Bobby Flay on "America's Next Great Restaurant"

Bobby FlayBobby Flay is well known in the food world, and for most is a household name. He not only owns multiple restaurants around the country, has appeared on many shows, and published multiple books, but he has also had quite a few of his own cooking shows, and hosted many as well. He is probably at the moment best known for his series Throwdown with Bobby Flay and as one of the Iron Chefs. He also recently hosted The Next Food Network Star, which will enter its seventh season this June. He even guest starred on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Flay now hosts America's Next Great Restaurant on NBC, which will air its season finale tonight. America's Next Great Restaurant is a reality competition where contestants compete to make their restaurant concepts become a reality. The winner will have their idea turned into three restaurants in Los Angeles, New York City, and Minneapolis, all of which will open for business tomorrow.

Flay sat down with the digital media to talk about America's Next Great Restaurant's season finale.

America's Next Great Restaurant
Bobby Flay

April 27, 2011
12:00 pm CT

Bobby FlaySCIFI VISION: Is there anything you can tell us about this finale without spoiling things?

BOBBY FLAY: Well you - there's three people left. There's Soul Daddy, Spice Coast, and Brooklyn Meatballs.

And basically you're going to see them build I guess for a lack of a better description pop-up restaurants of what they're going - of what they want to actually have as their own restaurant.

And they're going to actually go through the motions of, you know, opening a restaurant, getting it staffed up and then actually serving real customers.

And it's basically sort of the final test of the - of everything they've gone through to actually get to this point.

So that's where sort of all the action is going to take place and then ultimately we'll decide, you know, we'll get their own restaurant.

SCIFI VISION: How hard do you think it's going to be decide? Do you already have somebody in mind or does it really just depend on this episode or...


SCIFI VISION: ...their last task or all together?

BOBBY FLAY: ...I think that - I think the most important thing is that as an investor you have an open mind in terms of, you know, what you've seen, what you're going to see, you know, a finale, what you seen up to this point in terms of, you know, how people, you know, how people react to mistakes that they've made in the past and whether or not they're going to be, you know, people that we want to work with as investors.

I mean 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.

SCIFI VISION: This one's from a fan on Twitter. They want to know if you ever have time to go spend the night cooking in any of your restaurants anymore?

BOBBY FLAY: Oh every day. I mean I'm in one of my restaurants right now. So I mean that's - actually I'm at Bar Americain in New York and we're changing a bunch of menus - a bunch of dishes for the spring.

Actually I think we're changing about 16 or 18 dishes over the next two or three days. So I mean I'm constantly in my restaurants.

QUESTION: I'd like to know when the restaurants are going to open, particularly the one in Minneapolis? Is it going to be immediately, like Monday?

BOBBY FLAY: Yes the restaurants all three of them, Minneapolis in the Mall of America, in Los Angeles California on Hollywood - off Hollywood Boulevard. And then in the South Street PC Port in New York they all open the very next day which is Monday.

QUESTION: Okay that's good to know. And where in the Mall of America are you opening?

BOBBY FLAY: Oh I don't know. I wouldn't know...


to describe the location but I just know it's in the Mall of America.

QUESTION: Is it something that opens is this a restaurant that's going to be open for lunch and dinner...

BOBBY FLAY: Yes. Definitely.

QUESTION: ...What drew you to this project?

BOBBY FLAY: Well it's, you know, I get offered a lot of different television opportunities. And this is one that really struck a chord with me because it's what I do in my real life.

I don't usually go around investing in people's other - people's restaurants. In fact I've never invested in somebody else's restaurant before.

But I invest in my own. And I, you know, and I conceive and come up with the concepts and help design and get open restaurants. I mean that's really what I do for a living.

So it's something that I live every day. So I thought that it would be really a terrific opportunity to, you know, help mentor someone else to take that step in their own lives.

And, you know, why not offer it to anybody in America who actually has a good idea? That's what I loved about this entire idea for America's Next Great Restaurant.

QUESTION: And what were you looking for in the winner?

BOBBY FLAY: A couple things, well more than a couple things actually, lots of things. First of all a great concept, something that I think is going to resonate with the American people.

Someone who is truly passionate about what they're doing so it's not just a good business idea but something that it really means a lot to them.

Somebody who has an incredible work ethic that can - really somebody who has an incredible work ethic that, you know, will be able to, you know, make great decisions and basically throw themselves in front of the bus to stop it if something goes wrong. You know, somebody that's going to be completely in it 1000%.

QUESTION: And what is it that the winners get?

BOBBY FLAY: They get three restaurants.

QUESTION: Okay but what part of the investment?

