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March 20, 2011

America's Next Great Restaurant -- catching up with an Episode 1 recap

episode 1I really wish I was watching America's Next Great Restaurant. It sounds like a fun show. I asked for a volunteer to write recaps for Dining@Large, and Bob Swank stepped up.

Thanks, Bob Swank!!

Bob'll start writing day-after recaps beginning tomorrow. Episode 3 airs tonight at 8 p.m, so if you want to start watching tonight, here's the recap of Episode 1, which establishes the premise and the players. An episode 2 recap will appear anon.

Johny Carson golfswing!

Bobby Flay, mumble-mouth auteur of roasted corn and cutting board romper-stomper shame-magnet from Iron Chef, hosts the new “reality” show America’s Next Great Restaurant (or as I will call it ANGR). 
I generally hate reality shows, because there is nothing real about them and I feel stupider after watching them. Top Chef is an exception, because talented people make things of value and I learn a lot. ANGR looks like it might have some virtuous combination of entertainment and business value.
The idea is to select ten people who have promising ideas for a new restaurant (chain) and have them compete in serious and probably stupid contests, eliminating one every week. The last concept standing gets three restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis(waaa?)  bankrolled by Bobby Flay, Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle, and two other “investors”. (I don’t believe this investor twist for one minute.)
Another “investor”-judge is Lorena Garcia, a D-list chef and Telemundo Rachael Ray/Charo-lite wannabe. The final judge-dream weaver is Australian haircut-looking-for-a-TV-gig and former Pierre Marco White toque duster, Curtis Stone. His chef credentials seem as thin as Garcia’s and both appear to fill some cynical demographic niches.
Steve Ells looks suspiciously like Stephen Hawking’s cousin. Flay asserts his usual obnoxious confidence and speech impediment/Brooklyn accent. The other two video meat puppets nod and sit up straight, eat tacos with upside down forks.
At the start of Episode 1 Flay introduces us to his models of greatness past: KFC, Subway, and Chipotle. So “great” refers to the business model, not the food. They call it fast casual.
Twenty people appear on stage after their “exhaustive” nationwide search (by bus). They go into the kitchen and make something for their pitch. Like every reality show, it is clear that some people are here to be comedic and dramatic clichés. There seem to be 18 actual teams (16 individuals and two pairs).

I present them in order of appearance.

* = In top ten
- = Booted off

*1) Fran – Personal trainer/Ex-WNBA player. The sports wrap: A healthy wrap that customers build on their own. Alley-oops, 1996 just stole your idea.
There will be canned applause when ordering, high-fiving and sports things on walls. You get a fitness tip in your sandwich, I mean wrap, like a judgmental fortune cookie. (“Put down that wrap, fattie!”) Aussie haircut: “Isn’t this a bit toyered?” She disagrees; Chipotle sold $1.5 billion in wraps last year. Wraps may be all the rage from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah. I am distracted by what looks like my girlfriend’s purple satin bath robe she is wearing over a black dress, looking like a young black Maude. (Aussie for "tired" - RG)
*2) Joey – Bona fide Jersey/Brooklyn meathead archetype seen in every WWII movie. Concept: meatballs. Name: Saucy Balls. (now say it like you’re from Jersey: sawwwcy bawls). Made Grandma’s (saucy) balls with a side of rigawt, I mean ricotta cheese. Many ball jokes ensue. (There was also a concept inspired by Hooters that didn’t make the cut called Peckers, with a rooster theme.)
- 3) Sarah – Private chef to “A-list” LA celebs. What’s Good – Organic and Healthy Café. 6 page, 100 item menu. Signature dish: mac n’ cheese that uses fruit and vegetable purees to increase nutritional value. Yuk. Precious overload: IT’S A CUPCAKE! Judges are mean: Tastes like the paper bag. Sarah, you’ve been Flayed! Guess you’ll be making Hot Pockets for Steve Guttenberg for a while longer. Congrats on creating the rare double shark jump on cupcakes and mac n’ cheese. Give her a Ted McGinley t-shirt and bus fare home.
*4) Sudhir – Software sales. The Tiffin Box: Southern Indian cuisine. Goal: “Indian Chipotle”. Make Indian flavors more accessible to American palates by making it lighter and healthier. Genius. Judges love the food. Leaning heavily toward being 100% vegetarian. Oh, Sudhir, you’re breaking my heart. You just lost 90 percent of your market and my love.
*5) Sandy –  Bartender, Hair Cuttery frosted-tips enthusiast. Limbo: Where healthy and devilish foods collide. Serving pulled pork (Hell) and pulled bison (Heaven). Hell, please! Judges love concept.
*6) Jamawn – Un/self-employed cook in Detroit. Chicken wings and waffles. Hard-working black father of five with tons of spirit. Haircut is baffled by combination of waffles and chicken wings, as am I. Food is okay, but they love his tale of woe and persistence. It’s a Cinderfella story.
-7) Jason – Bully’s Burgers & Wings. Has “secret sauce” – it’s all-purpose! Like ketchup! Serves wings. I want to smack the tenebre out of Charo’s ham hand as she eats chicken wings with a knife and upside down fork again.
-8) Joe – Owns LA restaurants called “Big Wangs”. Wings + sports bar = Big Wangs. Obnoxious stereotype. Points out that the black guy is making wings too, because “that’s what they do.” Wang wing envy? L'il Wangs is fast casual version. See any problems with the name? Me neither. Joe, you’ve been out-wanged.
-9) Aimee – Kristin Chenoweth doppelganger. Runs a pet waste removal business called ... wait for it ... wait for it ... The Poo Crew. “My restaurant’s name is SoupZ and the inspiration probably comes from ... soups.” All natural, made to order ... in a VitaMix blender. “SoupZ ... for when chewing is too much trouble.” Reminds me of the SNL sketch Bass-O-Matic. Her spicy vegetable mix soup looks like C.H.U.D. waste. Flay: “Tastes like if you took nacho cheese chips and pureed it with some water.” Judges spit into napkins, make ugly faces. Back to the Poo Crew, Pikachu.
*10) Stephenie – Attorney. Asian-American addition to this rainbow of blah. Compleat: Fixed calorie healthy fast food. So ... Weight Watchers? An entrée, side and dessert for a fixed amount of calories.
*11) Alex – Hard n’ Soft Taco Bar: Fusion tacos. “Whatever you’re making, I could make it a taco.” Example: Chicken parmesan taco. Entrant #9, clean up on aisle 3! La fusión salta el tiburón.

