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‘Food Network Star’ recap: Did the right chef go home?

Why did Malcolm Mitchell go home in this week’s episode of "Food Network Star”?

Malcolm ended up on the chopping block with Michele Ragussis, both from Team Bobby, after less than stellar performances before Food Network queen Paula Deen.

Michele ended up there after serving crab that contained shell pieces. It was so bad that Food Network took the unusual step of pulling back her plates, lest someone break a tooth or choke. Malcolm seemed to be up for elimination for his blockheaded refusal to adopt a POV -- point of view.

“My culinary genius has no limitation. So why should I pick one simple POV and limit myself?” he said. “To be truly honest, I don’t think I need a POV.”

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Well, how about the simple fact that Food Network -- you know, your prospective bosses -- asked you to do so?

When Michele and Malcolm went head-to-head in the showdown, it seemed like Michele might have an edge. But as the challenge played out, Malcolm stole it.

He recovered a point of view (soulful foods), he engaged the judges, and he literally “cooked” up a cocktail: An apple cobbler cocktail that involved sauteing apples. Susie Fogelson called it an “elevated” version of an adult beverage, and I’d like to order one right now.

By contrast, Michele’s star power seemed diminished. Her cocktail was fine, but largely forgettable. Her presentation seemed more like the kind of recitation of ingredients that you’d get from a bartender rather than an attempt to engage the audience.

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And her POV -- which seems to be new -- also seems to be mighty narrow. “My New England.” Even if that show managed to capture every last New England resident and Patriots fan, I’m still not sure it would be much of an audience grabber.

Here’s the “rub”: Bobby Flay has been an outstanding and no-nonsense mentor so far this season (and seasons past). He doesn’t seem to have a problem delivering stinging criticism.

So how about the coaxing the best out of his wards? He has long needed to sit Michele and Malcolm down and give them the same kick in the pants that Alton Brown gave Emily. He should have played shrink and helped Malcolm develop an appealing POV, and he should have tried to help unscramble Michele’s nerves about being on camera.

And if The Flay Man did all that, the audience needed to see that video! Otherwise, it looks like Michele and Malcolm were left to figure it out on their own. (Granted, there is something to be said for putting the brakes on hand-holding. But the point is to get these guys a TV show, right?)

In the end, the network sent Malcolm home in part because he seemed to be talking the talk but not walking the walk. Susie summed it up perfectly: Malcolm kept talking about “soul” food and “soulful” food but almost seemed reluctant to really embrace that.

Is it possible that he felt it would be too much of a stereotype? A black chef making soul food? That’s disappointing. Because I was ready to plug a Malcolm soul-food show into the DVR. I particularly liked the potential contrast between work and play: Malcolm is a busy big-city chef but can still foster his soul-food roots. (Or his soulful food roots.)

Hopefully the network is not done with Malcolm. Did you notice that The Flay Man left open that possibility at the end? Even if that does not come to pass, let’s hope that Bobby and Malcolm find a way to bring that soul cooking to a camera.

Random observations:

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--$20,000 Target shopping trip? Sweet!

--Daggummit Martie Duncan, learn to shut up already. Brown seems to be releasing his grip on her. That’s probably because he knows his other mentee, Justin Warner, a.k.a. Lipsticks, is all but guaranteed a spot in the finals, if not the crown.

--Nikki Martin is really hitting her stride. Although The Flay Man might want to tell her: Enough with the kid-bashing already. “The last thing I want to do is cook for kids.” Really? Don’t you know that many people who will be watching your show will be parents with kids -- that they have to cook for? Why go out of your way to alienate people, Nikki?

--Considering how well Nikki and Ippy Aiona are doing, I think Michele and Martita Jara might be going home soon. Yvan Lemoine is also in danger. He needs to stop with the chipper young lad routine. Bob Tuschman spotted this when he pointed out Yvan’s “uptalk” problem. It just undermines his authority.

--Funniest line of the night belonged to Lipsticks, who deadpanned: “Paula Deen is on the scene. I am all over it.” I want to know the story behind that moment. 

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Join Rene Lynch on Google+ or Twitter. Email: rene.lynch@latimes.com


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