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Chamber of Love or Torture Chamber on "Last Restaurant Standing"

The competition is heating up on BBC America's deliciously stressful culinary competition series Last Restaurant Standing, with two of the final four couples going into Raymond Blanc's latest challenge this week.

I knew this week's episode would be a stressful one, with both Lloyd and Adwoa and Grant and Laura strong, competitive teams. If I had to give the upper hand to one of them, it probably would be Grant and Laura, only because Lloyd is still severely struggling in front-of-house. He lacks that "spontaneity" as Raymond dubbed it, so crucial in a fantastic restaurant manager and is far too reactive and not proactive enough in his role; a real shame as Adwoa's cooking is so magnificent and so special and original that put a damper on the entire enterprise.

Raymond's challenge this week was to host a singles event in their respective restaurants; he provided them with 20 young professionals and it was up to the couples to find like-minded individuals with which to pair them and host an evening that would delight and entertain everyone in attendance. After devising their "themes" for the evening--Grant and Laura went with understated elegance and Lloyd and Adwoa with "sexy jungle"--both teams, aided by Jane and Jeremy and Laura and Jess, took to the streets to lure in some singles for the event.

Grant and Laura were very, very smart to demand £5 up front from the punters, in a ruse clearly designed to get them to show up. They also sought out, after looking at the profiles of the guests Raymond provided them, individuals who were of the same age and professional background as their other guests, tailoring the dating pool around the stats of those they were meant to be catering to. Lloyd and Adwoa, on the other hand, did not ask for any money up front and most of the guests that they had spent an entire day wooing didn't turn up that night... or gave them wrong contact information. Ouch. They also cast a far wider net, drawing in anyone who was single, regardless of age or background.

But the real difference had to be (A) the cuisine and (B) the atmosphere. At Jacques Tamson's, Grant and Laura's Windsor restaurant, the food was Scottish with a shared seafood platter (a major misstep, in my book) intended to be a talking point, followed by lamb noisette with mash and minted peas. Not exactly romantic fare; if Grant wanted to stick with Scottish lamb, I would have done something more elegant like a rack of lamb and made the accompaniments a little more refined. After all, this is meant to be a first date for these men and women and you want tasty, easy to eat food that is not overly filling or heavy. On the atmosphere front, Laura did a wonderful job of keeping the event flowing, offering cocktails, ice breakers, chair-swapping, and raffles throughout the evening but always keeping it sophisticated and age-appropriate. She also knew her clientèle very, very well and nearly matched them ahead of time, based on their interests and personalities. Theirs, in my opinion, was far more successful and more in line with what Raymond wanted in the first place.

Over at Spinach & Agushi, Lloyd and Adwoa's Ghanaian restaurant, Adwoa took a different tack with the food than Grant, composing seven exquisite, tapas-style dishes that were delicious, light, and sexy. With 40 dishes to get out each time, Adwoa definitely challenged herself in the kitchen and delivered on all fronts; the food looked absolutely amazing and was a full head and shoulders from Grant's lamb dish.

Lloyd meanwhile was an affable host/MC for the evening but wasn't actually running the restaurant at all. And I have to say that I thought that the Chamber of Love idea that he devised: turning the filthy plastic sheds behind the kitchen into private roosts for wooing couples set the wrong tone for the evening and was, well, pretty creepy. It would have been one thing to transform that space with torches and couches into an outdoors lounge area for anyone... but to pick names at random (including people happily ensconced in conversation with others) and then force them into the "love chamber" for five minutes seemed a little too middle school for me and not really appropriate for professionals looking for a love match. The age range also seemed all over the place and, while the event was a raucous time for many, it was clear that not everyone appreciated the sensibilities behind the evening.

I was really quite sad to see Adwoa and Lloyd go. I think Adwoa is a real talent and has a very strong brand and culinary aesthetic; they were also genuinely nice people even if Adwoa needs to believe in herself and her food more (I could not believe that she couldn't answer Raymond's question about romantic food!). I can see her running a smaller establishment somewhere--hopefully with less serving staff--in a ten-table restaurant that would give her absolute control over the kitchen. I do think that she learned a hell of a lot over the course of this competition and my hat is off to her: she ran the most professional kitchen of the bunch. I actually did get a little teary as Raymond told them that he was closing their restaurant. Sigh.

Only three couples remain. Who will inch closer to owning a restaurant with Raymond Blanc and who will be put into the next challenge? Find out next week.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing, the remaining three couples are surprised when Raymond unexpectedly turns up at their restaurants and pokes his nose into every single decision they've made up until that point, tasting the food and seeing if their service is up to his high standards... and uncovers moldy ingredients, undercooked food, and unhappy customers.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Big Brother 9 (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC; 8-10 pm); America's Next Top Model (CW); Wife Swap (ABC); 'Til Death/Back to You (FOX)

9 pm:
Criminal Minds (CBS); Pussycat Dolls Present Girlicious (CW); Supernanny (ABC); American Idol (FOX)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); Men in Trees (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: America's Next Top Model.

On tonight's episode ("Viva Italia"), the girls--including Fatima after her last-minute travel document debacle--head off to Rome, where they must film a commercial in Italian.

9 pm: MI-5 on BBC America.

If you missed the third season of MI-5 (aka Spooks) when it aired on A&E a few years back, you can catch it tonight on BBC America. On tonight's installment ("Outsiders"), MI-5 believes that Islamic terrorists are behind a computer virus plot that is causing chaos.

10 pm: Top Chef on Bravo.

On tonight's episode ("Improv"), the chefs are tasked with creating a dessert to satisfy chef Johnny Iuzzini's sweet tooth and they get a lesson in improv from legendary Chicago comedy troupe Second City. Plus, what in the hell is going on with the dinner guests? Find out tonight.


Anonymous said…
Before I even started the ep, I was pretty certain that it would be L&A who would get closed, but I was glad, at least, that they put up a fight, and did provide an entertaining evening, despite the ill-conceived love shack.
I was sad to see Lloyd and Adwoa go. Despite Lloyd's lackadaisical approach to management, they seemed like great people and Adwoa has not only a great talent but a "great brand" as Raymond says. I'm hoping that she'll try again, maybe with a more experienced front of house manager...and Lloyd can host special events (or start his own line of Love Shack Sheds)!

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