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White Flag: Contestants Tackle World Cuisines on "Last Restaurant Standing"

Was it just me or did nearly every team seemingly fall apart this week on BBC America's Last Restaurant Standing?

On this week's installment of deliciously addictive culinary competition series Last Restaurant Standing ("Flags of the World"), the remaining six couples were tasked with introducing various world cuisines to their individual menus, ranging from Swedish and Mexican to Japanese and Spanish. This was definitely a tricky task as many of the contestants were pretty unfamiliar with the cuisines in question (just look at Helen and Thai food for an example) and several teams faced external problems that would either derail their progress in the competition or crystallize their commitment to Raymond and this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

So were they able to inject some foreign flair into their restaurant concepts or did it get too hot in the kitchen for several teams? Let's discuss.

Michele and Russell. I have to say that I wasn't a fan of Michele and Russell at first: she seemed too flighty and way in over her head and not cut out for the restaurant business. But then a funny thing happened as the challenges went on and they gained control of their restaurant, The Cheerful Soul: they figured out how to make it work. There's a reason why they won Restaurant of the Week two weeks in a row. Michele has finally asserted herself in the front of house and seems more relaxed and knowledgeable about Russell's food; Russell has control over his kitchen and is turning out inventive and delicious dishes with precision and flair.

I never thought that I'd see The Cheerful Soul looking quite so, well, cheerful. But this week, faced with offering Swedish cuisine, this duo did the right thing: they slightly tweaked their British menu to reflect some Swedish flavors and ingredients and offered some special dishes that played off their regular offerings. Even notoriously hard-to-please inspector David Moore was won over by their delicious reindeer dish and Russell continued the theme throughout some other carefully selected dishes. Well done, you two.

Laura and Peter. Honestly, I don't know how these two have managed to skate by without getting called out by Raymond and the inspectors. There's the matter of their schizophrenic menu at The Welsh Wok, the matter of the woefully undercooked rice, and the fact that Peter's sous chef has complete control over the kitchen, from expediting at the pass to devising this week's Spanish-themed menu. I was glad that they opted not to include Spanish dishes alongside Welsh and Chinese ones but they really dropped the ball when they decided to let the kitchen staff flesh out their menu rather than retain ownership and control of the endeavor. It's one thing to be open to suggestions but it's quite another to let the restaurant be run by someone else. Peter is taking far too much of a laissez-faire attitude in the kitchen and it was clear that he was entirely out of his element this week. I'm glad that they'll have to earn their place in the competition... if they can emerge unscathed from Raymond's latest Challenge.

Stephen and Helen. I have to say that I was pretty disappointed with Helen's performance this week. Stephen is such a natural in front-of-house and Helen is a workhorse when it comes to getting her home-style meals out to diners. However, she seemed absolutely rigid and unyielding this week when faced with the notion of having to cook Thai food... and merely added some Thai spices to her regular dishes. Which would have been a problem in and of itself but no one in the restaurant--least of all her Thai guests--seemed to notice any sort of Thai-inspired flavors. It seems to me that Helen didn't like Thai food, had little experience eating the cuisine, and didn't want to try to get it right in any meaningful way. Which is sad because (A) Thai food is wonderfully rich and complex, balancing sweet, spicy, sour, and salty in each heady bite, and (B) because Sarah Willingham already thinks that Helen isn't flexible or adaptive in the kitchen. Uh-oh.

Tim and Lindsie. I was really disappointed when Lindsie wanted to throw in the towel after a month of competing in order to see their year-old son. Yes, I understand that she misses her child dearly but she went into this competition in order to see Tim attempt to achieve his dream. And, once again, I can't help but be reminded that this is HIS dream and not hers and that she doesn't share his passion for food or his depth of knowledge.

Tim, meanwhile, continued to soldier on despite some sort of stomach bug (or food poisoning, either of which seems to be sweeping through the contestants this season), overseeing his kitchen though unable to get in there and cook his food. I'm glad they didn't quit the series but decided to stay on and see what happens; it would be a shame to make it this far and then just give up. And, even though Tim was unable to cook (or help his kitchen get out of the weeds), True Provenance did turn out some exceptional Japanese dishes that even the native diners seemed to appreciate. Sure, it wasn't quite the same exact food you might find in Japan, but Tim's dishes used the traditional flavors, textures, and cooking techniques of Japan. I just hope they can hold it together as I think he does show some real promise.
It will be interesting to see if they sink or swim in the Challenge next week.

