America’s Next Great Restaurant Recap: David Rees Has a Cold

Lemme just check the recipe I wrote on my hand ...
Lemme just check the recipe I wrote on my hand … Photo: Trae Patton/NBC

Ladies and gentlemen, this evening finds your correspondent despondent: I have come down with a massive head cold. This means I wasn’t able to try out all my exciting Kale City recipes in solidarity with the ANGR contestants. Don’t worry, though — I fully intend to try out my signature dishes on friends later this season.

We are told that in the restaurant business, color scheme and environment are important. To that end, a real-life graphic designer (!) will work with our contestants to design a “restaurant pod” that reflects their concept. (A “pod” is like a food stand, I think.)

Alex (Revolution Tacos) announces: “My whole concept is about being cool, rock and roll, and being sexy.” Has he been stealing lines from my diary again?! His aesthetic is “rock-and-roll luxury gothic,” which makes sense when you don’t think about it.

Greg and Krystal (Grill’Billies) want to “play with the idea of the American redneck” in their menu design, and sure enough, the graphic designer makes a mullet joke. I blow my nose in protest — the handkerchief feels five pounds heavier by the time I’m done.

Eric (Meltworks) has already hired architects to design his interior. (Remember, he’s been working on his idea for like twenty years, laboring under cover of night.) Joey (Saucy Balls) wants exposed brick, which is a hot look. Stephenie, shaken from last week’s drubbing, has overhauled her concept. “Compleat” is now called “Harvest Sol” (with a pretentious bar over the “o”); it will feature Mediterranean flavors, North African spices, and all the great calories you’ve come to count on.

The gang buys fixtures and furniture while I sneeze and cough like a dying horse.

Earlier in the week I made a mung-bean-and-kale soup that was nutritious and delicious. I wonder if I should add it to the Kale City menu?

We’re knee-deep in the construction of restaurant pods. We hear the merry song of hammers and drills, hard at work. Sandy (Saints and Sinners) is amazed at how funky the carpenters look; she mentions one carpenter who “looks like Lyle Lovett,” and we cut to a carpenter who looks like Chris Isaac, wearing a three-piece suit (?) — he must be the guy she’s talking about.

Don’t you love it on reality shows when some incidental person shows up wearing some insane outfit and it’s almost like they’re having their own tiny reality show inside the main reality show? That’s what this carpenter is doing, rocking his suit and his razor-sharp sideburns and his immutable pompadour. Who is this mystery man? What’s the name of his rockabilly band? We will never know.

Joey articulates his goal: “I need to do my best to help the investors understand what my restaurant looks like.” Sometimes Joey displays a clarity of intention that I find oddly inspirational.

Suddenly we’re back in the kitchen as the contestants work with their chefs to develop a tasting menu for their pod’s debut. We’re treated to some lingering shots of Anolon cookie sheets. My, but they look beautiful. Ladies and gentlemen, Anolon has truly raised the bar on cookie sheets. Forget everything you ever thought about cookie sheets, because Anolon has changed the cookie-sheet game forever. Anolon: For the demon inside you. (Free motto I just developed for Anolon.)

Joey surveys the meatballs he’s arranged on his Anolon cookie sheets and literally says: “Every ball that you’re looking at is my heart, my soul, and my love.” Joey has an intense relationship to his meatballs, which I guess is because they remind him of his grandmother. Still, I don’t think I’d be comfortable eating the food of a chef who’s so emotionally invested in it. My dream chef would say, “Yeah, it’s rice and beans. Take it or leave it, I don’t really give a fuck.”

Sudhir (Spice Coast, formerly Tiffin Box) rocks a Cuisinart (a big French blender) and uses the word “distraught,” which further endears him to me. Is there anything this man can’t do? Could he cure my head cold by simply laying his hands on my forehead? My favorite movie of all time is Pather Panchali by the great Indian director Satyajit Ray; I wonder if Sudhir likes that movie? I shall send him a secret message using my inflamed sinuses.

