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Rabbit, Rabbit: Seasonal Ingredients and an Upset Badger on "Last Restaurant Standing"

I'm still scratching my head over the format changes that happened between the second and third seasons of BBC America's Last Restaurant Standing (which airs in the UK as The Restaurant).

I'm especially heartbroken that the series' producers opted to get rid of the intense and drama-laden Challenge in every other episode. Forcing the three lowest-performing couples to fight for the chance to remain in the competition, the Challenge element offered further opportunities to see these couples' strengths and weaknesses on display as well as see how they coped with added pressure and were able to adapt to constantly changing scenarios.

Losing this competition element means that Last Restaurant Standing has effectively been cut down in size (there are only a handful of episodes this season) and we're already now down to the final four couples. Which is shocking in and of itself as I don't feel like I know any of them particularly well. At this point in other seasons, I had a clear-cut understanding of the couples, their personalities, and their quirks. But here we're at the halfway mark already and more than half of the couples have already been eliminated. Yes, the stakes are high but I don't feel like I'm really along for the ride as much as I was in previous seasons.

Last night's episode of Last Restaurant Standing ("The Seasonal Ingredient") made me feel this more than any of the previous installments this season. With five couples in the competition, I would have expected to be connecting with them more than I am and I was surprised and shocked to see how several of the teams performed, considering they've already made it halfway to the final round.

The emphasis this time round seems to be more on the individual restaurant concepts and the success or failure of the weekend service than on the myriad challenges, tasks, and tests that Raymond throws at them. This week, the couples were told that they had to prepare local and seasonal fare at sell it at a local farmers market. Easy peasy, really. Not only would it showcase their cooking and concept, but also allow the couples to market themselves directly to the public.

It's this last thing that nearly all of the couples seemed to either forget about or never realize in the first place. Only Stephen and Rebecca brought menus and made a point about pushing bookings at their restaurant, The Front Room, and they singled themselves out by preparing two locally sourced and seasonal items that could be heated and eaten at home. (They wisely also included directions for heating.) It was a simple trick that everyone else seemed to miss out on.

That said, I thought that Chris and Nathan did the best job with the market task, preparing five offerings for the market public and foraging in the forest for wild garlic and elderflower. I thought they did the best job setting up their stall and placing the focus on the locality and seasonality of their offerings, including an elderflower lemonade, wild garlic mayonnaise, and several beautiful-looking savory dishes.

Daisy and Nadine completely missed the point of the assignment, offering up food that was neither local nor captured the essence of their Westernized Nigerian cuisine concept. Yes, the fish was line-caught but it was from Penzance and it lacked any of the heat, spice, or flavor of their restaurant concept. Likewise, JJ and James once again proved their lack of culinary knowledge by offering skewers of beef shin, a tough cut of meat that requires hours of slow braising. Instead, they cooked the beef for a half-hour in the oven and then finished it on a grill to order, rendering the meat chewy and tough. (Poor Sarah struggled to get it down.)

Of course, they all at least showed up at the market. Barney and Badger, after reeling from a cup ordering fiasco, didn't even turn up to serve the soup that Barney cooked because Badger had second thoughts about remaining in the competition and wanted to withdraw. I felt really bad for Barney; this has been the culmination of a dream of his and an extraordinary opportunity to start something new and fresh with his career, outside of the army. For Badger to just decide that he can't do it--after winning Restaurant of the Week--felt like a slap in the face. Yes, he's outside his comfort zone but so are all of them, really. Grr.

Raymond had another surprise for his couples as they discovered upon returning to the restaurants: he had sent over a slew of rabbits and pigeons to be transformed into dinner specials. Once again, Chris amazed me with his innovation, adaptation, and creative vision, transforming the seasonal ingredients into stunning dishes that demonstrated his significant skill. (Sadly, he was let down once again by Nathan in front of house.) I was pleasantly surprised by Stephen and Rebecca's performance this week; he seemed to take on the judges' criticism of the heaviness of his food and offered somewhat lighter fare this week. (Though the terrine was MASSIVE and customers still complained of being too full to order to dessert.)

Elsewhere, Daisy and Nadine once again struggled and JJ again didn't cook anything in the kitchen. To add insult to injury, he only used about a third of the seasonal ingredients that Raymond had sent over, somehow deciding to only offer eight portions of rabbit, despite having about ten of them on hand... and the pigeon they served was terribly overcooked.

Barney and Badger forged ahead, despite Badger's misgivings about remaining in the competition, knocking out a service that was their best yet and which had Raymond praising Barney for the significant improvement week-to-week (and for the deliciousness of his sauces this time around). But it was still too much for Badger and he wanted to withdraw from the competition. Given the fact that they had failed to turn up at the farmers market, Raymond closed their restaurant. I'll admit that I was sad as I felt that Barney had a lot to offer and they were a very strong team. Just a case of a bad partnership where the team members wanted different things. Sad.

But it was Stephen and Rebecca, on the other hand, who had impressed Raymond and the judges. They walked away with Restaurant of the Week, much to the surprise of the other couples. (I had thought it would go to Chris and Nathan but I think the judges are extremely wary of Nathan's less than stellar front of house skills.)

What did you think of this week's episode? Depressed by Badger's decision? Should Raymond have found a way to keep them--or at least Barney--around? Who is the strongest team remaining? Discuss.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing ("The Cake"), the final four teams get a chance to show off their baking skills when they take bookings from VIP guests with special requests and each group wants to end their evening with a celebratory cake. But first, the couples must cater a tea dance and serve afternoon tea to over a hundred guests.


Mac n' Janet said…
I too am dismayed that they have done away with the lower 3 challenge, it was often the best part and really gave us a chance to know the contestants better.
We're half way though and I really don't know anyone. And please, I need subtitles for the Brits not Raymond.
Hannah said…
Barney kind of irritated me at first but he was beginning to grow on me, especially as he not only calmed down but really seemed to make huge improvements in just a week. I felt awful for him that, because of Badger, they had to leave the competition. It's really too bad as there's a horrible lack of talent this season and Barney was one of the few contestants who actually showed promise.

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