America’s Next Great Restaurant Recap: David Rees on Food Trucks, the Human Experience

Would it be more or less ridiculous if Curtis Stone were also wearing a hat?
Would it be more or less ridiculous if Curtis Stone were also wearing a hat? Photo: Trae Patton/NBC

Word on the street is somebody in my town has started selling kale chips out of her house at six dollars a bag. This is war. I’m taking her corners.

Who likes food trucks? Answer: Everybody! Whether they’re parked in a busy financial district or loitering outside a nightclub, food trucks offer a fun, hip ‘n’ funky way to purchase and consume nutrients necessary for continued biological operations.

Curtis Stone, forgoing his usual half-buttoned shirt for a gray hoodie, tells the contestants they will design a food truck and sell food for three hours. They’ll have to keep track of their earnings — it’s time for our gang to learn the financial stuff associated with restaurant operations. The trucks will be set up in two great locations: Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard, which are streets in Hollywood and Sunsetwood, respectively.

In a weird reprieve, the investors sit around discussing the current state of play. Joey is poised to exploit a “tremendous opportunity with meatballs in this country.” Lorena likes Joey because of his passion; she’s always looking for it. At one point the judges agree that all the contestants have passion, which must please Lorena. Grill’Billies are deemed the “comeback players of the season” — the investors are still raving about last week’s pulled-pork sandwich.

(Wait a minute — why are the investors sitting around rehashing last week’s episode? They’re actually recapping their own show! Am I out of a job?!)

After a sleepless night, Sandy decides to fire her chef, Rachel. Sandy does it with tears in her eyes: “I love you so much … it’s a business decision.” Rachel is understanding — and cute; it looks like she’s literally wearing pretzels as earrings. She also has lotion all over her face; she must have gotten burned pretty bad during last week’s outdoor challenge. Anyway, she’s toast.

As promised, I finally made some of my Kale City dishes!

Pictured: Steamed kale with raw kale garnish ($5); salted kale chips ($3); spicy kale chips with pepper flakes, paprika, and nutritional yeast ($4); fresh-baked bread ($7); American lager ($8)

I invited a distinguished panel of judges and investors (i.e., my friend Sam) over to sample some Kale City delicacies — we’ll be right back with the results!

We’re plunged back into the high-stakes world of graphic design, as the contestants meet with artists to design their food trucks. Joey wants to use the traditional Italian colors: mauve, periwinkle, and sandstone. (Joke.) Everyone is excited to see digital versions of their trucks on computer screens.

Bobby Flay and Curtis Stone meet with our chefs.

When they ask Joey if he’s thought of a name to replace the incendiary “Saucy Balls,” Joey offers “Joey Meatballs,” and Curtis Stone looks bereft. They brainstorm a new name and come up with “The Brooklyn Meatball Company.” Joey gets goosebumps. He’s back in the game!

Curtis Stone wants to know if Sandy fired her chef. The haunted look in her face provides the answer. Bobby Flay: “Do you feel like you did the right thing?” Sandy isn’t sure. Anyway, she needs “drastic differences” between the Saint and Sinner sides of her menu.

The judges are still unclear on Stephenie’s concept. Does it have something to do with seasonal cooking? Curtis Stone thinks Harvest Sol is “the way America should be eating; the problem is [Stephenie] doesn’t understand it.” Jeepers, guys, can we just hire a Kaplan test-prep dude to explain Stephenie’s concept to her? This is getting ridiculous.

Our gang has a budget of $300 to spend on food. They go to some Home Depot–looking place and buy vegetables out of bins that I associate with HVAC tubing and nails.

Although it “kills him to erode his Indian-ness,” Sudhir plans to make Indian tacos — co-opting ex-contestant Alex’s dream of international-cuisine tacos. Sudhir has done it! He’s actually designed a taco that eats other tacos! He’s “trying to get across to the investors that my food appeals to a cross section.”

Joey then articulates his strategy: “I need to do my best to stay in the game.”

Sandy’s new chef Lance “has too much energy.” He talks very close to her face and says things like “Bam, boom, done!” Sandy disembowels cucumbers in cowed silence while Lance shoots meat out of a deli slicer. Oh Sandy, what have you done?

My distinguished panel of judges and investors (i.e., my friend Sam) had this to say about my Kale City chip offerings:

RE: Kale City salted kale chips: “These are so light, they’re right on the brink of nothingness.” (I’ll take this as a compliment.)

RE: Kale City spicy kale chips: “Uh-oh, [the spiciness] is comin’ at me … it’s starting to burn … [tense beat] … oh, it stopped right at the threshold of being too much.” (In other words, Kale City’s spicy kale chips are perfectly calibrated!)

“Kale City: Right at the threshold of being too much.” Slap that on the side of a truck and watch the people come running!

Greg and Krystal, Joey, and Jamawn find their trucks waiting for them on Hollywood Boulevard, the street where dreams go to die. Sandy, Stephenie, and Sudhir set up shop on Sunset. Stephenie’s truck says “Honk if you want healthy” on the back, which ensures it will travel in a cocoon of silence through 99 percent of our great land.