Bobby Flay wants to see sauces at Meltworks. But Eric doesn’t want to defile his precious grilled-cheese sandwiches with dipping sauce. I dunno, Eric … I think you should listen to Bobby Flay. He’s famous.

Joey’s chef brings Grill’Billies’ chef a meatball to sample. Somebody mutters that it’s basically “bread crumbs and egg and milk.” It seems the other contestants don’t share Joey’s abiding love for Saucy Balls. Back in the contestants’ barracks, the anti-Joey pile-on continues as people make fun of Joey’s accent. Alex gets a dig in: Joey’s sauce “tastes like Prego.” (Prego is a supermarket spaghetti sauce that I guess doesn’t taste very good? It always tasted fine to me.) Alex deploys the ANGR lingua franca and derides Saucy Balls for being a “lame concept.” I dislodge a quarter-pound of phlegm in protest.

When I cough it sounds like a suit of armor falling apart.

The day of the investor test has arrived. The contestants’ pods are complete, with logos and menus displayed in glorious full color. Seeing all these unique restaurant visions in pod form reminds me of Wordsworth:

Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
All hail the pods!

Sudhir compares the excitement of witnessing a completed restaurant pod to a father seeing his son for the first time, which seems a bit much, unless your son is a pod person.

Sandy is gracious, saying how much she likes everybody’s pods, and I realize how rarely we hear the contestants compliment each other. This melancholia is fleeting, however, as everybody is in an ecstasy about how awesome their pods look. (My notes: “People are stoked for their pods!”) I’m excited, too, because I’m realizing the word “pod” is going to be repeated ad infinitum, like the word “concept” last week. I flirt with the idea of doing a shot of Robotussin every time somebody says “pod.” (Has a reality-show recap ever been chopped and screwed?)

We are treated to some final, frenetic shots of food preparation. There’s also a shot of some fine Anolon knives sitting in their knife block, and just from the look of the handles, it’s clear that Anolon makes the best knives in the world and all other knife-makers should jump in a lake.

The pod area is swarmed with 300 people. The crowd is declared to include “foodies” and “bloggers,” two specimens of humanity our ancestors couldn’t have imagined in their wildest nightmares. Bobby Flay welcomes the assembled diners. Lorena talks about how her restaurant is an extension of herself. Curtis Stone wears a vest. He looks really good. Bobby Flay announces that since this week’s challenge was all about creating a unique pod, they’ve brought in a special celebrity judge: The vivacious Norman Podhoretz! (Joke.)

Game on. Lorena and Curtis visit Stephenie’s pod, Harvest Sol. Lorena likes the food: “The asparagus is amazing.” Praise is also heaped upon the colors Stephenie has chosen for her menu. In the words of Curtis Stone: “Your menu’s color scheme has finally helped me learn what it feels like to have an erection in my penis.” (Joke.) Lorena is loving Stephenie: “I love it (i.e., Stephenie’s concept). She moved forward in a great direction.” Stephenie is relieved. She’s going to win this show; I just know it.

Bobby Flay and Steve “Dr. Chipotle” Ells visit Sudhir’s pod. Sudhir serves Madras lamb on naan. Steve Ells wants Sudhir to serve the naan folded up like a taco so it’s easier to eat.

Now something very interesting happens. I actually think this is the most interesting thing that has happened on ANGR so far:

Curtis Stone thinks Sudhir’s naan situation is “a travesty.” But when Sudhir mentions Steve Ells’ suggestion regarding using the naan as a taco shell, Curtis Stone gets even angrier: That would be a “real mistake.” Curtis gets intense with Sudhir: “Listen to me. This is your concept … if you believe in something, make it happen … ” The moment is charged, almost menacing. The judges have radically different ideas about how best to utlitize naan in a fast-casual environment! I love it!

What is the adjectival form of mucus? “Mucal?” I need to know in order to describe my reality.

Bobby Flay thinks it’s “incredibly exciting” to see the contestants in their pods. I wonder if he likes that scene in The Matrix when Keanu Reeves wakes up in a pod, covered in goo and surrounded by thousands of other pods? I bet Bobby Flay watches that scene over and over, murmuring, “Pods … pods … I love seeing people in pods … I must host a reality show so I can trick people into living in pods … hail Xenu!”

