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Salt Lake chef eliminated from 'Food Network Star'

Published: Tuesday, July 2 2013 4:55 p.m. MDT

Finalist Viet Pham cooking for the Mentor's Challenge "Mystery Bag" as seen on "Food Network Star," Season 9.

Eddy Chen, © 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Salt Lake restaurant owner Viet Pham says he participated on "Food Network Star" to conquer his nerves.

But his nerves got the best of him, said Pham, co-owner of Forage.

Pham’s pursuit ended Sunday evening when he was eliminated from the "Food Network Star" show, where a dozen chefs of varying backgrounds compete for their own Food Network show.

Sunday’s episode featured a Mentor Challenge of a short live TV shot making a grilled sausage and pepper sandwich with Terrence Jenkins, co-host of E! News, along with an unexpected curveball.

The Star Challenge was an assignment on the "July 4th Live" show patterned after the Food Network’s "Thanksgiving Live" show — where they are all cooking simultaneously for 45 minutes, the camera and host visit each station and they take questions from viewers and callers.

For Pham, his curveball on the Mentor Challenge was missing peppers and onions despite being there seconds earlier. And he looked for the peppers before bouncing back. Other contestants’ curveballs included the lights going out, missing tools, spilled ingredients, shorter time, Jenkins stepping away coughing and other items falling on the set.

Rodney Henry, a pie shop owner from Baltimore, won the Mentor Challenge and got to assign his fellow contestants to other cooking spots — including putting several in places where they weren’t in their forte.

Henry picked desserts for himself, sent barbecue restaurateur Chad Rosenthal to the vegetable station, and restaurateur Stacey Poon-Kinney out to the meat-grilling station. He assigned Nikki Dinki, a food blogger and radio host, to the fried-chicken spot — as she likes “meat on the side” and hadn’t made it before. Russell Jackson went to potato salad, cooking instructor Damaris Phillips went to drinks and chef and restaurateur Chris Hodgson went to coleslaw.

Pham was assigned to chips and dips.

Bob Tuschman, general manager for Food Network, joined two hosts/judges Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis as they watched what was being filmed.

Pham was burning a board for his Smoked Crab Dip when the camera and judge Alton Brown came by. But a caller about dips left Pham tongue-tied.

Pham said that he had been running back and forth to check on the crab when Brown brought up the caller’s question and caught him off-guard. Overall, he felt pretty confident about the show.

The judges said his Smoked Crab Dip was watery and Tuschman called it “a little underwhelming.”

The judges praised his charming smile, and Brown called him “impossible to not like.” They cautioned him about innovating too much and messing up a simple food along with freezing up in front of the camera.

“Once the camera is directly on me, something clicks off and I get all tongue-tied,” Pham said on the show.

Pham and Jackson were in the bottom two and the judges said it was close call.

“We love you. You’re warm and you’re a great cook. But, not everyone is cut out for this job,” Brown said as Pham was eliminated.

Pham said he has learned about his abilities and weaknesses on the show.

“You don’t get to become better if you don’t fail,” said Pham, who beat Flay in “Iron Chef America” and was the runner-up on “Extreme Chef.”

Pham said in a phone interview that of the three shows, “Food Network Star” was the hardest because it was about so much more than the cooking and included an element of on-camera presence.

“I had to reconfigure my whole train of thought,” said Pham. “I’ve always been that shy guy.”

And the show helped raise his confidence level, he added. It’s becoming more important for chefs to do more than cook as they could do 20 years ago, Pham said. “The industry is so dynamic. ... You have to be able to adapt.”

Pham also competed in the second episode of the new online "Star Salvation," against two other eliminated chefs — Connie “Lovely” Jackson, a California caterer, and Danushka Lysek, a private chef in New York City — for a shot to re-enter the competition, which was a complete surprise to Pham.

Robert Irvine, of “Restaurant: Impossible,” gave the trio a combination of sad ingredients, including burnt toast, soggy broccoli and carrots, dried-out pork chops and burnt nuts and they had 20 minutes to make a dish with those ingredients.

Pham made a Carrot and Ginger soup and Lysek made a Broccoli Soup with a Pork Pate, but neither was enough to beat Jackson’s Pork Croquette with Carrot Puree.

Pham will be opening a new restaurant in Park City this fall called Fire and Water.

"I just want focus on ingredient to bring out the deepest flavor in it,” Pham said of the new restaurant. Instead of a dozen different flavors on a plate, he’s planning to zero in on a few and enhance those.

Email: rappleye@deseretnews.com Twitter: CTRappleye

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