Summer is here, which means time has come for Food Network’s search for the next big, yet often forgotten, cooking superstar, Food Network Star. The show’s 12th season, which starts on May 22, will have a different lead in this season, as Food Network is bringing back seven former contestants to battle it out for ‘redemption’ and the final spot on this series’ cast. The seven cast-offs are pictured below, and are some faces you might remember:
(Clockwise from Top)
Brianna Jenkins (Season 6) – Eliminated Week 6, POV – “Sexy and Fabulous Flavors”
Chris Kyler (Season 10) – Eliminated Week 7, POV – “Elevating Classics”
Dom Tesoriero (Season 11) – Eliminated Week 8, redeemed, Runner-Up, POV – “Italian”
Martita Jara (Season 8) – Eliminated Week 9, POV – “Martita’s Mesa”
Penny Davidi (Season 7) – Eliminated Week 7, POV – “Middle Eastern Mama”
Michelle Ragussis (Season 8) – Runner-Up, POV – “My New England”
Matthew Grunwald (Season 11) – Eliminated Week 2, POV – “South Asian Fusion”
When taking a look at the list of these seven former contestants, there are two schools of thought at the reasoning of returning. 1) In both Top Chef and Food Network Star, one major contestant is almost guaranteed to be kicked off at the middle of the season, which is why you see these Week 7-9 eliminations. 2) You give a second shot to someone who should have won but didn’t due to popular vote, which is where we get Michelle and Dom. (Michelle lost to Justin Warner, which was the right call, but Warner has been relegated to Food Network web programming since his win). However, I have been watching Star since Season 4 and I don’t remember Brianna or Martita, so how good could they have been? Matthew Grunwald should never grace Food Network screens again, and Penny, while good, would not make an entertaining host. So the question then turns to: who REALLY deserves those four spots at Food Network Star redemption?
Jay Ducote (Season 11)
If Season 11 runner up Dom gets to have a chance at redemption, then Louisiana’s Jay Ducote should certainly get a second opportunity. In the 10 weeks leading up to the finale, Ducote spent seven of the ten weeks as one of the judges favorite performers, while the other three weeks, he was in the group that “also advanced”. Never was Jay up for elimination during the entire season, and was in the top-3 for the final six weeks. His only downfall was that Eddie Jackson came on strong with the judges in the final weeks of the competition, which was decided by Food Network staff, as opposed to the fans which had been the protocol in the three prior seasons. Ducote made creole/cajun food look so good in so many ways, and that would be a great POV for a new Food Network show.
Luca Della Casa (Season 10)
Luca was Season 10’s hunky Balki Bartokomous. Luca didn’t connect with the judges in the first couple weeks of the season and was eliminated in week two. However, he ran the gauntlet that is Star Salvation, earning a spot back later in the season and worked his way into a spot in the finals.. During the time he was on the web series, a contestant named Lenny McNab was winning the popular vote of the viewers at home on the main show, eventually edging out Della Casa in the finale for the victory. It was later learned that McNab was apparently a pretty terrible and inappropriate person online, and was never actually given his own show. So, if Food Network Star is like Miss America (which I think it is), Della Casa should now have his own show, or at least a chance at redemption.
Russell Jackson (Season 9)
Food Network Star fans will know that Kentucky’s own Damaris Phillips won season nine of the reality show. She was the clear favorite out of the gate, and was the absolute correct decision to win the contest. Second place went to Rodney Henry “The Pie Man” (Pie Style, Jack). However, almost every time Henry tried to turn whatever food was in the challenge into pie, it didn’t go over well. However, when looking back, the culinary point of view I would have like to have seen get a shot out of season nine was Russell Jackson’s Seven Culinary Sins. I think it leads to a different show for Food Network that isn’t just about farm style or traditional cooking. It took a bit of time before Jackson became comfortable with the camera, alternating between Top-3 and Bottom-3 for almost the entire season. It was a toss-up for me from this season between Jackson and the Jewish BBQ guy Chad Rosenthal, but I think Jackson is the right choice here.
Martie Duncan (Season 8)
She’s “Martie With the Party”. Martie Duncan was the oldest contestant in season eight, competing at the age of 50. Season eight saw the competitors battling as three teams, under the wing of one of the three mentors, Bobby Flay, Giada and Alton Brown. Martie and eventual winner Justin Warner served as Team Alton’s (and the show’s) top two prospects, but only one of the two would be allowed to represent Alton with a pilot. In the penultimate episode of season eight, Martie performed so well that both she and Justin got to make a pilot in the finale, a decision made by the judges which was not in the original rule set. Martie’s country persona is something that would fit well on Food Network, considering the success of the Pioneer Woman and Trisha Yearwood. I would fully support giving Martie Duncan a second chance, and I know Justin Warner would too.
Which former Food Network Star contestants would you like to see have a shot at redemption? Food Network Star: Comeback Kitchen airs this Sunday, May 8th at 8PM and will run for three weeks, leading into the premier of FNS Season 12 on May 22 at 9PM.