*12) Marisa – Wok: Stir Fry for the Healthy Heart. Came to her in a dream. Made to order pick your own ingredients from seven columns. Does Batman have to go through all this rigmarole? No! Alfred just makes him something. Pre-cooked cooked to order. Sauce on the side. BURN HER, SHE’S A WITCH!
*13) Eric – MeltWorks: Grown-up grilled cheese sandwiches. Serves a BBQ chicken grilled cheese. The menu is the dreaded multi-column build-your-own deal. It’s been his vision for three years. As MLK said, “I have a dream. I have a dream of melted Asiago on a fresh ciabatta with thick slices of honey-baked ham.”
-14) Brianne – “Educator”/possible acid casualty. Inflates something that looks like a birthing structure for giant cartoon clowns. Café Creativi – Interactive Café for Kids. Left brain menu and right brain menu. Clown birthing bladder has nothing to do with restaurant.
-15) Sina – Persian cuisine (shh, that means Iranian.) Serves six-story kabob meat slider. Sina is the business name. Bad news if they don’t even give Captain Kabob’s name.
-16) Nam Nam – The first mainstream Vietnamese fast casual restaurant. You’ve got my attention unnamed (and doomed) hipster Vietnamese dudes. Namsters start talking about waiters. Steve Ells says, “I wasn’t aware that fast casual had waiters.” Buh bye pho now.
-17) Pot BellyPot pies. Tell me more, angry sexy librarian. “We have a chicken pot pie, but why not have a cheeseburger pot pie or a Philly cheesesteak?” Because the ovens are too hot in the bowels of Hell where I just banished you. Judges agree.
*18) Krystal/Greg – Bartenders. Hicks: Classic American small bites and BBQ (LA hipster version). Southern comfort food tapas. “Never been done before.” I disagree. Celebrating the American redneck. With tapas? Served tiny banana cream pies. Judges like. Charo thinks it might be offensive. Yes, tiny portions of BBQ would be offensive to rednecks.

Summary of remaining concepts:

1) WBNA wraps
2) Saucy Balls
3) Indian light & healthier
4) Limbo – decadent or healthy
5) Chicken and waffles
6) Healthy fixed calorie food
7) Everything is a taco
8) Healthy design your own wok meals
9) Grown-up grilled cheese
10) Redneck tapas
I think the Indian Chipotle concept is great if executed properly. The Saucy Balls guy is a force of nature. The taco concept is a novelty that could work. Redneck tapas could work – lowbrow small plates. Limbo could work, because you may have the intention of eating the healthy options, but switch over once you get there and pass out in a platter of ribs.
WNBA wraps? Nope. All this make-your-own healthy stuff? No thanks.
I think the chicken and waffles guy is a sympathy choice put in there for dramatic purposes.
Because this is airing on NBC and not Fox, it is less exploitive and has much less timing wasting “coming up next”, “what you just saw”, and idiotic exaggerated pauses.
While I have never been a fan of Bobby Flay, he is not Gordon Ramsay and that is a beautiful thing. The show connects with the real world of restaurant creation and management, which is an interesting world, so I will be blogging recaps for the rest of season.  

Posted by Richard Gorelick at 6:30 PM | | Comments (20)


First of all, bravo on the write-up. Too funny. Then again with material like saucy balls, big wangs and the WNBA, the column can almost write itself.

