America's Next Great Restaurant: The lost recaps, Episode 9

Bob Swank's lost recaps of America's Next Great Restaurant are a bonus feature on Dining@Large. Enjoy.   RG

Previous episode recaps are available here.
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Episode 9 – ANGR Management

In the previous episode unicorn-and-rainbow-loving neurotic lawyer Stephenie was sent packing after giving the judges a lecture on how lamb was not sustainable or ethical or something that she invented on the spot. Not knowing the difference between lamb and veal is beyond lame.
Now it is down to Sudhir’s Indian lite version of Chipotle, Jamawn with his “healthy” fake soul food, and Joey “Saucy Balls” with the less gonad-y Brooklyn Meatball Co.

This Week’s Challenge

The final three abandon their tiny food court kiosks and get separate restaurants spaces. Then they shoot a Benetton ad. Yeah, they’re movin’ on up ... to a deluxe restaurant in the sky.
This looks like the restaurant wars episodes of Top Chef. Minus good food.
They shop for equipment and fixtures. They also get a chance to redesign their logos. The studio restaurants look about the same size as the eventual winner’s restaurant. Very impressive, but small.
The judges don their chef jackets and “mentor” them in the kitchen. I think this was to remind us that these listless cranky gastro-knobs actually know how to cook.
Everybody’s family surprises them for the “soft opening”. Another fake surprise Top Chef trick. Jamawn and Joey are very emotional and Sudhir is restrained and polite. Sometimes I think this is more of a popularity contest than anything. Sudhir hasn’t cried yet. I think this kills his chances. You know, The Passion thing. I just realized that the nerdiest contestant is most strongly supported by King Nerd Steve Ells. It’s a true bromance.
The three restaurants open and people stream in. They all look like beautiful finished places, in a fast casual sort of way.
Spice Coast’s menu looks Mexican now with quesadillas, carnitas, and tacos. It’s weird that to make Indian food more accessible he uses Mexican names and constructions.
Joey’s order-taker is messing up the orders. Service is a disaster. Then the air conditioning blows the order slips off the counter. LMAO. As in every episode, Lorena babbles on about The Passion. The judges like the food though. People love this guy, but they also think he’s kind of a no-class joke.
My problem with this concept is how good can a ball of meat be? The best meatball ever is still not going to make it onto my list of a hundred things I want to eat. Ditto with a crab cake, a.k.a. meatball of the sea. Or meat loaf.
Judges like the Soul Daddy food. Oh great, now the chef there is crying about Jamawn’s Powerful Stories of Overcoming Adversity. I think the editing is foreshadowing a lot here.  


The Reckoning

Judges agree that Sudhir went too far in Mexicanizing with menu. Ells has been a very strong supporter of SpiceCoast for several weeks now.
The judges and customers loved Joey’s saucy balls. There is a consensus that Joey lacks common sense and can’t think on his feet.
Judges are not digging Jamawn’s choice of purple as the main color of his restaurant. He chose purple because purple and black are his wedding colors. I have no idea what that means.
There seems to be no consensus, as always in this type of show ... build the fake drama. Lorena is nauseous and nauseating.
Steve Ells, the Elf Lord Che Guevara, is talking about starting a food revolution, while arguing for SpiceCoast with what looks like real human emotion.  
What is this nerdling now, Sly Stone? Everyday revolution for everyday people?

There’s a food riot goin’ on now, Steve. You can be the leader of bringing bland inauthentic food to the masses. Just. Like. Chipotle. ¡Olé, brotha man!
Flay is yammering on about how they are the investors and it’s their money they are risking. Does anyone believe these four are really using their own money? I don’t.
What is the start-up cost for three food court-sized “restaurants” in some LA mall, Minneapolis’s Mall of America, and New York’s lamer Harborplace, South Street Seaport. Let’s see, split that six ways between NBC/Universal, a bank, a billionaire, a millionaire, and two heavily accented thousandaires.
And the winner is ... Soul Daddy.
I don’t see it. I don’t see Soul Daddy opening a store in North Platte, Nebraska anytime soon. Healthy soul food seems like an oxymoron. Give me something real. Stop dumbing down my food.
Ten months later Flay shows Majawn his new restaurant in Los Angeles. I wonder if Majawn has any actual stake in the company? Probably not. It has those annoying long communal tables.  I don’t want to sit elbow to elbow with a stranger gnawing on ribs.
You can check out Soul Daddy’s web site here.

I don’t like the Web site design at all. It’s not welcoming and it assumes that you were deeply moved by Jamawn’s continuing Tales of Overcoming Adversity and Hardship in Motown. And Hardship. And Adversity. And oh my god, just gimme my damn pulled pork sandwich and stop crying! Tears are a terrible recipe ingredient.
The menu itself doesn’t excite me. Then again, chain restaurants, especially “fast casual”, don’t ever excite me. America seems to have boundless enthusiasm for bad chain food, so who knows? I would love to see one of these low expectation Meccas just be called “Meh”.
The menu is soooo small and so carb heavy. How are all these carby sides and ribs and pulled pork healthy? Just serve good food and I will eat it or not. Do I have bring up Tofurkey?


Post Mortem

Edward Said described colonialism as cultural rape, referring to the British Empire especially. There is something about appropriating genuine cuisine and turning it into something boring and fake that is mass marketed to suburban drones that ties into that line of thinking. Am I saying that Steve Ells and the rest of the gang are cultural rapists? (Consults lawyers.) No! Certainly not. But ...
I liked a lot of things about this show, but in the end I started hating what it stands for. What does it stand for? It stands for a kind of cultural rape and imperialism through selling the same thing to everyone in the country. When I go up York Road to or from my girlfriend’s house, it looks like every suburban area in the country. It is very depressing.
The problem with this concept is that you can’t win with a great restaurant. You can only win if your “fast casual” restaurant can be replicated identically five hundred times over in anonymous strip malls around the country. Welcome to The Borg, we already know what you want.
Meanwhile, the face that launched a thousand quips, Curtis Stone, chiseled yet pointless, is the new spokesman for Great Grains breakfast cereal, where size matters (with regard to oats at least).

Steve Ells sold his interest in Soul Daddy to Chipotle Inc. for the same price he “paid” for it. Very shifty. They have some management control over the nascent chain. Chipotle also owns all the copyrights for the failed concepts, so don’t even think about starting your own Saucy Balls or Chipotle’s lawyers will be on you like a storm of Sunday sauce (still no idea what that is).

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