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Food Network Star Review: Menu Impossible

This week on Food Network Star, Alton Brown presented the five finalists with a common Food Network viewer question: How do you create a tasty and well-balanced meal with whatever ingredients are already in the pantry?

The Remaining 5 Finalists

Damaris Phillips – 32, Chef instructor from Louisville, Kentucky.
Nikki Dinki – 29, Food blogger from New York City.
Rodney Henry – 47, Owner of Dangerously Delicious Pies and father of two from Baltimore.
Russell Jackson – 47, Underground supper club owner from San Francisco.
Stacey Poon-Kinney – 34, Restaurant owner and mother from San Diego.

Food Network Finalists Pic

This week’s Mentor Challenge – a clear, though unnamed, partnership with Special K cereal – tasked the finalists with answering the aforementioned viewer question by creating a delicious dish including Special K cereal or popcorn crisps.

We are finally at the point in the competition where it seems that the finalists have all figured out how to cook (Rodney and Russell, I’m lookin’ at you!), so determining a winner for this challenge really came down to the on-camera presentation.

While Stacey struggled with presentation last week, here she was, at long last, at ease in front of the camera and walked away the winner of the challenge – again. (Rumor has it that alternate titles for this segment of the episode included “How Stacey Got Her Groove Back."

In Bobby’s absence, Robert Irvine joined the mentor team for the Star Challenge – which means that an “impossible” challenge was sure to be the name of the game. Sure enough, Robert asked the finalists to overhaul the outdated menu of a struggling restaurant.

The most interesting part of this challenge (aside from Damaris managing to make Robert blush) was Stacey’s approach to her advantage; while Nikki used her advantage in last week’s episode to bring Stacey and Damaris onto her team, Stacey used her advantage to throw Nikki off-course. Up to this point, Nikki had certainly been one of the strongest competitors, but that was a bit of a low blow from a so-called “friend."

Excluding Russell – who actually managed to impress everyone this week with both his cooking and his presentation skills – all of the finalists got called-out in the judging room. It could be said that Alton was a bit harsh with his critiques, but his assessments were on point.

Rodney has not made any of us want to convert to “pie style” yet; Damaris’s steak recipe was nothing more than mediocre; Stacey is still unable to consistently connect with her audience; Nikki does not have the knowledge to answer the inevitable barrage of viewer questions should she land the job. In the end, that last bit was the deciding factor for the judges. While I agree that Nikki needed to brush up on her facts and teaching skills, I believe that Rodney should have been the one to go home this week.

When it comes down to it, Nikki’s food was consistently decent, while Rodney has really only produced one or two great pies – but a number of bad dishes – in his time here.

NOTE: Remember to visit our section of Food Network recipes, updated on a weekly basis!