'America's Next Great Restaurant' Recap: The Big Chipotle Screw-Up

Greg Krystal America's Next Great RestaurantLast night's America's Next Great Restaurant reminded me of a fave flick of mine from 1995 starring Alicia Silverstone. Mostly just because of the title ... Clueless.

You had to figure from the get-go, when the competitors were challenged to run a Chipotle at lunch hour and pretty much failed miserably, tensions would be running high. Oh yes, this first part of the episode was not to be missed! If only because Steve Ells ended up tweaking out. He's an uber-perfectionist, and it was like torture for him to watch the competitors fail to deliver the fresh "food with integrity" in any kind of efficient way to customers. Sure, it's not like these people have ever worked one day before at a Chipotle, so how were they supposed to know how to do the carnitas marinade or use a tortilla warmer (cough -- Marisa -- cough)? But I didn't feel bad for them at all. 


That's because most of them seem totally clueless, especially after having to create a solid name and concept and present a new signature dish to 100 people.

Marisa may be from the world of PR, but she obviously cannot "spin" anyone's opinion of her ability to succeed in the food world. She doesn't really know anything about anything having to do with it -- not even about stir-fry, which is the concept of her restaurant. She also didn't know any better than to take Bobby's advice when he told her that the chef she had chosen (and chosen to stick with) was making absolutely dreadful food. Sadly, she was not only clueless, but also a total people-pleaser. Not a good combo for a restaurateur.

Then you've got Krystal and Greg, the Hick's duo (now Grill'billies), and they're acting dumbfounded about the difference between BBQ and grilling meat -- wood chips and smoked vs. gas grill? Hello! One is "low and slow" and the other is fast and hot. Eeek, bad news that they can't demonstrate their understanding of that. Like Curtis Stone pointed out, they're just "making it up as they go." And that seemed like a bad, bad sign. It almost makes me angry that they have the audacity to compete against people with such strong visions when they're clearly lacking big time in that department.

Stephenie, who is a Harvard-trained lawyer, was the only clueless one who could admit she realized that she doesn't really know what she's doing. Props to her for that, because by admitting that she doesn't know, she can start trying to fix her problems. The main one being that she can't pinpoint what flavors her restaurant would make people crave. 

When she had to make her case in front of Bobby, Curtis, Lorena, and Steve, Bobby told her he can't invest in her concept with the name "Compleat," and she came off like a whiny brat responding to him with, "But I will work harder than anyone else here!" Doesn't she realize it's not just about the work? Passion -- and soul, as the investors put it -- is equally as important.

But in the end, Marisa got the boot, for lacking the leadership qualities the investors felt are necessary for running a restaurant. I can't disagree. She seemed bubbly and sweet, sure, but uh ... maybe she should open a candy store, then. Because she obviously didn't have what it takes to open a restaurant. You can't stick with a crappy chef, just to avoid confrontation. And you gotta know what good food is.

Hopefully, the other competitors take a tip from Marisa's, Krystal/Greg's, and Stephenie's failures this week -- and everyone starts to get a clue, because food plus frustration is not yummy at all.

Do you think the investors are being too tough on the competitors or do they need to get a clue?


Image via NBC

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