Food Network Challenge


Interesting. Josh and I are watching the Food Network and all of a sudden, unexpectedly, Food Network Challenge comes on. What? I didn’t see advertisements for this.

Also, while I’m a huge fan of real, innovative macaroni and cheese, I’m not sure it’s Food Network Challenge worthy. I mean, lobster mac and cheese is still mac and cheese. We’ll see.
One of the competitors is the Delilah Winters, the girl that was beaten by Bobby Flay in the Macaroni’n’Cheese throwdown. The rest, I’d never seen before that I remembered. It should be an interesting competition, at least. For the first round, “Classic” they are requiring elbow macaroni, obviously, milk or cream, and cheddar cheese. This last might be an obstacle for one competitor who claimed that cheddar had “never touched” his macaroni.

Oops.

Anyway, so this particular competition I’m taking notes from, as we love real mac in this house. The different techniques and arguments are inherently interesting: lots of egg? (very southern) no egg? (How Yankee of you!) How many kinds of cheese? (Delilah, of course thinks that 8 is the only acceptable number) Which kinds of cheese? Thin or thick sauce?

We like our sauce middle of the road, no egg, and usually 4 cheese – sharp cheddar, cream cheese, mozz, and parm. However, Mac and Cheese is one of my favorite places to play, and sometimes we sub out the mozz for pepper jack and forget the Parmesan-ed breadcrumbs.

I loved the idea of boiling your noodles in the cream – not to add cream to the noodles, but to add starch to the cream – the girl that did this also substituted Cheese Nips instead of breadcrumbs. I love the thickener – not so much the cheese nips – but I’m excited to try the idea. Another gentleman adds bacon and corn to his “cakelike” casserole.

Someone else has pesto and creme fraiche – though she apparently made everyone else uncomfortable, since she was focused on her food. I have no problem with this, but I’m not sure if pesto is a bit much. But then, I didn’t see what all what into the pesto. Basil based? Artichoke heart based? It looked like basil, which I think would overpower the cheese.

Also, one of Delilah’s eight is Velveeta. Nice.

Judging on the first round seems to all fall under the same category. It’s too soupy, it’s too this, that….read: My gramma’s mac and cheese didn’t taste like this. Pout. What did they expect? You don’t bring out the old standard in a competition. You’re not looking to toe the line. I understand that corn and bacon doesn’t fit the “Classic” description, but the others are not that bad. Okay, pesto. But three of them were normal! The most traditional (Delilah’s) was the only one that got basically no complaints.

Surprisingly, Delilah, cheese nips, and Corn/Bacon managed to pull off a first place tie. I was almost confused, but you know. Judges can shock you.

The second round is Signature Mac and Cheese. Now is the time for anything (including non-elbow pastas, apparently) – and it looks like there isn’t actually going to be that much macaroni present. We have the Lobster Mac, yes, but beyond that I saw Roast Tomato Gnocchi and Lasagna Cheesecake. What?

I do like the Study of Mac and Cheese. A Cheddar Mac and Cheese soup, a goat cheese macaroni, and a cheese cake with a lasagna crust. That’s really cool.

Delilah’s didn’t seem to have any macaroni in it, but it was three courses. Lots of greens, though – mustard and collard and turnip greens. Not my cup of tea, but I’m sure the judges will appreciate that. Delilah and the study are both having trouble finishing, but both are feeling good about it.

The lobster macaroni and cheese actually fits that which is macaroni and cheese, made extravagant. I feel for that reason alone it deserves to win.

Melissa, with her pesto mac, made third. Second was Duske, wither her three course-macaroni and her “soupy” macaroni.

First? Frank! He had the lobster macaroni cheese, and he won! Hooray!

Our final thoughts on the whole competition were, however, that these people were very arrogant about their macaroni and cheese – it’s just macaroni and cheese! It is a spectacular place to showcase exotic tastes that you aren’t yet sure you’ll like, but really, it’s elbow macaroni. In sauce.

Come on, people.

It’s an interesting food network challenge, today: princess cakes. There’s a little cancer survivor princess walking around judging, and she’s adorable. Seems she won a “Be-a-princess” competition, or some such, and along with her kid-pinion, she’s commenting on the “realistic and the fun” of the five princesses up on the cake block: Belle, Snow White, Jasmine, Ariel, and Cinderella.

15 minutes in, technique is so much more of a discussion than it has been in previous cakes. It seemed to me that rather than a difference in ambition or final result, it seems that in this competition the real differentiation will be in the professionalism of the cake bakers – and that’s not a good thing!

There was, rather than carving, cake smashing: one set of competitors felt that they were too good to carve (wastes cake?) and instead was picking up handfuls of cake and smashing it on. While normally I find Kerri, with her trademark renaissance headpiece, to be a real meanie, here I have to agree. That’s simply not appetizing! There was a missing exacto knife and a race around the kitchen.

The Jasmine Flying High cake – her Jasmine is beautiful, the monkey gave her trouble. The Cinderella cake lacks a real Cinderella, but it’s a beautiful castle! (Not particularly, in my opinion, Disney did the Cinderella Castle cake much better. Though they had more than 7 hours, I’m sure) Snow White– well, she’s nothing but Snow White, and I have to give her that it’s actually a princess – however, she’s got a landscape to make. A lot of it.

