Food Network Star Season 14 premiere: Theme park food transformations


Food Network Star Season 14 premiere had these culinary hopefuls trying to adapt a signature dish to theme park food. Anyone got a stick?

Last night’s Food Network Star Season 14 premiere had a new group of culinary hopefuls taking on a difficult challenge. Could these Food Network hopefuls transform their signature dishes into portable, easy to eat theme park food? The concept isn’t quite what it seems.

In the shadow of Universal’s Volcano Bay water coaster, this new group of Food Network Star contestants got thrown into the deep end of the water. Just as they laid eyes on Bobby Flay and Giada Laurentiis, each contestant had to pitch herself and the portable version of her signature dish. Luckily, only a few contestants got star struck and tongue-tied.

Overall, the one-minute presentations went pretty well. For this season, the new batch of hopefuls seem to understand the game better. While no one should be over-rehearsed, these people should have practiced a little. In today’s social media world, what home cook hasn’t done an Instagram story or quick introductory video?

Hosts Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay, Contestants Chris Valdes, Christian Petroni, Harrison Bader, Jason Goldstein, Jess Tom, Katie Dixon, Manny Washington, Palak Patel, Rebekah Lingenfelser, Samone Lett, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 14.

Of course, every Food Network show has a twist or two per episode. Just as the new hopefuls took a deep breath, the episode’s first twist was announced. While everyone was expecting a returning Food Network Star to come back from Comeback Kitchen, no one expected two returning contestants.

After impressing the judges in Comeback Kitchen, both Adam and Amy earned their spots in this season’s competition. Adam has a good chance of going far in this season. Even though it has been 10 years since his first season, he has become more polished and is definitely camera ready. Amy makes beautiful food that photographs extremely well and tastes great. If she could keep her focus, she could do well, too.

With the task in hand, the contestants had to pair up to share cooking space. That convenient pairing turned in more than what they bargained for. The cooking pairs became a cooking face-off. Which chef could convince a park guest to choose her dish over her competitors? This challenge was as much about a delicious dish as it was a winning personality.

Before talking about the presentations, the contestants needed to understand the concept of this challenge. Theme park food has changed over the years. While convenience is key, theme park guests don’t want a tired, boring hot dog or pretzel. Today’s theme park food is flavorful, creative and sometimes has a theme.

Contestants, Katie Dixon, Christian Petroni, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 14.

Even given those parameters, this type of food needs to be easy to eat. Sometimes you stand and eat at a theme park. Messy food or food needing utensils may not be the best choice. Unfortunately, not everyone got the message.

While the presentations were interesting, I prefer talking about the food. While some contestants won the pairings based on presentation, their food could have been better. Think about it, if you got offered chicken that was better than Bobby Flay’s chicken, would you choose that option?

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The person with the biggest misstep of the first episode of Food Network Star Season 14 was Rebekah. She didn’t fulfill the challenge. While her jambalia was flavorful, it was not portable. On one wants to eat this dish like a shot. Personally, I think that she should have been sent home because she didn’t complete the challenge. Good thing, I wasn’t judging. Although in the bottom, she was safe.

The biggest disappointment of the first episode was Jason. I don’t understand why he kept saying, yummy, yummy. Sure many people love comfort food, but there was no depth behind his concept or his dish. The dish was nice. In a competition like this one, nice isn’t going onto episode 2.

The other disappointment was Chris. After a rocky presentation at the beginning of the episode, Chris pulled back his personality too much. For someone with Latin flare and flavors, his dish and presentation was lacking.

Contestants Chris Valdes, Christian Petroni, Harrison Bader, Jason Goldstein, Jess Tom, Katie Dixon, Manny Washington, Palak Patel, Rebekah Lingenfelser, Samone Lett, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 14.

In the Food Network Star Season 14 premiere, both Jason and Chris were sent home. These two hopefuls couldn’t set themselves apart from the crowd in a good way. For success in this competition, the contestants need to be memorable both in personality and food.

Based on the first episode, a few contestants might have a good shot at making it far. Putting aside the Comeback Kitchen contestants, Manny, Harrison and Palak could do well. Manny has an every man vibe; Harrison is dashing and Palak has an intriguing culinary point of view. Check back to see how accurate my predictions are.

Having this first episode set in Universal Resorts Florida was interesting. Watching the “testers” on City Walk and the contestants cook at Volcano Bay was a nice change of format. It would have been really interesting to see the contestants offer a twist on some Universal Resorts themes. Maybe instead of just having the contestants stand in front of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center, they could have created a Jurassic themed dish. Sure, it is a little cheesy, but think of the fun movie connection.

Also, it would have been nice to see more people vote on the two dishes. One person’s opinion could really be skewed. Sure, it is just the first episode and time is limited. Still, I didn’t agree with several of the winning choices.

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What did you think of the Food Network Star Season 14 premiere? Do you think that one of these contestants will get her own Food Network Show? Maybe another twist will be heading our way this summer.