The investors walk down Hollywood Boulevard in their warm-weather clothes. Curtis Stone smolders in Madras, while Bobby Flay and Steve Ells sport weird wicker fedoras that make them look like they’re shooting a film noir in Margaritaville. (“We found the lost shaker of salt — it was jammed into Fatso McGee’s neck.”)

Dr. Chipotle likes food trucks because they are “a great way to judge whether or not (the restaurant) is a viable concept.” It’s like all natural phenomena and all of human culture are merely instruments through which Steve Ells can more closely examine the viability of concepts. The man has ideas for eyes.

The Grill’Billies food truck is a hit. Lorena gurgles: “I absolutely love it!” Dr. Chipotle stands bolt upright and announces: “Investors: I love this!” with a preternatural mix of enthusiasm and formality that makes me wonder what it’s like to make love with him. (“Lover: We are achieving coitus!”)

Poor Joey’s food truck is a graphic abomination the likes of which have not been seen since Master P’s last album cover: We have photos of despondent spaghetti on plates; a cartoon of Joey’s grandma; the Brooklyn Bridge; and more fonts than you could shake a Zapf Dingbat at. It looks like the Internet threw up on a children’s book. Bobby Flay wonders: “Is grandma jumping off the bridge?” Joey serves a turkey-meatball hero on ciabatta. The music turns ominous as our investors spit hot venom at Joey’s food and presentation. They especially hate the Styrofoam container of food samples lying on the counter, which looks marginally more appealing than the Eraserhead baby. In spite of all this, Bobby Flay still loves Joey’s meatballs! He’s like a dog with an abusive master — he just keeps coming back, panting for more.

Sam and I fall into a reverie about reality shows from days gone by. I reveal my longstanding fascination with What Not to Wear’s Stacy London and the Sontag-ian streaks in her hair and her intellect. I insist she holds a PhD in philosophy. Sam guffaws. There are a few tense moments when her Wikipedia page refuses to load … then we read that I slightly oversold Stacy London’s academic record: She double-majored in German literature and philosophy at Vassar. (Vassar is 30 minutes from my house; I will drive there tomorrow to smell its bookshelves.)

The doomsday clock continues its countdown: 21:00:27:40 until America’s next great restaurant makes its debut … or frogs rain from the sky.

Curtis Stone thinks the Soul Daddy truck is too music-oriented. Lorena says, “Paying attention to detail is important,” which I wish weren’t true, because half the time my shirts aren’t buttoned correctly. Jamwan serves honey-mustard barbecue chicken, but what’s this? He failed to calculate his per-plate cost! He might be serving $100 of food for $5! Furthermore, Jamawn is BUSTED for using canned green beans! Nothing escapes the sensitive palate of Dr. Chipotle! The man has more taste buds than a bucket of tongues. Lorena thinks Jamawn’s food “has tremendous potential for being wonderful.” Jamawn is sad: “I feel like I didn’t do a good job.”

[A note from your recapper: If ANGR reads like the most banal show in human history, it’s partially because I’m a slow typer: The easiest quotes for me to transcribe are the simplest ones, which means my recaps are biased towards the participants’ most boring comments. Not like anybody’s quoting Schopenhauer here — but please don’t think the contestants and judges are as dull as my attributions make them sound. I’m sure if somebody followed me around, recording quotes, at the end of the day it’d mostly be stuff like, “I like Grape Nuts” and “Look at the brown dog,” and “That was a pretty good nap.”]

On to Sunset Boulevard!

Guys, the scene on Sunset is dead. The days of spontaneous Guns ‘N’ Roses concerts atop parked cars are long gone. There’s no foot traffic. A tumbleweed rolls down the street before hailing a cab and asking where the action is. (Hilarious joke.) Stephenie, panicked by the lack of customers, decides to offer free samples at an intersection — and two seconds later, in one of those sudden turns of events that can only be conjured in a reality-show edit bay, the food trucks are overwhelmed with diners.

The investors visit Spice Coast’s truck, where Sudhir beams: “It’s been a fun day!” There’s some discussion of Sudhir’s truck design, which goes over my head because I’m daydreaming about Stacy London. Anyway, the flowers on Sudhir’s truck are used in Indian cooking (?) and Sudhir likes how they look — and then, out of nowhere, Bobby Flay spits, “I’m not from India!” like he’s dislodging a piece of gristle that’s been hiding between his molars for a month. On to Sudhir’s Indian tacos, the cost of which he has calculated down to the nano-dollar. The judges are taco-rgasmic. Dr. Chipotle: “This is the best food you’ve cooked so far!” Curtis Stone reminds us of his enraged opposition to the Indian taco idea before announcing: “You’d better serve me some humble pie, because these are sensational!” In the afterglow, Sudhir says he’s pleased that he’s done his mother proud and his country proud — I say we airlift these magical Indian tacos into the disputed area of Kashmir and resolve that drama once and for all!

