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Dinner Theatre: Demonstrations and Recriminations on "Last Restaurant Standing"

It's good to know that I'm not mad (or in this case anyway): a cooking demonstration is actually meant to encourage people to sample your food. After all, it's a promotional event to get bodies into your restaurant, to showcase your cooking, and to put forth your restaurant concept and identity.

So how did James and Alasdair yet again manage to get it so wrong on this week's episode ("Cookery Demonstration") of BBC America's deliciously addictive culinary competition series Last Restaurant Standing?

This week's task was pretty damn straightforward: the teams were assigned to four different locations--a regatta, farmers' markets, and a shopping center--and were instructed to perform cooking demonstrations in an effort to increase bookings and spread the word about their restaurants. Granted, some of these locations were harder sells overall (Michele and Russell drew the short straw with the mall) but the emphasis was on luring customers in by offering them a literal taste of their restaurant concept.

And, afterward, Raymond Blanc himself would be stopping into each of the restaurants for the first time, to explore their kitchens and sample their dishes. And, oh, keep an eye on what's actually going on at each eatery.

So who sank and who swam this week? Let's discuss.

Lindsie and Tim. At the cooking demonstration, Tim definitely had the upper-hand and used his previous experiences as a stand-up comedian to his advantage at the farmers' market, luring customers in with jokes and a booming voice and then offering up tasty treats after each demo. Lindsie, meanwhile, made up 300 fliers to promote the business and walked away with a staggering 27 bookings as a result. (Well done, Lindsie!) Tim's affable nature and calm demeanour definitely played a role in the success of their demo, which attracted a large crowd and definitely achieved exactly what Raymond was looking for them to do. Loved that he described their stall as being on "bruschetta street," between the bread and tomatoes. (And, having had those very tomatoes at the Marylebone farmers market, I can attest to just how delicious they are.)

Back at the restaurant, it was a different story, however. I was mortified when Tim served Raymond a duck egg with asparagus soldiers... and hard-boiled the egg. Not exactly the first impression
of your cooking you want to leave the master chef with after dining at your restaurant. The second attempt yielded a yolk that wasn't solid but was still overcooked, much to Raymond's dislike. Still, the duo did better overall than the other couples and seemed less frazzled and harried when Raymond came in; Lindsie in particular now seems to run that front of house effortlessly and seems less panicked and floundering. It was no surprise then that these two should win Restaurant of the Week... and walk away without having to even participate in Raymond's latest Challenge.

Stephen and Helen. Helen also did a good job at the cooking demonstration. Her homey style of cooking may have placated an audience hungry for free samples but I am not sure that her demonstration would have made me go to her restaurant. And that's perhaps the most difficult thing that Helen and Stephen have to overcome: the notion that guests can likely cook these very things at home themselves rather than go out and pay someone to do it for them.

Not unsurprisingly, Raymond was less than pleased with his dining experience at Nel's. Helen manages to run that kitchen with an iron fist, despite being one sous chef short that evening (she quickly drafts her kitchen porter to also fill in as a commis chef), but the food quality still leaves a lot to be desired. Raymond was very disappointed with her fish pie, which underneath the sweet potato topping was watery and runny; the carrots were virtually raw; and the broad beans--in season and available fresh everywhere--were frozen. Unless they can once again manage to dazzle the inspectors during next week's Challenge, I think Nel's days are numbered.

Michele and Russell. Oh, Michele and Russell. I'm really of two minds about you. On the one hand, Russell appears to be a phenomenal chef, he's thoughtful and precise, and has heaps of creativity and passion, even if he doesn't wear that on his sleeve. Michele, meanwhile, is a whirligig of emotion, unable to suppress herself from saying awkward things, a bouncing ball of nervous energy in the guise of being as cheerful as, well, their namesake restaurant. As I said before, they did draw the short straw with their cooking demonstration as the bottom of the escalator at a shopping center isn't exactly the most conducive spot for a cooking demonstration... if you want to lure more than local teenagers, that is. Because that's exactly what happened. After getting a late start (thanks to Russell leaving behind all of the food for the demo back at the restaurant), they seemed to only attract children to their demonstration... who didn't really seem to be the ideal audience for Russell's high-end chicken livers. (Although inspector David Moore said they were "delicious.")

