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March 21, 2011

America's Next Great Restaurant, Episode 2: The empress has a 100,000 wraps ... but no clothes

look!Here's Bob Swank's recap of Episode 2 of America’s Next Great Restaurant. I'm not watching the show but I am really enjoying these recaps -- Bob Swank should have the recap of last night's episode soon, and then we'll be all caught up. The dismissal catchphrase, Bob says, is super lame-o. How about you all submit your ideas here for a great "so long, suckers" catchphrase -- RG

Johnny Carson golfswing!


Are you a Shark or a Jet? In this episode of ANGR, the scrappy non-chef food conceptualists take their beef to streets. They’re packing (canned) heat and flashing blades. In the end ... somebody gets cut! Hang on to your wigs and keys, it’s getting real on America’s Next Adequate Restaurant.
In Episode One of ANGR Bobby Flay killed a guy just to watch him die and his fellow judge/faux-investors picked 10 teams from the 18 that had been selected from an “exhaustive” nationwide search. Remarkably, most of them were from Los Angeles and were dreadful. See my recap of Episode 1 for full details on the ten selected and the colorful losers.

Emulate and  listen to your overlords

The models for contestants to emulate are obviously the two name judges’ fast casual restaurants. Flay has Bobby’s Burger Palaces with five locations in the New Jersey area, mostly in malls (snicker). Yo, what exit?

Steve Ells owns Chipotle which has over a thousand locations. Listen to them, especially Ells. Flay’s burger joints are nothing special. They exist because his name recognition as an obnoxious boor has positive value for some in the Tri-State area. (See Jersey Shore, yo.) Meat puppet judges Lorena Garcia and dross-toff gel-coiffed fast-casual (fasual)-naif Aussie Curtis Stone are basically professional followers and blow-dried toadies. Learn from them, arrogant nobodies. Since NBC owns Telemundo and Bravo, I suspect they are grooming Garcia for something like El Numero Uno Chef. Eh, Padma can do it.
In this episode they field-test their concepts by making food for a thousand people at Universal Citywalk in Los Angeles, which looks like Harborplace with concrete instead of water. First they have to hire chefs and design logos for their ventures. When I heard they were branding today, I got excited, since the sauce-on-the-side woman probably should be branded. Nertz, not that kind of branding. Giddyup.

Hiring Your Chef from the Kiddie Pool of Talent

The 10 teams (all but one are individuals) interview 17 chefs. Ugh. Sudhir, who is making Southern Indian coastal cuisine adapted to American tastes is soooo screwed. Not one chef has any experience with Indian food. He goes with a Swedish-born chef. Well, that should mellow out your flavor profiles into nothingness. (With apologies to Marcus Samuelsson.)

All the chefs claim to be amazing at all things. Question: why don’t any of you have jobs?
Joey Saucy Balls asks chefs what their favorite movie is. Correct answer: Scarface. Incorrect answer: Beaches. When grilled on how one makes meatballs, one California dreamer includes carrots. Rejected with extreme prejudice. The California-ness of chefs and contestants is really annoying and shows how limp the California cuisine influence can be.
Contestants interview chefs and argue about over them. Zzzz....
Joey Saucy Balls and Greg/Krystal (Grystal) argue over Brandon the chef, and Grystal walks away with the faux-hawk dweeb even after  Joey makes his pitch as Al Pacino from Scarface. Go figure.
WNBA Fran makes her pitch to a chef that she can’t go wrong with her because she can literally make a different 100,000 wraps. Every chef’s dream. Taco Alex says, “They make wraps at Subway.” Ouch. Wraps + WNBA = Yawn.
All in all the contestants here behave like adults, which makes for bad reality TV since it’s realistic. I’ve been in few business meetings where people threw chairs. Except once and I swear I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to mix Thera-Flu and methadone.

