Sunday, June 30, 2013

Next Food Network Star - Viet Goes Home

For a young culinary artist who once bested Bobby Flay on the Iron Chef, Viet Pham has been so underwhelming on the Food Network's Next Food Network Star competition that the judges were finally left with no choice but to end his run at the title.  Underground chef Russell lived to cook another day, but only because the judges felt his "throw to commercial" saved him.  That concession to Russell seems pretty weak, especially because there is little doubt that Viet could cook Russell right out of the kitchen.  Though, clearly neither of these two men was ever going to win the competition to host his own show on the Food Network.

The winner this week was Stacy who absolutely nailed her live presentation from the grill with a couple of butchers.  Strangely, Food Network head of programming Bob Tuchman actually admonished her for being "too perfect."  He actually asked her to reveal "some imperfection" in the kitchen.  What the heck, Bob?  That's the worst bit of commentary I've ever heard from Bob, and it was completely unnecessary.  As a viewer I might be looking for some humanity and something to connect with or relate to, but I am certainly not looking for a Food Network Star to reveal imperfection.  The comments on Stacy should simply have been, "Excellent job this week. You're safe."

The fascination with keeping Demaris Phillips around continues to baffle me - and actually bother me quite a bit.  Demaris is not cute, not sweet, not engaging, certainly not sexy, and, by no means an exceptional chef.  She is a southern woman - period.  And if the Food Network wants another southern female chef, they should just hire someone.  Demaris is not it.  What did she even "cook" this week?  She made some sort of cocktail that she couldn't even identify and explain - and which she apparently had help with.  Keeping Demaris around is a huge mistake - and an insult to a skilled chef like Viet.

The rest of the field is interesting ... and not. Nikki clearly has a point of view, and it was impressive to see her pull off the fried chicken.  Clearly, she is a bit ameteur-ish, and there certainly isn't a Bobby Flay authority with Nikki.  But she can cook, and she is sweet and engaging on camera.  Chad is still Chad - competent and mildly entertaining.  Chris can cook, but probably won't bring it all home.  And, Rodney continues to be ... strange.  He's clearly not a skilled chef, and he has a very limited point of view.  None of his offerings have been impressive, and his presentations are, at best, too much Rodney.  

Nice week for Stacy - probably the Next Food Network Star.  Keep it up, Nikki and Chad.  And, Demaris, please go away.

Students Need Choice/Options, says Aurora Superintendent Barry

Former Aurora Public Schools chief John Barry offers important and valued insight on Colorado school reform, calling for increased school funding and more options and choice for students.  The funding issue is a contentious one in a tax- and spending-averse state like Colorado, but Barry's comments on student choice should find common ground and open ears.

For quite a while now, I've been arguing against the rigid education system in America that places unfounded emphasis on "seat time" and bachelor degrees.  In a changing world of diverse needs and interests, the singular focus on nineteenth century education system is outdated and harmful to the current generations of students.  Cultural critics as varied as Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute and Sir Ken Robinson, formerly of the Arts in Schools Project have challenged the factory model of education that puts students on an assembly line toward one goal.  Though Barry and Murray and Robinson have divergent views, the common thread is offering more choice to students.

As John Barry aptly notes, I would like to see is the rejection of a "single magic solution" to the ills of public education. Complex systems fail in complex ways, requiring complex solutions. We must labor to develop a strategic "mosaic" of integrated programs and initiatives that accelerates student achievement and closes the achievement gaps. This synergistic approach must adapt to the specific culture of the school district community with the understanding that there is no single solution for public education in this country. The pieces of the mosaic must come together to form a picture of students in their caps and gowns — students who are well prepared for college and career success.

The country needs a new "vision" that is not singular, but a shared vision.  Barry asserts, we must completely reconsider what success for school looks like. In today's world, when some students are years behind and others are achieving at levels beyond their years, we must eliminate traditional walls, clocks and calendars. The school day and school year should ensure that students are learning based on their achievement levels and not because of seat time. We must provide students, who start school two or three years behind, with enough quality schooling to help them catch up and reach grade level success. By the same token, we must provide eighth-graders who are doing 11th grade math or 11th graders taking college courses the continued opportunity to excel.

That said, education reformers should emphasize a break from a focus on bachelor degrees, an increased emphasis on the arts and creativity, an expansion of post-school options via career and technical education (CTE), and flexible school schedules and non-traditional settings. Students should be empowered by giving them choice on the education they desire and need.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Kirsten Dunst in REM's Good-bye Video

I was thinking about really "thoughtful" songs and videos today, and I can't quite take myself away from REM's "goodbye" song and video We All Go Back to Where We Belong.  Of course, the line where Michael Stipe asks, "Is this really what you want?" makes us all scream quickly, "No!" because we don't want to lose one of the most iconic bands and voices of the past fifty years.  But, we just as quickly pause and reflect on what a beautiful gift Michael and the boys have given us as a departing gift.

