“Food Network Star” Unleashes New Hopefuls

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Matthew Grunwald is one to watch on the new season of "Food Network Star."

HOLLYWOOD—It’s that time for a new culinary giant to be crowned. Food Network is gearing up for its summertime staple, “Food Network Star.” This has been a reality competition that has gripped my attention since its second season.

The series has been responsible for shaping the careers of many chefs in the culinary arena. Perhaps one of the biggest names from the series would be Guy Fieri. There was no way in the world that Guy wouldn’t be a star; it was obvious from the day that he first stepped on the stage. What I have come to learn about the series in recent years is those who you think are ‘star quality’ may not always make it to the end.

Sometimes those front-runners tend to fizzle out quite fast depending on the challenges thrown their way. For this eleventh season, Alton Brown is visibly missing from the mix, but I would argue that season eight might have been my favorite. Why? The actual mentors were in competition with one another to prove they had the chops to shape an unknown into a star. It was a bit more competitive and fun; the audience hadn’t seen anything like that before.

For this eleventh outing, yep the series has been on for 11 seasons, Bobby Flay and Giada DiLaurentis are mentors, with top dogs Susie Fogelson and Bob Tuschman as the network big wigs making the final decision. I’ve always had a fond respect for Susie, who just seems to know a star when she sees one; even if the viewers don’t realize it in the beginning.

I will admit season 11 brings some of the best cooks the series has seen in years. A lot of these contestants can deliver in the kitchen, but the problem that many face time and time again is the camera. This season we have contestants that range from a former NFL player to a drag queen, a stay at home mom to a culinary instructor; there is a wide range of contestants who are vying for the top prize.

The first challenge put the contestants in the spotlight, literally, as they were forced to convey to the mentors and their peers their culinary point of view. That is indeed a tricky thing to do in 30 seconds. Describe a bit about yourself, while conveying what you plan to bring to the table. Some sailed through with soothing colors (Jay, Eddie, Michelle), while others blew up in flames (Rue, Matthew, Emilia, and Dominick).

Redemption would be around the corner as the hopefuls were forced to cook up a dish for 100 plus guests, including a guest judge from People magazine and Susie and Bob. To say the pressure was on was a bit of an understatement, if cooking a tasty dish in only 60 minutes was chaotic, the culinary newbies had their 30 second promos they shot screened for the judges and the festival attendees. All I can say is that there were indeed some very awkward moments.

This literally might be the only show that I find myself forced to change the channel from time to time, when I see a train wreck in the midst of happening. I seriously have the slightest idea why I do this, perhaps its fear; I connect with the contestants and sometimes feel like their embarrassment is also mine. Some have argued that it’s because in the oddest way I think I could go toe-to-toe with some of them in the kitchen.

Hmm, tricky to say the least, I like to consider myself a darn good cook, but I question rather I’d be as inviting on the camera. I’m passionate about food, but conveying that to the rest of the world is not always the easiest. If I had to pick one contestant who I feel has star power, regardless of rather they win the prize or not, it would be youngster Matthew Grunwald. You might not know the name yet, but trust me you will. For those who are familiar with the Food Network, Grunwald recently appeared on episodes of the hit show Cutthroat Kitchen with Alton Brown, and he was a character to say the least.

He brings that eclectic energy to “FNS,” but it might not be the same energy that will keep viewers tuned in. If he can somehow tame down that excitement which he has for food and hone in on a specific POV he will be golden. It doesn’t hurt that he has mad skills in the kitchen. Remember these are only early predictions things can easily change from week to week.

The new season of “Food Network Star” premieres Sunday, June 7 on Food Network at 9 p.m. Who’s ready to get cooking?