America’s Next Great Restaurant Recap: David Rees Surveys Last Night’s Damage

The balls, they could be saucier.
The balls, they could be saucier. Photo: Chris Haston/NBC

The Kale City revolution continues to pick up steam! According to the New York Post: “Kale is not only the new spinach. It’s the new arugula, mesclun and romaine. A survey of the city’s hottest eateries reveals clever chefs eager to show off this green’s raw side in fantastic salads.” Why is everybody always biting my ideas? Kale City will BURY all these other kale-centric restaurants. You want a war? You got one.

Anyway, I missed the first five minutes of ANGR because my friend and I were racing to an apartment with a working television. I convinced my friend to buy a new TV at Best Buy so we could watch the show, but when we unpacked the box we realized it didn’t include an electrical plug. My friend found a colleague who kindly allowed us to crash her apartment and sit on her bed and watch the show. I am nothing if not professional.

After hurried introductions, I tuned into the show to see Joey (Saucy Balls) telling a fashion designer that he wants his restaurant uniform to be “old-time Brooklyn gangster.” I guess the contestants are designing their uniforms this week. This is perfect for me, because the one thing I know more about than food is fashion. Just listen to this:

1. Dolce & Gabbana
2. Versace
3. Guess?
4. Michael Kors
5. Perry Ellis Portfolio

Those are just some of the fashion designers I know about!

Anyway, the ANGR designer seems underwhelmed by Joey’s groundbreaking vision.

Eric (Meltworks) shows the designer his pride and joy: the melty-looking gear in the Meltworks logo. Can this immortal, iconic image be incorporated into his restaurant uniform? The designer thinks this is within the realm of the possible. I’m so tired of looking at that nasty-ass drippy gear! It makes me think of a Build-A-Bear workshop covered in warm gelatin — not an image I savor.

It’s no surprise that Sudhir (Spice Coast) wants something “clean” and “modern.” Just once could Sudhir say something like, “I want my uniform to look all fucked-up and greasy, like a condemned frat house. Also, I love to sniff glue and listen to Insane Clown Posse. I killed Tupac”? But I guess he’ll never say something like that.

Similarly, Stephenie (Harvest Sol) has decided not to use a burning burlap bag covered in condom wrappers as the uniform for her restaurant.

I take a moment to thank my hostess for letting me crash her television at the last minute. I briefly explain the concept behind ANGR. We then establish ground rules regarding how loud she is allowed to talk to my friend while the show is on. I must focus, after all!

According to the show’s doomsday clock, America’s next great restaurant will open in 28:00:49:58. You have been warned.

Famous photographer Justin Coit will shoot everyone in their uniforms for promotional posters. Greg and Krystal look hokey and sexual. Krystal says they want the shoot to be “funky, fun, and interesting,” which sounds like every single person on OKCupid.

Jamawn wants the background of his Soul Daddy shoot to be “jazzy,” so the photographer has an idea: “Meet the new face of Soul Daddy restaurant … John Zorn!” Sure enough, Jamawn and John Zorn pose together, feeding each other waffles. (Joke.)

At her photo shoot, Sandy (Saints and Sinners) feels self-conscious. Apparently, Sandy’s mother told her “I was the least photogenic person she ever met,” which strikes me as the kind of information best left un-shared. Dear Lord, what hath WikiLeaks wrought? Anyway, Sandy eventually loosens up and enjoys her time in front of the camera (I gotta say, she has charisma), and in the end announces her mom would “finally be proud of me.” The poignancy stings my eyes!

(My notes: Eric looks horrible in his melting-gear shirt and apron / doesn’t feel comfortable with props.)

Stephenie holds a bushel of wheat like she’s posing for the U.S. nickel. She’s presented as virginal, wholesome, intelligent, unstoppable. I still think she’s gonna win this competition.

Joey starts his photo shoot by laughing and barking, “Are you talking to me?” the classic line from Martin Scorsese’s Look Who’s Talking. Joey wants to pose with a Tommy gun. The gun is so ashamed it basically commits suicide, falling apart in Joey’s hands. Undaunted, Joey poses with a loaf of bread the size of a shark. But he gets too excited and breaks the loaf of bread, exposing its tender white-flour interior. Poor Joey! He says that when he feeds people, “I’m hugging you with my food.” This is going to sound snide, but I’m really trying to get at something: I think it would take a lot of energy to convince Joey that you are breaking up with him.

Bobby Flay and Curtis Stone stop by to talk about the challenge. (My notes: Bobby Flay dressing young, like Curtis.) This challenge, called “Investors’ Choice,” means contestants will have to make an item on their menu — OR an item not on their menu! What an amazing challenge. Basically, the challenge boils down to: “Fuck it, just cook something.”