I was wondering about the choice of Kirsten Dunst for the video, though I resisted efforts to investigate her inclusion in the video because it is just so sweet and innocent.  In fact, Michael notes this "this might be my innocence ... lost." Dunst so aptly reflects my thoughts on the song as she simply reflects on the beauty of REM's music and Stipe's lyrics, and you can almost tell she is moving back and forth between the actual lyrics and her own personal connections and interpretations.

In Kirsten's words, "He's my neighbor in New York. And I've been an R.E.M. fan since I was a little girl. I would jump around to 'Stand' in front of the mirror. And, I've known him throughout the years, and he just casually asked me. I didn't even know it was supposed to be their last video. And I was like, 'Yeah, of course.' He wanted to do it in the vein of an Andy Warhol screen test, and I sat there. We did three different takes, but the one take he used, he sang ["We All Go Back to Where We Belong"] a cappella to me. So, if I look embarrassed and giggling, it's because I'm so overwhelmed that he's singing to me. It was really special."

Yes, it was really special.  And it makes me think and smile.  Like REM always has.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Lovely is not The Next Food Network Star

How can a person who wants to be the Next Food Network Star think it's acceptable to use "pre-packaged" pizza dough to make a doughnut?  How?  Who does that?  Lovely Jackson went home Sunday night after that culinary debacle, especially as Alton Brown noted this is two "food fails in a row." The woman simply could not cook, had no real persona or camera presence, and just wasn't going anywhere as a contestant.

Next Food Network Star's A Food & Film Feature was an entertaining competition for this round, though I am still not a huge fan of team format's allowing some people to squeak out a win.  Demaris is the perfect example, as I can't fathom how a Southern girl who doesn't know how to adequately salt grits is going to be a Food Network Star. And after this week in the news, I am wondering whether Demaris wants to rethink her plans to be the next Paula Deen. That's not a role model anyone should want to emulate.

Several finalists continue to disappoint despite notable food chops - Viet coming to mind immediately.  He should be able to cook circles around anyone, but his dessert of berries and cream was weak, and he is never going to develop a camera presence that is engaging enough.  Of course, the same can be said for Chad.  Chad's food is clearly accomplished, but I don't see nearly enough personality to anchor a show.  For a show that produced Guy Fierie and Jeff the Sandwich King, Chad is a shadow of a TV person.  It doesn't seem in the cards.

Chris is fun and clearly a skilled chef, but what is his point of view?  And the same goes for Stacy - what will she be able to bring to the line-up.  There is some creativity there, as the smores with popcorn was truly innovative, and I want to see more.  But Rodney's Pie Man schtick has worn thin.  Both Rodney and Russell are short for the chopping block because one can't seem to cook and the other can't seem to engage any audience.

For my money, food blogger Nikki Dinki has the best shot at establishing her own show.  She is finding her voice and camera presence, and she is truly the only finalist who actually has a marketable point of view.  The "Meat on the Side" concept is truly unique and it's a show that Food Network does not yet have.  As a viewer I would be interested in what Nikki has to offer, though I don't think she is by any means a truly accomplished chef - and that's a downside.  Hopefully, she can continue to grow.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Paul Deen "Chopped" From the Food Network

Paula Deen has been "chopped."  The Food Network moved quickly to cut all ties with fatty foods maven Paula Deen after news surfaced of the lawsuit charging her with racial harassment.  Apparently, Deen and her husband were named in a lawsuit by former employees alleging Deen's creation of a hostile work environment resulting from the use of racial slurs.  The charges in the suit were bad enough before Deen opened her mouth in a deposition and made the situation far worse.  Baffling as it seems, she responded "Of course" when asked if she had used "the n-word," implying it's a natural occurrence for all people.  And, she seems not to understand that "it was a joke" is not an acceptable excuse.

Of course, many foodies out there are still wondering what Paula Deen was ever doing on the Food Network in the first place.  For a network that features culinary masters like Bobby Flay, Emeril Legasse, Tyler Florence, Ming Tsai, Geoffery Zakarian, and Masaharu Morimoto, the appearance of kitchen hacks like Paula Deen is a true step backward and an insult to viewers.  Granted, there are people who "like" Paula Deen and the gastic disasters she "whips up" in her red-neck kitchen.  But that's not what the Food Network should be about.  In fact, I've often wondered how people like Flay and Florence can even tolerate being in the same kitchen with that woman.  Is it just for show, or do they somehow find something appealing about a cook who simply slathers butter and cream on everything to make it "rich."