BOBBY FLAY: Oh well we don't actually talk about that. But it's substantial. All I can tell you is it's a substantial part of the restaurants. And they get - they'll have, you know, they'll get a salary, you know, day one. And so it's certainly a very life-changing prize.

And the potential, I mean the starting with three restaurants which I'm sure that almost no one has ever done. But they're - there's also a potential that this thing will go into 30 or 300 or who knows.

QUESTION: Do they have some other prize like, you know, cooking lessons as part of the mix?

BOBBY FLAY: You mean from us?

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

BOBBY FLAY: Well we're going to give them whatever help they need. And so, you know, working on menus, helping them manage. I mean that's all - part of what you get from us is you get, you know, you get a support team.

QUESTION: Okay sure. Well good well we're - are they are the - is the winner going to be at one of the restaurants on Monday?

BOBBY FLAY: Yes I don't know if I can tell you where.


I don't know that it's going to be Minneapolis I'm not sure.

QUESTION: Were you looking for locations that were - that gathered a lot of people such as...


QUESTION: ...the Mall of America I mean...

BOBBY FLAY: Yes exactly we're looking for, you know, heavily populated locations. Because remember, you know, you have to remember this is not a $100 seat restaurant so it's not going to be in the - like might not be in the trendiest part of town but it's going to be, you know, we want - this is going to be - the restaurants are going to be very value orientated. So I mean, you know, the price point will be low enough that basically anybody could eat there.


QUESTION: So in your opinion what formula truly makes a great restaurant?

BOBBY FLAY: Well the obvious things are great food, great service. But I think 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, you know, the style of service of the restaurant.

And I think that energy is really important. It's something that I talk a lot about in my restaurants that, you know, I think that restaurants, especially casual restaurants need to have a very, a really terrific sense of energy so that, you know, people think of it as not just a meal but an event.

America's Next Great Restaurant JudgesQUESTION: Great and just for fun question what is the first meal that you've ever prepared?

BOBBY FLAY: Mighty Fine Chocolate Pudding...

QUESTION: And what's in that?

BOBBY FLAY: ...which is like, you know, it's like chocolate pudding that you've add milk - it's like powdered chocolate pudding that you add milk to and it gets thicker and then yes. And then also it was either that or deviled eggs. I can't remember which came first.

QUESTION: Well not together right?

BOBBY FLAY: No definitely not.

QUESTION: So thinking back to the very beginning when you were being pitched all these different ideas for the restaurants, would you have thought that the three contestants that are remaining would have made it this far?

BOBBY FLAY: You know what, in a way yes. But it's hard for me to think of it that way because the process took such a long time.

And so I felt like these people just kept growing on me. And - or should I say growing on us more and more.

You know, I would say that, you know, there are three very interesting ideas. You know, there's a Spice Coast which is an Indian idea, you know, sort of a new modern Indian idea which I think is, you know, very of the moment and I think that it's a great idea for a couple of reasons.

First of all it's got lots of flavor and people really want a lot of flavor these days. It's a much healthier cuisine than some of the other cuisines.

And I think that that's also obviously a very big subject in the way people are eating these days.

And I think that Indian culture in general has really percolated a lot in terms of fashion and furniture and of course food. And so I think, you know, the Indian ideas are very sort of very viable idea.

Soul Daddy is, you know, soul food with a twist in terms of I think that what he's trying to do is actually take some of the calories out and savor the flavor and the soul of the soul food.

And I think that, you know, it's obviously it's a very true American food concept. And so I think that that also resonates really well with the American public.

And the meatball concept is something that we all know. You know, meatballs are, you know, a true comfort food.

And I think that if Joey is able to pull off his concept and make it interesting enough than just, you know, somebody's meatballs that I think that he has a really good possibility of being successful as well.

QUESTION: Right actually I'm here in LA and we don't actually have a restaurant like any of the three at that level so it would be interesting.


QUESTION: And let me ask you real quickly what surprised you the most during, you know, this whole long, you know, competition here that you've had going on? What one thing just really surprised you during all this?

BOBBY FLAY: The thing that surprised me I think across the board was that a lot of people with little or no restaurant experience that were, you know, very, very smart people who had really good ideas weren't really keen on listening to investor's advice.

QUESTION: That's not good.

BOBBY FLAY: Yes well I mean listen, I don't - it's a Catch-22 because if you come in there with an idea it's like it's your idea. And, you know, you want to be passionate about it. So you don't necessarily want to change your idea.

But at the same time I think it's important to listen with two people who have had, you know, tons of experience at this and also they're putting up the money.

I think that sometimes people forgot we were actually sitting there listening to them deciding on who we we're going to invest in.

And they just were sort of just competing to win. There's a difference, you know?

