarnaschelli, Masaharu Morimoto, Giada De Laurentiis, and my personal favorite – Duff Goldman from Ace of Cakes.
Tasting and critiquing aside, the funniest moment came when Brett informed the audience that he “just pooped in my pants” after Guarnaschelli called him on criticizing her kitchen. Yeah…I’m twelve. But at least I own it.
With high notes and missteps on both sides, the judges opted to abandon their team structure and simply critique each chef on their own dishes’ merits. And this is where TNFNS shows a distinct difference from Top Chef – they actually take the time to walk through the feedback (uniformly constructive) that was presented to each contestant. Teddy, for example, was taken to task for his undercooked potatoes (the judges kept calling them ‘raw,’ but they cooked for more than an hour so maybe that’s not the best description) and his “in the moment” presentation to the Food Network judges, which came across as “a little bit confused…and fake.” This is the kind of useful stuff that you rarely see in the editing of that other competition cooking show.
The judges identified three frontrunners for the evening, giving Jeffrey Saad top honors for his improvised eggplant dish (after his teammates abandoned several of his key ingredients due to budgetary constraints). Michael and Melissa were also praised for their dishes. At the other end of the spectrum, Jen was sent home for a green bean dish that was deemed to lack sufficient culinary expertise (or challenge). At least we’ve got the memories of those photos from her introduction…
Teddy lived to cook another day, and the audience erupted into cheers of “One more week! One more week!” when it was announced that he was safe.
After the show, we talked with Folkman about the episode, and his first comment was telling: “The sad thing is, Jen’s a really good cook.” As he has said in previous interviews, the whole group of competitors really did bond and he had an opportunity to sample some of her more successful dishes. “Every chef can have an off night.” As he suggested during our interview last month, he’s working with the crew at Granville Moore’s to put a special on the menu honoring Isham this week. He’ll be doing a different special each week, theming them according to the chef who gets eliminated that Sunday (even if it’s him).
Teddy said he was pleased with the way he came across in the first episode, though he let on that he’ll be in for additional teasing because of his “metrosexual” wardrobe of colorful button-down shirts. He also announced to the audience that one of his competitors, Eddie Gilbert, will be working in the kitchen at the Capitol Lounge for a brief visit starting July 19th – here’s hoping he improves over his ninth-place showing this week!
We’ll be watching along with him each week at the Capitol Lounge – come down and join us next week and check out Teddy’s updated menu (putting his ‘culinary perspective’ of gourmet pub fare into practice). But if you can’t wait until then to catch Teddy, check him out at this Thursday’s BrainFood Grill-Off, benefitting a culinary training program that Folkman works closely with. Taking place at the Decatur House from 6:30 to 9:30, the Grill-Off pairs teams of competitors with a BrainFood Graduate and a professional chef to create a culinary masterpiece using an Iron Chef-style pantry of secret ingredients. Tickets to attend the event are $75, and they include dinner and open bar in addition to the entertainment of watching the competition.
It’s a worthwhile cause AND a chance to hang out with Teddy and let him know what you thought of the first episode.