Regular viewers of TV cooking competitions know the format by rote.
Harried young chefs compete in a series of timed challenges. They're tested with odd ingredients, and tasked to prepare high-quality food on the beach or in college dorm rooms.
Starting at 10 p.m. Jan. 21, however, Bravo Media will turn the timeworn concept on its head with the premiere of "Best New Restaurant." Instead of individual chefs, the show pits entire restaurants against one another. They compete not in a sterile TV studio, but mostly on location in their own restaurants.
Five Miami-Dade restaurants — Dolce Italian; the Federal; R House; Tongue and Cheek; and Buns and Buns — will be featured, along with 11 others from New York, Los Angeles and Austin.
"It wasn't just about the amazing food or the beautiful restaurant or the great hospitality," says Dean Tsakanikas, director of hospitality at Dolce Italian's parent company, LDV Hospitality. "It was based on the overall restaurant experience. It was us firing on all cylinders."
Tsakanikas says LDV's owners were cautious when asked to participate. But with host Tom Colicchio's track record, they recognized the national exposure would be priceless, regardless of the outcome.
"At first, some servers were hesitant," Tsakanikas says. "But looking at it a couple of months later, everybody is super excited for the opportunity. We're not one of the big, shiny hotels with 3,500 rooms and a captive audience."
In the premiere episode, Dolce competes against a Beverly Hills, Calif., restaurant called Doma. The first challenge has 30 diners being dropped off at each restaurant. They order from the regular menu, and the staff has two hours to see them through their meal. In the second part of the show, footage from secret diners is revealed. These diners came to the restaurant with hidden cameras and microphones. The third part of the show has representatives from the two competitors coming together in a neutral New York restaurant for dinner service.
Subsequent episodes will see restaurants with similar concepts competing. Tongue and Cheek in Miami Beach will compete in an episode featuring a burger contest against Porter Ale House and Gastropub in Austin. Buns and Buns in South Miami competes against Morgan's Barbecue from Brooklyn in an episode titled "Fast Casual Dining."
The winner of the series will be awarded $100,000, an editorial feature in Bon Appétit magazine and a spot at the Vegas Uncork'd food festival.
"Even though I know the outcome, I've been so nervous," says Tsakanikas, who will host an invitation-only viewing party inside the restaurant. "It may have been the hardest thing I've done in my career, but it definitely brought us together as a team."
jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632