It's getting harder and harder to give one warmed-over damn about The Next Food Network Star, which Suze's Lisa Garza should have won before this fourth season ever started. Because from jump she should have been the damn-right shoo-in to take down the prize, which, granted, isn't much of one considering that last season's winner seems to have found her moment of fame flushed down a garbage disposal somewhere in Secaucus. Still, on a cooking show populated by people who don't appear capable of, um, cooking -- last night's vanquished contestant wouldn't even touch a fucking fish! -- you'd think an acclaimed Dallas restaurant's attractive co-owner would have been the runaway favorite.
Only, not so much: Fairly or not, she's been depicted as "unapproachable," as she puts it in next Sunday night's episode, more style than substance in her Pucci shows and silken scarves and $300 shirts -- which, last night, were ruined, ruined, ruined after a fall that could have been the worst thing to happen to her turned out to be the best thing to happen to her. (At last, humanity! No, really. In a good way.) Last night, culinary irritant Kelsey emerged as the frontrunner: Not only did she get a dish on a Red Lobster menu (for a limited time only, natch), but she did so with her oddball Macadamia Crusted Tilapia with White Chocolate Beurre Blanc cooked up for a fish-two-ways elimination challenge.
From the looks of next week's episode -- the first 11 minutes of which are available here -- Kelsey botches it early. It's still anyone's game -- why, I have no idea. Actually, we all do: "The only thing for me to work on is my camera persona," Garza says at the beginning of next Sunday's show, and she's not far wrong. Because she can clearly cook -- no one's ever said otherwise. "The committee has said they want me to be softer, sweeter, more approachable," she says.
But, as evidenced by the first four episodes and the first 11 minutes of Episode Five, still she struggles with that; says Cat Cora, next week's guest judge, "What I have a problem with is you gotta make it genuine." So she leaves room for Kelsey or some other half-talent to sneak in there and take the prize. Except Jen. I like Jen -- seems very, very nice. Only, when you can't open an oyster or tell the difference between udon noodles and linguine, really, it's time to go home.
Below, last night's highlight reel, with Garza's spill coming around the 1:56 mark. --Robert Wilonsky
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