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America's Next Great Restaurant: Redneck Tapas, Tiffin Boxes, and More...

Is anyone else still trying to figure out if they should watch America's Next Great Restaurant? It's a new NBC show that has contestants pitching their fast-casual restaurant concept to a group of investors. The winning idea then becomes reality -- by the end of the show, three actual restaurants open in Hollywood, California; New York City; and Minneapolis. The investor/judges are people you've seen before or heard of: Bobby Flay, Lorena Garcia, and Curtis Stone and Chipotle founder Steve Ells.

Here's a recap -- do you think any of these ideas could be the next McDonald's, Subway, or Chipotle?

In the premiere, the pool of 21 contestants was narrowed down to ten. Kind of awful to see people's ideas get shot down time and time again, but only more awful than that... were their ideas! It really makes you wonder what exactly the show producers were thinking of in the first place. Among the ideas that didn't make the cut were a burger and wing joint, another wing joint, a soup place, a miniature-pot-pie place that served entrées encased in pot pies (like a hamburger pot pie, a mac 'n' cheese pot pie), and ideas from contestants who just seemed all over the place.

The ten ideas that advanced included a make-your-own-healthy-wrap place (founded by a former WNBA star); a grilled-cheese-focused chain, Hick's -- a Southern tapas concept (meant to celebrate the food of the American redneck -- their words, not mine); and Tiffin Box, a South Indian-version of Chipotle.

Passion seemed to go far with the judges. "If I die without doing a restaurant, I will not have lived," said the saucy-balls (Grandma's Italian meatballs concept) contestant, and he was in. "If you guys invest in me, nothing can stop me," said the chicken and waffle guy, and he was in.

In last night's episode, the contestants had to pick the chefs who would cook for them. Together, they served a crowd of 1,000 people. The tasters then voted on their favorite dish.

The three weakest performers went to a judges' table to be questioned by the investors: the Southern tapas concept, the healthy-wraps idea, and the stir-fry concept (everything made in a wok). Hick's food was too fatty. The make-your-own-wrap contestant seemed to think that the fact that customers made their own wraps would solve any questions about the food (like if they didn't like it, it was their own fault). An unfortunate scene ensued when the Chipotle founder said the chicken in the wrap was too dry and the contestant seemed unresponsive to the feedback. (He's the founder of Chipotle, lady -- he knows a thing or two about chicken!) The wok lady, though energetic and way, way smiley -- had the worst food, according to the judges. In the end, the judges didn't seem to think the wrap contestant (Fran Harris) could work with them, and she was let go.

The winner (who gets immunity in the next challenge) was MeltWorks' founder, grilled-cheese guy Eric Powell.

That's a wrap!

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Roseanne Pereira
Contact: Roseanne Pereira