For those of us pissed off that the judges of “The Next Food Network Star” kept giving Debbie Lee pass after pass this season, despite the fact that she was dishonest and deceitful while acting all jolly and Korean, karma reared its head in our favor. More on that in a minute, but last night’s showdown between the final three of Lee, Melissa D’Arabian and Jeffrey Saad was actually very exciting to watch.

They began the episode by having the three finalists meet Emeril Lagasse at his restaurant, and Emeril announced their challenge for the week–in honor of the upcoming film, “Julie & Julia,” the contestants would have to create their own ultimate 3-course meal for some very distinguished judges. Each would have $1000 to shop as well as the help of a sous chef. After shopping (and Jeffrey being way under budget), they arrived back to find out who their sous chefs would be….naturally, former contestants….Jamika, Michael and Katie, who would be paired with Melissa, Debbie and Katie, respectively.

As for the guests, it was an intimidating bunch including the regular judges (Bobby Flay, Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson) as well as other Food Network personalities like Tyler Florence, Masaharu Morimoto, Anne Burrell and Alex Guarnaschelli; as well as highly respected chefs like Rick Bayless and John Besh.

Melissa was making a potato torte with ratatouille, roasted brick chicken with orzo, and a three cheese sampler with a cream cheese pastry. Debbie made spicy prawns, Korean style short ribs, and a pear egg roll. Michael made seared scallops, seafood risotto and chocolate mousse.
Each of them had to not only talk about their dishes before serving them, but they had to choose one of those dishes to do a live on-camera demo.

Melissa went first, and she hung in there despite having problems with her potato torte…which didn’t cook fast enough. So she wound up sticking the torte back in the oven, and serving the ratatouille with the orzo as the first course, and the chicken with the potato torte as the main course, with the brick chicken being the demo portion. The judges were loving all of it, including her presentation in which she talked about her mom who committed suicide, bringing tears to some of the diners. Anyway, Melissa finished with her cheese plate along with a pastry she made from scratch, which wound up being an absolute home run with the judges.

Debbie went next and while they all liked her shrimp, they mentioned that there wasn’t enough Korean influence in this dish, which was mostly southern American (the soul part of her “Seoul to Soul”). Her short ribs, which she claimed would be chewier the way Koreans like them and less “fall off the bone,” were only a hit with Bayless….one other judge even said they were bland. The egg roll was also so-so with the judges, though she did an excellent demo.

Jeffrey did a great job with his scallops, which was his demo…Tyler Florence called the dish “flawless,” which is high praise from that dude. But Jeffrey failed on his risotto, with one judge calling it “the worst risotto in my life” and another calling it “an insult to Italy.” Yikes. Of course, because of that, Flay gave him a hard time about being so far under budget. But he rebounded with his chocolate mousse, with even Alex Guarnaschelli, one of the evil “Chopped” judges, saying how great it was.

The judges said they had a difficult task in eliminating someone, and they really did. Melissa did a great job overall, and Flay said he wanted to see more of Melissa’s storytelling as she did at this dinner service. Jeffrey drew mixed reactions, but one thing Tuschman mentioned was his predictability from week to week, something that may not be a trait of a food network star. And finally Debbie also had a “mixed bag” of reaction (as Tuschman called it). Flay pointed out that he had an issue with the food, which for someone with such strong Korean influence, consistently lacks flavor.

They declared Melissa safe and in the final two, and this move made sense. Melissa really hit a home run last night. So it was down to Jeffrey and Debbie, and the judges agonized over this decision. Jeffrey basically flunked on his main course in the challenge, but was great otherwise. Debbie’s overall food scores last night probably matched Jeffrey’s, and she clearly has good camera skills, maybe better than any of the three. But guess what? They sent Debbie home, and I think I know why. All things being equal, Debbie lied one too many times and just didn’t have the integrity needed to be a Food Network star. Jeffrey, meanwhile, dodged a bullet. And I guess all of the negative comments on Tuschman’s blog about Debbie will die down now!

So just as we suspected here a few weeks ago, it’s Melissa vs. Jeffrey in the finale. It looks like they will tape their own pilot the way Aaron, Lisa and Adam did last season. You have to believe Melissa is the favorite, and what a story she would be…..a mom with no formal training in the kitchen lands her own show. Jeffrey’s story is a bit less intriguing, but he would make a fine host on the network too.

So who do you like? Post below, and we will see you next week!