Logo Design

The contestants get matched with marketing and graphics arts people to design logos and graphics based on the names that they created before the show.
The meltworks -- Grilled Cheese Guy brought his own logo, which is basically the “o” as a gear oozing something cheese-like. It works.
Chicken and Waffles guy’s place is called W3 – Woods, Wings, Waffles. He is a football player so everything has to be a football theme. And when he says he is a football player I assume he means he played football in high school. W3 is a terrible name. I have no idea what “Woods” stands for.
The Sports Wrap – Whatever You Create I create a beeline to a better place to eat. The logo of the wrap looks like a loose Band-Aid. This is a BAD concept and a terrible name. Whatever you create? No, YOU create something, I’ve been testing widgets all morning. Make me some damn lunch, woman!  WILMA!!!
A wrap is a sandwich that hates itself, a bad marriage between a self-loathing sandwich and burrito that has lost its identity. Why not skip the lame tortilla wrap and just use the Tracy Jordan Meat Machine where meat is the new bread. Healthy? Pfft! One tortilla used as a “wrap” has 210 calories and two slices of delicious rye bread has only 180 calories.
– Stir fried banality. Miss Sauce on the Side insists on black & white graphics. Doom, doom, doom. Maybe she had a Chinese orthodontist in high school in Scarsdale.  I just don’t see her connection to Asian food or even flavor. Maybe she put on an amateur production of the Mikado (Yes, I know it’s set in Japan.) at equestrian sleep-away camp that certain confusing summer. Seriously, she has a concept called Wok with no Asian ingredients, sauces, or spices. Why not just call it I Hate You Daddy Bistro?
Hicks is getting a bad logs-as-fonts logo that screams pit stop on the river in Deliverance. Squeal like a pulled pork slider (with a California twist). Ouch.
ComplEat – Terrible name for the calorie counting unfun place. Stephenie went to Harvard Law School out of guilt because she told people she was going before she was accepted. More self-hatred food. Why not just let your neurotic trust fund customers suck on a sponge that tastes like money. This woman doesn’t seem to like food or even life. She constantly checks a calorie counting book. Future mega-fail.
Hard & Soft Tacos – Loves the logo he made it’s very tattoo and very rock n’ roll. It speaks to L.A. Why did they pretend to look around the country for people? This whole show is saturated with shallow L.A. morons. the logo looks like a gay biker gang tattoo. The name has poorly considered sexual connotations.
Joey Saucy Balls wants to add a drawing of his grandma to his saucy balls logo. This guy has brass ones. Respeck.

Feeding the Beast

Watch the non-cooks try to shop for service for a thousand people at Restaurant Depot.
Grystle are making “signature” tater tots casserole. First, if you don’t have a restaurant, you don’t have a signature anything. Second, there is a point where comfort food is just garbage you eat when you are really drunk.
Grilled Cheese Guy’s sandwiches are too complicated. Six ingredients is not a grilled cheese, it’s a twee fancy-lad sandwich with cheese. It’s the shaved corgi of grilled cheese. Pet peeve: when people put cold things like arugula, lettuce and baby spinach on a hot sandwich. Stop it.
Chicken & Waffles Guy is making gumbo for his first culinary challenge. He is either very bold or out of his mind. People are confused why gumbo is all that W3 has. No wood, waffles or wings today. Change name already. People love the gumbo.
Customers at Citywalk vote on best concept by dropping tokens in their booth boxes. People unhappy that Woods, Wings & Waffles have none of those things.
In general, the food looks bad and the names and logos are bad and don’t match the bad food. Indian Guy has a bad Swedish chef but his flavors are consistently good.
Grilled Cheese Guy was the most popular concept at the event. Still seems lame to me. He’s really just doing square Quizno’s sandwiches. He’s taking something that exists in Catonsville already and probably in fifty other cities, that is almost infantile in its simple appeal and going all Rosina Gourmet with melted cheese. Bring it back to Earth, Chauncey.
I should mention that Grilled Cheese & Co. opened in Catonsville a year or so ago with the same basic concept. I see that they will be opening a second location in Eldersberg. Congratulations. You didn’t even need Bobby Flay to show you how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.

Judges Critiques

The contestants wait in a sterile place called the business center, which looks like an unused conference room for the Screen Door Convention at the Tulsa Convention Center. The judging takes place in a empty space in a huge room with a sign that says “Restaurant Row”. All I see is the lobby to nothing in particular.

1) SportsWrap Fran – Just drive a stake through the heart of this loser already. WMBA Wrappin’ Amazon has a sob story about how wraps are important to her, because her mother died of a massive heart attack. I can’t do that math. Frantastic Hoop Dreamer argues with all the judges’ opinions. Ells says the chicken was dry. She says it was fine for her. Some people like it dry. “Your opinion is wrong,” is not a smart response to your investors. The judges openly despise her now.
2) Hicks’ Greg/Krystel – Food was “gross” according to Crockpot Dundee. Ells described it as fatty, just fat, just disgusting. Grystel are clueless. Deep fried tater tot casserole? That’s Southern tapas?
3) Wok chick Marisa – didn’t serve stir fry. Served “dodgy rice”. Marisa says people are dying for non-Asian stir fry. Really? She and ComplEat’s  calorie-counting Stephenie sound like they are making nursing home food.

