America’s Next Great Restaurant Recap: David Rees on Pete the Pita, and Feeding Kale to Kids

Bobby Flay's daughter looks unimpressed.
Bobby Flay’s daughter looks unimpressed. Photo: Justin Lubin/NBC Universal

This recap is coming to you from Chicago, one of America’s most innovative food cities! (One of Chicago’s innovations is deep-dish pizza, the amazing pizza that is never good.) I’m here on family business, but I’m still ready to recap my face off. Speaking of: I dined at Chipotle last week! I ate a veggie burrito that weighed slightly less than a waterlogged canoe. Was it my imagination, or did the staff’s eyes widen in admiration and horror as I entered the restaurant? Has Dr. Chipotle faxed my picture to everyone in the Chipotle empire, telling them to treat me with absolute deference? Perhaps he’ll seduce me after all.

My mom: “What is Chipotle? Is it a restaurant?” (I’m watching this episode with my parents, aged 75 and 79.)

Bobby Flay and Lorena greet the contestants. They throw out some words: “Chicken nuggets;” “pizza;” “mac ‘n’ cheese.” What do these foods have in common, besides being unhealthy? Kids love them! This is important because “families and children drive the quick-casual business.” Our gang is tasked with creating a kid-friendly meal … and a toy that ties in to their restaurant. You can’t expect today’s savvy, sophisticated kids to eat food that doesn’t have enough sense to come with a toy! The contestants are told to “get creative and have fun,” which is exactly the kind of thing people love being told to do.

As our contestants get creative and have fun, Bobby Flay indulges in more of his bullshit recapping, which I will not recap, lest it open a hole in the space-time recaptinuum.

The gang visits a design studio called “Hot Buttered Elves,” whose name suggests the high-cholesterol consumption of deep-fried childhood innocence — and, as such, is perfect for what is essentially a bunch of hipsters who design cheap, junky toys to trick kids into eating cheap junk. Our contestants are invited to sit at a “Brainstorm Table” (SPOILER: It’s a regular table) and free their minds and just blue-sky beyond the realm of six sigma, or whatever jargon is currently in favor with people who should know better.

Stephenie, given her love of fresh ingredients and whole grains, wants to license a character called Pita Man. Pita Man. I didn’t think Stephenie could make me any more depressed, but she pulled it off. (Let’s not forget Pita Man’s equally fun sidekick, “Billy Catheter.”)

Greg and Krystal work with Hot Buttered Sellouts to design a lightning-bug character whose butt lights up, which kids will love, because nothing says “yummy food” like anal phosphorescence. Sudhir is in over his head with this challenge: He doesn’t have kids, “much to my mom’s sadness.” You and me both, brother! Sudhir goes on to say his mother is “praying to 1,000 gods” for him to have kids, and I suppose if Episcopalians had 1,000 gods, my mom would be hitting them up, too.

Joey, in brainstorming a toy for his Brooklyn Meatball Company, describes a “mathematical strategy game” his kids like, and it takes me a minute to realize he’s talking about Connect Four, which is a mathematical strategy game in the same way TV Guide is a literary journal, and by the way: Dude, how do you not know the name of Connect Four?

Everyone else gets a few minutes at the “Brainstorm Table,” but I refuse to write any more about this. Instead, I will beg my editor’s indulgence and paraphrase Bill Hicks: “Anyone involved in marketing or advertising for children, kill yourselves.”

Back in the kitchen, we learn that Jamawn was a fat kid; he wants to make a waffle sandwich because kids love waffles. (THIS IS IMPORTANT; remember this, reader, as our recap reaches its narrative and political climax.) Meanwhile Joey wants to smash turkey metballs into a sandwich so it’s easy to eat. (I say go for it.) Krystal argues with Grill’Billies chef Brandon over what to make. Mini Sloppy Joes? Brandon’s worried about dryness. Veggie burgers? Brandon doesn’t think kids will eat veggie burgers. Greg suggests grilling steak and kabob with citrus. Brandon: “That’s easy.” Krystal doesn’t like it. She wants a chicken dish. She walks away in a smoldering, bare-shouldered huff. It is easily the most erotic moment of the series.

