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"Scalloops" and "Mayognaise": The Art of Food on "Last Restaurant Standing"

Scalloops. Mayognaise.

No, these aren't some bizarre ingredients to be discovered in the pantry of some molecular gastronomist but rather the most unintentionally hilarious bits from last night's episode of culinary competition series Last Restaurant Standing ("Cook Book") on BBC America.

This week's episode found three couples entering Raymond Blanc's latest challenge: to conceptualize a cookbook that ties in with their restaurants' brands, work with three sensational food photographers, design the layout, and pitch the book to buyers from three of the UK's biggest book retailers. At stake: a chance to end up in the final three teams competing to open a restaurant with Raymond Blanc.

So how did the three teams do when under pressure? Let's discuss.

Russell and Michele. I'm still not sure that Michele has what it takes to make it in the cutthroat restaurant world. She's far too fragile--brittle, even--to really run a successful restaurant, if she can't even handle constructive and gently phrased criticism from Raymond and the inspectors. Russell clearly has heaps of talent and I wish they would cut Michele loose and pair him with the usually unflappable Stephen from Nel's instead. (Alas.)

I was completely stunned with Michele's decision to stick some ghastly childhood photos and tacky design elements on their cookbook rather than actually, you know, showcase the food. Especially as their photography was absolutely gorgeous and Russell had done an impeccable job at styling the food. This was a miscalculation that once again points to Michele's lack of food knowledge, expertise, or business acumen. Thinking that their cookbook could be placed in bookstore sections OTHER than the cookbook section showed a wanton disregard for their business, their concept, and their book. Head-scratching, really. Likewise, her abrasiveness towards Raymond when he criticized her presentation to the buyers--which neglected to mention anything about their restaurant's food--was mind-boggling to me. Does she not realize that this could be her future business partner? That maybe he knows a hell of a lot more than she does about being a restaurateur and about cuisine in general? That maybe she should try to be more civil and less gallingly defensive?

Michele was irritated that the buyers asked too many questions of her during the 20-minute presentation window and that she was unable to cover everything she set out to recount to them. Um, that's the prerogative of the buyers. If they want to ask questions about the book, they should be able to ask them. And if they don't like your cheesy, kitschy cover? They sure as hell are going to tell you that in no uncertain terms.

Helen and Stephen. As much as I love these two, I had a feeling that this would be the challenge that did them in. And sure enough it was. I think the cards were stacked against them in this challenge. Helen's home cooking might be tasty to her loyal customers but it sure wasn't very photogenic and Helen did little to (A) style her food differently to make it appear more appetizing, (B) listen to her expert food photographer (who, for god's sake, has shot Jamie Oliver's books!), and (C) think about how said photographs might appear in the book, using yellow plates and blue gingham tablecloths.

It was going to be an uphill battle in order to win with a photograph of a smiley face of red plastic cups filled with Mexican condiments on the cover of their cookbook, entitled "Conquering Cabbage." (I will say, however, that everyone seemed to be critical of the title, saying it was vague, but I instantly got what she was going for and found it cute.) But they didn't make things any easier for themselves by actually refusing the advice offered by their photographer, which was a real sin. And Helen didn't earn any points by badgering the poor woman handling the book's layout, either. Rather than split up, Helen and Stephen opted to stay together throughout the challenge and, although she denied it, I do think it was because Helen wanted absolute control over every single element of this challenge. Which is terrifying to me because at no point did Helen think that the food looked unappealing or that their photographs would actually be a turn-off to the buyers.

As much as I might love these two, it was definitely time to send them packing. I can see Helen opening a small cafe/bakery somewhere but I don't think she was quite cut out for partnering with Raymond Blanc on a High Street eatery, sadly.

James and Alasdair. And then there were James and Alasdair, whose cookbook, entitled "The Art of Food," would have perfectly showcased their restaurant concept and style of cuisine with easily the most gorgeous photographs and food of the bunch... had the book not contained so many ludicrous spelling errors. Yes, there were no less than 20-odd misspellings--some of the hysterical variety--contained in the book, many within the same recipes. Like "scalloops" and "mayognaise" standing in for scallops and mayonnaise.

Alasdair has been heavily criticized in the past for a lack of attention to detail and this shone through tremendously in this week's challenge. He was responsible for proofing the pages and making sure everything was correct, yet he never bothered to run a spellcheck (and actually allowed scalloops and mayognaise to go into the book) and actually included a recipe that called for adding water to water and then boiling it. (Ahem, it was meant to be water and wine.) Should James have typed up that recipe quickly and emailed it rather than wasting 15 minutes dictating it to Alasdair over the phone, especially as he knows full well that Alasdair can't spell to save his life? Definitely.

It's rather sad, really, as the misspellings and odd instructions detracted from what was easily the best-looking cookbook overall. The cover alone made you want to pick it up and buy it (even if the recipe layouts left a lot to be desired) and the photography was stunning. Had these two paid closer attention to the finer details, they would have won this challenge easily, leaving the other two teams in their dust. The lesson learned? Alasdair has to step up, make smarter decisions, and they need to work together on crossing their t's and dotting their i's.

What did you think of this week's episode? Should Helen and Stephen been the ones to go home? With only three teams remaining, who do you think will take home the top prize? And which team should win? Discuss.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing ("Tricky Customer"), Raymond invites back the least-satisfied customers from previous weeks, hoping that the couples will ensure that these guests have a more enjoyable dining experience the second time around.


I was laughing so hard at Alasdair's spelling errors. They were shocking but absolutely hilarious as well. Someone teach that poor boy how to spellcheck!!!
Hadley said…
I'm not sure which was worse - Alasdair's spelling errors, Helen's horrible-looking food, or Michele's atrocious cover. Each team made egregious errors but at least James and Alasdair were aware of their errors while Helen seemed oblivious and Michele, once again, just got nasty and defensive. I also wish that they could send Michele home and pair Russell with Stephen, who is top notch!
Unknown said…
1 - I had the SAME thought about pairing Russell and Steven. Great minds...
2 - I think James and Alasdair should have been eliminated because they are tossers. Yes, James has talent as a chef but he doesn't care about ANYTHING else which makes him a liability. Alasdair is simply a stupid git. They were told COUNTLESS times about paying attention to detail but they never heeded the counsel and DID it.
3 - Totally understood Helen and Steven being eliminated but really, it's because Helen had bad taste and a bad eye about presentation.
Ally said…
ITA agree with you about the Conquering Cabbage title and conceit - I kinda liked it. And got it right away.

If J&A win this thing I'll eat a bowl of scalloops and mayognaise.
Anonymous said…
Hi Televisionary

This is Steve from Nel's

Been loving your blogs and reviews of the show. Now it seems that we have been eliminated from the show in the US its safe for me to comment!

Far from running a bakery, Helen and I are now running a 31 bed hotel with 2 bars, 2 restaurants and 2 function rooms. We've been here 7 weeks and currently have increased the business by 50% over the previous year. So the show did change our lives. It was only after completing my diaries about our time on the show that I worked out our big mistake. We thought the competition was to run the most successful restaurant every week. In reality the competition was to prove that you could be the best partner for RB and we were probably not cut out for that.

Keep up the good work. Have really enjoyed the reviews and some of the comments here. And we're determined that Conquering Cabbage will have its day!!


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