Chef Rue Rusike, from Brooklyn via Zimbabwe, had been one of the most consistent contestants on this season of Food Network Star. She, by her own admission, never seemed to shine in any one competition, but she was also never in serious danger of dismissal. Rue did struggle with point of view, though; the lesson she’d most often been told to learn, as Bobby Flay put it in Week Two, was “Bring us into your home!”
Rue won praise from Bobby during the boys-versus-girls dinner a couple of weeks back, but, last week, during the judging of the Fourth of July challenge, the judges reminded her that she still had a lot to learn about presenting her culinary point of view. “You have an amazing opportunity, here,” said Bobby at the time. “We haven’t seen somebody who’s an authority on south African cuisine on Food [Network] Star ever. I don’t know a lot about it, and I want you to tell me.”
Still, it came as quite a shock when Rue was sent home at the end of last night’s episode of Food Network Star. Following a less-than-successful partnered challenge, she found herself eligible for dismissal along with Arnold, Dom, and Michelle. Rue actually won the preliminary heat; her advantage for the main challenge was the opportunity to swap out her judge-approved partner for another contestant of her choosing. Rue felt she and Arnold would make a good team–though Arnold himself admitted privately that he disagreed–and so Dom found himself with Michelle.
Unfortunately, that swap might have been the one move that spelled disaster for all four contestants. Dom and Michelle simply didn’t get along at all: the former was so passive about what to cook that he wound up taking over the whole dish, and the latter found herself so stymied by Dom’s unhelpful ways that she actually walked away from the competition venue for a moment while the judges and audience were eating.
And, while Rue and Arnold did show personal chemistry, it wasn’t reflected in their dish. Their south African and Thai-inspired surf-and-turf was both underseasoned and undercooked (guest judge Anne Burrell compared the pair’s vegetables to a crudité), and their presentation of the dish to the assembled guests once again failed to highlight any of its cultural influence.
Once again, Bobby had the last word: “[Rue] doesn’t give us what we want, which is to really define what she’s cooking and who she is.”
So Rue is gone. What did she have to say about her time on Food Network Star, and what did she take away from the show? In her official Food Network exit interview, Rue did acknowledge that her first reaction to the disappointing news was disbelief:
I literally went into shock, because I wasn’t expecting it. I know it sounds a little conceited, but it’s not. But I just was not expecting to go home. And the minute Bobby was like, “Sorry, Rue,” I was like, “What? You’re kidding me.”
Rue also added that she stood by her final dish, and disagreed with the judges’ contention that it was underseasoned: “Had they said to me it was overseasoned, I actually would have been like, you’re right. But in fact they said it was not seasoned—I used about 11 spices, so I stand by my dish.”
As for the point of view that the judges said she was never quite able to express, Rue said she felt that it might have “put her in a box,” and that, in her personal life, she cooks more dishes with French and Asian influences than she allowed for on the show. (It’s also worth pointing out that, in last night’s episode of Food Network Star, Rue also alluded to the difficulty of cooking some of the south African recipes she had in mind within the narrow time constraints of the challenges.)
When asked what she hoped fans would remember about her, Rue did end her interview on a positive note:
[Remember] that it’s OK to be different. I want fans to remember that they should have conviction for what they believe in, they should stand for what they believe in. I never used to have conviction within my Southern African culture, and I never used to highlight that that was a huge part of who I am. So I think people should take away from the show, about me, that it’s a good thing to embrace your culture and it’s a good thing to be exactly who you are and that people will love you anyway.
The next episode of Food Network Star will air this Sunday, July 12th, at 9 PM EST.
(Photo credits: Food Network Star; Rue Rusike via Twitter)