Chef Ian Kleinman has been keeping his skills sharp over the past several years by catering special events, throwing pop-up dinners and teaching kids about the fun and science behind cooking through his Inventing Room brand. Those who have eaten his playful and madcap fare — think exploding whipped cream and sheets of curried mozzarella — know the flavors that he creates are as bold as the presentations themselves, so the possibility that Kleinman could open his own eatery is something many would like to see become reality. Now CNBC's entrepreneurial competition show, Restaurant Startup, is giving him the opportunity: In the show's season finale tonight at 8 p.m., Kleinman and partner Mike Coberlain pitch their concept and cuisine — competing against another molecular gastronomy duo — to judges Joe Bastianich and Tim Love.
The difference between the two? While the opposition is aiming at high-end dining, Kleinman's goal is to open a quick-service version of the Inventing Room that will be more accessible and affordable. To get their point across, Kleinman and Coberlain reject the term molecular gastronomy in favor of "gastro-fun."
Episodes are split into two segments. In the first, the judges weigh the pitches and then select one team to continue on to the second round, when it is given $7,500 and 36 hours to create a business plan, branding and a pop-up restaurant in Los Angeles that serves food to the public. Reaction from diners as well as the impact of the branding and business plan determine whether Bastianich and Love decide to become investors in a real opening.
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Kleinman says he had a blast during the filming. "It was a chance to get together some ideas I've had over the past seven or eight years," he explains. "It's a chance to take all these techniques and bring them to the masses — the entertainment value, that whimsical feeling you had when you were a kid."
Filming of the episode took about six days total. Kleinman says he's done TV before and that each time it gets a little easier to relax (and remember not to spill the beans about the show's results to reporters). Preparing, he says, "was like building a restaurant inside my head."
Check out the full episode tonight to see if Kleinman and Coberlein make the cut. Until then, you can watch, and vote for, short pitches from the two teams on the CNBC website.