I was eating homemade Indian food as I watched last night’s episode of the NBC reality series America’s Next Great Restaurant, so you could be forgiven for thinking that I was rooting for Sudhir and his modern Indian food restaurant concept, Spice Coast, to make it from the final four to the top three in this heated competition.
Truth is, as much as I love many types of Indian food (though Sudhir’s presentation definitely trumps mine), I was really hoping that dark horse Stephenie (a Harvard-trained attorney by profession) and her Harvest Sol Mediterranean-fusion restaurant concept would make it to the next level. Alas, it was not to be. But it wasn’t her concept that was the defining issue; the judges (a.k.a. the investors) all agreed that Stephenie had a smart and highly marketable idea (healthy, fixed-calorie, mass-casual food). Her problem was that, in her reality TV quest to introduce the average American to really healthy (and even sustainably-sourced) fast food, Stephenie didn’t do enough of her research, and didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. As a result, she couldn’t sell Harvest Sol. And now she’s history.
In her mind, Stephenie had wanted to use lamb in one of her signature sandwiches. But she nixed that idea because in the U.S., lamb are always injected with hormones and kept in crowded pens for their entire lives. Or so Stephenie thought. Turns out, that information isn’t entirely accurate, as she uncomfortably found out when the judges called her on her knowledge of sustainable foods in the U.S. (In this country, while some lamb spends time in a feedlot, lamb is very often pasture-raised, and hormones are not part of the equation.) Stephenie very nobly wants Americans to eat healthier and more thoughtfully by introducing us to Harvest Sol (which might help make a dent in the obesity rates?), but how can she expect us to spend our money in her restaurant on a regular basis if she doesn’t even know where her ingredients come from or how they’re actually produced? The answer is: She can’t. If Stephenie wants her restaurants to educate us about nutrition, healthy eating, and sustainable farming, then she needs to have much more than a superficial knowledge about those subjects, which are the underlying foundation of her concept.
Unlike Stephenie, fellow contestant Jamawn did his research about the weaknesses in his Soul Daddy restaurant concept. He knew he needed to make his soul food healthier for and more appealing to the masses, so he did some sleuthing and discovered that yams can help diabetics control their disease, and that the detoxifying and anti-inflammatory properties of collard greens make them a powerful cancer-prevention food. Now Jamawn is of the final three.
Stephenie ended up sticking the lamb back into her sandwich at the last minute, but that action was simply too late to save her overarching concept and launch her to the next level. Because if we ever hope to markedly improve our nation’s overwhelmingly unhealthy eating habits and decrease our staggering obesity rates, first we need to know what the hell we’re talking about.