I've written before about my respect for Robert Irvine and his show Restaurant Impossible because his entire focus is on getting people to understand how to choose quality.  There's simply no reason to cook like Deen when you can cook like Irvine.  And the Food Network is far better off without someone whose values are as low class as her cooking.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Google Brainteasers & Interview Tactics

A man pulls his car up in front of a hotel and immediately goes bankrupt.  Why?

How far can a dog run into the woods?

What word is pronounced incorrectly by more than 99% of Ivy League graduates?

Questions like these - commonly known as brainteasers and generally reserved for middle school - have long been a staple in the infamous and grueling interview process for companies like Google and Microsoft.  In fact there have been a couple books about this type of interviewing - Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google and How Would You Move Mt. Fuji by William Poundstone.

Now, it appears that approach will disappear from Google's interviewing, as the company has recently concluded the riddles were "a complete waste of time."  The company will also dispense with screening by GPA for all but its youngest applicants.  Instead, the company will look at applicants in a more behavioral way - the kind of emotional intelligence that is believed to be every bit as important as IQ and specific technical skills or knowledge.

I'm kind of sad that Google is moving away from these questions - simply because I've always thought they were a fun idea and contributed to the Google Mythology.  They are great ideas for bell-starters in class or icebreakers at conference and presentations.  In my classes, they are generally billed as "mental floss," and the kids get really addicted to them.  While Google may have dismissed their relevance, I'm not so sure they are useless, and I think more companies will incorporate them into interviews as a way of screening critical thinking and reactions to challenges.

Oh, and the answers are:

  • He's playing Monopoly
  • Halfway - because then he's running out of the woods
  • Incorrectly

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

TIE Conference 2013 - Copper Mountain

Working to expand what I can offer as an Instructional Technology Coordinator at my school, I am attending the TIE Conference at Copper Mountain in Colorado.  TIE - Technology in Education - has been working to engage teachers and connect the world of education digitally since the founding of the conference and organization in 1987.  This conference is a new connection for me, and I am excited to engage with so many educators seeking to break free from the traditional constraints of education - especially now in an era of standardization.

The keynote speech today was presented by Steve Hargadon - an innovative voice in the world of education and instructional technology.  Steve spoke to the ever-growing concerns about the out-of-touch nature of the factory model that has guided education for far too long.  Echoing and extrapolating on the ideas being put forth by writers and thinkers such as Sir Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink, and others, Steve presented an engaging vision about the future of education.  He spoke of the importance of participation, creation, sharing, and engagement.  Creating an online presence and becoming an engaged learner is a key - even a necessity - for educators, and places like TIE are promoting the initiative.

Off to my next session.  More from TIE later.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Next Food Network Star - Danuska's "Chopped" - Episode 3

Ding, Dong, Danushka's gone ....

The judges of the Next Food Network Star finally came to their senses and sent home the most unappealing candidate of the season - Danushka Lysek.  Of course, it's only the third week, but she could have easily been sent home in the first or second.  Thankfully, she was "chopped" after both Alton Brown and Iron Chef Alex Guarnashelli both recoiled at Danushka's dry, pissy attitude and mediocre cooking skills.  In fact, from her performance in the first three episodes, I am surprised that she ever made the finalists cut.  Is the competition that weak - or was the Food Network just intrigued by the "mock" glamour of someone who claims to have been a model?  Well, no matter.  She's been "Chopped."

The Chopped-format for the third episode is always entertaining, as it is one of the Food Network's most entertaining and most challenging of the reality shows.  The versatility of food knowledge and skills, as well as the ability to engage the judges, is on full display with Chopped, and it's a telling format for judging Food Network Stars.  Chad again performed well, and there is little doubt about his cooking skills or ability to be calm in front of an audience.  However, he appears to be a bit too milquetoast for the star quality required to carry a show.  

On the other side, Chris Hodgson continues to impress, but this time he reigned in the over-the-top performance and revealed a soft, vulnerable side that only endeared him more to the judges and fellow finalists.  Chris' "confession" about his past life as an addict was accented by his story of how food and cooking "saved" him.  There was a great metaphor working there about giving to people through cooking, and Chris exemplified that through his story, as well as the assistance he gave Stacy, who was struggling.  A lot of heart in that kid, and he has risen in my estimation.

Stacy struggled for the first time this week, but her star status is not really in doubt.  I was a little surprised by her choice of the pot pie - an epic fail - and I was also put off by her describing the basket ingredients as "looking like the back seat of her car."  Not an impressive image for a chef.  Russell continues to go up and down - and he is like so many (Vick from years ago) who need to develop a persona in front of the camera to match their culinary genius and off camera charm.  Rodney - the Pie Guy - is doing well, and I loved his enthusiasm as a judge.  Pie style may only take him so far, but I love pie, so I'd like to see more.

