By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Monday, July 25, 2016
For the first time in my memory, two metro Atlantans are in the finals of a reality competition: Lithonia's Tregaye Fraser and Grayson's Jernard Wells. The third is Italian pastry chef and heartthrob Damiano Carrara,
Who will win? There is no obvious favorite despite Bobby Flay placing the "favorite" title on Tregaye last week. She has a winning personality that can occasionally overwhelm her food focus during presentations. She also has solid culinary chops but lacks a distinct point of view, using the broad-brush phrase "fusion."
Not surprisingly, Giada de Laurentiis loves Damiano. He has a specific point of view, model-esque looks, charm and that heart-melting Italian accent. That accent is both his strength and his weakness. It's so strong that it takes some concentration to follow what he says at times. And sometimes, he can't nab the right English word on the fly.
Jernard has a warm spirit, maybe leaning a bit too much on the "Chef of Love" schtick at times. He has a specific Southern point of view and a great back story (nine kids!). He provides great advice. But he has been inconsistent both in his presentations and his food.
Let's do a quick recap of how last Sunday played out before the season finale this Sunday at 9 p.m.:
In a twist stolen from "Top Chef," an eliminated contestant came back. Yaku Moton-Spruill was one of the first ones cut but managed to win "Star Salvation" online, beating everyone else out over six competitions.
He was originally taken out for not providing a solid point of view or much about himself. He used "Star Salvation" to hone both. In his comeback video vying for the top three, he called his style "soul food, comfort food fusion" while promoting Jamaican tortilla soup. (Lithonia's Tregaye Fraser, who already uses a broad "fusion" theme, noted the similarities while watching Yaku's return video.)
But Yaku failed to explain why he fused Mexican with Jamaican. Bobby Flay felt there were too many ingredients in the soup.
So he went back home.
Damiano, the sexy pastry chef, sometimes has trouble finding English words but, as Tregaye noted, he seemed very relaxed and spoke with authority during his video presentation about his signature cream puff. "The crunch," he said after biting into his puff. " The sound of beauty."
"You are so charming," cooed former winner and judge Aarti Sequeira. (Yup, the ladies love him!)
"This is the best dish you've given us," Flay said.
"Shows a lot of technique," Giada de Laurentiis said.
He quickly made it into the top three.
Tregaye lost her rhythm during her presentation of a surf-and-turf dish and forgot to describe her sauce.
de Laurentiis winced a bit watching her presentation: "I sensed a little hesitation. It felt forced. What was the sauce?"
The surf-and-turf dish got mixed reviews.
"I hope they judge the whole competition and not just today," Tregaye said, well aware she didn't place her best foot forward. Ultimately, the judges gave her a break. They saved her over Yaku.
Meanwhile, Jernard knocked it out of the park with his smokehouse pork and mac-and-cheese as well as his presentation. "The flavor makes me want to dance!" he said in his video..
"You have warmth, you have humor, you have the ability to entertain," Flay said. "And your dish was close to flawless."
He rose to the occasion, then almost broke his neck.
After the judges told him he had made it into the finals, he did a cartwheel, then tried a back flip but fell awkwardly on the ground instead. The judges looked bemused, then concerned. Fortunately, he bounced back up and recovered with a smile.
The final three each shoot a pilot with help from the most famous "Food Network Star" of them all Guy Fieri. We find out how well they do on Sunday during the season finale.
"Food Network Star," 9 p.m. Sundays, Food Network