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A Brand New Day on "Last Restaurant Standing"

Competition is seriously heating up on BBC America's addictive culinary competition Last Restaurant Standing yet I can't believe how one couple has managed to muddle through this far.

Yes, ladies and gents, I am talking about the lovable but way-out-of-their-depths Emma and Martin who have the natural ability to amuse and charm but whose restaurant Bravo! lacks brand identification, profit, or, well, customers for that matter.

This week, Raymond Blanc raised the stakes yet again for the remaining couples: in addition to filling their eateries with hungry (and cash-holding) customers, they'd also have to perform two tasks: to create a cooking course for at least six pupils and to clearly define their restaurants' brands. Were the teams able to solidify just what makes each of their restaurants unique and what are their individual selling points? Let's find out.

Grant and Laura. I have to say, when this series first started, I didn't have such high hopes for Grant and Laura's Scottish-French fusion restaurant, Jacques Tamson's in Windsor. It was such a risky blend of disparate cuisines and the punters didn't exactly seem to be flocking in numbers to the restaurant. Yet over the last few weeks, these two have managed to pull it together. Laura was right to insist about the waiters wearing Flower of Scotland tartan ties (as much as Grant resented it) and the couple smartly went on a local radio show to promote the restaurant and have fun with their Scottish brand by bringing deep-fried Mars bars on the air... and then sell them with ice cream as a tongue-in-cheek dessert. It was only fitting that they did win Restaurant of the Week this go-around; they completely took on Raymond's advice and made their brand recognizable and concrete... while having to deal with a truculent kitchen porter, no less.

Jeremy and Jane. These two went into this week with such overconfidence that I knew it would all come crumbling down this week. Jeremy's cooking demo was an absolute disaster from the start; beginning by having everyone seated at a table looking at the "paperwork" was a bad enough beginning but it didn't prepare me for the sight of Jeremy continually glancing into a cookbook (!) during his crab cake demo. I have no idea why he would have chosen to make crab cakes if he wasn't familiar with the recipe and had never made them before. I also don't know why he wouldn't have involved the pupils in the actual cooking process. Perhaps then he might have not neglected to include the actual crab in the crab cakes... That said, they did manage to turn a profit this week but, like Raymond and his inspectors, I am not sure if they have a strong enough brand. Eight in the Country's entire identity seems to revolve around the notion of a leisurely eight course tasting menu, but if no one is coming in to order it and most people seem to be in the mood for a quite meal, are you fulfilling your brand by serving one or two courses to nearly all of your customers? They really have to rethink their commitment to the menu if they hope to stay open much longer.

Lloyd and Adwoa. I really don't understand why their Ghanian restaurant, Spinach and Agushi, isn't making more money. Week to week, their profit margin seems to be a bit of a rollercoaster ride yet they always seems to have a crowded dining room... and an excess of staff, unfortunately. While we didn't get to see Adwoa's cooking school in very much detail, it did seem like her young customers were having a blast... which is why I could see that this couple would opt to capture Surrey's student population with a special student meal deal that promised two courses for a low, low, low £9.50. But their big mistake was not limited the offer to specific days or hours. That sort of low price will attract some of the area's 9000 students but they can then choose to fill your dining room during peak hours, not order spendy wine, and take away profit. Lloyd and Adwoa should have limited the usage from 5-7 or so each day in order to fill the tables early and then turn them over quickly for a second seating.

Laura and Jess. I love the twins but Raymond is right: it does seem like they've been coasting for a while now. They have a great brand in their casual whole food eatery Brown & Green and a loyal customer base but they should be more busy than they are. Their cooking course was a definite success from the viewpoint of customer satisfaction: they offered hands-on demonstrations, cocktails, wine, and a full meal... all for free. Why didn't the lovely ladies charge the attendees? Especially as they didn't use the opportunity to leverage the course as a means to getting more bookings at the weekend? Their brand exercise--selling bottles of their homemade hummus, a popular staple at the restaurant--was pretty sub-par, as they only had 10 jars to sell and had a hard time doing that. Yes, it represents the restaurant and is portable and cheap to produce but it didn't lure in any NEW customers. And that was the point of the exercise. For the first time, the twins will enter Raymond's challenge (after twice winning Restaurant of the Week) and I do hope that it spurs them to become more creative and determined about making their restaurant more profitable.

Emma and Martin. Finally, there's Emma and Martin who seem to have more lives than a cat. By all accounts, they should have been sent packing a long time ago but Raymond has a soft spot in his heart for this couple. Still, it was shameful that Emma didn't know what a "brand" was and neither of them could categorize what their restaurant Bravo!'s brand was... or what kind of cooking it offered, especially since Emma's contribution to the brand challenge was the slogan "Where the food we love becomes the food you love," but then Martin couldn't name any specific cuisine he loved (he offered paella) and Emma couldn't name a single dish on their menu or really explain the restaurant's concept.

Of all of the restaurants still open, Bravo! lacks a clear focus. It purports to be bistro-style contemporary English cooking, but those two ideas are definitely at juxtaposition. Putting bistro on a flier doesn't make your restaurant so. Emma's other ideas--offering glasses of wine to random folks on the street and forcing them to take a confusing flier... and a £10 champagne and barbecue dinner--just confused the issue more. I am not sure how champagne and BBQ go together or how they advance the idea of bistro-style contemporary English food. Color me confused. Seeing as they only turned a £7 profit, tt was no surprise that they would be going into the challenge yet again this week and it will take nothing short of a miracle if Emma and Martin make it out of there still in the competition.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing, three couples enter Raymond's latest challenge: to come up with exciting microwavable meals and pitch them to two high street stores, creating an innovative and original dish that also has mass appeal, producing eye-catching packaging, and offer an informative and personable presentation. This could just be the challenge that makes or breaks them when they learn what might fly in the restaurant doesn't work on the supermarket shelves.

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 ("If You Can't Make It Here, You Can't Make It Anywhere"), the models get split into two groups as they head out on go-sees and later participate in a Broadway photo shoot (where they will be shot through a plastic sheet while laying face down in water). Meanwhile, one model gets a second makeover (guess who) and another is injured. Please be Dominique, please be Dominique...

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, you can catch it tonight on BBC America. On tonight's installment ("A Prayer for My Daughter"), Adam tracks a pro-Israel extremist after a peace negotiator disappears.

10 pm: Top Chef on Bravo.

On tonight's episode ("Film Food"), guest judge Daniel Boulud drops by to test the chefs on their knife skills and the contestants have to cater a film-themed dinner party for film critic Richard Roeper.


Anonymous said…
I heart Emma. But she (and Martin, too) is SO out of her league. It's really time for them to go.

I am continually perplexed that L&A don't make money, but as you said - overhead is huge, plus the discount thing. Still, i am rooting for them.

I was glad that Grant and Laura won, as it was a nice comeback, but I don't like the way he talks to her sometimes.

I really like the girls. They may be coasting a bit, but I think they will win it all.
Emma and Martin will have to perform some kind of miracle to stay in the competition for one more round. They're lovely people but the other restaurants left are far superior to Bravo! (What does that name even mean?)

I was sad to see the twins go into the challenge but, hopefully, it will only inspire them to do better.

I can't believe there are only five teams left. I don't want it to end!
Anonymous said…
Like an idiot, I just went and read the wikipedia page about the show and it lists the winners. I *really* wish I hadn't done that as it takes the suspense right out of the show.

I do find it interesting that in most of the husband/wife teams, the wives tend to back down from confrontation so as not to anger their husbands, but 9 times out of 10 they were completely right.

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