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'Food Network Star' 2014 week 8: Bizarre team challenge effort boots one

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"Food Network Star" 2014 continued July 20 on the Food Network with an eighth week of competitive cooking from the six remaining hopefuls. After a high-end team challenge resulted in a surprisingly awful cumulative performance by three contestants, one was sent packing for good.

The latest installment of the reality cooking competition began as the top six joined show judges Giada DeLaurentiis and Alton Brown and a stern-faced poker dealer in the poker tournament room at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Giada revealed that the dealer had six cards featuring the names of six different luxurious Vegas-area restaurants.

She explained that the first portion of the day's challenge would require them to dine at one of those establishments, and the dealer proceeded to assign locales. Nicole Gaffney was given Serendipity3; Emma Frisch was sent to Nobu; Lenny McNab wound up with Restaurant Guy Savoy; Loreal Gavin drew Le Burger Brasserie; Luca Della Cassa wound up with Beijing Noodle 9; and Sarah Penrod found herself bound for the Old Homestead Steakhouse.

Before dismissing the contestants to enjoy their culinary experiences, Alton instructed them to fully experience not only the food, but the atmosphere and "360" feel of their respective assignments. The goal of the tastings was to inspire the contestants to create one-of-a-kind meals for the judges.

Following their experiences, the contestants rejoined Giada and Alton for further instruction. The duo explained that they'd be working in groups to create spectacular four-course meals using the facilities at Guy Savoy. Alton added that given the importance of the challenge, Food Network executives Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelson, and special guest Penn Jillette would join them as tasting judges.

As the two surviving members of week seven's bottom three, Sarah and Emma were named team captains, and Giada instructed them to choose their co-chefs wisely. A coin flip earned Emma the first pick, and she quickly snagged favorite Lenny. Sarah then chose Nicole, and Emma snagged Loreal, leaving Luca to round out team Sarah.

Moments later, Caesar entered with a tray bearing six scrolls. Giada and Alton explained that each scroll featured the name of a high-end ingredient. Sarah and Emma were tasked with assigning ingredients to either themselves or their team members. Sarah chose first, taking wagyu rib eye for herself, before assigning muscovy duck to Luca, and leaving frog legs for Nicole. On Emma's side, she first assigned sea urchin to Lenny and langoustine to Loreal, leaving mangalitsa pork loin for herself.

Alton explained that each team member would be responsible for one course, while the entire team would tackle the dessert. Then he sent them to off to a local Whole Foods market to gather ingredients and brainstorm their team strategies. While the members of team Emma enthusiastically gathered drinks and ingredients, Sarah worried that her team might be missing an important element.

Later, team Sarah hit the Guy Savoy kitchen first, and quickly decided on an "around the world" theme that they hoped would let each of them shine individually. While Sarah and Luca cruised through their dish preparation processes, Nicole stressed over preparing her s'mores dessert and cooking her first-ever frogs legs.

After time expired, Sarah, Nicole, and Luca presented their tasting menu to Alton, Giada, Bob, Susie, and Penn. Although they enjoyed Nicole's frog legs, Susie didn't get the connection between her Thai dish and her story about her firefighter husband's friends. Luca's parmesan risotto and duck and story were well-received, while Sarah's enormous waygu steaks drew serious praise from Bob, who didn't want to stop eating it long enough to talk about it. Finally, the team's deconstructed s'more was praised by Bob as "super successful."

With team Sarah's efforts in the rearview, team Emma took their turn in the Guy Savoy kitchen. The contestants worked on their "gods and goddesses" themed menu, with Lenny tackling sea urchin with cauliflower mousse and instructing Emma on the proper treatment of mangalitsa pork all at once. Loreal took the helm preparing ambrosia salad for dessert and disaster struck as she inadvertently torched the marshmallows.

After time expired, the trio took their turn presenting to the judges. Lenny introduced the first course in extraordinarily awkward fashion, drawing criticism for both overdoing his presentation and for his dish. Loreal followed with her langoustine, which none of the judges particularly enjoyed. Even worse, Bob lamented the loss of her usually big, fun personality. Emma's presentation started off well enough, but she blew it with a bizarre story that turned off Bob's appetite. Even worse for her, Alton likened the dish to pork with jam dropped on top. The dessert too was weaker than expected.

With the writing seemingly on the wall for Emma, Loreal, or Lenny, the six hopefuls joined Alton, Giada, Bob, and Susie for the night's evaluation process. Susie addressed Team Sarah first, calling the theme "pretty generic" but serviceable. Earning particularly heavy praise was Sarah, who finally delivered on her promise to represent Texas. The judges then addressed Team Emma, with Alton saying he wasn't thrilled with the gods and goddesses theme. Lenny, Loreal, and Emma all took significant heat for their presentations and food.

Alton charitably said both teams "put up a good fight," but Sarah, Nicole, and Luca were declared the winners, leaving Emma, Loreal, and Lenny in the bottom three. After the judges deliberated, Emma was eliminated from contention.

"Food Network Star" 2014 resumes July 27 on the Food Network. The top five will continue their quest toward the season 10 title in New York.

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