At the Harvest Sol truck, Stephenie is disappointed with sales. Lorena says, “I love the colors,” and in a redundant cutaway she adds, “I love the truck,” and next thing I know Lorena’s standing on my porch saying, “I love the concept.” (Joke.) Bobby Flay is disappointed that Stephenie used canned chick peas. Her excuse is there was no time to soak chick peas, which makes Curtis wonder why she didn’t change the menu. Bobby Flay says Stephenie’s falafel is too soft and “very hard to eat.” Did she not consider the logistics of food-truck cuisine? (Can people really tell the difference between canned chick peas and bagged chick peas? I eat a lot of chick peas and I usually go with the can.)

Sam and I debate whether our small town could sustain a food truck. There’s a guy who sells hot dogs out of a watery bin in front of the post office; could he be the gateway drug?

As they approach the Sinners and Saints food truck, Bobby Flay has a brainstorm: “She should serve devil’s food cake and angel food cake!” Sandy is nervous. Steve Ells thinks the portions are too big, but Curtis Stone thinks it represents good value. (One more reason why Curtis Stone, not Steve Ells, is invited to join my erotic ska band — when we’re touring the country in our purple Econoline, he’ll know where all the best food bargains are.) Bobby Flay asks, “Is this gonna be the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had?” Sandy hopes so. Curtis Stone then proceeds to drop a house on Sandy: “I can’t believe you served this to me; this is some of the worst mac and cheese I’ve ever had!” Apparently, the mac is gluing the cheese together; it should be the opposite. (I wouldn’t know; I don’t eat mac and cheese because I’m not a child wasting away in an after-school program.) Somebody finds a huge piece of fat in their brisket. (My notes: Sandy’s going home, the music portends it.)

Back at home base, we get some bad news: Nobody made a profit! Jamawn took in the most money, but he needs to consider his ingredient choices and lose the canned veggies.

Joey is summoned to the Investors’ Suite. He had the lowest amount (number?) of sales. Curtis pins some of the blame on the food sample “sitting there all dried-out and horrible,” which is my kind of poetry. Bobby Flay tells Joey, “You’re holding back your own concept,” which is probably something Julie Taymor has heard more than once. (Did Flay really add, “Every decision around this glorious meatball is horrible”? That must be a transcription error on my part. Nobody could say something that amazing.) Joey describes himself as “a dynamite guy who just needs a little help,” and I wonder if Joey and I are approaching a psychological singularity, wherein tomorrow I will wake up wearing his body.

Sandy tramps into the Suite. Bobby Flay: “You look totally bummed.” Sandy agrees, saying, “I made some bad choices,” and we all know what she’s talking about: dumping her cute, fastidious chef and hiring Loki, Norse God of Mischief. Sandy gets in a zinger: “He should’ve been on Deadliest Catch.” This pop-culture reference causes Lorena to explode in exuberant, unguarded, PASSIONATE laughter, and I finally feel the passion that drives Lorena to be all she can be in a passionate industry that requires unlimited passion in the race to the top of Mt. Passion, the volcano that spews hot molten passion on anyone who dreams of passion. (My notes: Sandy is dressed like Mike Watt.)

I designed the Kale City food truck.

The judges pile on Stephenie (not literally). Dr. Chipotle: “Canned chickpeas! This is not consistent with the vision of your concept!” Curtis Stone reminds Stephenie that L.A. is one of the most health-conscious cities in the world, but she had the second-lowest sales: “How’s it gonna go in Oklahoma?” Stephenie replies, “Maybe in Oklahoma people will stop admiring their plastic surgery and breast implants long enough to make healthy food choices.” (Joke.)

Curtis Stone drifts into despondency: Every single food truck lost money. He’s nervous about his investment. (How much money are these investors really sinking into the winning restaurant, by the way? Is it hundreds of thousands of dollars, or hundreds of ones of dollars? I’ll put in a call to the SEC.)

Back in the holding pen, Sandy says of the judges: “I’m tired of them raking me over the coals,” which (LOL!) is something any of the innocent animals being served at Grill’Billies could say. Joey adds, “You gotta make the right decisions; that’s what it boils down to,” and did you know that when you boil lobsters, they scream? (I don’t know why I’m making all these vegetarian-friendly jokes; I ate an ungodly amount of pork dumplings last week.)

At long last (not really) Joey, Stephenie, and Sandy are called back to the sanctum sanctorum. The investors make like outrageous fortune, letting loose their slings and arrows: Ells accuses Joey of making tacky choices; Lorena reprimands Sandy for making too many excuses; and Curtis wonders how Harvest Sol will ever work at a national level.

Bobby Flay delivers the news: “Sandy, we will not be investing in Sinners and Saints.” After an awkward pause he adds, “Also, I’m pregnant.” (Joke.)

Sandy (and I) knew this was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier (for her): “It’s knocked the wind out of my sails.” She describes herself as a “passenger on the new Titanic,” which, if you know anything about maritime history, you’ll recognize as a bad thing. Although, wait: It was the old Titanic that sank, right? The new Titanic will probably be made from unsinkable super-foam! Was Sandy’s admission of defeat actually a coded proclamation of invincibility?

The gang is sad to see Sandy go — especially Krystal, who weeps openly. Sandy hugs her and murmurs, “You’re my buttercup,” and once again we’re left to ponder the mysteries of the human experience.

Episode 6