When All You Have Is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a A Nail

I was listening to the beautiful album by Magnetic Fields, The Charm of the Highway Strip when the song “Two Characters in Search of a Country Song” came up.  

That reminded me of a problem with restaurants and several of the contestants here. The problem is when a chef gets enamored of a technique or piece of technology and tries to shoehorn food into it. We have seen it in fine dining restaurants with sous vide and the dreaded foam monsters.
I’ve seen ads for the Vitamix blender that show that it is so powerful that the food in the blender heats to high temperatures. This side effect implies that hot liquefied solids become soup. Pass. Sadly, an early discard from Episode 1 decided that this was her concept for food.
Another doomed contestant is Wok Girl. She has it in her head that you can make healthy food in a wok. The problem is that she removed the wok from the context of places that use it for cooking. So she has no skill with it or idea of food with flavor. Her food sounds like Lean Cuisine minus any flavor. Wok and ComplEat are culinary hair shirts.
So far, I see too much gimmick and technology masquerading as “concept”.  

Yes, I Can! No, You Can’t

There is a fine line between enthusiasm and delusion. Wrappin’ Franny hangs onto her invisible unknown WNBA stardom as proof that people want to make their own wraps. Chipotle may sell $1.5 billion in wraps a year, but they are an established brand. I wonder what constitutes a “wrap” there. Anything with a tortilla? So is a burrito a wrap? I think Fran is stretching the truth to suit her delusion.
D’oh! Tricked by the idiot box. A quick look at Chipotle’s menu shows that there are no wraps. Delusional Fran just renamed burritos (and maybe soft tacos) wraps. Chipotle may have lame gringo food posing as Mexican, but they are not stupid enough to call them “wraps”.

Fran is obsessed with wraps because her mother died of a massive heart attack. Therefore, wraps are healthy. Tap the breaks on that one, Stretch. A plain wheat tortilla used for a wrap has 210 calories. One slice of Wonderbread has 70 calories. So your “healthy” wrap has the same processed white flour goodness of three slices of Wonderbread smooshed together.
Fran circles the drain flailing with blind enthusiasm and a weird speech about not being no scrub as they flush her with impunity: “I am a star!” Blind enthusiasm flips over into delusion. Take your hundred thousand possible sadwiches and dribble on home. Since you are locked into a basketball mental framework, let me explain it this way, Fran: The Washington Generals think they can beat the Harlem Globetrotters before every game, but I wouldn’t bet on them.

The lamest dramatic aspect is the catchphrase with which they crush their dreams: “I’m sorry, Chauncey, but we will not be investing in your restaurant.” Weak sauce. Anybody have a better catchphrase? I like, “Pull yourself up by your collar and take out the trash.” Too harsh? 

The Future

So far the judges haven’t messed with the contestants’ concepts, logos, or names. They gave them some nudging, but mostly gave them enough rope. In the coming weeks things should get interesting, because they will be actively changing the fundamental aspects of the proposed businesses, since they have an interest in all of them doing well. This wasn’t a great episode. It was a building episode.
Joey, you are a delightful East Coast ethnic caricature, but your Grandma’s Saucy Balls does not a business make. Think outside the, er, saucy ball box.
As Picasso said, “Creation is destruction.” In coming weeks I’m looking for some brutal some brutal destruction of the more banal and misguided aspects of some of these ventures.





Posted by Richard Gorelick at 2:40 PM | | Comments (4)


Grystle's signature tatertot casserole? Really??? Maybe next episode they'll make weanie-beanie casserole. . . . And maybe they'll WRAP IT UP for some of these jokers.

Grystle's signature tatertot casserole? Really??? Maybe next episode they'll make weanie-beanie casserole. . . . And maybe they'll WRAP IT UP for some of these jokers. Maybe Marisa should just WOK AWAY. Maybe Chicken and Waffle Guy should just IHOP AWAY.

If Taco Alex thinks the judges just aren't cool enough to "get" his logo, I wonder how he thinks the unwashed masses will figure it out.

Quoting Picasso? This is a writer in search of a better topic. Wickedly funny though. Can't wait for future skewering. Nice to see someone not take this reality show nonsense too seriously. SaucyBalls? Is that for real?

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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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