During this week’s episode of “The Next Food Network Star,” we may have been tipped off about who would be eliminated this week before they were eliminated. But more on that later.

The Final Four made it to New York City, where they would be duking it out for real to see who would have their own show on Food Network. The finalists? Aarti, Aria, Tom and Herb. And this week they would be battling Iron Chef-style. Alton Brown was waiting for them, as well as Iron Chefs Bobby Flay, Cat Cora, Michael Symon and Masaharu Morimoto. They would be competing in groups of two, making three dishes each based on the secret ingredient. When they weren’t competing they would be floor commentators ala Kevin Brasch.

They also had sous chefs to work with them, in the form of former contestants Brad, Brianna, Paul and Serena. Since Tom won last week’s challenge, he was able to choose his sous chef first and he went with Brianna. The rest chose randomly, and Herb picked Paul; Aarti chose Brad; and Aria had Serena.

The first battle was Herb vs. Aarti and the secret ingredient was shrimp. Herb was flying around the kitchen and Aarti was not….she kept contemplating her menu while the clock (60 minutes) was ticking fast. The judges questioned if she was going to finish, and rightly so. But she did. Meanwhile, Tom was awesome on the floor, even impressing Alton with his food knowledge, while Aria was the opposite–clumsy and not food savvy enough for Brown.

Herb’s dishes went over fairly well–he made a “hangover” shrimp dish that his mom made when he was growing up; a seafood soup; and stuffed shrimp. But Aria’s dishes were better–gazpacho with coconut milk; roasted shrimp; and prawn masala. Bobby loved the last two dishes and Symon even commented that the masala was the single best dish he had tasted on the three seasons he’d been guest-judging this show. Wow. Aarti really delivered the goods under pressure.

Tom then faced off against Aria and their secret ingredient was bacon. Yum! But these two too the challenge in opposite directions. Aria played it too safe while Tom just went crazy with his creations.
Aria made French toast tacos with a “side” of bacon…really? She then made a cheddar omelet (with bacon); and a waldorf salad with bacon. The judges berated her for not using the secret ingredient or making it the centerpiece of the dishes. Meanwhile, Tom went nuts. He made “bacon cakes” that were like crab cakes; a bacon steak, something that’s probably never in the history of food been attempted; and French toast with bacon and (are you ready for this?) clams. I’m getting nauseous just writing this. The judges thought Tom’s ideas were great but that he didn’t think them through enough. Ya think? Susie Fogelson’s attempt at cutting the bacon steak sounded like a bed squeaking in the next room over. Seriously, it looked like as if it was like trying to cut a piece of rubber. Meanwhile, Herb was a decent floor commentator but froze when asked to do a quick camera teaser. Really, Herb, at this stage? But Aarti was worse….just feeling like she was completely lost on the floor and totally uncomfortable.

At the judge’s evaluation, a winner was declared for each round. Aarti beat Herb, based mostly on her food; and Tom beat Aria, based mainly on his commentary. So they would both be heading to next week’s finale.

Meanwhile, either Herb or Aria would be eliminated this week. Herb had great energy and the judges loved his food, but Aarti was so good this week that Herb had no chance of winning. Too bad he didn’t go up against Tom or Aria. But Aria, while her food tasted good according to the judges, didn’t incorporate the secret ingredient enough, and was a lame commentator. So it was an easy choice to send her home, despite all the promise she showed early on this season. It’s worth noting that they were showing promos for a show called “Family Style” during the show…..which was supposed to be the name of Aria’s show. D’oh! Way to give it away, Food Network. Also, way to steal Aria’s idea.

So now we’re down to Herb, Tom and Aarti……and next week is the grand season finale. Who do you like? I’m saying it’s Aarti leading the pack with Tom a very strong contender. But is Tom too aloof? And Herb shows flashes of brilliance but also flashes of utter failure on camera. I’m sticking with Aarti–she’s unique, interesting and apparently knows how to cook. But we’ll see how it shakes out next week.

Who do you like? Who don’t you like? See you guys next week!