America’s Next Great Restaurant Recap: David Rees Needs an Army of Kale Soldiers

Steve Ells is ready to pounce.
Steve Ells is ready to pounce. Photo: NBC

This penultimate episode of ANGR falls on Easter Sunday, which for Christians is the day of Christ’s resurrection. (Mel Gibson made a tasteful, low-key movie about it; you should check it out.) If this recap seems disturbed, it’s because I spent the day watching Oldboy, a South Korean thriller that makes Passion of the Christ look like an Enya video. Suffice it to say, the least unpleasant scene in Oldboy features a bedraggled man eating a live octopus — and it’s only after he’s released from the grimy room he’s been trapped in for fifteen years that said man’s life takes a turn for the worse. “Mama mia,” is all I have to say about that movie.

On to the show! Jamawn is using an electric-blue laptop to research soul food; he wants to make his meals more balanced and healthy. If he can make Soul Daddy healthier, he will win — OR I WILL EAT A LIVE OCTOPUS. Mark my words.

Our four finalists meet with the four investors. One of the investors says, “You need to show us this can be a national concept.” (Didn’t catch who said this; maybe Bobby Flay? That’s such a Bobby line! Lorena would never say that. She would say, “You need to show us the passion you have for your concept in your heart.”)

Anyway, the gang is headed to the best city for finding a true cross-section of Americans: LAS VEGAS! A city of extravagance — culinary and cocaine-ary. (I assume there’s lots of cocaine in Vegas because of all the prostitution and gambling.) Our finalists will create three new dishes to serve the crowd at Caesars Palace, one of Las Vegas’s hottest hot spots — a spot so hot, it puts the “hot” in “hot shot,” for all the hot shots who go to the hot spot.

Bobby Flay: “We’ll see you in Las Vegas!” The giddy contestants leave to pack their bags and cocaine-snorting straws. (Joke.) Joey: “I’m about to do some saucy eightballs!” (Joke.) Sudhir: “I am going to open my third nostril!” (Joke.) Guys, let’s face it: Nobody on the show did any cocaine. If you’re watching ANGR in the hopes of catching a glimpse of an honest-to-God cocaine orgy — the kind where people would snort cocaine off a live octopus and then eat the octopus and then go on a killing rampage with a ball-peen hammer like in Oldboy — you’re out of luck.

The investors discuss the current state of play. Here I will break my vow of never recapping Bobby Flay’s off-brand recaps, if only to mention that Curtis Stone and Lorena look absolutely bereft. (My notes: Haggard, drawn, depressed. Depleted of life.) Curtis, especially, looks surly and resentful, as if he was called in from taping one of his other nine cooking shows to shoot this scene. Everyone looks as tired of talking about these concepts as I am of hearing about them. We’re almost done, guys. Hang in there!

And then, suddenly we’re in Las Vegas! More specifically, we’re at Caesars Palace, the famous blackjack parlor where Julius “Juicy” Caesar was once stabbed in the back by Ettu “The Brute” Brutus, one of Bugsy Malone’s henchmen. The contestants’ suite is enormous, grandiose, heroically tacky. It looks like the inside of Donald Trump’s mind, without all the birth-certificate stuff. While Jamawn, Joey, and Stephenie are agog, Sudhir brags about how he’s “been in suites like this many times.” Okay, Mr. Big-shot Businessman, we get it. YOU’RE A WINNER. Meanwhile, the opulence of the suite causes Joey to dream big: “I can imagine Brooklyn Meatball Company having 1,000 stores or more!”

Our heroes go to the kitchen to meet with their chefs and prepare their three dishes. Spice Coast is making tacos. (My notes: Again?) Joey’s making meatballs. (I know, I know: It blew my mind, too.) Jamawn’s making healthy soul food. Stephenie wants to make a lamb sandwich, but only if she can use “sustainable lamb.” (I guess that’s a special kind of lamb that doesn’t die if you kill it, like the Lamb of God?) If there’s no “sustainable lamb,” she says, they’ll go vegetarian. Stephenie’s chef looks askance: “Interesting. That is your call.” Something tells me the lamb conversation is significant — and not just because it’s Easter … unless the ANGR producers are sending hidden messages to Christians.