And Raymond did drop by at The Cheerful Soul at a very late hour, when they had basically packed up the kitchen already. Still, while he thought the food was excellent (except for the sea bream's fatty skin, which didn't quite crisp up as hoped), the service was extremely lackluster and Raymond was kept waiting for 30 minutes for his main course and no one notified him of the delay. Adding insult to injury, Michele couldn't answer his questions about the source of the aubergines (read: eggplant), demonstrating a lack of culinary knowledge that Raymond found distressing. When asked where the aubergine came from, Michele replied (on camera, mind), "We get them from our supplier in Surrey, but they're not grown there." Later, when Raymond called her on this in front of the inspectors, Michele started to cry and ran out of the room after she claimed to tell all of their customers that the produce was from "Sacred's Farm in Surrey." Which is not what she told Raymond at all. But far worse than lying about it afterward was the fact that she very unprofessionally ran out of the room to cry rather than face Raymond and the inspectors' criticism. I find that extremely troubling, especially as she can be heard saying that she wants to throw the towel in.

Alasdair and James. And then there were Alasdair and James, who turned their waterside cooking demonstration into an art show and decided before beginning that they weren't going to allow demo viewers to taste the food... which then sat around uneaten. James' rationale was that if people wanted to try their food they would have to come into the restaurant. Um, what? Isn't that the entire point of a cooking demonstration? To demonstrate how to cook these dishes and then let the audience have a taste of the finishing product? You know, as an incentive to come into the restaurant and have more? It boggles the mind, really. Once again, Alasdair failed miserably on the marketing front, luring ONE person in for the cooking demo and then transforming the demo into an effort to sell art, rather than The Gallery itself. Badly done, guys.

At the restaurant, James once again created some delicious dishes but was let down badly by front-of-house, especially the waitstaff (who lacked any knowledge of the dishes), the slowness of service (at one point, Raymond told Alasdair that he needed to be out of there in 20 mins and still hadn't gotten his main course), and the lack of communication between him and Alasdair. Raymond was right when he predicted that James would quickly run out of steak, having only eight portions available for 38 guests, but I don't think he foresaw that James would run out of nearly every single protein on the menu. Wow. I don't know why James can't seem to get his ordering done correctly, but that is absolutely shocking to me.

What did you think of this week's episode? Should Tim and Lindsie have gotten a pass from the Challenge and a guaranteed spot among the final three teams? Who do you think will take home the top prize, the opportunity to open their very own restaurant with Raymond Blanc? And who will be the next to go home? Discuss.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing ("Cook Book"), the three teams entering the latest challenge set forth by Raymond Blanc must develop cookbooks that promote their restaurants' concepts, oversee photography and layout, and pitch the book to buyers from three of the UK's largest book sales outlets. Whose dream will go up in smoke? Find out next week.


Bella Spruce said…
I'm happy that Lindsie and Tim got Restaurant of the Week as they were really the only ones to truly use the cooking demonstration to their advantage. And I feel like Lindsie has come along way in terms of confidence and really taking ownership in their restaurant.

Michele, on the other hand, is driving me crazy with her minor breakdowns. Russell is extremely talented and I wish that he had a more supportive partner for front of house. It would be nice if Raymond could pair him with Stephen instead!
Ally said…
"So how did James and Alasdair yet again manage to get it so wrong on this week's episode ("Cookery Demonstration") of BBC America's deliciously addictive culinary competition series Last Restaurant Standing?"

How? They're Alasdair and James. It surprises you that they made yet another bonehead move? :)

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