By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Monday, July 4, 2016
As "Next Food Network Star" nears the finish line, two metro Atlantans are in strong position to make it to the finals.
Both Tregaye Fraser of Lithonia and Jernard Wells of Grayson have landed in the final four, outlasting nine others. Copying "Top Chef," "the show has as separate on-line competition featuring eliminated contestants. One will return either this Sunday or the following Sunday.
The winner is guaranteed some sort of Food Network show but long-term employment is hardly guaranteed. (Most past winners are no longer on the network.)
Still, exposure is exposure. It's not a bad thing to have on your resume. Both Tregaye (all about food "fusion") and Jernard ("The Chef of Love") have regularly impressed the judges.
Tregaye is the more animated of the two, emphasizing her sass and her personality more than a culinary point of view. She especially enjoys using her hands while talking. And the judges have liked her food far more often than not.
Her star has been rising lately. In last night's eighth episode, she won both the quick challenge and the main one. Judge Bobby Flay basically told her she was the one to beat. "You are so good at this," he said. "You bring such energy and fun."
Her presentation for the primary challenge was about guilty pleasures: "Deep fried scallops in a pool of thick, rich creamy corn cream sauce." She then said you need to "slither" your fork around it and joked that she just made up a word (though it is an actual word she used properly).
"She makes it fun. That's part of the star quality," judge Trisha Yearwood said.
Jernard wears his Southern/Creole roots on his sleeve and blends animation and cool, frequently reminding viewers that he has nine kids for a reason. "I usually hate that concept but you actually live this life," Flay said about his "Chef of Love" theme. But he sometimes overplays the schtick and his food has been decidedly inconsistent. Last night, he made judges Alex Guarnaschelli and Trisha Yearwood uncomfortable while talking about how much his food is an aphrodisiac. And his food was over the top as well. Surprisingly, he wasn't eliminated but it was clear the judges were giving him a pass because of his past successes.
Although Rob Burmeister ("The Lunch Lady") showed promise early on, he faded and was eliminated last week. Erin Campbell, a bubbly baker, overpromised on a chocolate dish that lacked enough chocolate decadence for the challenge at hand. She was cut last night. (Both were quickly ousted from "Star Salvation" as well.)
That leaves Jernard, Tregaye and two others of varying promise.
Here's my quick take on their chances of winning:
Ana Quincoces. According to Flay, the "Real Housewives of Miami" alum is the best cook that's left, consistently offering solid dishes with a Cuban flair. But her on-air presence usually lacks fire and she sometimes gets so nervous, she freezes up. This past Sunday, judge Guarnaschelli even told Ana midway through her presentation that she was so tense, she was making her feel jumpy as well. She has also clashed with other contestants during team challenges. Chances of winning: 20-1
"The other finalists are shooting daggers at me," Anna said after being saved episode seven.
Damiano Carrara. He's an Italian native and pastry chef. with humor, charm and sex appeal. Since English is his second language, he sometimes struggles coming up with the proper words. And his accent is very heavy, so heavy that I need to seriously concentrate to understand what he's saying at times. That could ultimately be a hindrance on a TV show long term. But the judges have frequently loved his dishes, both savory and sweet. Chances of winning: 10-1
Jernard. Chances of winning: 5-1
Tregaye. Chances of winning: 2-1
Right now, two folks are still in it from "Star Salvation" and could return at some point. Neither showed they could win this competition based on their performances on the regular show. Yaku Moton-Spruill, a sous chef from San Francisco, definitely has the personality and presence but lacks a clear culinary point of view. Chances of winning: 25-1. Monterey Salka, a caterer from Nashville, has trouble with presentations. She's missing that sparkle. Chances of winning: 100-1.
"Next Food Network Star," 9 p.m. Sundays, Food Network