With only five contestants remaining, this week’s Food Network Star sought to nudge the competitors toward their final transformation, from human person to TV personality. That, of course, meant going full shill, and being able to breezily discuss their own personal #brands.
Says Giada: “One of the biggest challenges for any Food Network personality is getting the home viewer excited about your #brand.”
Says Bobby Flay: “The first task is to get people psyched about your #brand, your culinary lifestyle.”
The contestants have differing reactions to this. Dom, showing why he’s this season’s fan favorite, says “Growin’ up in Staten Island, awl of my friends thawght our friggin’ muthahs had the best chicken cutlets. Is dat a lifestyle brand? I dunno.”
Says Arnold: “I hope to have a global brand. This a great day.”
Incidentally, Guy Who Refuses To Discuss His Personal Brand seems to me a very attractive #brand. A sort of Hansel of the Food Network — who grips it and rips it, who cooks food with a lot of flair. Who says, “Do I know what I’m cooking today? Do I know what harissa means? Not really. Who cares? It’s only #brands.”
This Week’s Thing That Makes Me Ashamed To Be Watching The Food Network
All this talk of personal #brands, obviously. Not that I blame the Food Network for this. In a competition between potential TV chefs, discussing your personal #brand at least feels true to the process as it would be if it wasn’t being filmed. That doesn’t make it any less nauseating to watch. I think it might have been Dave Eggers, when he was writing about auditioning for the Real World, talking about how reality television has paralleled the rise in monolithic personalities.
Talking about your personal #brand makes sense for someone who wants to eventually sell a line of Cajun rubs or herbed butter with their face on the side, sure, but this idea seems to have metastasized into the wider world. Where everyday people now think they have to be a “type,” and tailor their entire existences to it. Am I a Puck or an Omarosa? Looking at life like a reality show casting director, trying to find their hook rather than being a complete person. It’s the same thing that’s always bugged me about the rise of “Nerd Culture,” where being a Nerd became a sexy #brand. So let me get this straight: You like a TV show and that’s your defining characteristic as a person? I mean, I have interests too, but there’s a difference between having interests and making yourself more digestible for the machine. “Here, choose your personality from between these six character types defined by the advertising industry.”
Hey, maybe I actually do want to buy a specific product, and not a “lifestyle.” Maybe I just want your soap because it cleans my taint, not because I want to emulate the people on the box. Anyway, just a thought.
1. Giada’s Dress
OK, so Giada’s Dress wasn’t technically “a contestant,” but it was and shall be number one in my heart. There should be a distraction challenge, where Giada leans forward against the table and the contestants have to try to describe the food in front of her. “Uh, it’s, um, creamy, and uh… supple. You know, just a real robust flavor. I can’t stop thinking about it in my mouth.”
1. Jay (even)
Jay is running away with this. It’s not so much that he keeps getting better so much as his competition is dropping off like flies. Did he do anything special this week? Not really. He just told a story about hunting with his pee-paw and cooked a tasty-looking boudin-stuffed quail (the second challenge was to tie in their brand with a holiday; Jay’s was Thanksgiving). Be likable, toss out a brief anecdote, cook good food. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
The best was when Jay had to edit his personal story to take out the part where he cooked it to remember his dead grandpa. The lesson? People don’t want a story because they actually care about you, just a brief chunk of digestible narrative to make the recipe more memorable. A mnemonic device, really. Boudin = Jay’s Definitely Not Dead Pee-Paw.
2. Alex (+3)
Alex grew by leaps and bounds, just in the course of this one episode. In the first challenge, he says “My brand? A world of flavor between two slices of bread.”
This was when I finally figured out why I didn’t like Alex (aside from his hair). He’s sweet and earnest, and cooks what looks like delicious food, but everything he says makes me want to wedgie him. He’s like a hybrid of Little Lord Fauntleroy and Butters from South Park. He even brought up harissa in the opening challenge, meaning I had to finish my beer (it’s this terribly sad drinking game I play with myself).
