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Fallen Souffle: The Winners Revealed on the Season Finale of "Last Restaurant Standing"

I'm not even sure what to say about Last Restaurant Standing at this point.

Last night's season finale of Last Restaurant Standing ("The Banquet") proved to me that the producers have irreparably damaged this once promising and engaging format.

It's rare for me to go from obsessively loving a series to loathing it from one season to the next but the third season of this culinary competition series (which airs in the UK as The Restaurant) has been so shockingly dismal and so poorly produced that it took all of my energy to keep watching it to the (very) bitter end.

Yes, a winner was named last night for the third season and I can't help but be shocked and depressed by the results, which proves the producers--and quite possibly Raymond Blanc himself--were more interested in concept and uniqueness than in finding partners who could actually, you know, cook.

Just to get to the point: Raymond offered a restaurant to the woefully inadequate JJ and James. While it's not to say that Chris and Nathan were without their faults (Nathan in particular), I have to say that I'm really, really frustrated by this turn of events, which seem to undermine everything that the series is purportedly based upon. What is the point of culinary challenges if the winner of the season didn't need to have cooked at all? What's the point of watching dinner services when the alleged chef is merely expediting orders instead of getting his hands dirty?

Throughout this season, JJ managed to get by without cooking very much... and when he did cook, it was often absolutely disastrous. Last night's banquet dinner was no exception. He produced a glue-like risotto, got lucky with the beef, and failed to produce the requisite souffle, which had been specifically requested by the clients. Yes, JJ was able to create a souffle-like cocktail using egg whites, blackberries, and champagne, which the guests adored, but that wasn't what had been asked for and it certainly wasn't even a dessert course. His lack of experience and knowledge about food was glaringly obvious to everyone he came across.

I don't deny that he can make a mean cocktail because he can; it's clearly his forte, his passion, and his knowledge base. But that doesn't mean that he should open a restaurant with James. They are clearly more suited to opening a bar than beginning a partnership with famed chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc.

But James and JJ have somehow managed to blag their way into the winners' circle. Sarah said repeatedly that they were consummate blaggers and it's true: these two have pulled off quite an impressive con, considering that they can't cook to save their lives and entered a culinary competition. They're flash showmen, charming confidence men, and exceptionally lucky that their competitors weren't flashier, more charming, or more lucky. (They're also lucky that the talent pool this season was, for the most part, rather shallow.)

Raymond, Sarah, and David seemed more taken with JJ and James' overall restaurant concept than they were with Chris and Nathan's Rags and Riches concept. The former could function--with some serious hard work, marketing, and publicity--as an offbeat restaurant chain concept, particularly if they snag a liquor license. Chris and Nathan's concept--which I take to be fine dining on a budget--doesn't work quite so well in the high street but could work quite well as a one-off with some proper attention and guidance.

But it was the awarding of the top prize to blaggers JJ and James that really made me angry and all but erased any goodwill I have towards this once-fantastic series. What is the point of a culinary competition series when actual cooking ability would appear to have no weight whatsoever? When a competitor can fail to make a risotto or a souffle and still walk away a winner? When someone can squeak out of any cooking duties on a regular basis and still wind up being a partner with Raymond Blanc?

Should the series return for a fourth go-around, I hope that the producers have a serious rethink about the format changes they made this season and the casting directors put out their feelers in more suitable directions and lure in some contestants that not only have a passion for food, and a desire to open a restaurant of their own, but also some genuine culinary skill and ability.

What did you make of this season and of the winners? Would you come back for another season of Last Restaurant Standing or are you ready for the check?

Next week on Last Restaurant Standing ("Winners Story"), the winners of Season Two are followed as they work with Raymond Blanc to transform an old pub into the restaurant of their dreams.

Comments

Unknown said…
I agree wholeheartedly that JJ and James winning this competition is a total joke. My only thought was that perhaps Raymond, Sarah and David are thinking of opening a high-end bar/bistro. JJ is a skilled mixologist and James is a good host. Perhaps they're thinking about a place with premium cocktails and a limited bar menu? That is the ONLY way they can have any business success with this team.
Totally ridiculous. This season was awful and in no way resembled the previous two seasons which were full of drama, charm, and interesting people.

