From left: judges Steve Ells, Bobby Flay, Lorena Garcia and Curtis Stone. Photos from NBC.
It's getting hot in the kitchen at "America's Next Great Restaurant." Fran, the sports wrap proponent, got booted off, which leaves nine contenders vying for the prize that includes a spot at the Mall of America. She couldn't bite her tongue when judge Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle, said her chicken sports wrap was dry and underseasoned. Fran's response: "The taste was fine for me." Oh, Fran, what were you thinking? We loved your confidence and enthusiasm. (After her elimination, she said, "If I were a scrub, I'd say I was very happy to be here. But I'm not a scrub; I'm not. I'm a star." Those are the words of a former WNBA player who has forgotten there is no "me" in the word "team.") Regardless, her concept seemed dated (healthy wraps in a sports-themed environment). Check out her response on her Facebook fan page, including a rather creepy video.
Greg and Krystal, of the Southern comfort food tapas-style, squeaked past elimination only because Fran's pride took centerstage. Steve Ells complained that their bacon-wrapped sausages and tater-tot hot dish were just plain bad: "I like to indulge for sure. But this is just heavy, fatty, greasy without being very satisfying. It's awful ... It's just fat food." Judge Curtis Stone had fits about the processed potatoes: "Pretty gross." Judge Bobby Flay asked, "Are they making American trash food?"
Marisa (Wok Stir-Fry Creations) escaped elimination after the judges said her food was "hands down the worst." Her problem? Preparing a rice dish in the wok after asserting that her concept was stir-fry. Oh, and making it taste bad.
Eric, of melted cheese sandwiches (pictured here), won the popular vote (and this particular Italian version sounded good with multiple cheeses and Italian meats) as the 1,000 guests at Universal Citywalk in Hollywood sampled the contestants' fare under what appeared to be a very hot sun. (Where were the health inspectors? Where were the tents? There was no shade to protect people or food -- a nod, clearly, to the cameras.)
The logos for the contestants were revealed this time around and -- isn't there a designer in the house? -- were as lame as the proposed names for these restaurants. Would you go to Hick's (Southern comfort food), ComplEAT (healthy food with limited calories), Limbo (where heaven and hell meet up with healthy and indulgent versions of the same dish)? Or for that matter Hard N Soft Tacos (uh, clever -- see Alex's Facebook fan page), Wok Stir-Fry Creation (a little ingenuity, please), Meltworks (hmm, maybe), W3's (Wood's Wings and Waffles -- well, NYC has WD-50), Saucy Balls (meatballs, read on) or the Tiffin Box (southern Indian food that needs explaining)? Sigh. They could all use a good editor.
The judges still aren't certain about Joey, of meatball fame (he has his own Twitter account now under @joeysaucyballs). At the eating frenzy, Curtis Stone asked diners if they were uncomfortable with Saucy Balls as the name of a restaurant. "I wouldn't say, 'Hey, Grandma, let's go eat at Saucy Balls'," said one young female diner. Joey laughed, but the judges weren't looking comfortable. Wake up and read the meatballs, Joey, if you want to win. Check out his Facebook fan page. Still, the judges loved his meatballs.
Speaking of Joey, his competition is getting a bit tired of him. (How many times can he say Saucy Balls in one video? Apparently every time the camera is on him.) In the online extras, Sandy (of Limbo) and Jamawn (of W3's) trash talk Joey, who holds his own with an increasingly annoying bluster.
Stay-tuned as the competition heats up next week when the contestants take over the back of the house at Chipotle. Hilarity and sabotage will likely ensue. On Sundays at 7 p.m., follow on Twitter at StribTaste or on NBC (Channel 11).