The Apprentice, Episode 6: Matteo’s Utterly Risible Rissoles

There was an ominous caller at the door. Not The Grim Reaper, I reminded myself, having just listened to an old Elvis Costello album that helpfully pointed out that ‘Death wears a big hat, cos he’s a big bloke’. Lordalan had arrived in person to interrupt the candidates’ jolly relaxation capers (X-box rather than whiff-whaff this week, but still hardly ‘work hard, play hard’?). Apart from looking seriously over-staged, this also had the unusual affect for The Apprentice of showing him stood with others. A minus mark on presentation for the programme makers there: the point is to make everything look bigger and more important, surely?

Anyway, for those still sentient enough to care, the task. Streetfood. Or rather “high quality food from mobile units” in the “culinary capital of Scotland”. Despite not just the Edinburgh Festival but its larger Fringe and the innumerable other events of the Scottish capital (including at least one food festival), someone thinks this kind of thing is still ‘in its infancy’. Shoot that researcher.

Judging by Jenna’s worries about people talking Scottish at her, geography teaching is in its infancy further south. (Yes dear, they do speak differently in Edinburgh. It’s because they’re educated.) Or maybe she’s been prompted to say it so we all think this is 2012’s ’11 Go Mad Abroad’ episode. Still, a bonus mark for not inflicting this nonsense on Glasgow, where the candidates might have learned some short, sharp and possibly un-broadcastable lessons.

Recognising the importance of charm and bonhomie to selling tempting food on pavements, the teams elect Adam (Phoenix) and Jenna (Sterling), and are given two days to create and market a signature dish. Piling straight in with the deep-fried mars bar references, Adam gives the impression that his signature might be a roughly drawn X or perhaps a paw print. Tom, who usually injects a note of urban sophistication, misjudges this one and suggests bento boxes. (The culinary equivalent of a fur stole with a suit, me lad: don’t try it in the boardroom.) Jade goes Crimson again, and clutches her pearls like a dowager. Katie wants pasta, and pasta is cheap so that rings Adam’s bell. Italian it is, and Tom is in charge of creating the dish, while Steve, Gabe and Jade will do branding. Belissimo! (Sorry, couldn’t resist …)

It doesn’t initially sound much more appetising over at Team Sterling. Jenna’s aware that Sterling have only one victory to date, and that she can’t cook. Remembering that Edinburgh gets a lot of tourists, they flirt with Scots pies before deciding that casserole with a scots twist is the winner. Nick makes noises about the cost of ingredients. The kind of noises you’d not want to hear from the man that will cook your dinner later.

This week’s market research consists of a gourmet food fayre in London before they hit the trains. They savour scallops and celeriac with seashore vegetables. (No, me neither.) The messages are consistent and clear: organic trumps everything, go for the best ingredients you can, local is good, people want quality … Adam, ever the fast learner, mentions how cheap corned beef is. In the nicest possible way, Tom cringes rather visibly.

Sterling discuss locations, and Katie argues for a football match. Steve reckons Hearts fans want burgers, but she won’t be swayed. Introduced to their Chef Aide, they’re also introduced to the giddy concept of meatballs, and shown how to make them. All the while, Adam is insisting dinner is about profit, not taste. You have to quietly wonder about his track record at romantic dinners for two. Tom continues to argue for quality and flavour, but Adam’s mind has been made up. And then dipped in egg and breadcrumbs.

Things go from facepalm to facepalm as Steve, Katie and Jade suggest the evocative brand name “Utterly Delicious”, only for Adam to insist on adding ‘Meatballs’ but allowing himself be over-ruled on using the name of their designated Masterchef. The team seem determined to make complete rissoles of themselves. Matteo’s Utterly Risible Rissoles, perhaps. Pausing only to go for a ‘sophisticated’ black look for their meatball van, it’s action time in the kitchen. The testosterone levels are obviously rising, as the boys seem increasing anxious that their balls aren’t all the same size. (Somewhere, just off camera, a woman is laughing up her sleeve.) At 47p a portion, someone should have cracked the time-honoured joke about not getting many of those to the pound, but the moment is squandered.

Phoenix get their input from a Michelin starred restaurant, who are all about posh. Thankfully, no-one has their fnar-o-meter switched as they are advised that “It’s all about the meat” and to “go for something well hung”. Possibly because an estimated £2.50 cost per portion is a mirth killer. (Gabe, meanwhile, seems to think that’s more than a restaurant meal. We hope she means to make rather than to order, or that’s another candidate off our candlelit suppers for two list. Surely young architects make more than that?) Once into the kitchen and pre-branded – Gourmet Scot Pot (a bad pun, but it says what it is and also remembers to say ‘Gourmet’) – they get the cost down to £1.54 a portion, and make something that looks not only edible but quite tempting.

Over at Hearts FC’s ground, the Risible Rissoles aren’t shifting. Well, maybe bobbing about a little in their rather lurid sauce, but that’s it. Tom clearly thinks £5.99 is too much for a punnet of pasta and gristle in a carpark, especially given the local competition. Self-assured (why?) in the back of a cab somewhere (why?), Katie and Steve are worried about the price too. They firmly suggest that 47p’s worth of minced trotter and snout-hair should be going at £7.99. A few minutes later, Adam has a rare moment of sense and starts selling three for tenner. That’s selling as in getting money off (a few) people, rather than as in writing that figure on a blackboard and then standing next to it like a chump.

