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Pigging Out: Waste Not, Want Not on "Last Restaurant Standing"

Once again, Raymond Blanc has thrown down a gauntlet to the seven remaining couples in his deliciously addictive reality series, Last Restaurant Standing: to utilize every piece of a half of a pig--from head to tail--and maximize their profits.

It's no easy feat when you consider that many of these chefs haven't worked in professional kitchens... and their front-of-house counterparts don't exactly know how to sell offal to their customers. And, to me, that's half of the fun of this winsome and engaging series: to see just how these starry-eyed restaurateurs cope with the pressure and expectations of Raymond and his inspectors.

This week on BBC America's Last Restaurant Standing ("No Waste, No Loss"), the teams would either sink or swim when faced (quite literally) with the gorgeous, free-range, organic pork delivered to them by local butchers. After all, the point of the exercise was to see how much use each restaurant could get out of the pig as they attempted to maximize their profits by reducing waste.

So how did they do? Let's discuss.

Lindsie and Tim. At True Provenance, Tim made a bit of an error including the pig's brains in his brawn, a traditional pork terrine made out of offal, rather than saute it as one might sweetbreads. Raymond definitely found fault with Tim's decision to include the creamy brains in the head terrine but it wasn't enough to get them put into the latest Challenge. However, I do have to take fault with Lindsie's front-of-house management. It's utterly clear (and rather sad) that she doesn't share her husband's love of food; it's not a passion of hers and this is demonstrated from the lackluster way with which she attempts to sell his dishes (telling people that brawn is brains and other parts of a pig's head might not be the most effective sales tool) and from her lack of general food knowledge. Which is somewhat depressing as I do feel Tim is a good chef and DOES care about his cuisine... but it might not be enough of incentive for Raymond to open a restaurant with them.

Michele and Russell. This duo, who own The Cheerful Soul, completely bounced back from some major chaos during their restaurant's first few weeks in business and even managed to keep their cool when their veg order went missing (it was delivered to some farm for no explained reason) for most of the day. Russell's pork roast looked absolutely delicious, his brawn was easily the best tasting of the many brawn dishes sampled by Sarah Willingham, and Michele retained more control over the front-of-the-house this time around. (Hell, that one frustrated customer from two episodes ago even came back to give The Cheerful Soul another chance.) It's hardly a surprise then that Raymond awarded them the Restaurant of the Week this time around. Can they manage to pull it together and stay on top? We'll see but they definitely proved this week that they deserve to be in this competition... if they can figure out the marketing and service elements and keep cool under pressure.

Helen and Stephen. I had my doubts about Helen and Stephen's child-friendly concept at first but they have proven to be some rather powerful competitors this season. Helen was definitely squeamish when it came to that pig carcass in her kitchen, but she managed to pull it together and cook up some exquisite pork-based specials that pulled in the most profit out of any other team this week. Helen's skills in the kitchen (which seem to be blossoming, even when coming face to face with a beloved pig) are matched by Stephen's attentive front-of-house management and his ability to sell any dish with flair. He was the only team member to play up the pork's heritage and make it absolutely appetizing to the punters, using words like "organic" and "free-range" and waxing enthusiastically about how beautiful it was. Well done, Stephen.

Laura and Peter. Once again, The Welsh Wok has managed to squeeze by despite my feeling that they really should have been placed in the Challenge this week. They completely misunderstood the point of the challenge: specifically, to maximize profit by decreasing waste. A number of blunders: Peter's thought to only offer pork dishes (thankfully Laura vetoed him on that) and the wrong-headed concept of huge Asian-style pork platters, which threw large portions of pork at the customers, most of which went uneaten... which was exactly the opposite of what Raymond hoped they would do. Additionally, Peter ended up reducing his most expensive cuts into little more than charcoal. Badly managed all around and the results were hardly surprising as this duo landed the least amount of profits out of everyone... yet the least amount of alleged waste. Still, Raymond calculated just what they had done from seeing those figures. I doubt this restaurant will be open for much longer.

Alasdair and James. The best friends, who run The Gallery, really need to take a course on communication, as there seems to be none between them. I was shocked when James kicked Alasdair out of the kitchen when the butcher brought the pig over rather than include him and educate his front-of-house counterpart about what they would be serving that evening and empowering him to sell these dishes in the best possible manner. Of course, that matters little when you only have four tables booked in the entire restaurant. Not good. Not sure what Alasdair was hoping to achieve by standing next to a vacate road hoping to attract customers but it clearly wasn't working. These two need to communicate, share the load, and figure out some marketing ploy based in the nearby towns and villages in order to turn some profit quickly. I think James is a fantastic chef but I wasn't surprised, based on their performance, that Raymond would put them in the Challenge.

Caroline and Chris. I really want to like the Wallace-faced Chris and Caroline but their restaurant, Ray White's, consistently serves bland food... and every chef is only as good as his seasoning. You can't be sending out underseasoned, undersalted food repeatedly, nor can you be a chef with a bad palate. Chris is finally now tasting the food (one step better than when he started) but it's going out when it's completely unsalted. Adding to this problem: Chris and his frustrated sous-chefs use the dining room's salt grinders to season the food rather than have bowls of salt readily available. This is Cooking 101. Not a surprise at all that these two are in the Challenge this week.

Mike and Harriet. And then there was father-daughter team Mike and Harriet, who operate The Blue Goose in Oxford. I've been pretty blunt about my feelings regarding this team but I'm now more clear about where the blame fully lies. Harriet's cooking is quite good; the dishes she was sending out looked beautiful and her passion for food is completely evidence. Her father Mike, however, is useless. He completely mismanages the front of house and seems hellbent on getting them eliminated from the competition: using a bread knife to cut home-made fliers; only handing out 12 leaflets after seven minutes and then quitting; establishing an arcane system of numbering the pork specials and then not informing Harriet and confusing everyone. And then there's his utterly bizarre greeting of "welcome to the madness" to his would-be patrons. What on earth is he thinking? Can he be that clueless that he believes he is charming and humorous? His words are always awkward and uncomfortable and he does his daughter absolutely no service whatsoever. His umbrage at Sarah's remarks proved that he is completely not self-aware whatsoever. Unless he can get his head around supporting Harriet and running the restaurant, these two are utterly doomed. I will be amazed if they make it out of Raymond's Challenge once again... but stranger things have happened on this series, after all.

What did you think of this week's episode? Which teams do you predict will have their restaurants remain open after the Challenge? And which team will close their restaurant's doors forever? Discuss.

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing ("Oxford Formal Halls"), three teams enter Raymond's latest Challenge and must observe ancient dining protocols when serving a formal dinner at three prestigious Oxford colleges.


Anonymous said…
I wasn't surprised that Mike and Harriet were put in the challenge. It's really a shame because Harriet does seem passionate about food and her dad is just clueless when it comes to the front of house and I wish she had a more organized and supportive partner.

I was very surprised, though, that Laura and Peter did not get put in the challenge. I have been unimpressed with their concept since the beginning and Peter seems to be lacking basic skills. Last week he couldn't make rice and this week he burnt most of the pork. And the pork he did have left he wasted by serving gargantuan portions. I think that they definitely deserved to be in the challenge and was surprised that they escape yet again.
Unknown said…
I completely agree that Laura and Peter should be in the challenge. Peter cannot cook and he doesn't care about his customers. I feel very bad for Harriet because her father is a boorish creep. Because of him, they should be eliminated because he'll never listen to direction or get his act together. He's too stubborn.

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