Bobby Flay and Curtis Stone want Sandy to make a burger from the saint side of her menu: “The knockin’ on heavens [sic] door” burger. (I’d like to second the Twitter user who complained about the ungodly amount of grammatical and typographical errors on ANGR. We all know chefs and foodies are semi-literate at best, but this show is not doing anybody any favors.)

When Stephenie is asked to convert her shrimp salad into a sandwich, she says something that makes jaws drop across our great nation: “I would prefer not to.” (My hostess beats me to a Bartleby, the Scrivener joke, an unforgivable affront.) While Bobby Flay scrambles to fit his eyeballs back into their sockets, Stephenie goes on: The reason she doesn’t want to convert her salad into a sandwich is because people don’t eat and walk at the same time, which obviates the need for sandwiches. Are you there, God? It’s me, David. What is happening?

Bobby Flay and Stephenie compromise: Instead of turning her shrimp salad into a sandwich, Stephenie will make her shrimp salad and then make a sandwich out of it. (Seriously, God, pick up — I need to talk to you. I’m confused.)

While meeting with Eric, Bobby Flay reminds him that “last week I think maybe I gave you some inspiration to make some dipping sauces.” I LOVE Bobby Flay’s continued obsession with dipping sauces. Curtis backs Bobby up: “If Bobby Flay tells you to do something, we wanna see some reaction from that.” Eric is told to prepare FIVE dipping sauces with his signature grilled-cheese sandwich for the challenge. What choice does Eric have? Finally broken, he must submit to Bobby Flay’s perverse desires. It’s like a grilled-cheese version of the Story of O. (My notes: Bobby Flay looks weird, cocky, resentful.)

Greg and Krystal are told to make pulled pork with cherry cola, an item on their menu that has caught the judge’s fancy. Curtis Stone does what he does best, which is to look gloriously attractive while discussing Greg and Krystal’s continued intellectual shortcoming vis-a-vis their concept: “Greg and Krysal have been pretty confused about what barbecue is and what grilling is.” Curtis Stone, I hope you like rock operas because I am writing one about you. And yes, like all good rock operas, many people will be maimed and killed during its production; I hope you’re okay with that.

I went to a 99-cent store and bought a shirt and borrowed some Sharpies and designed the official Kale City uniform:

The piece of kale in the front pocket is mandatory! So is the scraggly beard.

Back in the kitchen, everybody’s working hard. No doubt Sudhir speaks for everyone when he says: “This test is a bit nerve-wracking.” If Sudhir isn’t serving as the show’s moral compass, he’s certainly serving as its ontological compass.

Stephenie still doesn’t believe people will eat a sandwich while walking. (Just wait until she learns about people who eat while driving! Or people who eat while flying in airplanes — cover your ears because she’ll never stop screaming.) Nevertheless, she orders baguettes from a bakery to make her resentment-filled sandwiches.

Eric frets that his barbecue dipping sauce isn’t mild enough. I wouldn’t worry about flavor, Eric — once Bobby Flay sees your dipping sauces, he’ll be so overjoyed he will disband the show and declare you the winner by executive fiat. But Eric will not let go of his frustration about being forced to incorporate dipping sauces into his menu! Fascinating.

Joey assembles meatless eggplant-Parmesan meatballs. I gotta say, they look good. I think Joey’s probably an amazing cook — it’s just that his talent is buried under a thick crust of kitsch and worn-out Italian stereotypes, making it hard to take his cuisine seriously. (If Joey wants to let go of his mafia nostalgia, I recommend the film Gomorrah. That’ll sober him up.)

(My notes: Jamawn’s chef is analyzing the waffle — she seems smart.)

Back at the apartment, everyone is putting on their uniforms. We are treated to 1,000 shots of Joey struggling with his necktie, his face a rictus of sartorial concentration. Joey thinks he looks “really cute.” Sandy says she wouldn’t be caught dead in Joey’s uniform. (I’m trying to think of something funny to say about how lots of people are caught dead in Joey’s uniform, because it is the uniform of a mafia gangster, and mafia gangsters are often shot dead by their rivals). Jamawn looks disgusted, either by Joey’s uniform or how long it took Joey to master the ol’ double Windsor — it’s not clear which.

The contestants arrive at the plaza(?), where they see their posters for the first time. It’s actually sweet; everyone seems giddy. Sudhir crows, “I’m actually pleased with how my poster turned out. I’m actually surprisingly handsome.” Don’t hide your light under a bushel, Sudhir!

A crowd of hungry civilians assembles at the perimeter and then marches toward the food stalls like zombies. It’s a bit ominous. Are the producers making a satirical point about America’s mindless hunger for novelty and authenticity in the fast-casual dining market? I will send them a query via fax and let you know what I hear.

