Did San Antonio’s Luca Della Casa survive Rachael Ray, a pair of notoriously finicky eaters and a live camera setup to make it to the final four on “Food Network Star”?
Sunday’s episode of the culinary competition brought a number of challenges to the executive chef of Nosh and Silo as well as the other four contestants who have cooked and charmed their way through Las Vegas before moving on to New York.
The first part of the competition had the chefs presenting live spots at various food stands within Chelsea Market. Della Casa was at The Lobster Place where he talked about what summertime favorite he would make with the seafood at hand. His choice was a lobster salad, but he managed to say you could “downgrade” to shrimp, if lobster simply weren’t available. It was a nice display of humor and he managed to stay engaged with his audience of judges.
The other Texan on the show was not so lucky. Sarah Penrod didn’t wear an ear piece, so she didn’t know when she was supposed to start talking. It led to an embarrassing silence that didn’t stop until she just rushed into a spiel about exotic fruits that are available in the summertime. She hadn’t tasted the melon she chose in her hand before, so when one of the judges questioned her about its, she ended up sticking her face into the melon half and taking a bite. It was a genuinely funny moment and probably saved her in this round.
But Nicole Gaffney showed the most poise and ease before the camera, which gave her the advantage going into the next round.
The chefs were headed for Rachael Ray’s talk show, where they would have to address a problem that a series of families was facing. Each would have 3 1/2 minutes to solve the problem while selling themselves to Ray, their assigned family, the audience and the judges.
Gaffney got to pick which chef would tackle which problem. Della Casa had to make a vegetable dish that two picky children would eat. He thought that was easy, because his sister and he gave their mother the same problem. She solved it by making a “risotto” out of cauliflower and topped it with a Bolognese sauce. But the task wasn’t as simple as preparing the dish. The children were on hand, watching the entire demonstration, so they knew exactly what they were being served and they wouldn’t take a bite of it. The judges also wished he had said “meat sauce” instead of Bolognese.
That may have seemed bad, but Gaffney’s dilemma was worse. Her family was looking for a dish that wasn’t the same old meat and potatoes. She prepared a shrimp dish, but the family’s 3-year-old spit it out in horror. And, of course, that clip was repeated several times.
Fan favorite Lenny McNab, with his oversized cowboy personality, won the round by engaging everyone in a budget-conscious dish of chicken thighs. During his presentation, he faced a wardrobe malfunction: His jeans split down the middle, which was mortifying to him, but no one else noticed.
Della Casa was also declared safe, leaving just the three women: Penrod, Gaffney and self-proclaimed “Butcher Babe” Loreal Gavin. Each had her moments, but the judges decided against Gavin, who failed to use her knowledge in her first segment, when she was asked to describe a cut of meat, and didn’t meet the challenged on Ray’s show. She’d been asked to provide a simple meal for a couple, who were eating out too much, but her dish was so elaborate that even she had trouble making it in her demonstration. The couple liked the stuffed chicken breast she made, but you could see that it wasn’t the easy answer they were looking for.
So next week, Della Casa finds himself up against McNab, Gaffney and Penrod, as “Food Network Star” heads into the quarterfinal. How far can he go?
Food Network Star airs at 8 p.m. CT on the Food Network.