I was excited to visit Chicago; my plan was to lurk outside Bobby Flay’s restaurant until the great man showed up, at which time I would pitch him my Kale City idea. When I discussed this plan with my brother (a Chicago foodie), he insisted Bobby Flay doesn’t have a Chicago restaurant. “Say what???” It was then we realized: All this time I had thought Bobby Flay was Charlie Trotter. Guys, that’s what we call an EPIC KALE FAIL.

The ANGR doomsday countdown clock reads 14:00:46:08. (If you read those numbers backwards in a Vatican mirror, you’ll learn the secret to the Pope’s wife’s lasagna recipe.)

Curtis Stone and Lorena stop by to test our chefs’ food. (My dad, re: Curtis Stone: “He needs a hair-comb.”) Jamawn’s waffle-and-sausage sandwich looks like it could kill a child at 50 paces. Curtis opines, “It might be a little risky.” Jamawn is encouraged to consider healthier alternatives, lest he be invaded by UNICEF.

Sudhir is making vegetarian Indian patties. (“I feel bad for children and what they are subjected to with chicken nuggets; it’s a travesty.”) Curtis and Lorena think the patties are too spicy. Sudhir is told to keep the spiciness at Level One, not Level Ten.

Stephenie tempts the judges with yogurt-ranch dressing and grilled chicken and some kind of apricot carbuncle. (I’m using the word “tempts” in the loosest possible way.) Why is the apricot so tart? Answer: Apricots aren’t in season! Curtis Stone calls out Stephenie’s chef for not knowing when apricots are in season, and by the way, what’s up with using canned chickpeas last week? Stephenie’s chef stands his ground and declares: “We have to use canned chickpeas all the time, no matter what.” GOOSEBUMPS. This is the strongest statement of principle in ANGR history — a chef standing athwart chickpeas, yelling stop. Curtis Stone says that if Stephenie wants fresh chickpeas, the chef’s skepticism is a “massive problem.” Curtis, to a fraught Stephenie: “I get the sense you’re doubting your concept.”

My dad offers Stephenie some helpful advice: “Just tell [Curtis Stone] he’s crazy.”

Family tensions run high as my dad continues slamming Curtis Stone: “I want to get that British guy off the show!”

I slam my drink down: “Excuse me! He’s from Australia! And he’s my favorite!” I feel like a preteen girl defending Justin Bieber, or a balding alcoholic defending Charlie Sheen.

The day of the investor test has arrived, as I was pretty sure it would. In a brief montage, Stephenie explains that her experience with ANGR has given her a sense of competence and confidence. In contrast, my experience with ANGR has given me a sense of darkness and futility. (Joke.) Joey calls his kids on speakerphone. His son asks: “Are you winning?” Joey: “I’m trying to!” Joey gets choked up talking about his kids and how he’s going for his dream. I bet Joey is a pretty awesome dad. I also bet he gets his ass kicked at Connect Four.

Something exciting happens: Everyone is pushing their food carts toward their pods, when Brandon (Grill’Billies chef) accidentally tips his cart over and kabobs go flying everywhere and he goes into a rage and starts kicking kabobs and using foul language. Greg and Krystal freak out and we go to commercial haunted by the image of broken kabobs being scooped off the floor by hand.

In happier times, my family visited the Art Institute of Chicago, where I found some investors for Kale City:

Everyone stands ready at their pods with their junky toys designed by our friends at Hot Buttered Elves. Greg laments his team’s “major malfunction.” Krystal adds: “I’m feeling horrible; I don’t like [the food] we’re putting out there — and half of it’s on the floor,” which is the kind of almost-humor that would destroy in a Catskills lounge.

All the kids come in with their parents. Bobby Flay introduces himself with a perfect absence of enthusiasm; the man is operating at zero degrees Kelvin. Lorena and Curtis state their names for the record, whereas Steve Ells leaps at the chance to tell these kids he invented Chipotle Grill! It’s like meeting Abraham Lincoln, huh, kids? In a surprise twist, Bobby Flay has brought along his preternaturally sophisticated daughter Sophie, who will offer feedback in the voice of a child, but with the wisdom of a thousand Batalis.

