The 10 finalists file into the Food Star Kitchen. Alton and Bobby enter from their special door. Bobby says Giada is in New York this week so the finalists are "stuck" with him and Alton. Alton says a Food Network star must be a food authority. The first challenge will test how they gain and present authority, or expertise, over the mystery ingredient in the black bags with question marks before them. Alton and Bobby will taste the dishes and pick two winners whose reward will matter in the Star Challenge.
Mentor Challenge: 1. Make a dish from mystery ingredient. 2. Present dish to Alton and Bobby with authority.
The finalists have 30 minutes to complete their dishes that must use the mystery ingredient as the centerpiece. They begin prepping and cooking. Chris mocks Chad because he's mispronouncing "salsify". Damaris thinks she got an easy assignment because mango pickle has a bacon flavor, and Southern cooking is all about bacon. Rodney uses his in a pie-filling-fruit salad.
Chris – Bottarga Salad
Nikki – Marinated Cuttlefish Salad
Lovely – Rambutan Bread Pudding
Stacey – Durian Custard
Rodney – Bitter Melon Fruit Salad
Russell – Arrowhead Root with Pesto
Viet – Umeboshi, Crab & Avocado Salad
Chad – Grilled Salsify Hushpuppy
Danushka – Shrimp and Dragon Fruit Cup
Damaris – Mango Pickle & Grilled Vegetables
Alton tastes Chris' dish and says the ingredient was supposed to be the main ingredient, but he tastes no bottarga at all. He thinks Chris concentrated on flavor instead of the challenge requirements. Alton moves on to Nikki. He likes her salad, and cuttlefish is everywhere, but her presentation makes it look like the fish was an afterthought. He doesn't think she really understands the ingredient. Lovely does a slightly disjointed stream-of-thought introduction about how every plate of food should be a party, and when she throws a party she likes people to be comfortable so she cooks comfort food. Alton likes the bread pudding, but thinks her raspberry sauce got in the way. Stacey thinks she's on camera and relates her personal link to durian fruit through a trip with her father. Alton listens, but says while the custard is wonderful, the story was rambling. Alton totally gets Rodney's dish, calling it pie without any prompting. He compliments Rodney a lot.
Bobby tastes Russell's dish first. He says there needed to be more arrowhead root. The pecan-dried-papaya pesto overwhelms the main ingredient. Next is Viet. Bobby says the dish needs more umeboshi. What he tastes is a salad with umeboshi vinaigrette, not a dish celebrating umeboshi. Chad explains his dish, still pronouncing the ingredient "sass-i-fee". Bobby is less than pleased and corrects him, reminding him there's an "l" in the word and pronouncing it pointedly as "sal-si-fee". He's not any more pleased when he tastes the hushpuppy, calling it dense. Danushka's fruit cup doesn't impress Bobby. He wishes she had been more creative. Finally, with Damaris, Bobby enjoys his taste. He says the mango pickle flavor just keeps going on and on. Damaris isn't sure how to take this, but Bobby is happy and compliments her dish. Viet isn't happy. He says to the camera that it isn't fair Damaris got a spiced condiment.
Winners: Alton and Bobby announce the two winners. Alton chooses Rodney, and Bobby chooses Damaris.
The finalists retire to the waiting area. Chris asks Rodney what he thinks is the prize. Rodney says maybe extra time, but he hopes it is that the rest of the finalists can use only one arm.
They go back to the Food Star Kitchen where the next challenge components have been set up. Alton points them out – butcher's block, judges' table, baskets and big clock on the wall. He says it's time for the Food Network Star's Chopped Challenge. Moreover, to make things really hard, he introduces one of the show's real judges – the toughest one – Alex Guarnaschelli. Alton says there will be two heats. Alton, Bobby and Alex will make up the focus group – no common tastes of viewers to deal with this time. Then he announces what the Mentor Challenge winners gained with their win. One of each will be part of the two heats' focus groups, and most importantly, both will not face elimination. Damaris is initially pleased, but quickly realizes the downside. Her vote may make her enemies. Alton says Damaris will participate in the first heat, leaving Rodney for the second one.
Star Challenge: 1. Create a winning dish from the four ingredients in your basket in 30 minutes. 2. Present dish to focus group in one minute.
Heat One: The first basket has a sports theme – Beer, hot dogs, peanuts and cotton candy.
Viet uses his ingredients to make a dish from his childhood. His mom and dad worked long hours and would leave him food to make for himself. Chad uses his experience making breakfast for his kids to inspire his take on waffles. Danushka's battered dogs are made for portability. This might have impressed the judges, but she indicates she's bored and playing with her food. Alex is horrified. Russell is jazzed with the ingredients. He has already assigned each one a culinary sin – beer is alcohol, cotton candy is sugar, peanuts are salt, and hot dogs are fat. He's going to combine all the sins into a dumpling. Alex queries him and points out he's pureeing everything in the basket.
Russell – Hot Dog and Tofu Dumpling: Russell isn't finished with his presentation when time runs out on him. Damaris thinks his dish is very soft and needs more texture. Alex says she liked his energy during cooking, but by the end of the presentation, she wasn't clear what he'd made. Bobby says Russell should forget about the bells and whistles. He is the bells and whistles, and he should be concentrating on the food. Then Bobby says the dumpling was not his best dish.