I consider abandoning my Kale City franchise in favor of “Oldboy Korean Taco Trucks, Inc.” my new concept of a fleet of Korean taco trucks that drive around Brooklyn flinging live octopuses at hipsters.

The countdown clock says we only have 07:00:48:56 until America’s next great restaurant opens. Prepare your survival kit!

We’re in Caesars’ kitchen. Joey is making 700 meatballs, and he’s rolling them all by hand. There’s a brief shot that quickens my pulse: Health-conscious, calorie-counting Stephenie tries some of Jamawn’s fried chicken. (My notes: Incredibly hot, subversive.)

The investors show up to announce that our heroes will have to hire employees to run their food pods and interact with all the Las Vegans. (NOTE: Not real vegans.) They must choose employees who will be “a good fit for the concept.” (Dear Lord, how many more weeks of this concept talk until I can leave my earthly body and ascend into heaven?)

Sudhir wants to make accessible dishes, but he’s repeating a bunch of his food-truck dishes. The judges aren’t sure about that, but Sudhir tells us “Spice Coast will absolutely be a success.”

Jamawn is preparing barbecue ribs, fried chicken, and something else I didn’t catch; Ells says it’s “an ambitious menu.” Curtis Stone refers to the amount (numbers?) of sweat on Jamawn and helpfully announces: “You look frazzled.” Well, you know what, Curtis Stone? You look bored and distracted. Jamawn says he’s decided to “go out with guns blazing.” I used to think Stephenie was going to win this show. But Jamawn is. I just know it. He’ll be the first reality-show superstar with a neck tattoo since that L.A. weirdo from Project Runway.

Joey describes his meatballs and sauces with his usual menacing enthusiasm, and Lorena complains about how rich and heavy it all sounds. Joey, chastened, will adjust his menu.

Stephenie tells the judges her menu will include … garlic kale! My blood runs cold. Then hot. Then cold again. “Garlic kale?” This is a direct challenge — a shot across the bow of U.S.S. Kale City, the unsinkable frigate that takes on all comers. Very well, Stephenie. Just remember: “You come at the king, you best not miss.” Have you seen the Mayor of Kale City?

Stephenie, flush with excitement from challenging me in the kale arena, announces with the pride that, since the lamb on offer was “conventionally sourced,” she won’t use it. Dr. Chipotle’s B.S. detector lights up on his circuit board; he asks Stephenie: “How are lambs raised?” Stephenie stammers about pens and forced feeding and mandatory castration and remedial math classes and who knows what else. Dr. Chipotle corrects her: “Lambs are raised on pasture.” Stephenie has obviously confused the nightmare of veal production with the blameless Valhalla of lamb production. (I feel for her; I assumed all meat is basically raised the same way, except maybe fish, because I think they have to be wet.) Curtis Stone presses on, eager to find the exact contours of Stephenie’s ignorance: “Is your beef antibiotic-free?” Stephenie doesn’t know. The judges can’t believe that someone whose concept involves healthy, conscious eating doesn’t understand how meat is made. Stephenie finally snaps: “Jesus, guys, it’s just dead animals; who cares?” (Joke.) Stephenie’s conclusion: “I didn’t know what I was talking about.” (No joke.)

If I really have to go to war against Harvest Sol, I’ll need an army of Kale Soldiers. Who will stand with me on St. Crispin’s Day? (So-called because my kale chips are extra-crispy.) Leave your name, rank and serial number in the comments. And also, it’d be great if you had a car we could use because mine is making a weird whining sound.

Our friends begin hiring employees. The applicant pool appears to consist of young people who were yanked from their video games and thrown in the back of a van. Jamawn asks a potential employee, “Do you like soul food?” The employee’s response, which is supposed to serve as “yes,” is immortal: “Once my friend bought a deep-fryer and we deep-fried everything.” Bingo. Game over. If we had just given this man’s friend a restaurant, we could have avoided the entire season of ANGR.

Stephenie interviews a creepy young man who concludes his interview by saying, “You’re a very good-looking lady.” Instead of bashing his face with a conventionally sourced skillet, she laughs nervously. I’ll be the first to admit Stephenie is attractive (I have a fetish for women who can’t articulate restaurant concepts), but a gentleman never tells a lady she’s attractive until the third job interview.

