We thought 2011 was supposed to be the Year of the Korean. Or was that 2010? Who knows. In perpetually suburban TV Land, America's Next Great Restaurant, is frozen in an early 1990s time-warp.
On NBC's newest food reality show, which debuted last night, it's the year Where Any Genuinely Interesting Asian-Themed Restaurant Concept is Axed Before the Final 10. Why is ANGR stuck in era where Mexican food seems exotic? We have no idea, especially because one of the judges is Chipotle founder Steve Ells, who basically invented the fast-casual category and taught America not to fear the “chee-poat-lay.” Whatever the reason, ANGR seems dead-set on walking straight down the middle of the road, making for boring food and boring TV.
In this show, 10 finalists vie for the grand prize: A chance to open three fast-casual restaurants (one in Los Angeles, one in New York City and one in Minneapolis) backed by judges Bobby Flay, Curtis Stone (a bad boy
British Australian chef), Lorena Garcia (a Venezuelan-born Miami restaurateur) and Ells.
In case you were wondering how Los Angeles did, you can thank Joe Barker of Big Wangs for acting like an arrogant, racist douchebag.
[Our recap of the first episode after the jump.]
The Good: Because they're the people putting up some (all?) of the money for the winning restaurant concept, this is one of the few reality shows where the judges' interests are allied with those of the winners. As investors, they're unlikely to pick narcissistic nutjobs who make good television but bad food.
The Bad: The best part of any talent-based reality show (we're using talent in the loosest sense of the word) is the early rounds. That's when we're treated to a parade of earnest wackos and arrogant, would-be divas. Have the execs at NBC never watched American Idol? We want to see the William Hung of the restaurant world. We want to see the culinary equivalent of the Bladder Buddy, a garment bag you can “discreetly” pee in when you're on the go. Instead, the parade of has-beens and never-will-bes who populate these shows was relegated to the internet as ANGR skipped to the top 21 contestants.
Sure, we were treated to a few bad ideas. Aimee, a pet waste removal expert from Colorado, earned a scathing takedown from the judges for her Soupz concept. Scowling at the bowl of orange goo in front of him, Stone said, “When a soup looks this bad, it better taste good.” It didn't. Flay said it tasted like someone had “warmed up nacho chips and added water.” Apparently, she learned nothing from Party Down's disastrous Super Crackers franchise.
America's Next Great Restaurant may have also broadcast the first confirmed footage of a man selling his soul on national TV… scratch that. Selling one's soul is the bedrock of reality TV. We squirmed along with Sudhir when the judges grilled him about his vegetarian South Indian concept. He hemmed and hawed, but when it became clear an all-vegetarian men would get him axed, he folded like a bad soufflé and agreed to serve meat.
The Ugly: We understand that editing is everything in reality television, that participants are assigned roles (Nurturing Mom, Bitchy Diva, Macho Jerk) and that footage is cherry-picked to play up conflict, but still, Joe Barker of Big Wangs didn't need much help making himself look arrogant, deluded and racist — the trifecta of all truly great reality show contestants.
Big Wangs is already a successful mini-chain. We're not sure why Barker's on the show — and neither is he. When he's asked, he smugly says, “My idea is great, and it's already working, and hopefully I can make more money.” It's good to know he has some genuine passion behind his business plan. Strike one.
He assumes making it to the final 10 will be a piece of cake and makes sure to tell everyone. Then, he goes out of his way to disparage his competitors. Commenting on Jamawn's chicken-and-waffles concept, Barker says “He's doing wings. That's what they do, right?” They? Oh, right. Jamawn is black, and not only do all black people love fried chicken, it's all they can cook. Strike two. (Jamawn, by the way, is more gracious than we are. The worst he calls Barker is a jerk, which is the understatement of the year.)
The judges cringe at the nuclear red wings Barker serves them, and then they ask him how his wings, rotisserie chicken and sandwich concept is different from other wing concepts on the market, all he can really say is his wings taste good. No business plan. No marketing ideas. Basically just “Give me money.” The judges don't like his food or his attitude. Strike three and he's out.
Barker's response? “I should have said 'Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.'” We try to avoid schadenfreude, but we reveled in it when this Big Wang with an even bigger mouth and a smaller brain was kicked off the show.
Favorites: We're rooting for Jamawn's chicken and waffles concept and Sandy with her Limbo diner, where you can order a healthy or an indulgent version of every dish. We also like Joey's passion for his “Saucy Balls.” Ells is skeptical of Meltworks, a “grown up grilled cheese” restaurant, but we think it has potential. Greg and Krystal's Southern/BBQ concept, Hick's, seems hard to do well, but they have the marketing down cold.
Prediction: The next cut will either be Sudhir, especially if he insists on naming his restaurant The Tiffin Box (is he selling antiques instead of food?) or Alex Terranova, a restaurant manager from Marina del Rey, because he has a bad attitude and/or a fast-casual restaurant that serves 75 kinds of tacos is unmanageable.