Television Review: ‘America’s Next Great Restaurant’


If you are a professional of a certain age and have not been asked to serve as a judge on a reality show in which folks attempt to leapfrog to success in your area of expertise, then you might want to think about getting new representation. For the record, when there’s a show in which various producer wannabes compete for the next great reality series, count me in; I have just as many dangly earrings as Steven Tyler.

“America’s Next Great Restaurant,” which premieres Sunday night on NBC, is another one of these shows, specifically the love child of “Shark Tank” and “Hell’s Kitchen.” A group of people who dream of starting the next big quick-service chain (did you know there were people who had this dream? I did not) vie for the approval, and investment dollars, of restaurateur Bobby Flay, Chipotle founder Steve Ellis and chefs Lorena Garcia and Curtis Stone.

The “great” in the title is, by the way, defined by Chipotle, which is held up as a model for those seeking the three-restaurant rollout (Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York) that is the show’s prize. So we are spared, at least, all the emotional flambé and artful drizzling of another chef show. Instead, “America’s Next Great Restaurant” goes another way — some of the people competing do not even know how to cook, or if they do, it’s only one or two dishes.


What they do have is personality, if by personality you mean stereotypes — there’s the Italian American who does his Grandma’s “saucy balls,” an Indian man hoping to universalize the food of his homeland, an African American promoting chicken and waffles (apparently he’s never heard of Roscoe’s), a thin white woman who’s all about stir-fry, a class president-type white guy who does grilled cheese, a former WNBA star who wants to capitalize on the eat-healthy-movement via do-it-yourself wraps, and the really mean guy who puts everything in a taco.

My favorite is the young Asian American woman who is a lawyer but only because, as she reveals in episode 2, upon her return from the Peace Corps, everyone was so excited she had gotten into Harvard Law School that she didn’t have the heart to tell them that all she really wanted to do was open a chain of quick-serve restaurants.

My money is on her because, A) you have to love someone who endured the rigors of Harvard Law School just, you know, because and B) she has the best idea — tasty healthy food that comes in a variety of calorie counts.

“America’s Next Great Restaurant” doesn’t have the drama of a Gordon Ramsay show, but it does have a behind-the-scenes factor that is fresh enough — who knew coming up with a logo was so hard? — and the subject matter has universal appeal. I was surprised that more of the participants did not go a more fresh ‘n’ healthy route because it seems like a quick-service restaurant that isn’t bad for you would do well in these anti-obesity days.

But then who doesn’t like a good grilled cheese sandwich?