Something funny happens: The smiling creep who hit on Stephenie meets with Joey, who is smitten: “How many hours a day could you smile like that?” And so the hunter becomes the hunted! I like it!

Jamawn interviews a guy with deep knowledge of soul food. He likes collard greens neck bones. He smiles a lot, which is good. Jamawn is about to pwn everyone.

It’s the day of Investor Test. The restaurant pods are set up in front of Caesars Palace, like enemy encampments outside a fortified village. Stephenie, who wound up using lamb in her grilled vegetable sandwich, hurriedly “explains” her concept to her employees while they set up.

The investors appear on a balcony at Caesars Palace. (Note to producers: Never put Steve Ells on a balcony again. He looks like a jumper.) The investors address the crowd like four Popes presiding over Easter mass in St. Peter’s Square. I’ve actually been to Easter mass in St. Peter’s square, and this ain’t it. This crowd looks underwhelmed and underwhelming. (Easter Sunday in St. Peter’s Square is like a Metallica concert giving birth to nine Lollapaloozas.)

Somebody says some stuff about silver coins and how important it is to be a good manager and “have fun trying all the weird food our contestants pulled out of their butts” and then we’re off! The crowd fans out to try all the food.

The Brooklyn Meatball Company pod provides our first sighting of Las Vegas royalty: famous magicians Penn and Teller! Penn Gillette, a Foghorn Leghorn–like libertarian who sucks up any oxygen not being used by Donald Trump, makes a big show of trying the food. How are the meatballs? Teller breaks his decades-long silence to announce, “These meatballs suck.” (Joke.) Bobby Flay and Lorena are impressed with Joey’s employees (especially the creepy guy), but Flay announces: “These aren’t your best meatballs.” He seems offended. (My notes: Flay honestly looks pissed.) Things get even worse when Curtis Stone and Doc Chip show up: Their meatballs are cold! They’re not cooked all the way through! (One thing I’ve learned about meat is it’s a good idea to cook it before eating it — except for octopuses, of course.)

I’m still “steaming” that Stephenie decided to use kale in her menu. I’m going to sue the copyright lawyer who told me I’d get a nickel any time someone cooks kale.

Soul Daddy serves salmon with Cajun shrimp. Lorena loves it: “This is the feel I want from your food.” Curtis Stone licks his fingers, which is a good sign. He also likes Soul Daddy’s employees: “I see a bunch of smiles, a bunch of hard workers.” Penn and Teller come over and make a big scene about how great Soul Daddy is.

A Las Vegas showgirl drops her coin in the Spice Coast slot. (This sounds like a euphemism for an esoteric sexual practice, but it literally happened.) Dr. Chipotle asks one of Sudhir’s employees about the Spice Coast concept. The employee says something like: “Indian cuisine, modern, nice flavors, healthy.” Score! Sudhir taught his children well. (He says he will hire them all if Spice Coast wins ANGR.) Dr. Chipotle tries the Spice Coast taco and comes down with a debilitating case of tortilla envy: “So light, so delicate!” Basically, Dr. Chipotle and Curtis Stone are loving Spice Coast so much, they don’t want to bother talking about it. They just want to get their grub on. Dr. C tells Sudhir it’s been “exciting to watch your food progress; you’ve come a long, long way.” Sudhir is basically the Jay-Z of ANGR at this point — he runs this town.

HOWEVER, we haven’t yet heard from Lorena and Bobby Flay. They’re not fans of Sudhir’s mango milkshake. Bobby Flay compares it to baby medicine, which is weird, because isn’t baby medicine supposed to taste great, so that babies will eat it?

Over at Harvest Sol’s pod, Stephenie is mortified as one of her employees doesn’t know what foccacia is. (The sandwiches were made with foccacia.) I have no problem with somebody not being up to speed on foccacia, because I’m one of the thousands of Americans who are taking a stand and admitting that foccacia tastes like wheat on a dish sponge, but I suppose it’s not a great reflection on Stephenie that her employees don’t know what her food is made out of. What’s the adverb for surly? Surlyly? Because that’s how Bobby Flay announces: “It’s a good sandwich, but it doesn’t blow my mind.” The judges are not impressed with Stephenie’s employees, either. (My notes: Great shot of Flay looking constipated.)

I forgot to hide Easter eggs this year! No wonder I feel weird.

