Food Network Star 2012 continued July 8 with a ninth week of cooking competition. Live demonstrations were the name of the episode's game. Who excelled and who fell? Here's a recap.
The episode opened as finalist Nikki Martin read aloud the contents of a note left by the network inviting them to the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, "where anything can happen." Later, they gathered at the festival and met up with mentors Bobby Flay, Giada DeLaurentiis and Alton Brown, who detailed the week's Star Challenge. Alton called the Food Network demonstrations some of the most popular events at the show, and Bobby told them that they'd each take the stage and perform a three-minute live demonstration of their signature dish. Giada stressed the importance of being engaging, sharing tips and making a good impression.
With expectations established, the seven hopefuls got to work. Martita Jara was excited to make her sweet pork chile rellenos, and gushed to mentor Giada that she'd taught "so many of her girlfriends" to make them. Yvan Lemoine banked his chances on Love Bites, and Giada told him to watch his speaking cadence. Ippy Aiona's opted to make a dish he called "totally me," pink miso sauce with scallops, and Giada stressed he needed to bring "energy, energy, energy."
In Team Bobby's area, Nikki prepped her grilled lamb chops and Bobby told her not to be "too poised." Michele Ragussis made clams mimi, but stressed over having to work with clams too small for her liking. Mentor Bobby said she needed to "roll with" the punches and keep timing.
Finally, Team Alton's Justin Warner prepared his won ton nachos and hoped to project himself as "good-natured and warm." Martie Duncan hit a snag as she tried to ready her fish and discovered scores of tiny bones inside, and Alton encouraged both of his proteges to come up with things that could go wrong during their presentations.
With the dishes prepped, the mentors joined judges Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson to observe the live presentations. But before they took to the stage, Alton revealed that he, Bobby and Giada had sabotaged them, deliberately setting each up with "unknown hurdles" tailored to individual weaknesses perceived by the mentors.
Up first was Justin, who was slated to face hecklers. Though he cruised through the first obnoxious comments, he lost his composure. His Nippon Nachos, however, earned Susie's praise as being creative and delicious. Nikki followed, and Bobby shared that they're rigged her blender to malfunction. She floundered badly upon encountering the issue, which Bob called the "easiest" of the challenges. Bobby thought she was "intimidated" by the crowd, but Bob loved her dish.
Yvan followed, and Giada shared that his mic would go out for 30 seconds. He started off strong and faltered momentarily when the trouble hit, but got back into the groove and drew cheers from Giada. Bob appreciated the "big, fun energy" he brought and Susie called his dish "elegant and sophistocated." Ippy came next, and Giada revealed that some of his audience members would exit mid-presentation. He was flustered by the talking, and Bob noted that he'd "lost some of his glow." Susie thought his dish was "really unique and delish."
Up next was Martita, and Giada explained that they'd given her the wrong ingredients to see how she'd hack it. She was badly shaken when she realized she had inappropriate peppers, which caused her to forget her personal story. Bob missed "the Martita that we love," but Susie loved her food. Martie emerged next, and Alton said he'd "misplaced a few of her items" to test her composure. She charmed her way through and Bob praised her for being "unflappable." He also praised her dish as being great for a party.
Last to go was Michele, and Bobby revealed that she'd be given the wrong time cues. She cruised nicely through her demo, stumbling when the wrong times were shown, but rebounding with a very genuine story about digging for clams. Susie thought she was "adorable," and Bob thought her dish felt "like New England."
After the presentations, the teams met to discuss the demos. Bobby was surprised by Nikki's timing issue, while Alton praised Martie for getting "hosed" and not blinking an eye. Giada told Yvan that she thought he was the best of the day, but knocked Martita for not telling her story.
The next day, the mentors and contestants re-joined Bob and Susie for evaluation. Martie and Yvan earned top honor nods. Bob praised Martie for having fun and using her humor, and Susie called Yvan "flawless." Also declared safe to cook again were Justin, Michele, and Nikki, leaving Martita and Ippy up for elimination.
Martita and Ippy learned that the week's Producer Challenge required them to present an on-the-spot 30-second presentation about a mystery ingredient immediately after finding it underneath a dome. Giada told Ippy to envision the camera as Hawai'i, his homeland, and instructed Martita to "romance" the camera.
Ippy was first up, and discovered oranges under the dome. He got into the groove quickly, telling a story about making Bug Juice with friends as a kid. Bob liked the story and how he'd remained composed. Martita gave good tips, but still didn't get personal. Susie was frustrated by the lack of a story, and Bob said he could "see the little cracks" in her demo.
Later, Ippy, Martita and Giada joined Bob and Susie in the Pitch Garden for evaluation. They knocked Ippy for not specifying that Bug Juice was a dip, and Susie was annoyed with Martita for not making her presentation personal, especially after learning that her father had been an orange picker.
After deliberations, Martita Jara was eliminated from the competition. A tearful Martita said she was "at peace" with not winning, and called appearing on the show "an incredible journey."
Watch Food Network Star 2012 on July 15 to see which three hopefuls will earn the right to shoot show pilots.