I've been watching The Next Food Network Star -- it has bridged the gap between Top Chef and Project Runway, even though I don't like it nearly as much as either Bravo show.
I actually liked The Next Food Network Star in its first season. That season gave a behind-the-scenes look at what went into making a Food Network program. I even voted for the winners of that season, Dan and Steve, but was dismayed to see that the prize for winning the competition was a shabbily produced show that aired in an obscure time slot. Still, I watched their show (particularly in the second season, when the production values improved) and thought their food looked wonderful. I also liked the element of party planning they added to the show. In fact, I went to a wedding they catered, and the food was the most memorable of any wedding I've attended -- I still would love to replicate their delicious mushroom lasagna.
Since then, though, it's like the Food Network is trying to make the show more like Top Chef. I don't think it's working to the network's or the competitors' advantage, because the competition doesn't allow any of the competitors to shine enough to gain a following.
This season's shows are usually broken into a short challenge that's evaluated for TV hosting skills and a bigger challenge that's about the food. Makes sense, but they aren't always fair.
One short challenge, for example, was for the competitors to do a brief demo of a culinary skill. Each contestant stood in front of a plate draped with a cloth. When it was lifted, they had a short period of time to collect themselves before they one chance to give the demo on camera. Now really -- personalities on the Food Network have to do demos with zero time to prepare? I doubt it. Some of the tasks most people should know, like cutting up a whole pineapple. Others were more obscure, like cutting up a whole squid. I would have no idea of how to do that, and I don't think most home cooks would -- in fact, I don't recall ever seeing that skill demo'd on the Food Network.
That was one of the smaller challenges. The larger ones have been downright crazy, requiring the contestants to prepare food in a ridiculously short amount of time. Again -- Food Network personalities don't get adequate time to plan and prepare for their shows? Seriously?
What ends up happening is that the food that's put on the plates looks sloppy and the judges roundly criticize the contestants. As a viewer, I would rather the contestants be given some time to think about the challenge and enough time to prepare something that looks delicious that I'd like to make at home.
So after weeks of these contestants making crappy looking food and getting hammered by the Food Network judges, nobody has a lot of excitement about the contestants. Then these people are given a show with shoddy production values and an obscure time slot. Is it any wonder only one of the show's winners has gone on to become a real "star?"
Not surprisingly, I am not excited about any of this season's contestants. I believe Lisa Garza is probably the best overall cook, and she is more likable than she seemed to be at the beginning of the season. I believe she is the front runner. Had she been given enough time to properly prepare her food, I might actually be interested in watching her show. I've noticed that unlike previous seasons, this year's winner isn't being determined by fan voting. No complaint from me -- I don't like any of the contestants enough to make the effort.
Bring on Project Runway! Wahoo!