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Can You Cancan?: Contestants Delight Customers on "Last Restaurant Standing"

I was more than a little baffled by some of the ideas thrown about in last night's episode of BBC America's addictive culinary competition series, Last Restaurant Standing.

Raymond Blanc had tasked the four remaining couples with creating restaurant experiences that would "surprise and delight" their customers, while increasing the number of bookings (and for the first time start to turn tables), and I expected them to seriously give the matter quite a lot of thought.

One of my favorite elements of the meal at Tom Colicchio's Craft (besides the legendary and delicious food) is when the waitstaff bring you a complimentary cellophane-wrapped pastry for the next morning. It also needn't be free: at Grace, you can order a morning-after box of treats to go or stop by Wednesday nights for "doughnut shoppe," when pastry chef Maria Swan pairs a changing selection of doughnuts with various ice creams and sorbets and a host of other delicious toppings.

Instead, there were ideas both silly (Laura and Jess' cancan) and soggy (LLoyd and Adwoa's chocolate-dipped strawberry afterthought).

Which isn't to say that all of the couples came up with lousy ideas: Jane and Jeremy settled on bringing in a local winemaker to allow guests to participate in a free and impromptu wine tasting with dinner, with the winemaker on hand to discuss his locally produced vintages. It was personalized (he went from table to table), unexpected, and most importantly it fit in with the brand and message of the restaurant. Eight in the Country caters to an upscale clientele and their tasting menu (or even a la carte options) jibed nicely with the casual elegance of the wine tasting. I knew that Jeremy and Jane would be safe from Raymond's Challenge, even if Jeremy did spectacularly mess up with that party of twenty. He had the foresight to go around locally to try to get booking, snagged a woman who wanted to do an al fresco lunch for twenty guests, and then never bothered to call her to confirm the booking or get back to her with a possible pricing, as he had promised. And when confronted about it by Jane, all he did was shrug and say it wasn't his fault. Grr. (I do hope he watched the footage where he tells the woman that he would call her.)

Grant and Laura come up with the idea of a Burns-inspired night for their Scottish restaurant, Jacques Tamson in Windsor. While I agree with Sarah Willingham that it seemed a little too gimmicky (Grant toasts his vegetarian haggis with a Robert Burns poem; Laura traumatizes guests with her off-key rendition of "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose"), at least they tried to do something interesting and risky. Personally, I'd have been a part of the 50% of customers cringing in agony. I don't like theatrics with my dinner unless they're on the plate and being forced to listen to Laura warbling would have put me off my food... especially as the couple believed that the experience was repeatable from service to service. Maybe if there was a professional singer in there, but I'm just not seeing it.

I had high hopes that Laura and Jess would come up with something spectacular to "entertain and delight" the customers but they ended up alienating their female guests when they burst through the doors halfway through service to perform a raucous cancan. (At least it was choreographed.) What they didn't show during the US version of the episode was the (male) guests posing for pictures with the twins; photos that were given away with the restaurant's branding on it. The photography idea was... okay but the notion of giving something to take away is what these guys really needed to focus on. Even more telling: the reason the girls were suddenly crying during their time at the judges' table was cut from the US edition. Inspector John Lederer castigated the girls for their cancan, which he felt played up their sexuality far too much, with two blonde girls flaunting themselves for the public, an accusation which did not sit well with the twins, who said that their dance was innocent, joyous fun. Even I got teary-eyed as the accusation completely threw them for a loop but, in a restaurant that does cater to 60% female guests, that was a major consideration that they overlooked.

And then there was Lloyd and Adwoa. I am so frustrated with these two that I can't even articulate how upset it made me to see that they only had six bookings for Friday night. Not six tables, six people. Especially in light of the fact that some nights during the competition, they've been so busy that there's been a queue of people outside Spinach & Agushi waiting to try their Ghanaian cuisine. Lloyd leaves the restaurant unmanned and ill-prepared for service to go and stand in a supermarket car park, trying to hand out leaflets to people passing by. Ouch. People can smell desperation a mile away and Lloyd just stood there, trying to give drivers a piece of paper as they left the car park. It was doomed to fail from the start and he should have definitely sent one of their many, many staffers out to try to drum up business rather than waste time doing it himself.

As for the "delight," all Lloyd and Adwoa came up with was a melted chocolate dipped strawberry at the end of the meal. This was a shockingly bad idea that smacked of laziness: there was nothing surprising or delightful about it and having customers wait over an hour for food in an empty restaurant counteracted any customer courtesy that they might have been striving for. Poorly done, guys. Even more telling: that the waitress was bossing Lloyd around. While Adwoa's food might be as tasty as can be, these two have got a ways to go before they can consider opening a restaurant.

It's no surprise then that Lloyd and Adwoa, along with Grant and Laura, are put into Raymond's latest Challenge. Unless they're able to pull a miracle out of a bag somehow, it's looking more and more likely that these two won't be making it to the final round. Will they sink of swim in the challenge? Find out next week.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing, two couples enter Raymond's latest challenge: to create a singles' night at their respective restaurants and help their customers find love and have a fun, romantic time in the process. But in order to do so they have to fill their restaurant with suitable suitors for the twenty young execs that Raymond has lined up for them, a task easier said than done.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Big Brother 9 (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); America's Next Top Model (CW); Democratic Presidential Candidate Debate (ABC; 8-10 pm); 'Til Death/Back to You (FOX)

9 pm:
Criminal Minds (CBS); Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC); Pussycat Dolls Present Girlicious (CW); 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 ("For Those About to Walk, We Salute You"), Paulina turns up to teach the girls how to properly behave during interviews and public events and the girls are then dressed by designer Jay Godfrey and tasked with display their new social skills at a cocktail party filled with to the brim with fashion VIPs. Elsewhere, one of the girls realizes she lost her travel documents and may not be able to accompany the girls to their secret international location.

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 ("Persephone"), Zoe becomes a scapegoat when an operation leads to the death of an undercover police officer and is charged with involuntary manslaughter.

10 pm: Top Chef on Bravo.

On tonight's episode ("Tailgating"), the chefs are tasked with creating a dish that not only works with but enhances the flavor of a specific drink; a tailgating task has guests dumping their food in the trash rather than eating it; Ryan claims to not to be a sports fan; Nikki comes undone during the challenge; Spike and Mark take a bubble bath. Yeah, I'm really not sure about that last thing either...


Anonymous said…
apparently the winners have now quit their restaurant as they were being used as PR puppets by Lee Cash and treated like dirt...
I was happy to see Jeremy and Jane pull it together (even if he did mess up that large booking). I felt like they were the only team who really got what Raymond wanted.

I adore Laura and Jess but they only focused on the "surprised" factor and not so much the "delight." I expected better from them but am still happy they did not end up in the challenge.

Adwoa's Ghanaian cooking is not only unique but also seems to be top notch which is why it's a shame that they can't get more people into the restaurant. That montage of Lloyd standing in the supermarket parking lot, trying to hand out fliers, was both hilarious and pathetic at the same time.

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