If you follow the blog on Twitter, you know that one of my favorite shows to watch and tweet about is Food Network Star. I’ve watched the show in years past (beginning with season 4), but I missed last year because I had grown tired of seeing my favorites sent home by Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson. This year Food Network decided to change things up. Instead of there being one group of potential stars there would be three teams, each mentored by a Food Network Star. The three mentors, Bobby Flay, Giada DeLaurentis & Alton Brown, were each allowed to choose their own teams and from there the teams would be narrowed down through weeks of challenges.
I must admit, I wasn’t particularly impressed with Team Giada. No one on her team had the “it” factor in my mind. The only one I thought might have a chance was the Hawaiian Hunk Ippy. It turns out I was almost right as Ippy was one of the final two on Team Giada, barely missing out on the chance to shoot a pilot episode to be shown to the viewing audience who are the ones making the final decision this season.
I also picked the first runner up from Team Bobby, Nikki Martin. From the beginning I thought Nikki had star potential, but as the weeks went on and the tweets were analyzed it appeared Bob and Susie, along with other viewers didn’t like her very much. In Nikki I see a confident young woman. Others see an arrogant young woman. Regardless, she persevered week after week making it to the final elimination, losing the chance to shoot a pilot in favor of Michele Ragussis.
From the beginning I found more folks on Team Alton who I felt had star potential. From week one I thought Justin or Emily could make it to the finals. I was right about Justin, but Emily was eliminated in one of the more controversial eliminations I can remember. Bob and Susie reamed Emily for not telling a personal story, instead opting to keep Martita who had in the same episode botched a promo, leaving 30 seconds of dead air. Emily’s elimination had me thinking, "here we go again"; they keep someone on the show that will shoot a program no one will watch beyond the first season and let someone with a fun and interesting personality go.
As mentioned above, Justin made it to the finals for Team Alton. Joining Justin in the finals was fellow Team Alton member Martie. I must say Martie’s start to the competition was less than stellar. I actually thought she’d be eliminated early in the competition, but her Southern Charm is endearing and she has proven herself worthy of a spot in the finals alongside Ivan, Michele and Justin.
Now that you know a little about how we got to this point, it’s time for my predictions! I’ll go through each finalist talking about what I like or dislike and will give reasons why I think they’ll win.
Yvan Lemoine has really won me over as the weeks have gone by. Initially Ippy was the only person I saw as a potential star from Team Giada and even then it was only out of trying to find someone I thought could represent the team in a final. Over the weeks Yvan began to surge, finally learning to open up on camera and winning people over with his charm. For his pilot, Yvan chose to go with the title, Family Style.
For Yvan, cooking is a great way to bring your family together. I like that. For me, food has a wonderful social component. From tailgating to family reunions food serves as a fun way to gather together and spend time with friends and loved ones. I appreciate what Yvan is trying to do, but I feel like Food Network already has shows catering toward family. Off the top of my head I can think of Ten Dollar Dinners (with Food Network Star winner Melissa d’Arabian) and The Pioneer Woman as shows that have a cooking for family theme.
Yvan’s saving grace could be two things. One is the poor economy. In his pilot he made a cost effective mac and cheese. In a down economy, people will be looking for ways to feed their families on a tight budget. Although he’s shooting for “family style” Yvan could stretch his concept into a meals on a budget show, but again he’s veering toward Semi-Homemade or Ten Dollar Dinner territory. The 2nd thing I think might help Yvan is the fan vote. Coming from Team Giada he might get the backing of Martita fans. In fan voting Martita was always near the top. After her elmination you have to wonder where her fan votes would go. My guess, they don’t all go to Yvan, but a lot will. Team Alton has two finalists so any potential gain of Martitia votes Justin might have gotten could be divided with Martie.
Team Bobby’s finalist was Michele Ragussis. I have never been a big fan of Michele. It’s nothing personal, I just feel like the network already has a Michele Ragussis in Anne Burrell. Another concern I have about Michele is her culinary point of view, My New England. How diverse is the regional cuisine of New England? I just don’t really see an entire series being created out of the point of view. If she does try different cuisines and the show is called My New England I’ll be frustrated because one thing we’ve continually seen contestants badgered about is a consistent point of view. With Michele fans might be voting more for her personality than her point of view.
Team Alton’s finalists will have the toughest hill to climb in my opinion. Fan favorite Justin might have run away with the votes, but the addition of Martie to the mix really makes things interesting. Justin’s point of view is Rebel with a Culinary Cause. Throughout the competition I’ve really enjoyed watching Justin because you can definitely see him as a young Alton Brown and can’t help but get excited about the possibilities of the two working together on a show. One potential pitfall I see for Justin is him being too weird for viewers. Some might also think he’s arrogant, a “culinary know it all” if you will.
Last, but not least, we have Martie. As I mentioned she really rounded into shape as the competition went on and set herself up for a shot at becoming a Food Network Star by getting herself to the finals. Martie’s pilot was called Martie with the Party. Her culinary point of view is more or less helping you create a fun party environment featuring good food and accompaniments, all on a budget. Martie’s biggest problem will not be with her personality, but her point of view. Sure, the Food Network already has a charming Southern woman on their roster in Paula Deen, but more-so I think the problem Martie will face is whether or not her point of view is unique enough for her to earn a spot as a Food Network Star. Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade has a similar theme, party planning that is easy and budget friendly. There’s also the problem of Martha Stewart. She’s not on Food Network, but how many ladies do we need to be taking party planning tips from? If the network is looking for someone to build a brand around, Martie is the clear choice. She’s got a great personality so you can rest assured she’ll have fans who’ll buy products bearing her name. The big question is whether or not fans are looking for someone to sell them cookware or who can teach them how to get the most out of the cookware they already have.
So who will win? The answer isn’t very simple I’m afraid. Based solely on the pilots, I would go with Michele. She cooked a clam dish. I’ve never really eaten clams, but the way she prepared them made me want to and made me believe I could easily do so. For me the Food Network is about making home cooks look like professionals. I think everyone wants something different from the network, but for me, it’s learning how to make food at home that is big on flavor, but small on complexity.
I must say I felt like Justin dropped the ball with his pilot. He took a traditional Caesar salad and jazzed it up with some fancy gelatin trickery. I appreciate thinking out of the box, but doing so on a salad seems like overkill. I’d rather Justin help me learn about exotic foods or use traditional foods in a new way than overly complicate classic dishes for the purpose of being different. It’s fun to watch, but difficult and time consuming to replicate.
Yvan and Martie both turned in decent performances in their pilots, really showing their point of view, but not really “wowing” me. As I mentioned before I think Yvan might be saved by the poor economy. Families on a budget will be willing to watch his show to find out ways to cook good food without breaking the bank. Martie could also benefit from the down economy. She will be showing folks how to throw a party without spending too much time or money on things. Overall though, I think both of their pilots were pretty pedestrian. Michele had by far the best pilot in my opinion.
Unfortunately for Michele, I believe the pilots alone won’t determine the winner. The fan vote decides the winner, so basically this thing boils down to a glorified popularity contest. Justin seems to have been winning the fan vote over the past few weeks. As mentioned above though, I think the big question is where the Martita vote goes. I could honestly see Yvan winning as some back away from Justin and his complicated Caesar salad and the Martita block votes for her Team Giada teammate. I’m actually going to predict Yvan in an upset. On a personal level though, I want Justin to win. I loved Good Eats because it taught me about food while teaching me how to prepare good food. Justin, working with Alton Brown as producer, could recapture this magic and teach America how to use exotic ingredients in fun and interesting, yet practical ways. We’ll find out tomorrow night!!