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Oxford Blues: Raymond's Challenge Has Teams Scrambling on "Last Restaurant Standing"

Last night's episode of BBC America's Last Restaurant Standing ("Oxford Formal Halls") was a personal one for me and not just for the Oxford setting but specifically because the college that James and Alasdair had to prepare a meal for was the very one that I attended: Wadham College.

I had the opportunity as an undergraduate to dine at the High Table for Christmas dinner with the dons and fellows. It was an occasion that I will remember for the very rest of my life and it was made especially memorable by the fact that my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) was there beside me. Oxford is steeped in tradition and everything, even the way meals are conducted in hall, have an elaborate sense of precedence.

So I was extremely excited (and a little terrified, frankly) to see just how the three teams in Raymond's latest Challenge would conduct themselves when faced with the daunting task of preparing a fine dining experience for the High Table and another fantastic meal for the roughly 150 undergraduates as well.

So how did they acquit themselves? Let's discuss.

James and Alasdair. I was extremely curious to see whether this duo would be able to communicate more effectively this week, especially after the bollocking that Raymond gave them in last week's episode. James is an extremely capable chef but hasn't yet proven that he can (A) cook for a large group of people or (B) that he can run a restaurant in an equal partnership. He completely blew the opportunity to prove both of those things this week by only focusing on the High Table dinners (and wrongly leaving the Herculean task of feeding all of the undergrads to Helen) and by spending nearly all of the budget on the food... without consulting Alasdair, who was then left £58 to spend on wine. Which wouldn't be a Good Thing under normal circumstances but it was most definitely not good here, when the dons have their pick of some of the world's very best wine cellars in Oxford. Serving them barely potable swill didn't do them any favors, no matter how well crafted their dining experience may have been.

Also a glaring error: not following protocol and serving everyone on time. The Wadham team seemed to be very much behind schedule (so did Mike and Harriet as well) and that didn't exactly endear them to the dons or students. Still, I would have been surprised if Raymond had closed their restaurant this week. Was it wise not to go overbudget? Perhaps, because Raymond and the inspectors would have seized upon that fact during the judging. All in all, I think they definitely made mistakes but were at least focused. And it helped that they had Helen and Stephen; Helen was able to crank out 150 meals without breaking a sweat and Stephen had attended Cambridge and was able to help them out with some of the protocol issues. But the prime numbers "theme"? Invisible.

Caroline and Chris. As soon as they decided to make the evening about Sir Walter Raleigh and then opted to hire a potato juggler and hand out tins of snuff to the students, I had a sense that this was all going fairly pear-shaped. Chris did take Raymond's critique about his under-seasoned, bland food to heart and used a lot more herbs and salt this week. But he completely missed the point about High Table and Low Tables not getting the same food, serving everyone from dons and fellows to undergrads 70 pence chicken legs that did, as one fellow admitted, "look like blue-collar food." There's no elegance or drama to Chris' food and it does look fairly pubby on a regular basis. Unless these two can get their act together quickly, it's only a matter of time before Raymond takes the keys to their restaurant away.

Mike and Harriet. And then there was Mike and Harriet. Once again, they tried to overthink the issue and focus on competing "smartly" instead of thoughtfully. There was no reason to cook beef bourguignon for six hours. Or steam a lamb for four hours. Harriet's strength has been in her cuisine and she made some spectacularly wrong-headed choices this week. Once again, her father Mike did her no favors either. Facing an increasingly impatient crowd, he seemed as effective a front-of-house host as a headless chicken and his rudeness when dealing with the college's officers was shocking. Cutting off a discussion by saying he wanted to stay on agenda? Yet another example at how this man has no social graces whatsoever. Cooking in an Oxford dining hall was an extraordinary opportunity and one that outsiders normally don't receive; to throw that back in the faces of the people who made this possible was charmless, foolish, and just plain rude.

I knew that these two had managed to squeeze by elimination for the last time. After being on the chopping block twice before, I had a feeling that Raymond and the inspectors would swing the axe this time. And, despite the promise that Harriet showed with the cooking, I can't say that I am sad to see them go.

What did you think of this week's episode? Do you agree with Raymond's decision to send Harriet and Mike packing? Who are you rooting for to win their own restaurant? And which team will be the next to get cut from the competition? Discuss.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing ("Flags of the World"), the remaining teams must incorporate the cuisines of foreign countries into their menus, while maintaining their own concept and identity.


All three teams had some serious missteps (giving students snuff?!) but I was happy to see Mike and Harriet go. Mike is, well, kind of a jerk and he just couldn't set his ego aside to help his daughter. I did feel bad for Harriet but never once did she stand up to her dad or try to take charge of her dream so, ultimately, it was both their fault.

I think that James and Alasdair have a lot of potential and hope they can pull it together and start working as a team!
Anonymous said…
I was equally dismayed by James' and Alasdair's performance as Harriet and Mike's. Raymond could have closed both of their shops last night, in my opinion.

Do you see how James cowers during Raymond's feedback each week? He seems awful proud while cooking, but he really can't stand the heat.

By the way, I noticed that Raymond is subtitled this season. Does anyone else beside me also think his English has slipped a bit?
Jace Lacob said…

Haven't noticed Raymond's English slipping this season. The subtitling is for the US version only. When "The Restaurant" aired in the UK last year, there was no subtitling of Raymond whatsoever.
Unknown said…
I feel very bad for Harriet but her father Mike is a boorish creep. Plus, her serious lack of judgment in cooking the food for WAY too long merited the elimination. That said, I think James gives Mike a serious run for the money in the boorish creep department. It's clear this guy doesn't want to cooperate with his partner - he thinks he's the star of the show. I wanted Raymond to yell at him but then, I believe in tough love.
scharabo said…
My take on who will go by order: Next:

Laura and Peter. Concept (Welch with an Asian influence) just doesn't work and Peter is a wimp in the kitchen.

Alasdair and James. Whichever one of them is the front man seems to find creative ways to screw up the assignment. Raymond has been kind to them so far.

Caroline and Chris. Chris seems to have a continuing problem with sending out consistently good food. (And Chris is the one who needs subtitles as I simply can't understand him.)

I'm picking Helen and Stephen next for elimination.

In the final it will be Lindsie and Tim vs Michele and Russell. Michele and Russell have two staight best restaurants and Raymond seems pleased with their progress. On Lindsie and Tim, I just can't see him supporting a family style restaurant.

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