My hostess and her friend gossip about the publishing industry, to my giddy delight. Friends, if I could share with you half the things I heard! Sounds like there are some real cads out there. I say the sooner we move into the post-literate age, the better.

The investors greet the zombie horde. Bobby Flay and Curtis Stone are resplendent in plaid. Dr. Chipotle, as always, looks allergic to sunlight. Lorena beams, an avatar of a brighter, more cosmopolitan future.

The zombies are told to choose the restaurant with the best concept, the best design, the best food, etc.

The judges fan out. Steve Ells likes the Grill’Billies poster: Greg and Krystal goofing off in a particularly Grill’Billies style. They seem confident, reenergized. Unfortunately, as they describe their sandwich, Curtis blanches and announces that it sounds gross. Curtis Stone is truly taking no prisoners these days. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that he burned down the prison and is now just hunting inmates like animals. But perhaps Curtis Stone spoke too soon: When he tries the sandwich, he says it’s the best thing they’ve served so far. Mole-Man Chipotle also thinks it’s awesome. I think Greg and Krystal are an item again, and the erotic charge they feel toward each other is having a positive effect on their stupid restaurant.

Bobby and Lorena like Stephenie’s reluctant sandwich. Bobby Flay says her poster makes her look “like a wheat farmer.” (No doubt silently adding, “ … a wheat farmer I would like to cuddle with.”)

Jamawn continues to kick ass with Soul Daddy. He wears an understated shirt and tie (Lorena suggests shortening his tie to reveal a second Soul Daddy logo). Jamawn serves waffles with fried chicken, per the Investors’ Choice. Bobby Flay waxes rhapsodic: “That’s my kind of food.” Is Bobby Flay making too big a deal of his love for soul food? I wonder about that. Anyway, my prediction is Jamawn will be ANGR’s runner-up.

Steve Ells is positively effervescent about Sandy’s poster for Sinners and Saints. Lorena, however, is whatever the opposite of effervescent is about Sandy’s burgers. In fact, I’ve never seen Lorena look more disgusted: Her turkey burger was “not cooked at all.” And Bobby Flay’s burger was overcooked! I smell doom for Sandy. Her chef apologizes to her and I feel sad for everyone except Bobby Flay, who’s so rich I don’t mind if he eats an overcooked burger every now and again — so long as it doesn’t have human fingers in it.

Curtis Stone thinks Joey’s image is a little tacky: “He’s on the verge of making a total mockery of his business.” I guess in Australia, “on the verge of” means “definitely already has absolutely.” Dr. Chipotle wonders about Joey’s uniform of a black shirt with a white tie: Does the tie make it formal, or fun? Joey says, “It’s fun!” Chipotle counters with ice in his voice: “It’s formal.” I actually get uncomfortable with the force of Dr. Chipotle’s opinion. Joey confesses: “It was like a punch in the gut … I’m pissed at myself because I made poor decisions.”

More gossip, more beer, and a discussion of whether my hostess would like to go on a blind date with one of my more charming single friends. (I’m an incorrigible yenta!)

Sudhir’s uniform is very simple, but gray is a bad color, and he’s accused of playing too safe. Sudhir is embarrassed. He’s serving his mom’s curry chicken. Dr. Chipotle still wishes Sudhir’s food were handheld — he sees a new Indian cuisine based on the structural components of burrito-dom. Curtis Stone disagrees, strongly: “Let’s leave Indian food authentic.” Dr. Chipotle, desperate to live in a world with no silverware, wants everything to be handheld. Once again, Sudhir finds himself between Scylla and Charybdis. Curtis Stone: “I think you’ve got to be really careful.” (The subtext: “Sudhir, if you decide to go with handheld Indian food, I will murder you.”)

Meltworks’ aesthetic is deemed too corporate, too stiff. Dr. Chipotle: “I don’t think you’re sending the right message.” I have to say, I’m actually impressed that Eric has succeeded in turning GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES into a joyless, suffocating experience. Bobby Flay, of course, is happy to see that Eric has finally (FINALLY!) presented multiple dipping sauces, all of which seem to be specimens of the hyphenated-flavor concoctions currently bedeviling American cuisine (“saffron-icicle confit;” “peppermint-bacon pesto;” “lemon-peppercorn icing”). Bobby Flay, after agitating for dipping sauces, really gets on Eric’s last nerve when he announces: “I don’t love every sauce.” Eric looks like he’s ready to dip Bobby Flay into a lyme-acid reduction dipping sauce.

The Investors’ Choice challenge is over. Greg and Krystal received the most silver coins this week! They are elevated to Level 5 Spellcasters, and they get a new dragon to guard the Realm of Whispers.