Steve Ells and Curtis Stone visit Harvest Sol. Ells asks one of the employees: “It’s ‘Mediterranean fusion’ — fused with what?” Employee: “It’s fused with good Mediterranean!” (Are my notes right? If so, Employee, will you please marry me?)

Then Dr. Chipotle drops a bomb: “I love the kale!” I suppose the average viewer thinks he’s referring to Stephenie’s kale dish, but you and I know that this is yet another coded message from the founder of Chipotle to the founder of Kale City, a desperate attempt to broker peace before all-out veggie warfare tears our nation apart. Curtis Stone thinks Stephenie’s concept is all about “Letting mother nature speak for herself,” which is the best articulation I’ve heard of Stephenie’s gelatinous, embroyonic, shape-shifting, shadowy, fractured, inarticulate concept. The judges agree: Stephenie’s employees couldn’t articulate Harvest Sol’s concept because they didn’t understand the concept, and they didn’t understand the concept because Stephenie doesn’t understand the concept. It’s like the old saying: “Shit rolls downhill,” except in this case, the shit is a concept, which is appropriate, because Stephenie’s concept is shit.

The day at Caesars Palace draws to a close. A grateful Sudhir hugs his employees and hands them each a check for $500,000. (Joke.) Joey offers more Brooklyn wisdom: “Staying in the game puts you in the finals.” SPORTS COACHES TAKE NOTE.

Back in L.A., the camera glides over the studio, which looks fancy! Somebody has installed illuminated shrubs. Dr. Chipotle says something tantalizing: “Las Vegas revealed new things about each and every one of you.” It turns out the contestants were each given $5,000, a bunch of cocaine, and a prostitute, and the judges secretly filmed the results. (Joke.)

Sudhir is first to the Investor’s Suite. The consensus: Sudhir picked good employees. (It’s his businessman savvy, coming out again.) Dr. Chipotle asks: “What would be the hardest thing about running a restaurant?” The judges are fishing for humility, self-awareness, doubt … But Lake Sudhir hasn’t been stocked with those for a long time. Sudhir: “I’m having a difficult time saying why this would be hard.” Really, Sudhir? You can’t think of one reason why running a restaurant would be hard? I can think of five reasons why thinking about running a restaurant would be hard. What about back in episode two when you had to work at Chipotle and you went and hid in the hallway? Come on, bro. Curtis Stone, sensing my frustration, pounces: “It’s a huge weakness when someone can’t acknowledge weakness.” Sudhir, maddeningly, doesn’t break a sweat: “I’ll concede that, also.” Sudhir should have realized what the judges wanted and taken a page from the Oldboy playbook — debasing himself by acting like a dog and licking the shoes of the judges. (Mama mia, what a movie.)

Jamawn won the most silver coins. (He uses his one magical wish to turn Curtis Stone into a unicorn.) Jamawn tells the judges about his research into healthy soul food: Yams are good for diabetics; greens cure cancer(?), etc. (This was the moment when I realized Jamawn was going to win ANGR.) When it’s learned that Jamawn used his dad’s salad recipe, the judges ask about his dad. Jamawn says something any father would want to hear: “When I think of my dad, I think of the perfect man.” There follows a heartfelt, confusing story about decent people in difficult times. The judges continue last week’s emotional exploitation of poor Jamawn: “If you win this, how is this gonna change your life?” Jamawn mentions pressure back home, sharing a car with his fiancée. He wants to be a better provider for his children. The judges are moved. Bobby Flay: “Jamawn? Love him.” Lorena: “He has learned and grown.”

Guys, when Jamawn wins ANGR, all of America’s sins toward the working class and the urban poor shall be wiped clean. The death of organized labor and the manufacturing class shall be but a pebble in your shoe. Soul Daddy: “Take, eat. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Stephenie: “A lot of things about this test were difficult.” Bobby Flay: “You looked under duress … your employees felt scattered.” Curtis Stone brings up the Lamb Fiasco (not Christ’s crucifixion; the other one) and labels it a “massive breakdown of understanding.” Lorena employs some of the inscrutable doggerel that has come to define ANGR discursive praxis: “Give it to me that you are the entity that can hold this concept.” (At this point, I realize we should have been playing a season-long ANGR drinking game, where you take a shot every time someone says “concept”; we’d all be hanging out in the liver-transplant wing.)