Finally, I have to say that Bobby really messed up with the judge's challenge.  The "victory" and exemption that he awarded to Demaris Phillips was a joke - the woman put a condiment on fried cabbage.  And she won?  There was no culinary skill in that act, and it certainly didn't deserve to win.  It may have tasted good, but, really, what's the point here?  This seemed to reveal Bobby's continued and inexplicable affection for the Paula Deens of the world.  Of course, the biggest mistake was that Viet got screwed in this competition.  He took his food - the pickled plums - and actually "made" something out of it - a vinaigrette - and accented his food with it.  A truly delicious looking and sounding creation resulted.  And Bobby dinged him for not making the element the star.  What about what Demaris did?  That was a bogus move Bobby, and it was so flawed, I sensed some jealous payback from the Iron Chef match.

I don't really think Bobby is that petty.  But Demaris is not close to the chef or Food Network Star that Viet can be.

Great week for culinary competition.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Next Food Network Star - Burger Bash

Last week's second episode of the Food Network's Next Food Network Star was a great episode that coincides well with the beginning of summer and the start of true grilling season.  And there was a bit of a surprise for some in the judging and "grilling" of the on-the-edge contestants, most of whom have no chance of winning the actual competition.  The show said goodbye to Andres Guillama, a formerly overweight Cuban restaurant worker who never really won over the judges.  However, Andres not only had a great story - having lost 150 pounds - but he was not terrible in front of the camera.

And, in that vein he seemed to be a virtual repeat of former Food Star Finalist Herb, whom the judges seemed so desperate to make a star for his weight loss, when Herb never was comfortable sharing that story.  The judges - almost pathetically - kept Herb around despite some miserable performances because his potential for a feel-good story and a new demographic was so tempting.  Thus, I really expected Andres to stick around for at least a few weeks while they coaxed a point of view out of him.  Alas, it wasn't meant to be.  Thus, Andres' elimination was a shock to me, but it was primarily because Danushka Lysek continues to perform so atrociously in front of the camera.  This woman is truly nauseating in terms of her air of self importance and illusions of glamour.  And that slow pessimistic drawl gives new meaning to the idea of the "heroin chic" angle that infected the modeling industry years ago.  Apparently, Danushka can cook a bit - but I can't imagine it was in any way superior to the cooking of Andres.

As far as the rest of the contestants go, there are clear frontrunners in contestants like Chad and Stacy.   They can both very clearly cook, and they have a nice stage persona that simply relaxes and appeals to the viewer.  I was a little surprised to learn that Stacy was once featured on Robert Irvine's Restaurant Impossible - for that is never a flattering experience.  It seems like most people on Irvine's show are disasters who never really knew what they were doing running a kitchen.  However, Stacy seems to know her way around a cutting board, and she talks food well.  Damaris, by the way, is only slightly less unpleasant than Danushka, and I really don't think we need anyone who aspires to be "the next Paula Dean."  I hope she doesn't mean she's aiming for diabetic gluttony and excess.  Chris Hodgson - whom I really liked when he was on Tyler Florence's Great Food Truck Race - is another strong personality, but he needs to get it under control.

And, of course, the Pie Guy, Rodney, is entertaining, but I am expecting to outlive the novelty pretty soon.  Looking forward to tomorrow night's elimination of Danushka.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Next Food Network Star - Season 9 - 2013

With many of us still smiling over Justin Warner - "The Rebel with a Culinary Cause" - winning last season's Next Food Network Star, it's hard to believe it's that time again.  Season nine of the Food Network's Next Food Network Star premieres tonight, June 2, and the finalists are already established on the website.  I haven't checked out the profiles yet, preferring instead to meet the contestants during the opening of the show.

It looks like Bobby, Giada, and Alton will again host the hopefuls, but I don't think I am alone in hoping the network has done away with the team competition from last year.  That approach led to Giada really embarrassing herself with many insecurities that were at times hard to watch.  And, I just don't think the overall approach was very effective or interesting.  Too many times, less skilled chefs stuck around based more on the team work issue than their own skills.

Let's hope for some new challenges that will entertain, as we still focus on the culinary arts presented by engaging personalities.  The past three seasons have given us Arti Party, Jeff the Sandwich King, and Justin the Rebel. All three of these people were talented chefs with the confidence and point of view necessary to anchor a Food Network show.  While I haven't watched their shows enough to be a regular, I have been impressed with their work.  I only wish the Food Network would actually market their shows and develop the ideas - as opposed to simply continuing to be the Guy Fierie network with endless re-runs of Diners Drive-ins and Dives.

So, here's looking forward to a great season, and a new Food Network Star.