And so I just think that's - that sort of got lost in the - I think that sort of got lost in their vision somewhat. And that sort of surprised me.

I think that, you know, people that sort of have their eye on the prize, the real prize which is getting these three restaurants, did better.

QUESTION: We love the show and we're sorry it ends next week. We were wondering if there was a concept of the finalists that - well not the final three but the bigger group that you really believed in and you were surprised that they didn't go farther just because the food wasn't up to snuff?


BOBBY FLAY: Okay. Well I think the person we got the most reaction about after we asked them to go home was the Meltworks, the grilled cheese concept.

And I think that he had a very good idea. In fact I always tell people like if we - if the competition was one day long he would have one because he came in completely ready with a concept that he thought, you know, just give me the money and I can open this tomorrow.

And we found a lot of holes in the concept. And so what we tried to do was get him to do some things and think about things a little differently. And he just didn't feel like doing that.

And I mean that's his choice. But when you're asking somebody for money to put up these restaurants I think that you have to take into consideration what people think.

So basically I think that his concept started out really good, very solid but it didn't grow over time.

So I was a little surprised that he didn't sort of go with the flow of little bit more. And I think that if he would have done that I think that he would have been fighting for the restaurant right, you know, this weekend.

QUESTION: ...It seems like the panel of investors is very respectful of each other and but you also seem to have very strong opinions.

Did you - did they (each) decision for a really long time (unintelligible) limitations?

BOBBY FLAY: The thing you don't see because the show's only an hour long is the hours on top of hours on top of hours of debate.

We all come from very different backgrounds in terms of, you know, where we're actually from to, you know, what we actually do in our business lives.

And so, you know, everybody's had a certain amount of success. And so we all have, you know, pretty strong opinions.

And it's almost like, you know, being in a jury room. You just - you kind of hash it out until you come with come up with a decision.

QUESTION: Since the restaurant business is so tough how do you think shows like this will eventually make it easier given the accessibility?

Bobby FlayBOBBY FLAY: It's not going to make it easier. The restaurant - I mean, you know, the ironic part about it is the person that wins this, the tough part really starts the next day.

I mean it's a very tough business. The margins in the restaurant business are very tight even if you're incredibly successful.

It's there is so many things that can go wrong and only a few things that can go right to make it work.

And so 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.

And I think what it does is it gives you sort of an installation of people who are professionals like the panel, like the investors who are - 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.

I think that it's a process that you learn basically every day how to do a better. And I think that that's what will be able - that's what will make it easier for people because we'll give that sort of a team of people that will actually help them, us.

And but other than making the restaurant business easier that's never going to happen.

QUESTION: Can you talk about what you saw in the finalists early on in the series that you think led them to the finale?


BOBBY FLAY: Yes well I think that Sadir who's got Spice Coast, the Indian - modern Indian concept is a very smart guy.

He's smart, he's savvy, he's got a good business sensibility and he really is passionate about his - the food of his land. And so, you know, that sort of - that to me was a very - he was very obvious from the very beginning.

Jamawn who has the Soul Daddy, soul food idea just 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's something - it would be an extension of what he was doing before he got here which was actually selling fried chicken and waffles out of his apartment.

And so, you know, it just seems like it would be sort of the next - he just needs somebody to kind of give him the bricks and mortar and also a little guidance.

And then, you know, Joey from the Brooklyn Meatball Company, I mean you see how passionate he is about his grandmother's meatballs.

He reminds me of lots of kids when I was growing up why - 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.

And so I think that, you know, creating a comfort dish utilizing meatballs as a vehicle to all of America is just - it's an idea that works and it's something that's very true to his heart.

QUESTION: Did the show change your mind about what America wants in a restaurant?

BOBBY FLAY: Well I'm not sure yet. We'll know that after this is all over because America doesn't really get to vote in this one. You know, it's for people who are investing their money.

I'd be one - you know, I'm one of those people. And so we're actually deciding what we think America wants to eat. And I mean obviously the proof's in the pudding. We'll get to see that as time goes on.

QUESTION: Can you speak about how you'll personally continue to advise the winner after his restaurants open?

BOBBY FLAY: Yes. You know, as investors we are putting our money up and we're actually going to be paying attention very closely because, you know, we want this to work for lots of reasons one of them being that, you know, we've actually have a financial investment, the other being, you know, this is the person that we've picked and we think this is a good idea and so we want to help it follow through.

We don't feel like we're cheating by actually helping them after they're, you know, just getting, you know, after the restaurant's open we don't feel like we're cheating and helping them get the restaurant to function right.

And so, you know, I think that, you know, I think that that's sort of part of the deal. It's like, you know, you sign up for this thing and it's not just, you know, decide who you think is good and who you think is bad but, you know, you have to see it through for the long run.

