America’s Next Great Restaurant Ready for Business on NBC

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Steve Ells, Bobby Flay, Lorena Garcia, and Curtis Stone, the investor-judges for NBC’s “America’s Next Great Restaurant.”

Now here’s something different and maybe tasty. A new reality contest series is coming to NBC on Sunday, March 6, with the premiere of America’s Next Great Restaurant.

It’s a show that will have people from every walk of life competing to see the creation of their original restaurant concept. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for one contestant who survives elimination and receives one of the biggest reality prizes in television history — a new restaurant chain that will open in three locations: Hollywood, Minneapolis and New York City.

The funding for the restaurant concepts will be from the notable investor-judges: restaurateur Bobby Flay, renowned chef Curtis Stone, founder-chairman of Chipotle Steve Ells, and executive chef-restaurateur Lorena Garcia.

Rock stars in the culinary/food service world, the foursome will also act as mentors to help the competitors develop their restaurant. There will be rigorous cooking challenges and business tests to see what ideas have staying power.

Flay, who spent years honing his skills as a chef and restaurateur, says he isn’t jealous that someone could just enter a contest and almost immediately get a deal for a food chain handed out for the right idea.

“I think it’s a new and exciting way to find the next fast casual restaurant idea that is going to sweep this country. And it’s a chance to feed America in a different way,” Flay said. “I think simplicity is the best, taking a single idea and doing it well. I started my own fast casual restaurant called Bobby’s Burger Palace where we serve burgers. I like the way Steve Ells is making burritos for America with Mexican flavors, but in a much more contemporary and helpful way.”

Flay further praised Ells’s chain, pointing out that Chipotle “is an incredibly well-thought out idea. All the food is carefully prepared. It’s healthful. It’s real food that has value.”

That’s what the show is looking for, a great new idea, something good that will help the “food revolution that’s going on in this country,” Ells explained. “Because people are really concerned about what they’re eating. And the notion of a fast casual restaurant is different than fast food. Fast food is about cheap ingredients and marketing gimmicks.”

Ells said he wants to discover an idea for a fast casual restaurant chain that will offer people not only food that’s delicious, but also something they want to eat every day, “and that you feel good about because it’s good for you. I think that is becoming more relevant to Americans.”

A delight to talk with, I developed an admiration for Ells and his passion for wanting to offer a healthy way of eating while also providing speed and convenience. I found out that Ells is a classically trained chef, and he deserves credit for making his own novel good food idea become a success.

His idea has taken a leadership position in a shift in American fast-food, with his commitment to using ingredients from more sustainable sources, including naturally raised meat, organic and locally grown produce, as well as dairy products from cows that are not given synthetic hormones. It demonstrates that food served fast didn’t have to be bad for you. And that concept can be a success.

Flay said the reality competition is about finding the new American dream. “As investor-judges we’re putting our own money up, and we want our money to work in the very best way. We want to find the best idea that will succeed.”

It will be very interesting to see what new ideas are offered by the contestants. And you have to ponder — If I could create a food chain, what would it be?

The series is from Emmy Award winning producers Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz of Magical Elves productions, which does Top Chef and Project Runway — very popular TV contest shows also about good taste.

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