"Food Network Star" 2014 resumed Aug. 3 on the Food Network as the top four competed for the chance to create their very own pilot programs. By night's end, one hopeful had been sent home, while the other three completed the pilots that will influence the vote to decide the season's big winner.
The episode began as the top four --Nicole Gaffney, Lenny McNab, Sarah Penrod, and Luca Della Casa-- joined selection committee members Giada DeLaurentiis, Bobby Flay, and Alton Brown at New York's Gotham West Market, which Alton termed "food heaven." The panelists went on to share that while there, they would be filming promos for their pilot programs which they would then be responsible for pitching to Food Network bigwigs Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson. They also learned that three of them would be green-lighted by Bob and Susie to create their pilots based on said presentations.
Before dismissing them to work on their promos, Giada termed the presentations "the most important 30 seconds" of the competition. With that daunting statement in play, the hopefuls got to work, one at a time, on perfecting their filmed pitches. While Luca and Nicole looked comfortable in front of the camera and seemed open to the judges' critiques, Sarah floundered after her opening statement, and Lenny struggled mightily with stringing words together in coherent fashion.
Following a break, the contestants joined the selection committee, Susie, and Bob to preview their promos and find out who would earn the right to make a pilot show. After Sarah, Lenny, and Luca were dismissed, the judges previewed Nicole's promo first. Susie praised her "comfort" and "down home style," and asked about her experience with global flavors. Nicole awkwardly said she hadn't traveled much, which drew strange looks from Susie and Bob.
Sarah faced the judges second with her Texas-centric pitch. Bob liked her enthusiasm, but Susie dinged her for lacking in authenticity. She encouraged her to add her experience as a mom into the mix to make her more real. Luca followed with his promo for Luca's Feast, and Bob praised the magnitude of his post-elimination transformation and the development of his "star power." Up last was Lenny, who offered up the weakest pitch of the bunch. Although Bob praised his consistently good food, he called the promo "tense." After Lenny left, Bob worried over his lack of energy and enthusiasm.
After deliberating their decision, the panelists called the top four back into the room to reveal which three would be creating pilot episodes for the Food Network. The first contestant to earn a green light was Luca, who Bob said deserved to be in the competition. Susie next addressed Nicole, telling her that she didn't like her "coastal food from around the world" perspective, but gave her a green light on the condition that she limit her scope to just the U.S. After a dramatic pause, the third and final pilot opportunity went to a thrilled and relieved Lenny.
Although Bob called Sarah's future "bright" and all three selection committee members thought she did a great job, she was eliminated from the competition. Though disappointed, Sarah said she was "grateful" to have experienced taking part in the show.
Bob then turned his attention back to the three remaining finalists. He and Susie shared that Giada, Bobby, and Alton's work on the show was done, and that a special guest mentor would be helping them to create their pilot episodes. They also learned that a viewer vote conducted via foodnetwork.com would determine the winner of the title.
The next day, a very nervous Lenny joined surprise special guest mentor Robert Irvine to begin work on his pilot. After getting past the nerves that came along with meeting and working with Robert (whose biceps he described as "the size of Cambodia"), he got off to a rocky start with his dialog and struggled to get it together.
Robert encouraged him to forget the camera and just act like they were having a one on one conversation, and it finally clicked for the chuckwagon cook. By the time he made it to the kitchen, Robert exclaimed "at last, I've got Lenny!" and wished him luck. Lenny hoped that he'd done enough to show America that he should win the competition.
Up next to film her pilot was Nicole. She seemed less intimidated by Robert than Lenny had been, and quickly and professionally explained her point of view and plan for the pilot. After listening to her talk for a few seconds, he told her to double her energy for the last take. As she cooked, he pressed her to "smile" and "have fun," and she admitted that she wasn't having as much fun as she should've been. Nicole hoped that America would see her fun side and her passion for food.
Last to meet up with Robert was Luca. He was intimidated, but explained that he wanted to show America one of his family's favorite Italian dishes. Robert slammed his initial presentation as giving him "nothing," and Luca struggled to get it together. Robert encouraged him to give up on his quest for perfection and instead be "big" and bold. After watching him explain his dish in the kitchen, Robert wished him luck and said he wished he could attend Luca's feast.
The show concluded with the airing of all three pilots, Lenny's "Cowboy Up," Nicole's "My Coastal Kitchen," and Luca's self-titled "Luca's Feast." To vote for who should win, visit FoodNetwork.com/Star or call their individual voting numbers: 855-54-STAR-1 for Lenny, 855-54-STAR-2 for Luca, or 855-54-STAR-3 for Nicole. The voting period ends at 11 a.m. Eastern time on Aug. 6, and fans can vote up to 10 times per day, per method.
So which aspiring chef will emerge victorious? Watch the "Food Network Star" 2014 finale on Aug. 10 to find out.