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An Inspector Calls on "Last Restaurant Standing"

The competition is heating up on BBC America's Last Restaurant Standing, with only three couples remaining. I think that over the last dozen or so weeks, Raymond and his talented team of restaurant inspectors have managed to cull the wheat from the chaff and I am pleased with the final three teams left standing.

This week definitely put the pressure on all of them to pull out all of the stops, to entertain and delight their customers, to increase their nightly bookings and turn their tables, and--most importantly--to impress Monsieur Raymond Blanc, who dropped into each restaurant unannounced at various points during the weekend service. It was immensely interesting to see how the front of house and kitchen dealt with his arrival and his presence throughout the evening; in every case, the chefs neglected the food to focus on Raymond. Hell, Jeremy stood there for 15 minutes chatting with him pleasantly about this, that, and the other, while pans nearly boiled over and tickets lined up across the board. Ouch.

But the most intriguing element was to see Raymond poking his nose into the behind the scenes action at Jacques Tamson's, Brown & Green, and Eight in the Country to see how well organized and hygienic the chefs were and, for a Last Restaurant Standing first, to taste their food. Did it live up to Raymond's expectations? Was he treated well by the staff? Let's discuss.

Personally, I'd be happy with any of the teams winning at this point but I was slightly disappointed by what Raymond discovered in some of their kitchens. I've been of the mind up until now that the vegetarian haggis served so lovingly at Grant and Laura's Jacques Tamson's restaurant in Windsor (at time accompanied by a Robert Burns poem, no less) was definitely homemade. Not so, as I depressingly learned from this week's episode: Grant buys them in ready-made and pre-packaged in plastic wrap and keeps them in the cooler. I thought this was pretty sad, in fact. One of their selling points is authentic Scottish cuisine (they seemed to have dropped the French influence along the way) and I assumed--incorrectly--that this was a restaurant specialty, handmade with love and, er, sheep tripe. Points off there for inconsistency, Grant, especially since you did run out of the haggis and had to invent another vegetarian menu option for Raymond on the spot. While I wasn't so turned off by the puff pastry idea as Raymond, I do think that Grant could have come up with something more original and Scottish-themed for the dish that just a puff pastry with vegetables and cheese... served with mash and peas.

At Jess and Laura's whole-foods concept restaurant Brown & Green, homemade wasn't the issue but pre-packaged frozen veg was. For a restaurant that claims to be as fresh and healthy as the girls', I was hoping to see them cooking with more farm-fresh ingredients and less of the supermarket-purchased frozen variety, even though they were all organic. Now I get that some ingredients are actually better frozen (baby peas, for example) because they are picked when perfectly ripe and kept in that state rather than sitting around during the trip to the market, but it did seem as though all of the vegetables were bought in that fashion, which did sit slightly at odds with their culinary ethos. I also thought the restaurant's hygiene was called into question by Raymond, who discovered a kitchen landing covered in detritus, a cabinet filled with dirty, broken dishes and cookware, and moldy raspberries (from several weeks back) on the top shelf of the refrigerator. I was definitely disappointed by this sights. I've been rooting for Jess and Laura for a while now but this definitely made me question whether they are quite ready to run a restaurant... plus, they did have difficulty getting punters in the door for the weekend service, despite sending the servers out with vouchers and fliers.

Over in Eight in the Country, Jeremy definitely seems more in control of his kitchen lately and isn't scrambling over cookbooks while preparing dishes as he was just a few weeks ago. Sure, Jane definitely wears her heart on her sleeve, but I do think that these two have come leaps and bounds as a team and their restaurant can run like a well-oiled machine when they don't get panicked. I definitely think that Raymond's suggestion to write down the time a table has arrived, ordered their food, and been served should be on every ticket, especially since the kitchen and front of house have a hard time remembering how long people have been waiting. And a little more care needs to be put into quality control as Jeremy inadvertently fed a dish of undercooked salmon to a child. But their problems tend to be more in the details and timing than in hygiene or freshness. It was no surprise that they would once again win Restaurant of the Week and be assured of a spot in the finals. At this point, I do think they are the team to beat and whoever else ends up in the Final Two will have their work cut out for them.

As for the other teams, I definitely can see why Raymond put Grant and Laura and the twins into the Challenge. Both teams really need to prove to Raymond and his inspectors that their concept works, that they are committed to be in this business for the long haul, and that they deserve a spot in the final round. Who will emerge to battle against Jane and Jeremy for a chance to own their very own restaurant with Raymond Blanc? Find out next week.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing, two couples head to Raymond's celebrated restaurant, Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons, where they must work in the kitchens and front of house, stepping up to meet the standards of one of the very best restaurants in the world and producing food and service to rival those of Raymond's in his two-star Michelin establishment. There will be tears, tantrums, and demanding customers and only one team will advance to the final rounds with Raymond's blessing. I can't wait!

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Price is Right Million Dollar Spectacular (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); Farmer Wants a Wife (CW); Supernanny (ABC); American Idol (FOX)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); Boston Legal (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: America's Next Top Model.

On tonight's episode ("We Are Spartans!"), the girls train like gladiators for a challenge, with the winner getting a luxe shopping spree in Rome; later, Tyra directs the girls for a photo shoot in a Roman villa.

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 ("Celebrity"), MI-5 is called in to investigate when the baby of a rock star (guest star Andy Serkis) and his supermodel wife is kidnapped.

10 pm: Top Chef on Bravo.

On tonight's episode ("Common Threads"), the contestants are tasked with making a healthy meal using a single main ingredient... in the microwave, Table 52's Art Smith drops by as a guest judge, and Mark tells Tom Colicchio that he thinks the Craft guru doesn't like him very much. Ouch. (See below.)


I really hope that Jeremy and Jane and the twins are the final two teams. I love Grant and Laura but I still don't think they have a truly identifiable brand (and am upset that they don't make their own signature dish, the veggie haggis)!

Next week's episode should be great. I can't wait to see them in Raymond's kitchen!

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