Then, in the second challenge, he cooked a cornmeal-crusted catfish po’boy with celeriac remoulade (a tasty-sounding dish, nothing new there), but actually came out of his shell a bit during the presentation. “This whole time I’ve been trying to be what I thought the Food Network wanted, when what they really want is for me to be me!”
Aw, Alex, he’s just too sweet for this world. They don’t want you to be you, if being you is even mildly off-putting in any way. But it’s probably a helpful thought when the real you is sort of a bland milkboy. Nonetheless, it qualified as an epiphany. Producers live for that. Let’s see if it lasts more than half an episode.
3. Arnold (-1)
Why is it that the person who has thought the most about their personal brand inevitably has the most complicated brand? At least, Giada and Co. seemed to think Arnold’s brand was too complicated. Arnold’s idea was for a “party in a box,” a sort of Blue Apron/Plated-style mail-order meal, only for entertaining. Complete with decorations and “tablescape suggestions.” I don’t know what a tablescape is, but it sounds f*cking fabulous.
Arnold probably could have pulled this one off, but the judges didn’t like his peanut chicken lettuce wrap (too peanutty!). In the second challenge, he got dinged for making chocolate ganache and raspberry framboise-stuffed fried wontons (for Valentine’s Day) but not explaining what ganache or framboise were. A fair criticism.
His initial presentation began, “I’m a restaurant owner, so when I think Valentine’s Day, I think money.”
That got cut. This, once again, could be filed under “A little too real for the Food Network.” They’re not looking for actual insight into how the food industry actually works here, just a cute little story that isn’t too honest or too morbid or too gay for Pete Burgereater out there. Peter Burgereater knows what he likes, and he likes burgers.
4. Eddie (-1)
Eddie was a judges favorite early on, but continues to free fall in the rankings. I said before that Eddie might be a little too dumb for this competition, and he’s not exactly proving me wrong. He opened by cooking some grey shrimp (which made me think of that story about Ben Roethlisberger’s grey dick, not the most appetizing thought), which he then had trouble presenting. He concluded, hilariously, with “Now, let’s see ‘zactly what I concocted,” before taking a bite.
Pro tip: Try not to seem confused by your own food.
Eddie didn’t fare much better in the second challenge. Though to be fair, he drew Halloween. I don’t know what the f*ck you eat on Halloween either. Children’s tears? I guess this was Eddie’s karma for getting all the easy ingredients in the David Alan Grier episode.
Regardless, Eddie probably would have gone home this week if not for Susie Fogelson, who said during the judges’ pow-wow, “I think Eddie is electrifying on camera,” in her most earnest, breathy voice (that woman terrifies me).
These bobbleheads say the darndest things when they go off prompter. And with such conviction! I like to imagine that Bob and Susie are actually Lights Camera Jackson‘s parents.
5. Dom (-1) ((Eliminated))
:-( :-( :-(
Everyone’s favorite Sensitive Knucklehead got booted this week, over the objections of Bobby and Giada, or so the Food Network Star editors would have us believe (Giada friggin loves Dom). He crushed the opening challenge, making Friggin Chicken Cutlets, but got the axe when he looked nervous and stumbled over a few words during the final presentation. Which TERRIFIED Bob and Susie. Sentient teleprompters simply can’t countenance talking heads who aren’t camera-ready.
To be fair, Dom wasn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with chicken cutlets and grilled branzino, but he was a good cook, and probably the most interesting character of the group (“Say ya cookin’ up a nice gabba gool for da friggin stugatz down da road, fuhgeddaboudit.”).
If I could suggest a show idea, maybe pair up Dom and Arnold and send them on a road trip. Repressed Knucklehead with a Heart of Gold Dom and Fabulous, Flamboyant Arnold would make an incredible buddy-pair road trip duo, to tour bed and breakfasts all over the country. “Ayo, I din’t know much about friggin antiques before dis, but I gotta tell ya, dat credenza was friggin rad, gnome sayin?”
But maybe Dom just has more guile than we thought. Certainly, the way to this viewer’s heart is not knowing how to talk about your personal #brand.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.