When it comes to food for children, Bobby Flay wants “something creative that doesn’t treat kids like kids.” Sudhir offers a toned-down Indian burger. Sophie Flay thinks Sudhir’s burger “is too … for lack of better word, mushy.” (“For lack of a better word?”) Bobby Flay, emboldened by his daughter’s judgment, forgets everything he just said about not treating kids like kids: “I’m skeptical that American kids will wanna eat Indian food.” Sure enough, we get a cutaway of some random girl: “Spice Coast is too, y’know, out there.” Really, kid? Too “out there”? Umm … you’re sitting around reading novels about vampires who don’t have sex.

Steve Ells is bonkers for Harvest Sol’s toy: Pete the Pita, which is like a whole-wheat version of the Bananagrams bag. He even makes a funny pita voice! (Steve Ells is a freak when the lights go down, I just know it.) Ells is looking for a toy that “engages kids to the brand,” which is the kind of phrase that should be illegal to think, let alone say. Sophie Flay, who is now the youngest person who has ever intimidated me, thinks chicken is “very common for kids.”

There is a brief family discussion about whether Sophie Flay has been fed her lines. My mom remarks upon the amount (number?) of makeup young Sophie is wearing.

The toy for Soul Daddy is a corn-bread muffin that yells “Soul Daddy!” when you open it. Sophie Flay is flummoxed by the waffle/turkey-bacon sandwich: “What meal would you eat this for?” Curtis Stone: “The nutritional value is pretty low; would you wanna serve it to your kids?” Meanwhile, Dr. Chipotle is basically short-circuiting; he can’t taste anything but the waffle! It’s overpowering his system! He says Jamawn showed “no balance in the way he approached the kids’ menu,” before collapsing in a shower of sparks and whirring noises.

In solidarity with the contestants, I designed a Kale City children’s menu for a kid I found at the mall:

He was skeptical at first; I guess because there was no cheap plastic tie-in toy?

I tried to comfort him by singing a jingle: “Kale, kale, yummy kale!” I’m not sure that helped:

But in the end he LOVED IT!

“Kale City: Turning infants into W.C. Fields since 2011.”

Holy mackerel: As the camera pans over Joey’s pod, there’s a fleeting glimpse of someone wearing a Misfits shirt! If Glenn Danzig is a surprise celebrity judge, I’ll eat my hair and all my muscles.

The judges think Joey’s toy is too expensive. (I assume they’re referring to the legal costs associated with completely ripping off Connect Four.) Joey is nervous about his “turkey smash-ball slider.” It pains me to see him so deferential to Bobby Flay’s daughter. However, Sophie loves the sandwich! Joey tears up: “Words can’t describe how happy that makes me.” I’m gonna buy Joey a thesaurus, because nobody should be at a loss for words just because some celebrity’s kid deigns to enjoy a sandwich.

The Grill’Billies toy is “Billy the Lightning Bug,” the amazing redneck bug whose butt lights up. Sophie Flay doesn’t like it. (My notes: “Sophie losing her appeal.”) Curtis Stone tastes the kebabs — they’re dry — and wonders why there’s no sauce. He adds, “This is some of the worst food I’ve eaten all competition.” Put that in your butt and light it. Bobby Flay is bugged out about kids using skewers. In the aftermath, Krystal and Brandon butt heads regarding why he’s not listening to her. As tensions rise, Brandon does what I would do — namely, bugs out and slinks away.

The contestants are brought into the judges’ chambers. (My family erupts in spontaneous laughter at the judges’ serious expressions.) Sophie Flay, thankfully, is absent. Good news for Joey: The kids “loved your concept”; he had the most silver coins “by a landslide margin.” (Did I mention they’re fucking around with the silver coins again?) Joey is so happy he starts crying. Stephenie’s safe, too: Curtis tells her she “stepped it up; the kids loved your food,” adding, “only nine of them needed to be institutionalized for depression after looking at Pete the Pita.” (Joke.)

Our losers? Greg and Krystal, Sudhir, and Jamawn. The judges devote the next five minutes to picking them apart.