I think that the beautiful mermaid cake will take this contest. The cake itself is a beautiful coral reef, and while Ariel doesn’t yet have hair or anything, she’s absolutely lifelike and utterly beautiful. She is everything I remember from watching that movie as a child. In terms of technique, he took shells and pressed them into fondant to make a beautiful fondant reef, which he then airbrushed. Pretty.

Spontaneously, there is a Belle cake – I don’t remember this much from earlier, except that this kitchen was the one missing an Exacto knife earlier in the competition. Now? The cake isn’t going too terribly well. Huge marks off for disorganization – assuming they even finish, which isn’t looking hot for them, right now. In the Cinderella cake, we finally see princesses: all of which were premade. Kerri isn’t going to be too happy with that! I think we have our losers.

The Jasmine cake went from nonexistent to stacked so quickly. Jasmine is to be standing on a bunch of pillows, and there were these colored-sand filled dowels. It was very pretty and I’m excited to see the finished product. News from Belle, she looks awful – but her cake maker knows that and feels guilty. It’s a bad day to have a bad day, but Belle is having one.

Ariel is so beautiful, except her head is falling off. They pipe on a necklace to hide the cracks, but I’m terrified for another Scar incident (his head fell to the floor by the feet of the judges. Whoops!)

Jasmine’s cake reminds me, in its finish, of a Bratz doll. She’s overly tall and skinny, with a very large head. The cake itself is a huge question of balance – the doll was too tall and heavy for the airy pillow cake, and it’ll be a real miracle if there isn’t an accident moving to the final table. Kerri tells the cake artist that to leave the toothpicks that are holding Jasmine in will cost her dearly – possibly Kerri’s way of saying “We think you’d win if they weren’t there.”

Dopey, much to my surprise, actually came out of somewhere, and the Snow White cake is quite beautiful and complete. However, it pales in comparison, both really and technically, to the amazing work of art that is the Ariel cake. I’m sure that if I saw it closer up, I would notice Ariel’s head falling off, but as of the camera pass-over, it was completely beautiful. Everything that Ariel (my personal favorite princess) should be!

Cinderella is a beautiful castle. Cinderella is left in exact proportion to said castle, meaning that Cinderella’s cake feels very much like “Castle cake” and not like princess cake at all. We won’t even mention Belle further.

Wow. So all the cakes made it easily and safely – and of course they save Jasmin’s cake until last. I’ll save you the drama: they all make it safely.

3rd place: Elizabeth Hodes and her Jasmine.
2nd place: Norman and his beautiful Ariel. He got robbed because of some scales (He didn’t imprint any scales into Ariel’s tail. Lame!)
1st Place: Chef Mary Mayer and her Snow White. Her second win (possibly her first, but the second I’ve seen. She also won the Simpsons cake)

Can it be true? Can it really be? There is a new food network challenge?

Normally I wouldn’t post this many times this fast (I was writing while watching!) but there is no way I can let this cake challenge be overthrown by NFNS. It was amazing, it was Ace of Cakes, only Duff was judging instead of making – and it made me more excited than ever for the new episodes of Ace of Cakes coming up this week!

After the emotional roller-coaster of NFNS, I’m not sure I can handle it, but here I am, reviewing what seems to be the coolest cake competition ever. Power tools, glowing monkey eyes, hydraulic parts — this is totally a challege on “Duffoids.” (Duff’s word, not mine!)

Early on it was hard to keep track of who was doing what and what cakes flashed, blinked, or sparked, but you knew: every single one of these cakes was going to be the singular coolest cake you’ve never seen. (Never? yeah, I’m kinda wondering how many of these are going to bust on the floor before the end)

Rubber bands not behaving the way they were expected to, fondant not getting on to cakes as fast as their decorators expected, toxic fumes, falling cakes, and in general, terrifying cakes. The problems are just as extreme as the cakes, rest assured!

I love that Duff is the most helpful judge ever. At one point he bursts, “I want to help so bad” as he shakes his sleeve where it shows he’s a judge, “but I can’t!” At another point he leaves a broomstick, saying to the competitor, “I’m going to leave this here, in case you get any inspiration.”

Cakes, in their final bits:
A beautiful treehouse with a dog spewing fireworks.
A 6 foot tall monkey with blinking eyes, a smoking brain, and amazing fireworks spewing out the base and either hand.
A dangling cake (this one had a lot of problems, but it was supposed to be akin to a chandelier, only with cake)
A giant culinary swiss army knife, with a spinning whisk, and flammable gas that he can’t manage to light on fire. Flammable gas, flammable gas, and he finally gets a match going — and there’s a pop, and it goes to commercial. Thankfully, there was no explosion, and Duff gets the guy to stop lighting matches for a while. And there’s flame and fireworks.

Duff is a very fair judge, because he’s been here, and he does this, and he knows how much an extreme cake can take out of you.

The reviews were hilarious: Geoff on the monkey, “It’s huge.” Silence, and then laughter. Mary Alice on the Swiss army knife: “Your cake scared the h out of me!”

And the winner? The sock monkey. Of course. It came back for revenge and it rocked it. It was 6 ft tall and still detailed. It was cake. It was six feet tall. There was fireworks. It won, rightfully.