Bravotv.com: And this week it’s finally here: Restaurant Wars! Did you have thoughts about how this group would do with the challenge?
Gail Simmons: I could be wrong, but I think we usually we do Restaurant Wars with less chefs left in the game. I feel like we’ve usually done Restaurant Wars with teams of four, and this time we had teams of five, which doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy challenge. But it does create a little wiggle room for them to have more hands on deck. We also gave them a little more to do. We don’t always make them build the kitchen as well as the restaurant and dining room. It was a huge task. The space we put them in was completely raw. I thought both teams did a great job getting their spaces to look and feel like they’ve been there a long time, as opposed to such a last minute rush creating something that wasn’t there 24 hours before.
They both had good concepts, their ideas were fine, and the names of the restaurants were fine. They both did a good job defining what each restaurant was for us as soon as we sat down. The confusion started when service began.
Bravotv.com: Right out of the gate, watching the teams collaborate what were your thoughts? Were you concerned with the Green Team’s focus on the décor and not the menu?
GS: The moment we sat down at Found, we knew there was an issue. We ate at Fin first, and although our experience wasn’t perfect,it was pretty strong all around. The service at Fin was probably the best service we’ve ever had in Restaurant Wars. When service is good, you can let a lot of other details slide because you feel very taken care of. This is something Danny Meyer has taught me, and I was so glad that he was there to see all of the success. As I think Tom mentioned, when we were sitting in Fin, there was a buzz to the place. That buzz, that really positive energy in a restaurant, only happens when everything is going right. Customers are happy, have drinks and food in front of them at well-timed intervals. They feel that when they’re looking for someone to help or if someone has a question, there’s a waiter there to answer it. They feel coddled. We go to restaurants to be taken care of. Otherwise, I could cook my own food and do my own dishes. We felt that at Fin, regardless of the food -- I’m not even getting to the food yet -- from the minute we sat down to the minute we left, that this had a lot to do with Travis.
That said, the dance between the front-of-house and back-of-house is so integral to any restaurant experience. I wouldn’t have felt taken care of if my food wasn’t coming out and tasting great, which is really about the kitchen, the execution, and expediting the courses. That is where the chef comes in. That was really the opposite case at Found, which we discovered later.
Bravotv.com: Let’s talk about the food at Fin, starting with Brian’s Scallop Crudo, Corn, and Squash Relish with Purple Corn Gel. . .
GS: Brian’s scallop crudo was an excellent idea: purple corn, scallops, squash -- all things that go together well. The scallop crudo itself was perfectly well prepared and presented. It was just his blue corn gel. For people not familiar with gels, he created a puree and then he added an emulsifier which thickens it. Depending on the type of emulsifier or thickening agent you use, it can have different consistencies. Brian added the wrong one, essentially. He wanted to add agar agar, which is a natural seaweed-based thickening agent, but he added xanthan gum, a chemical agent which creates a different consistency. I think David Chang said it best when he referred to it as “snot like,” which was unfortunately, very accurate and articulate. It just had a sort if a goopy-ness, a stickiness, which we knew right off the bat, was not what Brian wanted to do.