Greg blames their horrible showing on “poor execution.” Krystal’s done with the corporate-speak — she blames the chef: “He doesn’t listen!” Bobby: “Then fire him!” Curtis Stone cuts to the quick: Who’s in charge of Grill’Billies? What’s the chain of command? Why is Stanley McChrystal standing in the corner of your pod badmouthing you? It is decided that Krystal will take charge from now on. After Greg and Krystal leave, Steve Ells says one of those sentences that sounds like it could be God describing Earth: “No one’s driving the vision for that concept.”

Sudhir’s up next. Bobby Flay: “How will we continue to believe in your concept if kids don’t like it?” Sudhir responds that he always geared his concept toward urban professionals, not “a bunch of snot-nosed children.” (Fake quote.) The judges worry that Americans won’t eat Indian food. (My notes: “bullshit pseudo-racist non-controversy.”) Curtis Stone then accuses Sudhir of being too jovial: “Are you taking this seriously?” Why is Curtis Stone being such a hard-ass tonight? Yeah, Sudhir, why aren’t you weeping and thrashing your back with old cheese graters for the delectation of the judges? You’re on a dopey reality show — how dare you enjoy yourself?

Me: “What do you think of America’s Next Great Restaurant?
Dad: “It’s crazy.”
Mom: “We’re missing Upstairs Downstairs.”

Jamawn looks defeated. He wants his time in front of the judges brief and to the point. Of course this won’t happen; there is a psychic pound of flesh to be had, and the judges will extract it with gleeful, leering pathos. When Jamawn laments that the challenge didn’t go his way, Bobby Flay helpfully reminds Jamawn that he used to play football; surely there were some games that didn’t go his way? Jamawn’s defense of his unhealthy kids’ menu is sad: “Where I come from, people just love soul food; they’re not looking at calories.” (There’s an entire sixth season of The Wire hiding, unexamined, in that statement.) The judges ask Jamawn if he thought about his three kids during the challenge, and Jamawn does exactly what ANGR’s producers hoped he would do: He shuffles around the room in tears. Curtis Stone, whose star is fading in my firmament, says some patronizing stuff to Jamawn about how, “no matter what happens,” he’s “a man people can be proud of.” Huh?

The investors deliberate about Jamawn. Curtis Stone: “Can you have too much passion? Bobby, you kinda had to talk him down off a ledge!” (A radical overstatement.) Meanwhile Lorena is “drawn to the passion Jamawn brings to the table” — big surprise; passion is like cocaine for the woman — “but he also has to be a businessman.” ENOUGH. I’m calling bullshit on how the judges are treating Jamawn. It’s patronizing and borderline racist. (YEAH, I SAID IT.) First they bait Jamawn with talk about his kids, and then — when he gets emotional like he’s supposed to — they wonder if he doesn’t have what it takes to run a business?! As if Jamawn is some sub-rational bundle of nerves who can’t think straight! Meanwhile, Joey’s running around crying like a busload of widows at a Celine Dion concert! The dude started crying because a teenage girl liked his sandwich. And what’s up with Curtis Stone reassuring Jamawn he’s a man people can look up to? He hasn’t condescended to any other contestant like that. Curtis Stone, I am so over you! My dad was right: You stink! You can forget about joining 120 Days of Skadom.

Anyway, back to business. Sudhir is faulted by Curtis Stone for not being passionate enough. Bobby Flay remains skeptical about “Indian food in the quick-casual market,” which is not surprising. Dr. Chipotle — TO HIS CREDIT — disagrees, reminding everyone once again that he invented Chipotle, the unstoppable host organism that introduced the ethnicity virus to the fast-casual market.

In the end, all this jawboning about Jamawn and Sudhir was a bait and switch, as Bobby Flay says, “I’m sorry, but my friends and I will not be investing in Grill’Billies.”

It’s true: Greg and Krystal have been officially Grill’Bye-byed. Greg is sad the investors are gonna miss this “great opportunity.” Krystal thinks about how the experience has brought them closer together and made them “so much stronger.” And really, don’t we all feel that way?

Only two episodes left!

David Rees is an artisanal pencil sharpener.

Editors note: This post has been edited to remove several inappropriate jokes.

Episode 7