Second, does slamming Flay ever get old? Ummm No. My favorite question, which by the way I didn't ask, at last night's Alton Brown event was: "Bobby Flay seems like kind of a jerk. Is this true?"

i second that, excellent write up, you should work for the Sun... or do you?

I used to work for the Sun, but then they fired me when I turned thirty and my son took over my paper route.

Forget ALL of those concepts. I have the winning concept right here: a late-night drive through named "Munchies". I wouldn't even have to meet with the investors to explain the concept or marketing.

Now, as to a non-food reality show, I have the best idea for that, too: "America's Next Catchphrase". Nobody would care about the catchphrase, though it would be water cooler talk. It would be all in the odd personalities you'd get to compete and make 'em work in teams.

Great re-cap. I missed the first two eps so I'm glad I had a chance to read it. Just finished watching the third ep now. Very interesting show.

The only reality shows I like are the fake ones on 30 Rock: MILF Island, Are You Stronger Than a Dog?, Bitch Hunter, America's Next Top Black Guy, Gold Case, etc.

Chipotle is a really good fast casual restaurant that uses freshly prepared, high quality ingredients. I don't think it should be considered in the same category as KFC and Subway, where the bottom line seems to be the only consideration.

I have been to the original KFC in Corbin, KY. Harlan Sanders was an admirable guy! I have a cookbook of his original recipes for the motor court cafe (not THE original recipe). I wish KFC would have taken his whole concept! He has terrific Southern salad dressing recipes, a luscious tomato soup recipe, one for huckleberry pie, etc.

I do remember the fried chicken at the Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken of my youth was a lot tastier than the stuff they sell now at KFC. I guess the recipe or cooking processes have changed.

never been to chipotle. as a tucson native, I would probably yell a lot.

What I miss most of KFC is the peanut shaped balloon with the Colonel's head on top and body on bottom, that you knotted and slipped into cardboard feet and hopped it around.

Hahaha! At this point, I would vote for Saucy Balls. Will they have an Early Bird Special called "Afternoon Delight"?

I can't believe that these people are the best out there. NONE of them will have a successful national chain!!!!!

I can't believe that these people are the best out there. NONE of them will have a successful national chain!!!!!

They all seem quite lame and certainly not ready to open one, let alone three restaurants. That's why I think the investor gimmick is a fraud.

I'm sure a sponsor or the network is putting up the money and a small amount is allocated to Flay, Ells, and the the two meat puppets to "invest". Flay and Ells are successful businessmen. They wouldn't commit to back these untested hambones. It might be the case that the contestant doesn't own anything and the network and its on-camera minions control the whole enterprises.

Eh, who cares, it's good TV. After the first ep they really seem to get into some serious business issues like naming, branding, etc.

I liked the show that NBC did about 5-6 years ago called The Restaurant, I think. It followed a hot young chef (Rocco DiSpirito(?) from designing the restaurant to running it ... into the ground. While Rocco was busy signing books, he let the place rot and eventually got kicked out of his eponymous bistro by his Attila the Hun backer.

I'm not sure who that guy was, but I think Bourdain refers to him in at least one of his books with so much fear that he won't say his name. I think (don't sue me) it's a guy named something like Jeffrey Choudry.(?) He's legendary for his brutal business methods.

What's the deal with opening three restaurants in NY, LA & Minneapolis? Minneapolis?

Why do so many America TV shows have marginal characters and fake celebs from England and Australia? I think it's so that they can sell the show to those countries.

More recaps tomorrow. Thank you for reading folks

Yes, the fake celebs are no doubt to sell the show to the UK and probably all over the world.

Watch... whoever the winner is, their concept will be "fine-tuned" to be Bobby Flay's hamburger joints.

The fake celebs may sell the show overseas, but they may also be useful in convincing Americans that a name never heard of here might possibly be famous in another country. Even if it's not.

In all fairness, it doesn't take much more than a well-trained monkey to be qualified to judge this lowbrow food. I like that they took the foods and concepts to a street fair in episode two (coming up momentarily), where average people give honest opinions. After all, this is food for the masses.

It would be funny to have some really high fallutin' food snobs review Joey's Saucy Balls (sorry, it cracks me up every time). I would love to see Eric Ripert, Thomas Keller and Gael Greene critique the cheeseburger potpie from episode one. Or have about a very very drunk Mario Batalli review everything. Now that would be TV!

I had no interest in the show till this funny post. Can't wait to see it now and judge the characters with Mr. swank! Fun!

I now have seen a few episodes of this show. I have to tell you, I am having a hard time liking any of the contestants on this show! Some have the personality of a wood wall and some are so arrogant I don't know what to say! I can't pick out a favorite at all. My husband and I watch food shows all the time together and I told him I'm not even going to subject him to this one. I'll keep watching as now I a few hours already invested in it... or ... maybe not.

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About this blog

You are reading the archives. For updated blog posts about the Maryland food scene, see Richard Gorelick's new Baltimore Diner blog.
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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