Viet – Ramen with Grilled Hot Dogs: Viet says to the camera that his nerves take away the excitement he feels for the dish. Back in the kitchen, he presents within the prescribed time. Damaris likes the dish, calling it complex for a dish prepared in 30 minutes. Bobby likes Viet's presentation, but wants to see more passion.
Chad – Fried Hot Dog and Waffles: Chad presents within time and the story is very polished. Bobby likes Chad's enthusiasm, and says his confidence is working for him. Alton says he initially questioned the success of the dish, but he likes it and the crispness of the battered hot dog.
Danushka – Hot Dog Rocket: Bobby likes the color of the sauce, saying it's the best-looking sauce seen so far. Damaris says her presentation mirrors when she was cooking – she doesn't seem like she's excited to be here. Danushka gets her own jab back, saying she's a calm person. She doesn't think she needs the smoke and mirrors or to be loud and crazy. That's just not who she is. Then she smiles sweetly and thanks Damaris. Alex says she liked Danushka's response to Damaris better than Danushka's presentation. Alton also focuses on her presentation. He reminds her that presentation isn't just when the clock starts. Everything in front of the camera is presentation. No one talks about her food.
The finalists in heat one are dismissed. Back in the waiting room, Danushka says it's weird having a fellow contestant judging you. Chad says the Damaris at the judging table is nothing like the Damaris in competition. Viet thinks that maybe her job as a culinary school instructor explains everything.
Heat Two: The second basket has a kids theme, food they love – chicken nuggets, fruit leathers, cheddar fish crackers and apple juice.
After Stacey says she's making a potpie in honor of Rodney's place in the focus group, Alton points out she needs to get it in the oven quickly. Stacey acknowledges the risk, but says to the camera that if she can pull it off she is confident of the results. Lovely struggles with turning kids' food into sophisticated party fare. Nikki at first worries how she will keep her point-of-view (meat on the side) with these ingredients. A huge amount of broccoli offers her salvation. Chris has turned his nuggets into fried chicken somehow. With less than 10 minutes to go, Stacey struggles to put phyllo crust on her potpies. They've yet to hit the oven. Alton is agonizing at the focus group table. He predicts she won't make time with a completed dish. Stacey's plight is somewhat relieved when Chris announces he is done and asks if he can help. Stacey sends him to the oven for the potpies, but when he opens the oven door, the crust is not done. With only 20 seconds left on the clock, though, it is more important to get them plated.
Nikki – Cheddar Fish Spring Roll: Rodney loves Nikki's presentation, but the only thing he says about the food is that it looks good. Alex is impressed by how the ingredients were repurposed and integrated so well.
Lovely – Stuffed Bell Peppers: Rodney likes the apple pie filling on the salad (Lovely's apple juice and fruit leather vinaigrette). Lovely doesn't appear pleased with the comparison of a portion of her sophisticated dish to a simple pie. Alex thought the dish was too sweet. It needed something like soy sauce to give the dish a twist for dimension. Bobby liked her presentation, calling her confident and very smooth. Alton counters that yes she is slick and smooth, but too much for his liking. She appears scripted rather than spontaneous.
Stacey – Chicken Pot Pie: Stacey runs out of time with everything today; the buzzer cuts off her presentation. Rodney doesn't like her filling because of the onion, and says some of the vegetables are raw. Bobby points out the obvious, that her crust isn't cooked, but also says he loves the filling.
Chris – Buttermilk Fried Chicken: Chris' presentation talks about how food transformed a broken life into a vibrant and exciting one. Rodney digs the dish, especially the fruit leathers gastrique. He says the chicken reminds him of a crab cake. Bobby asks for more details on Chris' broken life. Chris says he was an alcoholic and drug addict and food was his way out. Since it healed him, he wants to use food to heal others. Everyone – focus group and finalists – looks stunned. It is the first any of them has heard this part of his story. Alton says that this is the first time his point of view has made sense. He wonders why a success story wasn't empha from the beginning. Chris says it's difficult to talk about.
The finalists are dismissed. Back in the waiting room, they join the other finalists including Damaris. Chris makes his addiction confession to the room. Laughing, he says, "Bobby finally got it out of me!".
Elimination: Bobby reminds everyone that Damaris and Rodney have immunity for this part. He says Nikki is safe. She had an excellent dish, maybe the best of all. Alton saves Chad, saying the presentation was personable and the food very good. He sends the four away. Bobby saves Chris. He says they have something in common. He dropped out of school and fell into food, putting him on a very good path. It seems the same thing happened to Chris. Additionally, they really liked his gastrique. Alton saves Viet. They liked the finesse and playfulness in his dish, but he must start telling his story and how it relates to the food. The two are dismissed.
This leaves Danushka, Nikki, Russell and Stacey facing elimination. Bobby says Lovely needs to show more of herself, but she's safe and sends her out of the kitchen. Alton tells Stacey that even if she had completed the potpie, no one in the focus group thought it would have been good. To Russell he says that not finishing a presentation is a deadly sin in the Food Network bible and the food itself left everyone wondering what Russell was thinking. Alton turns to Danushka. He says at best her food is simple. Her presentation gives off an "I don't care, I don't want to be here" attitude and that's a problem.
Bobby saves Stacey. Alton says they see potential in both Danushka and Russell, but one must go home, and Danushka is the one.