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'America's Next Great Restaurant' Series Premiere Recap

by Bob Sassone, posted Mar 7th 2011 10:00AM
America's Next Great RestaurantNBC hasn't had much success with reality shows based around the opening of restaurants. First was 'The Restaurant,' the much-maligned reality show that followed chef Rocco DiSpirito as he opened a new restaurant in. And then there was 'The Chopping Block,' which you probably don't remember because it was on for 7 minutes in 2009.

Now comes the most ambitious show yet. The winner of 'America's Next Great Restaurant' won't just get a cash prize and sent off to do their thing alone -- this winner gets an investment and coaching from celebrity judges plus three restaurants, in New York, Minneapolis and L.A.

But how many new ideas can there possibly be when it comes to restaurants?

This show isn't about finding the next Le Bernadin or French Laundry, it's about finding the next TGI Fridays or Chipotle, the "fast casual" type of chain where most people eat. So the judges aren't looking for culinary perfection or top chefs (some of these people aren't even involved in the restaurant business), they're looking for a great idea, hard work, energy and someone they feel comfortable investing in.

It's hard to say how original the ideas were. You had burgers, chicken and waffles, soups and plenty of other types of places we've already seen around American malls and cities. So the idea has to be something you can actually picture being a popular chain restaurant, even if the food that will be served isn't the most original (though it still has to be good). I can imagine going to a place that serves top-notch grilled cheese sandwiches with lots of options and high-quality bread, or a place that serves a type of ethnic food you don't usually see in a mainstream way.

I'm not sure if I'd eat at a place run by a woman who took a long time to blow up a big plastic house in front of the judges, even though it had nothing at all to do with her restaurant idea. (She was cut right away.) I liked that about this first episode: they cut the contestants down to 10 from 21, so there wasn't any will-they-or-won't-they dragging out of the decisions (except for the final choice, but since it was the end of the episode it didn't irritate). They told the contestants right away, which was impressive.

The first episode was impressive for another reason too. Where a lot of shows like this would make a point of keeping the most controversial contestant in the mix, this show cut him. Contestant Joe had a concept for a chicken wings place and a big reality show confrontational attitude. The other contestants didn't like the latter and the judges didn't like the former at all, so he was shown the door rather quickly -- but not before saying "f**k you" a few times to the camera. Actually cutting him instead of having him go on to the next round simply for the drama was quite refreshing to see.

(Side note: this guy is the co-owner of Big Wangs, a chain of L.A. sports bars that has a TV connection: it's co-owned by 'Home Improvement' star Zachery Ty Bryan. Bryan is now suing the other owners.)

But you never quite forget that this is indeed still a reality show. You have the dramatic music and editing, the on-camera confessions and the what-will-happen cliffhangers before the commercials and all that. It's almost as if all reality shows have to be run through a special computer program before they're allowed on the air.

But so far this is pretty engaging stuff. It's not nasty or over the top, though that could happen in the coming weeks (and it looks like it will if the coming attractions are any indication). But yeah, the first episode hooked me enough where I'll make an effort to watch it next week.

More thoughts:

• It remains to be seen whether or not the judges will want to invest in an idea that is completely original -- something they've never seen before or haven't seen much of -- or if they'll go the safe route and invest the money in a food idea that has been done before and has proven successful.

• And on that point, I wonder if the judges may have put too much emphasis on the food that the contestants made in the first round. Food and recipes can always be improved.

• The weirdest comment of the night came from judge Curtis Stone. He asked why anyone would want to go out and have a grilled cheese sandwich at a restaurant when they can make a great one themselves at home. Well, you might as well close all the fast casual restaurants in the country if that's the way you think.

• It's official: "passion" is now the most overused, meaningless word in the English language.

'America's Next Great Restaurant' airs Sundays at 8PM on NBC.

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Watch the full episode here:

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pntrimming

Nothing new on this show.We already have these top of foods and restaurants similar I thought there would be original concepts.

March 20 2011 at 2:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John

I forgot to mention, most of these contestant need help with their idea's. Before airing a TV show like this find a format for what is really an original restaurant concept. Most of these restaurant concepts or ideas are already in our neighborhoods in some form. Nothing new, same-o-same-o.

March 14 2011 at 3:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John

I been watching this show and I haven't really seen anything that is very original other then the grilled cheese idea, but hasn't sandwich shops been creating various sandwiches with melted cheese already. The new reality today is eating healthy, find foods that have a good taste that are not boring and are fun to eat. The food has to be plentiful when served and excite your tastebuds before you bite. Most of what I've been watching isn't really new idea's. The wrap, taco, bbq, asian, chicken waffle and stir fried idea is already being done by many restaurant chains and independent operators. I think the food concept should be expanded more on an ideaology along with the freshness of foods that are created in this potental new restaurant.

March 14 2011 at 3:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve

reminds me of Last Restaurant Standing from BBC America, but not as charming since it isn't British. They also got restaurants to open and then the judges closes them one by one until there was a winner.

Bobby Flay's show will be DVR worthy

March 07 2011 at 12:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
h0sti1e 17

Two things I think it has going for it, is first that it is produced by the same company that does Top Chef, so it won't be some awfully produced show. That doesn't mean it won't be bad, but the production will be top notch. Secondly it is on Sunday which is turning into Reality TV night (Amazing Race, Undercover Boss, Celebrity Apprentice). That is one thing though that may be a problem, it is up against Amazing Race. Many people that love reality TV will stick with Race.

March 07 2011 at 10:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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