The Burger Bash episode clarified some story lines and character arcs.
Two contestants retained their exalted status but the wheel of fortune was otherwise in overdrive, raising the downtrodden to dizzying heights and plummeting early favorites to miserable lows.
O Fortuna! O Nikki Dinky!
We're just two episodes in to Season 9 of "Food Network Star," and the have stopped calling Rodney Henry by his name. They now call him "the Pie Guy."
That could bode well for Rodney 'the Pie Guy" Henry, the Baltimore-based rock musician turned pie-shop owner if it gives him a leg up on rivals who are still struggling to forge a recognizable identity. One such murky sort was sent home on episode 2.
On the other hand, Henry could end up baking himself into a crusty corner if he can't convince judges and the show's focus groups that he's more than a one-crimp pony.
The Burger Bash episode featured more of Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Alton Brown who are pulling double-duty this season as mentors and judges.
Also returning was a focus group, who deliver real-time impressions on (but not mild electric shocks to) the contestants during via a sinister hand-held contraption. They seem to have settled on "The Dial" as its name.
But Food Network executives Susie Fogelson and Bob Tuschman, who helped judge on the season premiere episode, were nowhere to be seen this week.
This episode's challenge was inspired by the popular Burger Bash events held at national food and wine festivals. Contestants had to create burgers for this week's focus group, 100 "burger enthusiasts," each of whom was given one token to allot to his or favorite burger.
The twist - voters would make their choices based only a two-minute live pitch made by the contestants. Well, at least kind of. After the pitches, the voters were able to roam among the contestants' tables, using senses like vision and smell, before committing their burger tokens.
Still, how well the contestants pitched their burgers, and by association themselves, was a big part of this week's judging.
Here are the results:
First, the top three contestants were revealed to be:
Chad Rosenthal and Stacey Poon-Kinney and Russell Jackson
Poised and likable, Chad and Stacey were among the top 3 on the season premiere, and unless they self-destruct, are positioned to do continue excelling in the competition. Each connected with the voters and came through with good burgers, too. Russell who rose from the bottom three to the top three.
Russell listened to the mentors' advice about connecting with voters through the specifics of his "seven culinary sins," instead of empty posturing. And they liked his burger the best.
The middle of the pack this week were:
Viet Pham, Chris Hodgson, "Lovely" Jackson, Rodney Henry and Damaris Phillips
Viet heeded advice about exploiting his "Iron Chef" victory in his pitch to the burger enthusiasts. And when the judges liked his Banh Mi burger, too.
Chris dropped his "compassionate cuisine' patter from the first episode and replaced it with yelling a He blew his burger pitch but redeemed himself with a great Korean-style burger.
"Lovely" continues to perplex the judges. They acknowledge that she connects with focus-groups while finding her "fake and gimmicky."
Rodney again scored points with his ready-made "Pie Man" persona. The judges and the focus group find him likable. Rodney was told that he needs to work on slowing down his speech and that just because he's "Pie Man," not everything he makes has to be a pie. They didn't like his burger.
Damaris was told not to shimmy when making her presentation. She shimmied. It turned the focus group off. She vowed not to shimmy again.
Nikki fell from the top 3 right to the bottom 3 in one week. Her "semi-vegetarian" philosophy didn't connect with the focus group and her (mostly) vegetable burger was bad, the judges thought. But they kept her.
Danushka continues to actively repel focus groups with her weird yet somehow compelling persona. "You can't look away," Alton Brown said. "But it hurts to look." The judges likes her burger, though, which was enough to keep her safe.