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Friday, February 6, 2009

Slow Cooking: Last Restaurant Standing returns

Posted By on Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 1:19 PM

BBC America's slow-motion cooking reality show is back -- and marginally revamped.

The first thing I noticed was that they've livened up the various meeting and judgment rooms. Gone is that gloomy, fake-baronial hall where head judge and restaurateur Raymond Blanc issued his pronouncements. (One half expected the losers to be beheaded.) Now, all contestant-judge interaction takes place in a bright sunny room, with contemporary furnishings.

And with subtitles! Somebody complained, and now when Blanc's Gallic mumblings are too inscrutable, subtitles pop up.

Season two kicked off with the perennial cooking-contest opener: The nine couples vying to run trial restaurants were tasked to prepare and cook a signature dish. Right off the bat there were some amazing bad decisions including the use of frozen food (for a seasonal dish), an experimental cheesecake and a dessert that monkey could make: combine can of mango puree with cream, chill and serve.

One couple -- the mango people -- was eliminated and the remaining eight given keys to their restaurants, which seemed to be a nicer group of spaces than last season.

The fun of this show versus the pro-vs.-pro battle that Top Chef has become is that it rounds about a bunch of home cooks, dreamers, pub grillers and folks who just think running a restaurant would be fun and forces them to confront reality: the restaurant biz is brutal, from start to finish, from logo to wallpaper, from appetizer to dessert, from reservations to final bill.

Needless to say, the train wreck starts immediately. There's the Chinese-Welsh couple who want to open a Chinese-Welsh restaurant. The pair who want to highlight locally sourced food but who can't account for its provenance. (When a judge asks the wife what brand the pork is, she replies, "Pork belly.") Or the two air stewards who open Sorbets and Seasons (because they love the name) but serve neither sorbets nor seasonal food.

And my favorite: the painful clueless father-daughter team who apparently have never eaten out themselves. How else to explain the sheer lunacy of charging customers for their drinks, after these same patrons had pre-ordered their meals, waited two hours and still hadn't been served?! Dad explained to an incredulous Blanc that he felt he should get some money from these customers, so the whole evening wouldn't be a total financial loss.

After the second episode, this team plus two others were picked for the elimination round, which as old heads know, takes up a full episode. Bring it on the endlessly slow but still entertaining contest.

I can't wait to see what new bumbles and staggering insights await our flustered restaurateurs -- already the air stewards are grumbling that this isn't as fun as they thought it might be. And needless to say, I'm still totally unclear on Chinese-Welsh cuisine.

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