The much-maligned reality-TV series is being rebooted as Restaurant Takeover—we visited the set to see how the new series plans to avoid its predecessor’s pitfalls.
Even after the fifth take, Rap’s restaurant co-owner Carole Rose manages to look surprised every time the barbecue drum is opened to reveal the jerk mahi-mahi skewered on sugar cane. Her smile: infectious. Her camera presence: natural. Once the film crew decides they have the perfect shot of a barbecue lid being opened, they move on to get footage of Rose—known to everyone simply as Ms. Carole—adorably dancing with chef/mentor Derek Minkensky to salsa muzak in the parking lot of a cooking school.
It’s a good thing they’re in such an ebullient mood—there are still seven more hours to go for today’s shooting schedule of Restaurant Takeover.
That’s Takeover, not Makeover, as producer David Ralph emphasizes. Food Network Canada is giving the famous (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) restaurant-makeover show another shot with a bigger budget, new chefs and production crew, and a bit of a reformatting to prevent some of the pitfalls from the last series—namely, many of the restaurants closing after appearing on the show.
“To be quite honest, I was a bit hesitant to come on,” says Minkensky, who’s been tapped as one of the experts to help out chefs in distress. “Let’s face it: Restaurant Makeover… everyone said it had a black eye. But I thought about it and, sometimes, it’s just how the business owners run their business and it’s not the show’s fault. In the end, it’s really rewarding to help these business owners. I’m happy I’m on board.”
For the most part, the outline of this edition is the same as the old one: An expert chef helps a struggling restaurateur come up with some new dishes, while an interior designer works on a new look for the place. A budget for the reno is negotiated then split between the show and the owners.
There are familiar faces like chefs Massimo Capra and Corbin Tomaszeski, who were both on Restaurant Makeover, as well as new participants like Richard Andino (North 44, Prime Steakhouse), Andrea Nicholson (Killer Condiments, Top Chef Canada season one), and Adam Hynam-Smith (El Gastronomo Vagabundo food truck). Other restaurants being taken over this season include Village Pizza, Curry + Roti, Peninsula Resort, Shamrock & Thistle, El Fogon, Vindaloo, and Brownstone Bistro.
For this season, Ralph says part of the retooling includes putting security cameras in the failing restaurant—unbeknownst to the owners—to spot problems with how the place is being run on a day-to-day basis before the show swoops in. (Follow-ups are also conducted six weeks later.) He says his crew are being pickier with which restaurants they feature, visiting potential case studies up to 10 times to get a sense if the owners can keep the place running when the cameras are gone. When not in front of the camera, Minkensky says he goes over things like maintaining the business, food costs, and setting competitive menu prices with the owners.
Another change is that all the cooking scenes are being filmed at the Cirillo’s Culinary Academy in Islington, rather than at the subjects’ restaurants. Part of the reason for this is to ensure a surprised look on the restaurateurs’ faces during the post-reno reveal; the other part is to get chefs like Ms. Carole to have a more open mind when taking directions from Minkensky.
“You tend to be closed off if someone else is telling you what to do in your own kitchen,” Minkensky says. “Here, you’re a guest and in a space that’s out of your element, so you’re more open-minded to suggestions.”
Minkensky suggestions for Rap’s include the aforementioned jerk mahi-mahi with lime and Jamaican sliced bread (the crew devoured the three plates that were cooked up), a curry vegetable patty with coconut rice and peas (a sous chef shaped the patties to be camera-ready), and fruit popsicles, which Ms. Carole is scheduled to learn all about later this afternoon.
“It doesn’t matter that [Minkensky] is not a Jamaican chef,” Rose explains as husband/Rap’s co-owner Horace chats up the show’s director. “He didn’t come in and put something in [the menu] I knew nothing about. He tied the dishes with the menu that’s there. All I wanted was someone to show me new ideas and show me what to do after Restaurant Takeover did its job. I needed that inspiration to get me livened up once again, because I lost that along the way.”
Rose hopes that the revamp will set her apart from the other Jamaican restaurants on the Eglinton West strip and bring in new customers as her shop turns 30 this year. Also: after dealing with a string of unscrupulous contractors who left before the job was finished, she’s excited that she’ll finally get an upgraded space; a photo of the new exterior is already on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “I just want to build on top of this experience. It’s the first major change at the restaurant, and I’ve waited 22 years for this.”
Restaurant Takeover premieres this Thursday (Aug. 30) at 9 p.m. on Food Network Canada. The Rap’s episode is slated to air in November.