Food Network StarSo it’s been twenty-four hours since the newest episode of the Next Food Network Star, but we didn’t want to offer up our recap of this week’s episode until we could give it to you with a few “DVD Extras” courtesy of recently-eliminated contestant Teddy Folkman.  Hope you’re still hungry!

This week’s episode opened with a real surprise: Rachael Ray actually paid a visit to the Food Network studios to lead the contestants through a challenge.  The remaining six had to come up with creative ways to get kids to eat tofu, brussels sprouts and squid.  To judge them?  Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray and three precocious youngsters.

Seriously – these kids weren’t exactly Children of the Corn or anything, but they were far more media-savvy than your average ten year-old.  No complaining about squid…they talked about how Debbie’s presentation was better than Katie’s but both were good.  No pushing tofu around the plate…they liked how Jeffrey and Jamika engaged the audience with their narratives.  And no hiding brussels sprouts…well, actually, Michael and Melissa took care of that by frying it into a “puppet” and smashing it into potatoes, respectively.

At the end of the first challenge, Rachael Ray had some yumm-o feedback for everyone…except for Jamika.  She didn’t seem to have much to say other than to chastise her for poor time management in her direct-to-camera.  Ouch.

No ‘winner,’ per se, but all of the contestants were issued their second challenge: Come on Rachael Ray’s show and do a live (before a studio audience) demonstration in which pairs of competitors cook an adult version of a kids’ meal.

What they made, how they did, and a note or two on what we didn’t see (from Teddy) after the jump.

nfns5 left6Throughout the episode, the judges kept referring to this as the “midterm exams” – a reference to the fact that only five of the original ten contestants would be moving on.  And it felt like they were taking pains to avoid a midseason slump by amping up the drama with their choices in pairings.  At the very least, they were looking to shake things up a bit.

Michael & Melissa – This team could have been called Manic and Manicker.  Neither of these contestants is especially comfortable in front of the camera, and when paired together their Rachael Ray segment was borderline chaotic.  Michael froze up worse than Ralphie on Santa’s lap, and Melissa ran through the presentation at near-warp speed.  Even so, their food was well-received as they put together a grown up grilled cheese skewer with tomato-basil soup and some homemade pesto.

Katie & Debbie – In their demo on the Rachael Ray show, they described their team as “East Meets West” – you know, like that Jackie Chan movie…or that other Jackie Chan movie.  Because Debbie’s Korean…did you know that?  For me, one of the highlights of the show was Bobby Flay’s backstage response to Debbie’s umpteenth nod to her heritage on camera: “Are you Korean?  She says the same thing every time!”  But let’s be honest – watching the show, the real hope was that Debbie would blow up at Katie (or vice versa) as the two have decidedly different styles in the kitchen.  Unfortunately, they actually seemed to pair up well in their presentation…Katie seemed to make the smoothest transition of all the contestants.  Too bad their food wasn’t a big hit – their take on chicken nuggets and mac & cheese presented some dry chicken cutlets and a complex shrimp-and-bacon mac with three cheeses.

Jeffrey and Jamika – These two had the least chemistry of all three pairings, and it showed through in their presentation as well as their dish itself.  Jeffrey seemed to click into “leading man” mode, dominating the camera time while Jamika was left to circle the perimeter and look for opportunities to jump in.  She was kind of incidental to the presentation – and it was a shame because Jeffrey came across as something of an ass.  Their take on franks and beans was a study in compromise – something like red beans and rice with shrimp and chorizo topped with hot dogs and peppers in tomato sauce.  It didn’t really work with either of their “culinary points of view.”

And this is where we turned to Teddy to find out what we didn’t see in the episode.  In this case, Teddy dropped a real bombshell on us: the contestants’ cooking segments (which I linked to above) actually aired ahead of time on Rachael Ray’s show.  “So I’m not giving any secrets away when I tell you that Rachael complimented Jeffrey and Jamika’s choreography within the show kitchen.  Or that she felt Michael and Melissa’s timing and pacing were really good.  More than anything, though, the NFNS viewers lost out on learning that that Katie’s ‘failure to connect with the camera’ was only a part of their presentation.  In fact, Rachael Ray told Katie that she was welcome to cook in her kitchen any time she’d like – Rachael really liked Katie’s presentation.”

When I asked Teddy how it feels now that it’s common knowledge how he did on the show, he smiled and said, “It’s a huge weight off my shoulders.  I feel like now I can give the restaurants the attention they deserve.  I’ll be at Capitol Lounge most nights, but I’ll also be at Granville Moore’s one or two nights each week.”

So what did the judges think of everything that they saw on Rachael’s set?  For a midterm exam, they didn’t seem to offer a lot of high marks.  Everyone came in for their share of criticism, and there wasn’t really a team that particularly stood out in their estimation.  In fact, they informed one team member from each pairing that they were safe – sending Jeffrey, Debbie and Melissa out of the room.  If there were any doubt that these three are darlings of the judges, it should be eliminated by now – but it’s interesting to see that they’re allowing some of the judges’ disagreement on their performances to show through.

Michael was taken to task for his fear-hate relationship with the camera, which he described as looking into “the depths of Hell,”  because the camera is “so judgy.  Judgy.”  Jamika’s lackluster performance in both challenges was noted, and she was criticized for failing to .  Katie’s food wasn’t “up to snuff,” and it was interesting to see that Bob and Susie didn’t like her performance in the first challenge…but Bobby was impressed.

KatieIn the end, Katie was sent home – probably not a big surprise to anyone who has watched her performance up to this point.  We’ve been led to this point pretty explicitly, so it will be interesting to see where the judges go now that the final five are off to Miami for next week’s challenge.

And I do have one final confession to make – my favorite moment of the episode was actually one of the commercials.  If you haven’t seen it already, you owe it to yourself to check out Meat Loaf’s brilliant ad for A-1 Steak Sauce.