Steve Ells likes the look of Grill’Billies’ menu. They serve boneless chicken with chipotle sauce and pickled salad. Bobby Flay thinks Grill’Billies “did a great job communicating their brand.” You see, the key was switching from barbecue to grilling; that really helped them isolate and focus their concept vector into a level-3 omega brand sequence.

Curtis Stone is over at Sinners and Saints, eating Sandy’s guacamole with bacon. Sandy looks wary, but Curtis is loving it. He seems rejuvenated, the naan-troversy long forgotten. Behold the healing power of food.

Steve Ells likes the exposed brick in Revolution Tacos’ pod; not content to take the compliment, Alex admits that he wanted the walls to be covered in graffiti. Steve Ells is in a witty mood, so he suggests that Alex leave the doors unlocked at night, at which point graffiti artists will gain entry and defile the walls. Alex’s taco features plantains. Why? Alex says it’s because he’d been hearing from diners about allergy issues and gluten issues, and plantains don’t cause allergies (?). Steve Ells looks Alex dead in the eye and says, “Well, I’m allergic to plantains.” Alex is aghast, but guess what? Steve Ells was joking! Congratulations, Alex, you’ve just been Chipotle’d! Goddamn, once Steve Ells starts cracking wise, no one is safe. You’d better “hide your kids and hide your wives, because he’s raping everybody out here,” or however that song goes.

Bobby Flay and Steve Ells visit the Meltworks podstaraunt. Eric shows them a drawing of what he’d like the interior of his restaurant to look like. Steve Ells just about has a conniption fit because it looks so similar to the inside of a Chipotle — you know, that incredibly unique restaurant interior the likes of which you’ve never seen before because it’s so radically original? Bobby Flay finally puts his finger on what’s been bothering him about Meltworks’ fare: It’s not grilled cheese, it’s “panini with some cheese on it.” This revelation lands with the blow of 1,000 hammers; I almost cough up my own eyes. Also, Steve Ells wants to see those dipping sauces. Where are the dipping sauces, Eric? Where the fuck are the dipping sauces? (Say this like D’Angelo Barksdale asking Stringer Bell “Where the fuck is Wallace?” in that immortal scene from The Wire and you’ll have a nice chuckle.)

Yes, Mom, I’m drinking plenty of fluids!

A man in a crazy wicker cowboy hat thinks Jamawn’s food is “spectacular.” The judges disagree: Jamawn’s chicken batter is underseasoned. Jamawn looks sad. Bobby Flay thinks Soul Daddy’s menu is too crazy, because it’s in a circle. Mind you, the text isn’t in a circle. It’s just that the border is circular. Is this really such a big deal?

We hear the strains of Italian music in background — it must be time to visit the Saucy Balls pod. To my untrained eye, the menu looks really bad: Sans serif fonts with a lime-green background? How does this say home-style cooking? Lorena seconds my opinion: “The menu is confusing and tacky.” Curtis Stone is worried the food will be too heavy and garlicky for people who just want to grab a quick lunch before an afternoon of business meetings in which they plot the further ruin of the working class. In a cutaway, Joey compares the show to a martial-arts tournament, with attacks coming from every angle, and says, “Today I got beat up.” It happens to the best of us.

The contestants are called before the judges. All the diners were asked to deposit a silver coin in the box of their favorite pod. And the pod with the most coins is … Spice Coast! Sudhir is crowned Lord of the Pod People!

Stephenie, Jamawn, Sandy, Greg, and Krystal are all safe. Greg just about has an orgasm when he hears the news — he and Krystal had been screwing up royally during the last couple of episodes, so they feel the exhilaration that comes from skirting death.

Alex, Eric, and Joey are the three lowest contestants, the scum of the earth. The judges waste no time in announcing: “We have a problem with each one of your concepts.”

