Review: Restaurant Stakeout

Last month I wrote about a new series coming to the Food Network that wasn’t really that new.  Restaurant Stakeout was a retooling (or so it would seem) of a pilot the Network ran last fall called Mystery Diners.  Tonight there was a sneak peek of the finished product.

Food Network’s description:

Willie Degel Restaurant StakeoutFollow tough-love restaurateur Willie Degel as he busts the bad habits of struggling restaurants on Food Network’s new show, Restaurant Stakeout. See what really happens when waiters, bartenders and kitchen and service staff think no one is watching. Armed with hidden-camera footage and covert surveillance from restaurants across the country, Willie doesn’t hold anything back. He tackles kitchen hazards and impossible customers alike, but is it enough to make a difference?

My thoughts:

I could live without the Jersey Shore seediness but I guess “asshole” is de rigueur on reality TV these days.  On the whole I prefer Mystery Diners because it combined the key elements of feel-good shows like Restaurant: Impossible with gotcha shows like To Catch a Predator while Restaurant Stakeout is more about Degel’s Tony Soprano-esque personality than anything.  Mystery Diners had more substance; Restaurant Stakeout is more gimmick.

Firefly TapasEnough contrasting, the production value of Restaurant Stakeout was top notch.  The music was pretty good, the cinematography was spot on as well.  The cut-aways to Degel sitting behind a desk like Donald Trump while pontificating about service were pretty cheeky.  That being said, he was absolutely on target in his evaluation of the service team at Las Vegas’ Firefly Tapas Bar.  Sadly enough, it is a common site at most American restaurants.

There were certain scenes that just seemed acted rather than the result of hidden cameras.  In particular one argument between an experienced server and a newbie about snaking a table.  Those kind of arguments go on everyday and they get quite heated.  I’ve seen hundreds of them.  That’s why I think this one seemed staged.  The emotions seemed right but there was just something about the body language that felt off.  In fact, one of the servers in the dispute, Diane, was constantly showing up on camera doing outrageous things.  She just came off as as fake.  But most things seemed on the up and up, just not the scenes with Diane.

However both variations on this concept (Mystery Diners and Restaurant Stakeout) help demonstrate why 50% of new restaurants fail within two years – the pure, unbridled selfishness of the employees.  And that’s a very good thing.  Just knowing that you might be exposed as a thief on national television would surely put a dent in the rampant pilferage of today’s restaurant employees and their “Occupy Wall Street” sense of entitlement.  Wanting something is not the same thing as earning something.

Tune in for the series premiere Wednesday, March 14 at 10 pm EST to catch the drama.

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ICA: Flay vs. Kinch

East versus West tonight as California’s celebrated Chef David Kinch enters Kitchen Stadium to match spatulas with Iron Chef Bobby Flay.  The judges for this battle of culinary wits are James Oseland (editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine), Cady Huffman (actress) and Lee Jones (sustainable farming guru).  Of course Alton Brown will be manning his post as MC.

David KinchNorthern California is a Mecca of great restaurants and Kinch’s Manresa Restaurant is one example why.  Featuring the flavors of the Basque Region mixed with the bounty of America, Manresa Restaurant has been a favorite among foodies since it first opened it doors.  A devotee to the local/sustainable movement, Chef Manresa uses produce grown exclusively for him by Cynthia Sandberg at her Love Apple Farm and is harvested only the day it is intended for use.

Kinch is a 1981 graduate of Johnson and Wales Culinary Academy in Rhode Island.  After graduation he took his knives to New York City were he worked at Hotel Parker Meridian and soon found himself the executive chef at La Petite Ferme specializing in French country fare.  That lead him to Beaune, France to learn from Marc Chevillot at the Hotel de la Poste.  Kinch’s travels were not over as he returned to New York to work at the Quilted Giraffe before heading on to Fukuoka Japan, San Francisco, Wertheim, Germany, Vezeley, France, San Sebastian, Spain and finally back to Northern California.

Kinch’s Basque recipes (the product of both French and Spanish influence) should prove a prime match-up for the Iron Chef who is a graduate of the first class of the French Culinary Institute and who’s Spanish restaurant Bolo was the first celebrated Spanish restaurant in the US.  With a sustainable farmer on the judges’ table and a sustainable farming advocate as the challenger, is it any wonder the Secret Ingredient was a vegetable?

Battle: Cabbage airs just after the season three premiere of Ultimate Recipe Showdown with host Guy Fieri.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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