This week during “The Next Food Network Star,” mentor Giada Di Laurentiis announced that the finalists who made it past this week were going to New York City to finish the competition. So much for having this season in a different city, huh? They must have realized they had way more resources in New York to draw from.

Anyway, this episode began with Giada asking the chefs to make their signature dishes and to present them on camera in a one-minute presentation. Sounds too easy for this point in the competition, doesn’t it? Well it was….Giada showed up 10 minutes in and threw them a curve…they would have to add in their least favorite ingredient, and to present them with that ingredient were their family members. Pretty emotional stuff! Aria’s was anchovies, Tom’s white pepper (really?), Aarti’s was okra, Brad’s was ranch dressing and Herb’s canned peas.

The two favorite dishes were Tom (salmon with cous cous cake) and Aria (mashed potato pizza with anchovies). And the winner was Aria, who suddenly felt like she was back in the game. But we’ve seen chefs win the initial challenges before only to fall flat later on and go home.

For the “star challenge,” the contestants were first told they would be competing for a spot in the final four and that they’d be going to New York City. They then were asked to create a dish at the restaurant owned by celebrity chef Todd English and actress Eva Longoria. They would pick from five different emotions randomly–joy, jealousy, melancholy, fear and surprise. Aria picked melancholy but was told she could swap out hers for another if she wished because she won the initial challenge. She swapped with Herb, who had chosen joy.

Aria made a beef tenderloin with potato gratin, signifying her joy of cooking for her young son and his dad, who she had reunited with recently.

Brad made a surf and turf but dubbed it “land and sea” as his surprise. BO-RING!

Herb had melancholy and made short ribs and scallops with mofongo, a plantain dish popular in his native Cuba.

Aarti’s was fear and she made a lamb pulao, something her mom taught her to make but that she was not good at making.

Finally, Tom had jealousy and made tuna two ways.

Brad went first and forgot to say what his emotion was, and his dish fell a bit short. And he just didn’t quite hit it out of the park. Tom’s presentation was phenomenal, as he had fun with describing the jealousy between his two tuna dishes, and then also delivering with the food.

Aria failed with her potatoes, which she didn’t taste and which were still “crunchy,” not a good description for a gratin. How many times have we seen that happen on this show? Kelsey Nixon comes immediately to mind. Her presentation was okay but not stellar…and she also forgot to mention that she had joy as the emotion.

Herb had a difficult one in melancholy and I’m not quite sure what the connection was, but he did nicely on camera and his food was loved by the judges. And when Bobby Flay raves about your dish, you’re not going home. Does anyone get the feeling Flay is like the Godfather?
Aarti made that lamb dish and it fell flat, and so did her presentation, as her fear literally reared its ugly head again. Susie even told Aarti she might wind up being “high maintenance” as a food network star…yikes!

Anyway, the top two were Tom and Herb, and Tom won, hands down. So those two guys were on their way to New York City. It would be down to Aria, Aarti and Brad. Aarti was safe. Down to Brad and Aria. I thought it would be Aria, but she was declared safe by Bob Tuschman. Brad was going home. Boring Brad, who oozed personality off camera but not on. I thought about this for a second….and I just don’t think I would have watched his show. Would you?

So your final four–Aria, Aarti, Herb and Tom. Tom is really starting to emerge as the front runner, incredibly enough. But really…this guy could be a Guy Fieri type…he’s hilarious, easy to watch and seems to have the cooking chops to back it all up. It’s going to be his competition to lose in New York.

So that’s it folks…..this season is winding down fast. Thanks for reading and see you all next week!