Alasdair and James. I'm really disappointed with this pair (or it is pear?) this week. Once again, they've shown a shocking disregard for the attention to detail that Raymond keeps slating them for and this week that was clearly shown in the errors on their written menu. Errors in both the French AND the English portions, I might add. The substitution of "pairs" for "pears" was an egregious one as was the misspelling of many familiar French culinary terms. I was surprised that Raymond didn't chastise James for calling his tomato chicken dish "coq au vin," despite using a white wine base rather than the traditional red wine. His French guests were right when they said that he should have called the dish something else rather than open it up for comparisons to the much beloved (and difficult to correctly achieve) traditional coq au vin. Especially as he knew that it was a tricky dish to pull off correctly. There's an arrogance and cockiness here which I don't like, especially as they continually seem to lack the skills in execution to back it up.

Caroline and Chris. And last there's Caroline and Chris. If I'm being brutally honest, I probably would have closed their restaurant right then and there. These two have no clue how to run a restaurant and Chris has been censured by Raymond several times for serving bland, underseasoned food. (Which they even offered--along with snuff--to the dons and fellows of Oxford last week.) I completely understand that they suffered a major setback from the loss of the oven but their range was still fully functional... and they completely missed the very spirit of Mexican cuisine. There was no soul, no thought involved with any of their "dishes," just purchased fajitas and tortilla, a bowl of chips, and some sour cream. Really the worst offering out of any team this week (or, really, most weeks).

There was something incredibly pathetic and unimaginative about their "cold buffet" and they never even thought to use any of the traditional ingredients of Mexico. Where were the avocados, the chili peppers, the beans? While enchiladas were clearly not possible without the use of the oven, where were any soft tacos with chicken and beef? Or refried beans? Burritos? Tortas? Arroz con pollo? Chicharrones? Or, hell, ceviche? One doesn't need any cooking agents other than the acid from limes or lemons to prepare the raw seafood dish. My point is this: they never even bothered to think about anything once they settled on cold offerings with some fajitas and didn't seem at all concerned that they'd have some very unhappy customers (not to mention inspectors) with their idea of cold offerings, a white flag if there ever was one. I'm very glad that they're going into the Challenge and I really do hope that, after seeing their performance this week, Raymond decides to close their restaurant for good.

What did you think of this week's episode? Do you agree that Michele and Russell deserved the top spot? Would you have sent any other teams into the Challenge? Who do you think will emerge victorious... and who do you think will be sent packing? Discuss.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing ("Airline Food"), the three couples selected by Raymond to enter the Challenge are tasked with catering for first-class passengers on an airline.


Anonymous said…
I was really disappointed with most of the teams this week but Chris and Caroline's "cold buffet" was unforgivable. There was so much that they could have done, even without an oven! A basket of chips does not equal Mexican food. I felt horrible for everyone eating at their restaurant.
Anonymous said…
I'm sorry that Lindsie misses her child but I wish that Tim would have entered this competition with another partner who could have supported him fully. Tim seems to be passionate about food and definitely has talent but it's clear that this is not Lindsie's dream and I don't see how they could possibly win with her constantly thinking about her son and then Tim constantly having to worry about her. It's not fair to either of them!
Anonymous said…
These is the type of curve ball task that I was waiting for separate the wheat from the chaff. I knew, oven issues or not, that Chris was doomed. Most regional cuisine is specifically seasoned, and Chris can barely handle a salt shaker (as seen previously). Plus he always had that look on his face like he couldn't accept the advise being given. Whatever the challenge next week, I don't see them staying open.
Anonymous said…
The way Lindsie carried on you would have thought her son was taken into Children's Services and wasn't staying with his grandparents! Too bad Tim DIDN'T take on a different partner who would enhance his front of house.

And as for Chris & Caroline - good grief! There were son MANY things they could have prepared. I don't think Chris has a clue how to run a restaurant. If he really did train at a culinary school he must have forgotten everything - or perhaps he attended the school but didn't finish the course or get an actual diploma/degree/qualification certificate....

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