Jenna’s team have either chosen an equally ill-advised pitch or a poorly judged time. Shortly after hotel breakfast/chucking out time, they can’t figure out why people don’t fancy a plate of casserole, especially when they’re being tempted into the idea by Laura and Ricky in kilts, prancing with bagpipes. Who could possibly resist? At least Laura only looks like a precocious child at a tea-party; Ricky, who’s plainly not tied a kilt before, is doing a worryingly good impression of a psychiatric out-reach patient who likes a wee drop of meths on his cornflakes and has been at the dressing-up box. Imploring people to sniff their produce doesn’t play well either: ‘sniff’ and ‘gourmet’ aren’t natural linguistic bedfellows. Perhaps “Come and have a smell of me casserole” is a chat-up line in Lancashire? Despite a good product, things are quiet until a lunchtime rush and Laura is clearly already identifying who she can blame. Self-assured: definitely. Self-centred: quite possibly. Self-aware? Don’t make me laugh …

Back over at Phoenix, they abandon the footie ground for Grassmarket. Steve is desperate to press his cost-effective balls into the hands of the locals, and strikes a deal with a tourist bus company so that Katie, Azhar and himself can wear any cartoon Italian symbol they can find in 8 minutes and try to flog meatballs at people who’ve come for a sightseeing trip. The shots of Katie dressed as a pizza probably signal the outcome more clearly than anything else. And they manage to literally miss a bus.

The usual descent into the mad hunt for footfall and the demented lowering of prices ensue. Adam’s meatballs might be only small, but they’ve definitely dropped since lunchtime. Laura and Jenna get increasingly screechy. No-one – at least not in the edit – asks how long that casserole’s been sitting over a warmer, or when those meatballs last saw a cooker, but at least they’re getting discount with their dyspepsia.

Back in the Boardroom, there’s not so much as a pink biscuit to be had. Only humble pie and water at Bistro Sugar. Even before the result, Adam is into defending this ‘strategy’ and I’m wondering how much he realises his meatballs are really on the line here. Tom knows enough about fat contents and texture and other foodie blather to argue some kind of defence, delivered with the air of a man who’s slightly aggrieved to have been saddled with this week’s PM.

Jenna’s still worried her team spent too much, but listening to the market research proves to have been the right decision. (Why, in The Apprentice, do the teams of plucky amateurs usually pay so little attention to people who actually make livings doing what they’re about to have a game but misguided stab at? I thought this was about learning …) She may have spent three times as much, but she still wins by £20. Her joy at a day spent on Segways as a ‘prize’ is mercifully edited to the bare minimum.

For the losers, no amount of verbal seasoning can help. Adam gets told his meatballs looked like elephant droppings, and that Hearts FC don’t spend £5.99 on a striker. (Lordalan’s scriptwriters get Gag of the Week for that one.) Katie (who we’ve previously liked, while being mindful that women with opinions don’t fare well in this game) and Steve both made several tragic calls. Steve has obviously been marinaded in spicy tomato sauce for the occasion, as he gets more and more slippery with the events of the day and adopts Laura’s boardroom tactics, getting unpleasant with first Tom and then Azhar. As Adam is in some kind of thrall to him, he escapes the final three and emerges as probably the luckiest candidate of the week.

Down to the final three, as Azhar is challenged to speak up more. He duly makes almost complete sense for about 90 seconds, and you wonder why no-one is asking Adam exactly why Az is there at all. Katie thinks Adam only listens to who he chooses (that’ll be Steve then), and that she’s being scapegoated. Without a hint of irony, Loradalan phones her a cab.

Despite all the discussion about our plucky market trader being out of his depth – quite an achievement in what was a small puddle of pasta sauce – Lordalan recognises his own kind, and Adam somehow stays. Presumably not for supper.

I was grateful I watched this after knocking back home-smoked duck, Armenian chicken with apricots and prunes, and a Slovakian take on bread and butter pudding. (You can learn from The Hairy Bikers, and you get a nice pudding to show for your efforts too.) The programme knocked my appetite for gourmet streetfood as hard as my appetite for trite business lessons. I’ve done festival catering: people want – and expect – a tasty meal, and to pay according to what it’s worth. Most people also have some sense of the cost of ingredients, and know what’s cheap. And when to tell you to **** off.

As My Dearly Beloved pointed out, it was like watching a gaffe-prone Cabinet. You can shuffle people from post to post in the hope that some kind of ability might emerge, but you can only conceal a basic skills shortage so long. Sooner or later, someone has to put their hand up and admit they were in charge when it all went sideways. As the programme makers aren’t about to do it (it’s a successful show, and they’re taking Adam’s ‘profit before taste’ mantra to heart, if not to Hearts), why should the Project Managers? I’m left ruing that leadership is achieved partly through the power of example, and wondering if Episode 7 will provide one. Optimism is important in business, after all.

In the meantime, you can always just follow the money. The bookies are listing Nick and Tom as current favourites, odds on both having narrowed considerably since Episode 1. If you fancy a long punt, Adam is 66/1 to win. For a shorter punt, he’s also 8/11 to be the next one to get fired. And reading that restored my optimism no end …

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