QUESTION: Chipotle has been a great model for kind of healthcare quality kind of sustainable ingredients in restaurant food. Is it reasonable to think that more restaurants could and should pursue this?

BOBBY FLAY: I think that there is a cost with everything that's good unfortunately. And I think that from a sustainability standpoint, you know, listen if we could all source things, you know, ten minutes outside of our house the world would be a better place.

Unfortunately when you're serving a lot of people that's not - it's not always feasible for lots of reasons, one of them being just logistical the other being financial. There's all kinds of reasons why that can and cannot work but you can certainly try.

And I think from a health standpoint I think that it's clear that people across the board want to eat better food.

Now that doesn't necessarily mean less calories although it can mean that. It just means that better sourced food, better quality ingredients. And I think that people are willing to pay for it.

And I think that a concept like Chipotle which is still very value orientated is more expensive than say what we think of as traditional fast food.

It's the next step up. It's quick casual which is what we're trying to create at America's Next Great Restaurant. And so I think that obviously Chipotle has proven that that can be very successful.

QUESTION: I'm also curious how the health factor of the food being prepared in these restaurants has played any part at all in your decision in choosing who the winner will be?

BOBBY FLAY: It actually plays an important decision because it's something that's important to all of us. And I think that if you listen to Steve Ells talk about it is something he talks about all the time. And so, you know, it was always top of mind.

And even like a - like for instance like there's, you know, there's three concepts left so the Indian concept can really lend itself although it can be high in calories as well. But it's a place where it can really lend itself to being healthy.

The meatball concept I would say has a little bit more of a difficult chore in that department but as long as it's not really fat laden which you can totally make happen and devise things around the meatballs that, you know, things like salads that really bring a sort of fresher approach to it I think that that is really helpful.

And then even soul food which just traditionally, you know, very high in calories can be made, you know, can be made in a much healthier way.

And I think that if you watched some of the programs, if you watch some of the episodes the last few weeks you say that Jamawn was really working towards that because he knew that that was incredibly important.

So I think that they all had that top of mind and I think the investors did as well.

QUESTION: In your own restaurants in your own cooking any tips or tricks you have for home shots that you use for taking traditionally fatty calorie laden foods and making them healthier but preserving the flavor and even textures that we love so much?

BOBBY FLAY: Yes well I think that that's really the challenge. And I think that when you're making something healthy, healthier so to speak, I think that you - I think trying to draw all the calories out of it is usually a mistake because ultimately you're going to be stuck with something you don't want to eat and so that's not good either.

And so I think there's a happy medium where like you do something where you take a piece of something out and change it and substitute it for something healthier as opposed to doing it to the entire dish.

America's Next Great Restaurant ContestantsQUESTION: I know that there'll be three concepts opening up, you know, in three different areas across the country.

So where will the home base be for the winner or will they be sort of traveling to each one to make sure that everything is running correctly?

BOBBY FLAY: Yes I think that the winner has to decide where they want to live. It's probably be New York, LA, or Minneapolis. But then they have to sort of be on tour of their restaurants.

QUESTION: Then as far as staffing goes is it something that is already taken place or is it something that, you know, like the winner will need to go through and make sure, you know, as far as the chefs in each individual restaurants go?

BOBBY FLAY: We've actually started hiring staff because we have to staff up because we're actually opening the restaurants the day after the show, which is Monday. And so staffing has definitely begun. But that's a job that never ends. And so, you know at that point, you know, the winner of the three restaurants will really be involved in that a lot.

QUESTION: And then my final question, so I'm calling from We're like the food e-networking site.

And we have a lot of professional chefs and cookbook authors and foodies that regularly use this site who, you know, have ambitions to eventually own their own restaurant one day.

So is there any advice that you might give to someone like that who doesn't necessarily have a ton of experience in the restaurant field but just really has a passion and a love for food?

BOBBY FLAY: Yes I think that, you know, as a chef myself I think the first thing when I'm going to open a restaurant the thing that drives me more than anything is the food.

And so I think that you want to be focused on one idea, something that's really important to you.

So if you're from let's say you're from the South then you grew up in South Carolina and, you know, that's where you grew up in, that's the food that you know.

Like opening a restaurant, you know, with the flavors and ingredients from that particular place is a great place to focus because it's who you are.

And I just feel like people are - it's much easier for people to draw from places that are really familiar to who they are.

And once you focus - and then just keep your focus on that particular thing. You know, don't try to do everything. Don't try to feed everybody. Just try to make the best southern restaurant there is.

And when people crave those ingredients and those foods and those flavors they'll come to you.

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