Friday, April 29, 2011

Bobby Flay Discusses America’s Next Great Restaurant

  Photo by Mitchell Haaseth/NBC  

We have mixed emotions about the season finale of America's Next Great Restaurant on Sunday night. We’re sad that the show is already wrapping up, but we’re excited that the following day we’ll be able to scoot over to the Hollywood & Highland complex and enjoy the winner’s food. We’re hoping that winner is Sadhir Kandula of Spice Coast but we’d be happy to eat at Jamawan J. Woods’ Soul Daddy, too. We’d even enjoy sampling Joey Galluzzi’s treats at the Brooklyn Meatball Company. In a recent conference call interview with Bobby Flay we found out a bit about the finalists and what he and his fellow investors will do to offer their continued support. 
Flay explained his thought process going into Sunday night’s finale. “The most important thing is that as an investor you have an open mind in terms of what you've seen, what you're going to see, what you have seen up to this point in terms of how people react to mistakes that they've made in the past and whether or not they're going to be people that we want to work with as investors.”

Bobby addressed the strengths of each of the competitors in Sunday’s finale. “Sadhir, who’s got Spice Coast the modern Indian concept, is smart. He’s savvy. He’s got a good business sensibility and he really is passionate about the food of his land. So to me he was very obvious from the very beginning.”

Flay seemed swayed by one competitors personal story as well as his food. He remarked, “Jamawan, who has the Soul Daddy soul food idea, I feel like he’s doing it for all the right reasons. He’s doing it because he wants to make a better life for him and his family. And it will be an extension of what he was doing before he got here, which was actually selling fried chicken and waffles out of his apartment. He just needs somebody to give him the bricks and mortar and also a little guidance.”

And the celebrity chef seemed to have a soft spot for a fellow New Yorker. He told us, “Joey from the Brooklyn Meatball Company, you see how passionate he is about his grandmother’s meatballs. He reminds me of lots of kids when I was growing up. I was always jealous of my Italian-American friends because they had these wonderful mothers and grandmothers who basically cooked all week long and taught them how to make these delicious meals. So I think creating a comfort dish utilizing meatballs as a vehicle to all of America, it’s an idea that works and it’s something that’s very true to his heart.”

Whoever walks away with the big prize, Flay was clear to point out that the stakes are high. He noted, “Ultimately it's more than just a game. It's actually going to be a livelihood for one of these people and hopefully for the investors as well. So I think that we take all that in consideration.”
The winner will score a major prize — the keys to their own restaurant in three separate locations at South Street Seaport in New York City, in the Mall of America near Minneapolis and at the Hollywood and Highland Complex in Los Angeles. Bobby explained, how the three locales were selected. “We’re looking for heavily populated locations. Because you have to remember this is not a $100 a seat restaurant so [it]… might not be in the trendiest part of town.”

Flay commented that the food will be accessible to the masses, too. “The restaurants are going to be very value orientated. So the price point will be low enough that basically anybody could eat there.”

The winner will also get a stake in the chain and an annual salary. But the real prize is the assistance they’ll get from some of the biggest names in the food business. Flay described the role that he and his fellow investors (Curtis Stone, Steve Ells and Lorena Garcia) will play in the endeavor. “We’re going to give them whatever help they need. And so working on menus, helping them manage. I mean that's part of what you get from us is you get a support team.”

If anyone knows what will give the restaurant a chance of success it’s Bobby, whose own restaurants include a slew of Mesa Grills and Bobby’s Burger Palaces. He divulged some of the key elements in food fortune, “The obvious things are great food, great service. But beyond that I think value is incredibly important. Creating an environment that people are going to enjoy and that it fits the actual mood of the food and also the style of service of the restaurant. And that energy is really important. It's something that I talk a lot about in my restaurants that restaurants, especially casual restaurants, need to have a really terrific sense of energy so that people think of it as not just a meal but an event.”

Whoever is dubbed ANGR’s champ is going to need great fortitude. As Flay acknowledged, “The ironic part about it is [for] the person that wins this, the tough part, really starts the next day. It's a very tough business. The margins in the restaurant business are very tight even if you're incredibly successful. There [are] so many things that can go wrong and only a few things that can go right to make it work.”

And having the cache of a reality TV show behind them isn’t going to be enough to guarantee a profitable establishment. As Flay confessed, “I don't think that shows like this are going to help it get easier. I think what it’s going to do is it's going to give people an opportunity that would not have had an opportunity otherwise… It gives you sort of an installation of people who are professionals like the panel, like the investors, who could actually help somebody who have a really good idea, who have the drive and the work ethic to do it but aren't really sure how to actually get it done or how to get it started.”

Regardless Flay and his investment partners will be there until the bitter end. “We don't feel like we're cheating and helping them get the restaurant to function right… That’s part of the deal… You sign up for this thing and it's not just decide who you think is good and who you think is bad but you have to see it through for the long run.”

Time will tell if Bobby and his fellow judges have chosen wisely. He admitted, “We’re actually deciding what we think America wants to eat. And obviously the proof’s in the pudding.”

Speaking of pudding, ever wonder how master chef’s like Flay get their start. He kicked it all off with a box of powder. When asked about the first thing he ever cooked, Flay responded, “Mighty Fine Chocolate Pudding, which is… powdered chocolate pudding that you add milk to and it gets thicker… It was either that or deviled eggs. I can't remember which came first.”

See who will win the chance to open America’s Next Great Restaurant on Sunday, May 1 at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. Central on NBC.

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