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The TV Column (Nov 3, 2009)

Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsay, playing with knives and disgusting food, all mentioned here by Angie Sammons

Written by . Published on November 3rd 2009.


The TV Column (Nov 3, 2009)

”A GOOD brasserie is run with precision. Every day, people are picky and demanding.”

So went Raymond Blanc's first genial pep talk to the nine excited couples who had made it onto The Restaurant (Thursday, BBC2).

“But you 'ave got zees far!” he finished with a flourish, ordering them to go cook a signature dish for their “concept restaurant”.

Unfortunately, by the end of the first episode of this brand new third series, Blanc must have been wondering how certain producers' careers had also “got zees far”.

Perhaps they had thought they were working on Can't Cook, Won't Cook when they came up with a final motley crew of contestants in this bourgeois version of the X-Factor, that was, at best, mirthsome, and, at worst (depending on your sense of humour), a complete waste of time.

Blanc wasn't laughing. After an extensive nationwide search (you are assuming there was a big bunch of hopefuls) here is the crème de la crème playing for their own share in a restaurant owned by Blanc and a consortium.

For the first task they all had to decide, in groups of six, whether they wanted to create a starter, main course or dessert, and parade their offerings before RB and his two cohorts, a permanently astonished looking restaurant entrepreneur, Sarah Willingham, and Michelin-starred restaurateur David Moore, a chap whose contribution was to occasionally ask searching questions of the hot and flushed like “how do you think that presents itself on the plate?”

And hot and flushed they were. Berkshire couple Janet and Sean would like to create a Scandinavian restaurant (she lived there in the 1980s) and are therefore obsessing about serving the cured salmon dish gravadlax.

But instead of preparing it themselves, they wander around Asda asking, “Have you got any gravadlax?” at which point the hapless assistants might have directed them to the constipation remedies in the instore pharmacy.

They eventually end up with a packet of own-brand smoked salmon “Is not even good smoked salmon...” opines Blanc, as he surveys the plate with crackers and a right hurdy gurdy of bits and bobs in every hue, dotted in between. “How do you think that presents itself on the plate?”, ventures Moore. “I think it looks beautiful,” says Janet.

“Our concept is picnic food!” announce JJ and James who own a cocktail bar in London. “What, like scotch eggs and a blanket on the grass?” asked judge Willingham uncertainly. Whatever you make of it, they shrugged brightly.

Now, not everyone is blessed with fantastic cooking skills, but, so far, not anyone was. These couples would not have passed muster on The Generation Game sausage knotting round.

So we have a woman boiling peas for 25 minutes (concept: locally sourced food restaurant) , a Nigerian concept restaurant that sees two ladies try to make tough old mutton dress as glam in under an hour. An Army chef who can't make stock to save his life and a hospital cook who takes great pains to bugger up Blanc's own signature dish, the chocolate fondant.

Best of all were the mother and daughter in arresting push-up bras and low cut tops (“We're in it to win it”), the former who tried to bludgeon open a coconut with a variety of implements including a blade and a rolling pin, and the latter who attempted to open a can of Carnation milk by plunging an 18-in

sabatier knife into its heart like a creature possessed.

“Give me the knife...” Raymondo coaxed in careful, steady tones as the lady (restaurant concept: The Bates Motel Shower and Sushi Diner) released her grip on the dagger and he showed her, gently, and with no jerky movements, what a tin opener looked like and how to unlock the contents of a can.

By the end of the day they had been kicked off the show, as, arguably, they all should have been. Shame, I was looking forward to boiled rabbit next week.

Meanwhile the Blanc expression said it all. Or maybe he was still chewing on that mutton.

********

They are a bitchy lot, chefs, and Gordon Ramsay must have been laughing his effing head off at all this.

Not so fast Gordon: his own wee comeuppance was to come in Britain's Really Disgusting Food (BBC3, Monday) in which Chris Evans wannabe Alex Riley investigated meat, or the lack of it, in many of our most popular processed products. Economy burgers with barely any beef may seem like a surprise, but many football match-goers will remember this actually being turned into a USP by food vending vans during the BSE scare.

BBC presenters aren't allowed to say shit, not since Russell Brand (who didn't say shit) scandalised the corporation, but they can make programmes about it.

Or they can refer to it in reported speech. Thus, good old Gordon was spotted on an old episode of the F-Word gnashing his teeth and describing as “shit in a bag” that old gastro-pub favourite, the lamb shank, here, specifically the Australian microwaveable variety that restaurants can get in the cash and carry and can keep unrefrigertated for up to a year.

But hang on, wasn't Gordon acting as “the face” of the company that made them? After getting nowhere with the PR woman (“I'm sure you are used to bad language in your job,” Riley cheekily quipped), our host fronted Ramsay up in the street and stood his ground when he heatedly denied being in their brochure (yes, he was all over it, of course ).

Tesco's Value range of chicken Kievs frankly looked stomach turning, and you could even watch a dead animal's stomach turning, literally, for no bones were made about exposing the grisly truth behind mechanically recovered meat which comes plopping out of a fierce looking machine and straight into your jar of hot dogs.

This is food for the poor, Riley says. Or, to use the PR speak of the economy burger makers: “Our aim is to offer food choices to consumers at a certain price point.”

While the words Celebrity Meat Loaf and maggot may sound like finalists in the Big Brother house, this cheap tinned foodstuff from Sweden is vying with the more traditional bait as the choice of anglers everywhere. Fish can't get enough of it.

And before you get too snooty, Celebrity Meat Loaf is also a favourite delicacy on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.

The Okinawans have the longest life spans in the world, so while you may not want it for dinner, thisn is clearly a case of what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

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T. V. CalumNovember 3rd 2009.

I had to re-tune my digi-box this morning as BBC1, BBC2 and ITV had vanished. I only turn it on for Heather Stott and Eleanor Moritz.

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