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One Couple Gets the Restaurant of Their Dreams on the Season Finale of "Last Restaurant Standing"

What a wild ride it's been this season on BBC America's hit culinary series Last Restaurant Standing. I was literally on the edge of my seat (and nearly fell right off my perch) waiting for Raymond to announce the winner of this deliciously addictive competition series.

Who would be opening a restaurant with famed restaurateur Raymond Blanc? Would it be twins Jess and Laura whose whole-foods concept was a hit with locals and regular customers? Or Jeremy and Jane who often seemed outdone by their luxurious and ambitious eight-course menu?

A tough decision, even for Raymond Blanc. But before he would decide which couple to award the restaurant of their dreams to, he would put these two teams through their toughest Challenge to date: opening a version of their branded eateries in his French hometown, Besancon, where they would have two days to freshen up their spaces, design a menu, market their eateries, prep ingredients, and serve their food to the locals, including Raymond's family and his petite mere, Maman Blanc.

I thought this was a fantastic and fitting challenge, a chance for Raymond to return to the scene of the crime as it were: the location of his very first culinary job and, in an amusing anecdote about a teenage Raymond cooking crepe Suzette for his mother, the source of his humility as well. It was an opportunity for the teams to prove to Raymond that their concepts worked, even removed from the safety of the British countryside towns.

I was a little worried watching Jane this week. Once again, she seemed to be cracking under the immense pressure that Raymond had placed upon them and I was slightly terrified that they wouldn't be able to pull everything together in time. Jeremy has got to learn to be able to plan a menu in advance or at least have specific ideas in his mind when they go to source ingredients. It's too time consuming to make two trips to the market and, while one needs to be open to inspiration, organization and vision need to go hand in hand in a successful restaurant.

As always, timing wreaked havoc with the kitchen. With many orders of eight courses to produce, the kitchen quickly fell behind and diners were left waiting for hours to complete their lengthy, drawn-out meals. (Cut from the US version: inspector Sarah Willingham's interminable wait for her eight courses.) Still, it didn't look good that Jeremy told Raymond that he would return to England with his tail between his legs as his eight-course menu didn't work. Don't ever show weakness in front of the chef and don't apologize for your ambition. Sure, they could have done four courses and had it been a success, but they shouldn't also feel entrapped by their restaurant name. As Raymond admitted, Eight in the Country is JUST a name. It doesn't need to refer to anything concrete or specific. I do think they would have been better off sticking to four (or maybe five) courses, as it would have given the kitchen a little more breathing room throughout the competition. But live and learn.

Brown & Green's Jess and Laura were diligent and organized, but they did underestimate the appeal of their famous lamb burgers with mint and feta and didn't purchase quite enough food. (What you didn't see in the US edition was Jess summoning Laura from the front of the house to make their gargantuan burgers smaller in order to stretch them out, rather than asking one of her sous chefs.) Still, they created an enchanting atmosphere for their guests, aided and abetted by the delightful musical stylings of the French pianist they hired for the evening. While the classic music (Chopin no less!) didn't quite summon to mind a English garden, it created a relaxing environment and live music definitely added to the ambiance. Laura is also the consummate hostess though I do wish she hadn't worn that medieval serving gown, a costume choice which seemed unnecessarily complicated and unnecessary. (Don't gild the lily, ladies!)

I was really pulling for the twins to win this competition but I was concerned that their restaurant--a casual, laid back whole-foods concept--didn't exactly jibe with Raymond's own portfolio. At the end of the day, I had a hard time envisioning Raymond (who, yes, does have a less opulent line of French brasseries under the Brasserie Blanc banner--along with the delicious Le Petit Blanc restaurant in Oxford which I used to frequent as a student--as well as his high-end eateries) opening a cafe-style venue with the twins. Jeremy and Jane's vision and passion seemed much more suited for fine dining and in line with Raymond's strict, quality-obsessed management of his restaurant empire.

Was it a little staged that John Lederer chose the twins for his pick, Sarah picked Jane and Jeremy, and Lee Cash was "undecided still"? Sure. But it did heighten the tension and make it a little less obvious who Raymond would pick. I do think that both couples showed enormous potential, resilience, and strength of character throughout the competition and could see both teams running their respective restaurants, but I really did want Raymond to give this opportunity to the twins.

In the end, however, I do think Raymond was thinking the same thing that I was: that his culinary aesthetic meshed a little more easily with Jeremy's, hands-down the best chef in the competition from the very first day (despite his ability to get flustered and rely a little too heavily on cookbooks) and so he awarded the prize to Jane and Jeremy.

I was shocked that after congratulations and much hugging from the twins, the episode just... ended. No final interview with Jess and Laura about what's next for them (even though even other ousted couple had the opportunity) or, hell, even with Jane and Jeremy about what this means for them personally. For such a beautifully produced series, this was a little disappointing of an oversight and it just felt extremely anti-climactic to cut away with no real feeling of resolution. Sure, Laura and Jess may have appeared afterwards on spin-off series You're Fried in the UK, but here we got no opportunity to, well, say goodbye.

As for Last Restaurant Standing, I'll miss having this addictive pleasure to look forward to week after week. But rest assure that I will be bugging BBC America to bring the second season of this brilliant series--which begins production in the UK this summer--back to the airwaves quickly. Hopefully, they'll take a page from their own playbook with Torchwood and air Season Two as close to UK broadcast as possible. After all, I'm hungry for more.


Anonymous said…
I began watching this series based upon your recommendation, and I'm glad I did -- thank you! The final challenge was perfect, I agree, but I was left with the impression that the decision was based upon the perceived "passion" of each team. And I thought that the perception was probably not a fair gauge of reality.

Jess and Laura appeared to have great skillsets to run a restaurant, in large part due to their (mostly) calm, efficient, creative personalities. However, they did not do a very good job of verbally expressing the level of passion that I assume they honestly feel, and that appeared to hurt them.

Now, I don't necessarily think they should have won, but I also don't think they should have been dinged (if indeed they were) for having calmer, more grounded personalities. They wanted this, and I guess I disagree with the idea that this had to be a "lifelong dream" that they would kill for.

Great series, in large measure due to the classiness of the production, the lack of fake, backstabbing drama, and the seriousness with which Raymond was approaching the task.

Thanks, again, for the head's up!
Anonymous said…
I was thinking the exact same thing you were, as far as J&J being better suited for Raymond, but I was still hoping L&J would pull out the win. I certainly wasn't surprised at the winner, but as you said - I wish he'd given J&L a chance.

The abrupt ending was bizarre. I would have liked a coda about J&J and getting their restaurant started.
Anonymous said…
Definitely disappointed by the abrupt ending to an otherwise beautifully produced show. Still, this has to be one of the classiest reality shows in existence and one of the most fun too!

Jess and Laura were my favorite team but I was not surprised by Raymond's decision to go with the ambitious (if overly sensitive) team of Jeremy and Jane. I hope the twins are still able to open up their own little place and continue to make people happy through their good food and positive personalities!
Unknown said…
As this show was originally aired in the U.K. last year, I found a few sites that talked about their new restaurant, 8 at the Thatch.

Apparently, they couldn't quite hack it and had to bail after only a few months after opening.

Possibly Jeremy went back into the Royal Marines, as they had originally given him a leave to pursue the show.

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