Joey, meanwhile, is called back into the investors’ suite. He’s asked about his poster, which features bread, not meatballs. Joey’s immortal reply: “I grabbed the loaf of bread, we started having a lot of fun with it.” (This is the kind of sentence that usually ends with, “ … and next thing you know, I’m being sued for child support by a bunch of dinner rolls!”) The name Saucy Balls is newly controversial again; is it time to think about a new name? Joey thinks waaay outside the box and suggests “Joey Meatballs.” Curtis Stone doesn’t like that name either; Dr. Chipotle thinks Joey’s idea has the potential to be a great concept, but it’s too kitschy. Joey blows his nose backstage. I hope he didn’t catch my cold from last week.

Eric is next. Lorena loved the grilled cheese. She looks perturbed when Eric says he’s taking straightforward grilled cheese off the menu. Somebody touches the third rail: “Eric, did you like the dipping sauces?” Eric says he likes dipping sauces fine (TOTAL LIE) but would rather incorporate them into the body of the sandwich, like open liquid wounds festering in a burnt cadaver (my words, not his). Bobby Flay “totally disagrees” with Eric’s idea, of course. Never let it be said that Bobby Flay is not a man obsessed with dipping sauces. Lorena also loves dipping sauces and wants Eric to be more creative. (My notes: “Why is Eric so corporate and boring?”) Curtis is over it. He thinks Eric should get the boot. Lorena wants to give Eric another chance, but Curtis points out “we kinda did that last week.”

Question: Am I the only person getting lost in Curtis Stone’s eyes this week? Are they getting bigger and bluer with each episode? I don’t even care about his unbuttoned shirts anymore. My hostess murmurs some approving comments regarding Curtis Stone’s appearance, and I know I am in good company.

More bottles of beer are consumed. My hostess declares, “None of the contestants on this show are likable.” I disagree and explain to her that Sudhir and Curtis Stone and I are going to start an erotic ska band (120 Days of Skadom) even if they don’t know it yet.

Sandy is on the block. She’s extremely sunburned — she looks like the chromatic inversion of a raccoon. It pains me to look at her, because I too have tasted the fangs of the sun on my tender skin. Lorena still hasn’t tasted any food she likes from Sandy. Is the problem Sandy’s chef? Curtis challenges Sandy: “What are you gonna do about it?” Sandy likes her chef. Too bad; in ANGR world, if the judges don’t like your chef, you gotta get rid of your chef. Is Sandy tough enough to fire her chef? Sandy: “I had a bar and I fired my girlfriend!” Damn, Sandy, that’s tough.

Curtis Stone thinks “Joey has the kind of personality that America could fall in love with.” As much as I long to disagree with this assessment of America’s cultural appetite, I cannot. Curtis Stone makes another good point: Joey is constantly reaching out to the judges, eager to learn from them, while Eric is reluctant to do so. Why is Eric so closed-off? Has he spent three years laboring over his vision of a grilled-cheese empire at the expense of basic human empathy? Lorena doesn’t give two shits for all the psychobabble: “A good grilled-cheese sandwich is something people will always go for!” Once again I am beguiled by Lorena’s love for the humble grilled-cheese sandwich. Never has a more banal dish had a more glamorous ambassador — except maybe that one time when Marlene Dietrich shilled for Gorton’s in 1938’s The Lady From Fish-Stick Manor.

Sandy, Eric, and Joey stand before the judges. Lorena tires to look stern, failing adorably. Bobby Flay impresses upon the three losers that the decision regarding whom to send packing was not easy: “This was a debate among debates.” Lorena, to Sandy: “Your food continues to be disappointing.” Curtis, to Eric: “You spent three years developing your concept; that’s a blessing and a curse.” (I’m gonna say it’s probably more of a curse.)

Bobby Flay decides to melt down Eric’s dream into a lump of lead: “We will not be investing in Meltworks.” I am stunned! I was sure Sandy was going to get the boot! On the bright side, anyone who wants to invest in Meltworks is now free to do so. (Curtis makes a brutal point, however: If Meltworks was such a brilliant idea, why haven’t investors “thrown money” at Eric during its years-long gestation?) Baby-faced Eric flirts with surliness when he says, “I think the investors made a mistake.” Eric then announces, “I’m going home to my pregnant wife,” in a tone I can’t decipher. Obviously winning ANGR would’ve helped him provide for his unborn child; on the other hand, opening a restaurant chain requires, like, 100 hours of work per week — was Eric counting on an ANGR victory so he wouldn’t have to change diapers?

I leave you with that thought, suspended as in melted cheese.

Episode 5