Maybe they should rename it Last Barman Standing.
DoctorDonna said…
I can't tell you how relieved I am to read your reviews about this show. I had to stop watching about halfway through because I just couldn't stand James and JJ and couldn't believe that they were still in the running. I watched the season finale and felt like their win was a joke. Especially after last season's Russell/Michelle win -- a series where you actually felt like they were looking for chefs. The only rationale that I could come up with is that Raymond really couldn't stand Nathan and didn't want to work with him.

I can't see myself watching this show next season unless they go back to the original format. I just couldn't get invested in the season or the participants.

Thank you for your great reviews! And for giving me a fantastic distraction from work!
Unknown said…
I would have been curious to see how Barney and Badger progressed if they hadn't dropped out. Barney seemed to be getting better as a chef, and whether or not he actually liked it, Badger seemed to have an aptitude for management and front of house. Then again, being able to cook and properly run a restaurant didn't seem to be regarded as necessarily skills this season.
Chris said…
Jace, I'm right with you. In fact, I watched the show's original UK run but found out who won before I had a chance to watch the final episode. I was so disgusted I couldn't even bother to spend time watching the finale. It turns out I didn't miss much.

For me, the show really took a wrong turn when they let go of Stephen and Rebecca. I know Stephen made a real mess of things and they were too emotional but I thought that could be sorted out, especially if they had a slightly longer apprenticeship period before opening a restaurant. Stephen's food made real leaps and bounds towards the end and seemed very suited for a high street in any British town and Rebecca was warm in front of house. And while Chris was certainly the best chef in the competition, Nathan was so odious for so long that I can see why the idea of working with him might have given Raymond some pause. But nothing excuses JJ and James winning. Nothing. I just don't see how the show can come back from this or if it's even going to try. But interestingly, Raymond has two spinoffs from this: one a standard cooking show; the other something following James and Alasdair from last year. So perhaps we will be getting another season?
Bill said…
I thought it was a travesty and bordering on an official issue with BBC compliance, and made an absolute mockery of the show and Blanc and co. You CANNOT tell the contestants to cook a certain item, have one completely fail at it, and then produce something like a fun boozey drink that makes the ORDERED item look boring. That is beyond "not fair" it's fraud. They also screwed up the risotto - 50 MINUTES! That's a pass too apparently, as was the holy cow LUCK of the rare beef. I don't care what YOU think, it is a COOKING show mainly and that's why the overwhelming majority are incensed. Week after week these con-artists got the sous chef to do everything, while the lazy ass just plated-up. No one who watched that finale could have assumed that basically the outcome was pre-ordained, as there is NO way that they won on THAT day, unless you think that serving booze instead of what was dictated by the competition is not only a PASS but a winning move.
Unknown said…
I agree with all the previous comments - that does it for me! No more watching this one. How can this couple win, when they did not complete any challenge with satisfactory results. It is about a restaurant, not a bar. They were there to cook, not make drinks. It was a complete let down!
PollyTics said…
I have been totally enamored with this program and was delighted to find that this season began a bit earlier than usual. I was set. My notebook in hand and my television reminders set...bring it on Raymond!

First off it seems that this season was vastly shortened (as seems to be the case with BBC's shows of late) and we no longer joined in with the more intimate conversations and critiques of Raymond and the people in each restaurant. No, that was done away with as was the idea that the first challenge got a mere 10 minutes of airtime as well as the final challenge.

This season seemed to concentrate on making more of a limited budget and I suppose that can be expected, however the crux and heart of the show was run over by a huge TV-Show-Eating bus. Ouch!

What was left was a bunch of truly awful leftover candidates from some Parallel Universe version of a cooking show, certainly not what I expected, especially from Raymond Blanc. We can all argue over who should have won and who shouldn't have, but the biggest point and letdown of the season was that NO ONE should have gained the choice prize, much less the smooth operators representing themselves as barmen!

This season has proved that this show has been putout to a painful (and premature) slumber, either that or the producers are nitwits who don't seem to have a clue as to who and what constitutes a cooking competition.

Raymond Blanc and Company will need all of the luck (and money) they can find to back these two. In the meantime, count me OUT as being a loyal viewer in the future.

What a bloody shame!

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