Rusty Hamlin (Zac Brown Band, Atkins Park) in ‘Food Network Star’ finals

This was posted on Monday, August 7, 2017 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

For the second year in a row, it’s an all Southern finale on “Food Network Star.”

Atlanta’s Rusty Hamlin, known for his work at Atkins Park and with the Zac Brown Band, will be facing off against charismatic Kentucky cafeteria manager Jason Smith and Louisiana chef Cory Bahr next Sunday in the season 13 finale.

Last year, two Atlantans were finalists: Tregaye Fraser and Jernard Wells with Tregaye taking the prize.

Smith, who has never met a Southern aphorism he didn’t like (e.g. “Well, butter by butt and call me a biscuit!” upon meeting Guy Fieri), is a favorite to win simply because he’s been far more consistent in his presentation and his food. Bahr, who came back to the competition through “Star Salvation,” had trouble throughout the season providing a winning on-air personality but survived thanks to his great cooking.

Hamlin has great energy and a big personality but over the season, he has lost his train of thought in tapings and live shows.

While shooting his pilot, he noted: “It’s overwhelming. When I’m nervous I get jumbled up and have trouble deciding what comes out of my mouth.”

Indeed, while he was taping his pilot visiting a restaurateur, he kept on stumbling over his words. Fieri, as a coach, had Zac Brown call in and give him a pep talk. “I will definitely churn the mustard,” Hamlin told Brown. He instantly did better and Fieri’s advice ultimately helped him. “You improved dramatically,” Fieri told Hamlin.

By this moment, Matthew Grunwald, an earnest young gun who had already been on the show season 11, just missed the final three. He cried. His youth hurt him when he failed to tell a personal story about a signature dish and that cost him.

The finished pilots will be aired next week and a winner will be chosen.

TV PREVIEW

“Food Network Star,” 9 p.m. Sundays, Food Network

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