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Season of the Witch: Couples Aim for Local and Seasonal on "Last Restaurant Standing"

I came home yesterday to discover a large pile of DVDs of culinary competition series, Last Restaurant Standing, from the good folks at BBC America, who know full well my undying obsession with the Raymond Blanc-hosted series.

Despite numerous other television offering (including several series I need to catch up on), I spent the evening with the future Mrs. Televisionary watching several episodes (heaven!) and sitting on the edge of my couch, glued to the television set. Over the course of the next few episodes, the remaining couples will face their toughest challenges yet and nearly reach the brink of collapse.

For those of you not watching Last Restaurant Standing, you really are missing out: it's gripping, tension-laden, and provocative. It also gives you a first-hand glimpse into what it takes to run a restaurant and, I am sure, will deter a few would-be restaurateurs from entering the business after seeing what these couples go through. (For those of you who ARE watching, I'm curious: What about the series appeals to you? And have your post-Top Chef perceptions about professional kitchens changed after watching the series?)

This week, three couples went into Raymond's latest challenge: to create a menu based around local, seasonal ingredients and and to tie the menu together with a special evening based around local history. It's a tough order for these inexperienced chefs and managers, but Scottish couple Grant and Laura manage to pull it off charmingly. Based in the shadow of Windsor Castle, the couple's restaurant, Jacques Tamson, offers a nine-course tasting menu that offers a taste of Windsor through the ages recounts the history of the royal family, from Saxon days to the present.

Ambitious? Yes, but smart and clever. The duo lucks out in that they can buy all of their meat and veg (not to mention cheese, etc.) from the royal parks shop, which sources all of its ingredients from the royal farmlands, just a stone's throw away. They also dress the restaurant (and themselves) using theatrical props to create an armor-laden stronghold suitable for their royal-themed evening and entertain their guests remarkably. It was undeniably clear that these two would be safe from elimination.

At Eight in the Country, Jeremy and Jane's relationship hit the skids as they constantly bickered and argued during this challenge. I'm not sure why this team, so strong in the initial rounds of the competition, has waned so considerably but now, instead of fighting to keep their restaurant open, they're fighting with each other... and not paying much attention to Raymond's brief: keep it local, keep it seasonal. Instead, Jeremy designs a menu more suitable for winter: parsnip soup, lamb stew with root veg. Whah? Additionally, his team has created a fantastic picnic-themed evening based around the Henley Regatta, but Jeremy's dishes fail to match the casual elegance that this idea conjures. And I refuse to accept that, especially armed with a list of local suppliers from Raymond (!), that Jane and Jeremy couldn't find any local, seasonal ingredients. In the end, they opt for Australian carrots, French lettuce, and a plethora of European and vaguely English veg and serve an asparagus starter (locally source), in which they offer each guest two mere spears! For shame, guys.

And at Monk's, mum and son team Nicola and Tom once again struggle to get the food out and have it taste and look pleasant. It was inexcusable that Nicola served inspector Sarah burnt toast, even if Adwoa did cook it. It's the chef's responsibility to check for quality control at the pass and, despite her many promises, Nicola has still not stepped up and taken control of her kitchen. While they did stick to seasonal, local food, what they served wasn't up to the high standards that Raymond Blanc's name suggests and this team has squeaked by time and time again to remain in the competition.

In the end, Raymond had to close Nicola and Tom's restaurant though it was a tough decision between them and Jeremy and Jane, both of whom failed the challenge for different reasons. Still, I agree with Raymond's edict: Nicola and Tom have had several changes to pull it together and make Monk's work and they just haven't, despite Tom's polished presence in front of the house. Still, I couldn't believe Nicola's stroppy attitude towards Raymond upon being eliminated. It never really sunk it, did it, what Raymond meant when he told her repeatedly that there was a difference between a home cook and a chef? Nicola may be a good home cook but she cannot run a kitchen and the quality of the food at Monk's supports this, as does the disorganization and lack of leadership in the kitchen. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing, it's a gruesomely fantastic episode as the remaining teams must motivate and train their staffs with sales techniques but Raymond has a trick up his sleeve and announces that they will have to include a mystery ingredient in their menus and promptly sends each restaurant a batch of live eels, which they must kill and serve to their guests that evening. Will the teams rise to the occasion? Or will they be at each other's throats? Find out next week. It's a doozy!

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Big Brother 9 (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); America's Next Top Model (CW); Wife Swap (ABC); Moment of Truth (FOX)

9 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS);
Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC); Pussycat Dolls Present Girlicious (CW); Supernanny (ABC); American Idol (FOX)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Law & Order (NBC); Men in Trees (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: America's Next Top Model.

On tonight's episode ("Where's the Beef?"), the girls visit the meatpacking district and pose with beef carcasses for this week's photo shoot and Jaslene drops by with a runway challenge for the remaining models.

9 pm: MI-5 on BBC America.

If you missed the third season of MI-5 (aka Spooks) when it aired on A&E a few years back, catch the start of Season Three tonight on BBC America, the perfect jumping on point for new viewers. On tonight's installment ("Project Friendly Fire"), Tom is a fugitive after being framed for an assassination and goes on the run after shooting Harry in order to escape.

10-11:15 pm: Top Chef on Bravo.

Season Four of Televisionary obsession Top Chef begins tonight. On the season opener ("Anything You Can Cook I Can Cook Better"), sixteen chefs arrive in Chicago and must put their own unique culinary spin on a Chicago classic. (For sneak peek, read my advance review of the Top Chef premiere here.)


I liked Tom and Nicola but agree that they had way too many chances and never were able to pull it together. I think that Tom was pretty talented at running front-of-house but Nicola just could not take command of the kitchen and I was disappointed by her negative attitude toward Raymond. It left a bad taste in my mouth (like I imagine her food would).
Anonymous said…
I think that Jane and Jeremy have so much potential but they really need to pull it together as a couple. They always seem to be bickering or picking at each other and if they focused all of that energy on the restaurant they would probably be unstoppable. I still can't believe that they couldn't find any local produce and, even worse, that Jeremy told Raymond that there were no vegetables in season. Ouch. for someone who's such a good cook he really has a lot to learn.

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