Celebrity chefs are fervent in the belief that anyone — even the most culinary illiterate — can be taught to cook and serve food to a high standard. This week’s episode of The Apprentice proved that the gastronomes may have got that one wrong.
The task was to prepare meals for corporate clients. It sounded like the programme had suddenly morphed into MasterChef, but there were two fundamental aspects of business being tested here — the ability to provide impeccable customer service, and the ability to keep control over costs.
The two teams were again split by gender, and this time we had affable Rocky Andrews, the footballer-turned-sandwich-shop-owner from Yorkshire, leading the guys, and the forthright restaurateur Yasmina Siadaten managing the ladies.
The Apprentice is at its best when its cocksure candidates are in an alien environment. Watch the confidence just drain away. Here both project managers had plenty of experience in the catering world and yet they still came across as novices.
At least, Rocky did. Yasmina, to be fair, appeared to know what she was doing from the off. “Business is a simple formula,” she believes. “Make more than you spend.” Stating the obvious perhaps, but I cannot think of another candidate — here or in previous series — who stuck to this ethos more diligently than Ms Siadaten.
There is nothing Sir Alan loves more than to see healthy profit margins and Yasmina pressed his buttons. She made sure that her costs were low by buying inexpensive supplies from the supermarket. Of course, if you buy cheap, there are consequences — in one hilarious moment, a corporate customer buys a chicken wrap only to find the chicken has mysteriously disappeared leaving merely the wrap and some shrivelled lettuce. But her low-cost strategy managed to survive that embarrassment.
Then there was the hapless Rocky. I distinctly remember the pub task I was faced with in the last series. We worked like Trojans only to find that we had ridiculously overspent on food and all our efforts counted for nothing. Poor Rocky made the same catastrophic error. As soon as I saw the boys were not regulating their spend I knew they were destined for a boardroom showdown with the big man.
Frankly, I was shocked at how poorly Rocky performed. Some will say he was a victim of his youth — he is only 21 — and lack of experience but, for me, the sandwich man simply did not cut it. Given his background, he should have done a great deal better at budgeting and keeping his customers happy.
There was no alternative for Sir Alan but to fire him, even though the irritating James McQuillan, the self-proclaimed “schmoozer” from Surrey, did his best to deflect the boss’s finger on to himself.
As for the other candidates, there are a few individuals who I believe will provide some great comic value, if nothing else, over the course of the next few weeks. And watch out for saleswoman Debra Barr — even at this early stage she is showing signs of the kind of ruthlessness needed to go all the way.
And then there is Sir Alan. Perhaps I am imagining this, but he seems a little more mild-mannered than usual. Maybe he feels that these wannabes are collectively a more savvy than previous candidates, or maybe he is getting mellow in his old age.
Let’s hope it’s not the latter.