Hyphen TV: What Is a Tiffin Box?

March 15, 2011

That right there is the intensity of a food court.

Last week I didn't have a chance to check out the premiere of the new show America's Next Great Restaurant, but I'm now caught up and in the words of SNL Miley Cyrus, it's pretty cool. The premise is that contestants, both chefs and non-chefs alike, compete to win investment money to open three branches of their "fast casual" restaurant concepts. Our eyes are on competitors Sudhir Kandula, whose idea for The Tiffin Box is a sort of "Indian Chipotle" that brings healthy Indian food to the masses, and Stephenie Park, whose idea for Compleat would bring fixed-calorie multi-course meals to busy workers in metropolitan areas.

Both competitors started out strong, making it into the top ten in the premiere episode. This week they had to pick chefs, and Sudhir was at a pretty big disadvantage, as none of the available chefs had experience cooking Indian food. He ended up going with a Swedish chef whose sauces he liked, but that decision blew up in his face during the challenge when the judges criticised the dry meat and thin broth in The Tiffin Box's chicken curry. But what other choice did he have, really? The judges were also dubious about the general familiarity with a tiffin box, but I personally like the concept -- I think it's my favorite out of the bunch, inevitable watering down of delicious Indian cuisine aside. And what better way to teach America about tiffin boxes than on national television/prominent restaurant chains? Meanwhile, you go ahead and tell me what, say, a Qdoba is.

A tiffin box, by the way, is a neat little stacked metal lunch box commonly used in South Asia. I've noticed an uptick in the popularity of these and bento boxes in stores and on blogs, so perhaps there won't be as much education needed as the judges think.

Don't lose the tiffin box, Sudhir! America can learn!

Stephenie, meanwhile, fared well with the judges, earning compliments on her pulled pork salad and gazpacho. We got a bit of her background, learning that she's not entirely happy with her life as a lawyer and only went to Harvard Law School because people expected her to after she got in (this following two years in the Peace Corps). I'm a little concerned about Stephenie's demonstrated wishy-washy ways; there are a lot of very confident and assertive people on the show (not to mention the restaurant business at large), and Steph seems to lack a clear passion and sureness that some of her competitors have in spades. I do like her concept and hope she makes it, but I hope she doesn't get eaten alive (pun somewhat intended) along the way.

You have a good idea! Now act like it!

You know I can't go long without mentioning you-know-who ... Thia Megia is still safe on American Idol after her performance of "Smile." Hilariously, when producer Jimmy Iovine explained to Thia that she probably knows the song as one of Michael Jackson's (her own idol, apparently), it's actually a Charlie Chaplin song from the silent film era. She later referred to "Charlie Chapman." Oh, girl. I know you're just 15, but ... CHARLIE CHAPLIN! Come on. The sleepy-eyed singer did a truly lovely near-acapella opening to the song, then moved into a slightly off-key, jazzy beat for the second half. To be fair, it seemed like there may have been some technical difficulties happening that night, as several of the contestants sounded "pitchy," as Randy would say. Judge for yourself right here.

Randy loved the intro, comparing her again to MJ and also Adele, but wished that the entire song had been like the open. Steven Tyler told This, "you're so new and young, and you sing so good, you got such a great future in front of you, I liked it, all in all." J.Lo called Thia's voice "transcendent" and said that she liked seeing Thia move.

I wasn't kidding abot the sleepy eyes. She looks kinda tired, right?

Agreed that it's good to see some motion on Thia's part. My biggest concern with her is how low energy she appears to be, especially for someone so young. At the Idol house when everyone was freaking out and screaming, Thia sort of sat back and took everything in quietly. During eliminations she clearly gets emotional, but she might be maintaining a bit too stoic a front for viewers to really connect with her. You don't have to jump up and down, Thia, but it would be awesome to see a little 16-year-old excitement from you. Don't keep it too controlled; let it out!

I'm finding myself less and less engrossed with RuPaul's Drag Race every week, I'm sorry to say. This week's challenge, in which the girls had to perform a stand-up routine, really highlighted why I'm feeling meh about this crop of contestants: though they are all terrific at dolling themselves up, there are no truly great performers in the group save Shangela, who's such a villain at this point that I don't want to root for her. I think of queens like last season's Jujubee doing a hilarious comedy routine, and I get sort of angry at how little this season's ladies are pulling it out. Raja had a fun concept with her mid-blood spill Carrie, but she was extremely nervous about her routine and was filled with a palpable relief after it was all over. Honey, you are a DRAG QUEEN. Stand-up shouldn't really be that far out of your comfort zone, no?!

And then there was Manila, who went with a Sesame Street theme (?) for her outfit and routine. It's unfortunate that she seemed to misunderstand when the judges said they had heard her material before; she appeared to take it as them accusing her of stealing specific jokes when they were saying that she was just making basic, easy observations that have been made a million times before. Bert and Ernie being gay? Please, girl. Mr. McFeely? You don't think that name was brought up by every child of the 80s? I hate to pick on Manila, and I am sincerely glad that she lip synched her way back into the competition in the end, but I'm concerned that lazy comedy is becoming her trademark. If you put as much effort into your humor as you do your fab outfits, you can rock this place!

How can a girl this wacky not be a total cut-up?

Someone else who's singin' the same old tune is Jay on Top Shot. This week the challenge was all about speed, and the marksmen were trained by two competitors from last season, including Filipino American J.J. Racaza. J.J. quickly caught onto Jay's unwillingness to take in new knowledge, ignoring the experts' advice and doing things the way he wanted. Sound familiar? Even Jay's well-meaning teammates couldn't convince him to try -- just try -- a different hold on the gun. With that kind of inflexibility and ability to disregard advice, I can't help but wonder how Jay is as a golf instructor. Tip for future golf students: This is not a guy you should contradict.

Second tip: do not turn down advice from J.J.

Glee is driving me fairly crazy with the increasingly insane plotlines that are obviously about a thousand times less planned out than the mysteries on, say, Lost. I've about had it up to here with the inconsistencies, the leaps of faith we're meant to take, and the strange lessons (kids, anyone who's mean to you is probably just secretly gay!) that the show is wildly throwing around, and it's not helping that I'm not getting any Mike or Tina time. Consider me a Glee grump for the moment.

Tina and Mike's one second of bored glory


Dianne Choie


Dianne Choie's TV is in Brooklyn, NY. She has a cat, several reusable shopping bags, and other mildly annoying stereotypes of youngish people who live in Brooklyn.