Alex is up first. Curtis Stone glares at him: “What can you do to step up your existing concept?” Oh boy, the concept talk is about to begin! Dr. Chipotle is upset that Alex’s pod didn’t tell him what the concept is. “Concept” and “pod” in the same sentence? This must be just like living in paradise! Bobby Flay weighs in: “I think the concept needs to be more focused.” And then Lorena says, “The concept itself is a pod in which larval concepts grow until they can infect our pod-world,” and my brain explodes all over the room. (Joke, alas.)

Eric tries spinning his customers’ feedback. He says to the judges, “I welcome the chance to have dialogue with you,” which sounds like a robot hitting on a woman. Eric, newly oleaginous in his anxiety, says he loves Bobby Flay’s idea of providing signature sauces for his sandwiches. Yeah, right! If Eric loves signature sauces so much, why weren’t they featured in his pod? (My notes: “Bobby feels betrayed by the lack of dipping sauces.”) Too little, too late, Eric. Curtis Stone really sticks the knife in: “I’ve got a massive problem with the fact that you’ve been working on this for three years and you can’t put a decent grilled cheese in front of us.” Zing! Curtis Stone’s rage is incandescent: “We ask (Eric) to improve and he can’t!”

I was at the grocery store earlier this week. Here’s what happened:

CASHIER: What is this, kale?
ME: Yes, ma’am.
CASHIER: Oh, you fancy chefs!

Joey is up last. Curtis Stone thought his spicy sauce was too rich. Steve Ells says: “The problem with the menu is how one-dimensional the concept is.” Guys, sentences like this are why we love ANGR and why, once NBC cancels the series, we will continue to meet in my basement to film our own episodes. Steve Ells doesn’t like the circular menu board; it should be “linear.” Bobby Flay “totally agrees.” Back in the contestants’ lounge, Joey says, “The only shots you miss are the ones you don’t take,” which I’m sure is false.

Our judges review the field. Eric has plateaued. Lorena doesn’t care — she wants to keep him because she “loves grilled cheese.” This, in turn, makes me love Lorena — who can resist a beautiful woman with an exotic accent who loves grilled cheese? It’s an Almodóvar movie waiting to happen.

Alex, meanwhile, hasn’t fixed his food. Does he even care about food, or does he just want to be cool? Curtis Stone, in spite of his frustration about Alex’s muddled concept, admires the slick-haired Los Angeleno: “He’s a survivor. He’ll do whatever it takes. Including sodomy and/or murder.” (Last sentence is a joke.)

The judges agree that Joey, being Italian, has the most passion. Curtis challenged Joey a little during the judges’ table and he liked seeing “the fire in [Joey’s] belly” during that encounter. Steve Ells thinks Saucy Balls will not work as a fast-casual idea. For Steve Ells, it’s all about honoring the fast-casual paradigm. (Fun fact about your recapper: When I was in college, I pronounced “paradigm” as “paradidjum.”)

Eric, Alex, and Joey stand before the judges. Eric is accused of having “a very narrow concept”; Curtis is disappointed that he hasn’t “progressed your concept further.” Lorena tells Alex that his menu is confusing, and he “still hasn’t delivered the best taco.” Steve Ells tells Joey that “Saucy Balls is too one-dimensional.” (After the show, Joey tweeted “I can’t explain … just feel very emotional — very interesting night for me tonight, I learned a lot about myself … ” Take that for what it’s worth.)

Bobby Flay delivers the news: “We will not be investing in Revolution Tacos.”

Alex is out! In the words of Gil Scott-Heron, the taco revolution will not be televised. Alex waxes analytic: “My biggest flaw was my food wasn’t good enough.”

Bobby Flay still thinks Alex has talent: “Alex was in the wrong competition. He should be in the ‘I want my own Los Angeles bar’ competition, because he would win.”

Actually, Mr. Flay, I would win that competition.

That’s it for this week. I apologize for my ill health and look forward to next week’s recap, in which I hope to try out some of Kale City’s hottest recipes!

David Rees is an artisanal pencil sharpener.

Episode 4