I try to think of other scenes in movies where people eat live animals, but all I can think of is that fake scene in Faces of Death when the guy eats the monkey’s brain.

Joey stands before the judges and admits, “My food wasn’t the best I’m capable of.” Bobby Flay: “I try to champion you. I can’t argue for you this week.” Joey still believes his concept has mass appeal: “It’s a moneymaker!” Also: “I have the ability to communicate my passion.” Bobby Flay thinks Joey is “holding on by a string, if that.”

Regarding Soul Daddy, Lorena is surprised by how popular soul food is. Bobby Flay corrects her: “It’s soul food with a twist.” Sudhir is accused of playing it too safe, but Curtis Stone reminds us: Sudhir’s employees “represented his brand perfectly.” Bobby Flay isn’t sure Sudhir has the stamina to run a restaurant chain: “He helps companies start up and then he walks away.” Ouch! I’m pretty sure that’s an uncharitable description of whatever it is Sudhir does for a living. Bobby Flay goes on: “Finishing separates men from boys.”

(This real-time tweet from @SudsNYC (Sudhir) is presented without comment: “#ANGR Top 3- Thank you for all the support - the judges know NOTHING about what I started or finished - that comment was a bloody COP-OUT!!!”)

Okay, I guess I will make one comment: According to my super-sophisticated people-reading skills, I’m guessing Sudhir didn’t win this show. I’m also guessing his ANGR nondisclosure agreement is chafing worse than corduroy underwear on a Gobi desert jog.

Should the judges keep Joey? Curtis Stone: “Meatballs is a no-brainer.” That’s not good enough for Steve Ells, who asks: “Does it do anything for food culture in this country?” The judges say what they always say about Stephenie: There’s a “great lack of vision of what her concept is,” etc. etc. ad infinitum until my ears leap off of my skull.

Curtis Stone makes the point that “three of these concepts are very American … Indian (food) is the most alienating.” (Not sure “alienating” is the best word to use, Curtis.) Meanwhile, Steve Ells thinks Joey should leave. Bobby Flay: “Really?” “YEAH,” Steve Ells snaps endearingly and once again I’m exhausted by my wariness of and admiration for Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle. (Seriously, have you guys heard of Chipotle? It’s a chain of Mexican restaurants that serves food with integrity. In the event of typhoon, their burritos can be used as sandbags.)

The judges each write down the name of whom they want to send home. Lorena is the picture of anguish. (And yet, never has a picture had a more alluring frame. My dear Lorena, how I long to share my passion with you! Please text “David Passion” to 230923096! My dirigible awaits!)

I’m actually excited to see who gets kicked off! (My real-time prediction: I think Stephenie is going home.)

The contestants are led in. Jamawn is SAFE; he’s one of the final three. He’s invited to go stand by one of the illuminated indoor hedgerows that represents a restaurant. Dr. Chipotle addresses Sudhir: “You have great business sense.” Sudhir’s SAFE, too. Now it’s down to Joey and Stephenie … the tension builds … (my notes: The music is jamming!) Curtis admonishes Joey, saying, “We had major concerns with your meatballs in Las Vegas” … more small talk … Lorena lights a joint (Joke) …

… and, then, all of a sudden, Bobby Flay says: “Stephenie, I’m sorry but we will not be investing in your restaurant.” Stephenie is OUT! Kale City FTW! Sorry, Stephenie, but you’ve been KWNED. (I always thought she’d pull it out in the end and win, just because her concept was such a close match to Dr. Chipotle’s vision of “food with integrity,” but I guess I was wrong.)

Stephenie, gracious in defeat, thanks the judges for a “life-changing experience.” Stephenie reflects on her time in the ANGR universe: “I found myself to be much more capable person than I ever knew.” Apparently, she always used to set a mental limit on what she could accomplish, but she doesn’t feel like she has to do that anymore. Who are these people, with their unstoppable minds? Is Stephenie going to take over the world? I guess I’d be okay with that. She seems like a nice person.

Anyway gang, that’s it for this week. One more episode to go, and then we get our amazing new restaurant! (a.k.a. Soul Daddy.)

I’m off to the aquarium for a snack.

Episode 8