Apprentice 2013, Episode 9: Hard to Swallow

Oh Jesus, it’s the food episode. I’ve endured eight weeks of having my intelligence insulted, and now they’ve started on my social status and my culinary skills. I am plainly not a ‘busy executive’: before settling down to watch this, I cooked – from scratch, with actual ingredients – chicken breasts in a honey, port and lavender glaze served with an Iranian vegetable dish containing carrots, dates, raisins and pomegranate molasses. I need no more proof that I am not in the demographic for this televisual bun fight: I am just too classy. Hell, I even washed the fork before I jammed it in my thigh so I’d make it through a whole episode …

As 6am rolls around again, the novelty of the early starts is plainly no longer working. Alex is (thankfully) fully dressed as he answers the phone, and the residue … sorry, remaining candidates are chauffeured off to The Gherkin. En route, Luisa reveals a  hitherto suppressed talent for comedy, as she complains about being called aggressive. Alex meanwhile frets about why no-one takes him seriously enough to make him PM. Answers on a postcard everyone … Quite why they have to stand in Searcey’s Restaurant to be told ready-meals are big business is beyond me: nor have the r’n’r shots of the Apprentice house shown a lot of chopping and dicing action going down. But Lord S has laid on three top retailers for them to pitch to, and Voiceover Man gets to spout some stomach-turning puns. Most orders placed wins (so price doesn’t matter, I assume?), but they have some ludicrously short amount of time to create a ready meal and – ooh, let me guess – branding. Never saw that coming.

For Endeavour, His Lordship commands that Alex be PM, perhaps mindful it might not happen any other way. Alex’s mind promptly flutters its eyebrows and is suddenly aloft, prancing from cuisine to cuisine until someone points out the target market might be a better starting point. And I’d been looking forward to paella: ho hum. Decided on the kids market – as children spend so much on TV dinners nowadays – Alex selects Myles to work on packaging while Jordan and Leah will create the product … oh sorry, cook dinner. Alex wants an educational/geography theme, introducing children to world foods, which seems a little late in the day in a country where chicken tikka is perhaps already the national dish, but he has a cartoon character up his sleeve. (OK, make that two cartoon characters up his sleeves …) Popty ping – Welsh for microwave, which turns out to be perhaps the only educational moment of the programme – will guide the nation’s yoof to culinary and geographic wisdom.

Myles evidently doesn’t buy this from the start, although his undermining/persuasion tactics are considerably more suave than Luisa’s: it takes half the programme for him to win Alex round to his own idea: meals branded with skulls and a liberal garnish of words like ‘deadly’, ‘horrible’ and ‘Dracula’. And I take back my earlier aside: we learn something else – Myles has children. So he recognises how drawn to the gruesome and horrific those sweet little creatures can be. But I do wonder who does the shopping in Monaco’s branch of Asda: perhaps the marina-side branch has a queue of 8 year olds, trollies groaning with promises of death and credit-cards at the ready. The change of direction also clearly throws Jordan, who has knocked up Prawn Bolognese in the meantime. His facial expressions speak of a man unconvinced that the optimum selling proposition for this is to call it Bad Blood Pasta and cover the packaging in skulls: as Nick H points out, these are more traditionally deployed on those things you wish your children not to consume – bleach, rat poison, cleaning fluids. As Myles and Alex rub horns in front of a baffled design slave, it’s touch and go whether there will be any vegetables shown on the cardboard outer.

Over on the Evolve team, Luisa throws a curve ball by saying she’s ‘happy to let one of you two lead’. I think we’ve been there before. But she backs Neil as a ‘more natural born leader’, although I can’t help but think that doing so leaves Fran in the kitchen. Luisa runs a food business, and her later telephoning instructions to the development kitchen show a certain savvy with crushed stems of lemongrass and pinches of paprika, but she seems to have calculated that keeping an eye on the PM is where she can best make her mark. Aiming at the student market, Neil calls it for ‘Fusion food’ (in fashion terms, food’s answer to Brick Lane) and offers the world Caribbean chicken with Thai noodles (terrible, terrible idea: I’m reminded of the Gibraltar caff that once offered me tagine and chips). Standing in the kitchen and feeling distinctly stitched up, Fran asks aloud ‘Can you burn chicken?’. Yes, sweetness, although there are other ways of ruining it. Sweetly, she chucks noodles at the wall to check they’re cooked, but she draws a line at tasting the end result. Where she’s standing, she can probably smell it.

Over at the packaging and branding end of the task, their designer looks a bit baffled. The name “Ginger Mister” is thankfully bypassed, although the visuals start to take on elements of a head-on collision thatLuisa seems oddly drawn to. I didn’t have her down as a 60s Pop Art fan. “Oh my Pow”, they christen it. No, me neither. Even more oddly, Karren is vox-popping about how impressed she is with Luisa. Karren hasn’t tasted the food either, I suspect.

The following morning, the sample meals arrive. Leah thinks Bats Blood Pasta is a little too Halloween-y, although a classroom full of small children absolutely adore it and want – nay, demand – seconds. The parents, however, are politely aghast at food with skulls all over the box. No sense of humour, old people. We see how much of this has been taken on board when they pitch – where Myles plays the horror show element with a hefty dollop of charm. Alex, meanwhile, stabs at a microwave dinner in what feels like a pantomime version of voodoo. Asda can see that kids would love it, but they hate the packaging. As do Morrisons, where everyone talks over Leah like she isn’t entirely there. (No further comment, m’lud.) At Ocado, Jordan pitches strongly, explaining parallel campaigns for kids (horrible, death, blood, corpses) and adults (tasty, has vegetables, healthy, kids will love it). Ocado ask about the possibility of exclusivity. I think it’s safe to say it’s all theirs if they want it.

“Oh my Pow”’s day starts badly when they taste the food. Their pow has clearly pee’d off. Ho hum. Luisa and Fran road-test it on students, who point out it doesn’t taste of anything, although (as stats are remorselessly gathered), the packaging is cool and the branding is wicked. Fran once more feels set up, and Neil decides to pitch the product around the fact that it’s food that doesn’t taste of much. Interesting approach, sir.

At Ocado, Luisa wows them with the packaging, which they point out isn’t very Caribbean. Or Thai. Korean, maybe? Fran tries her luck at Morrisons, who like the powerful concept but are left listening to Neil offering to add some flavour if they order enough of it. As they point out, that’s not dinner, that’s merely the concept of dinner. Neil pitches at Asda. Relentlessly. Figures fly from his lips, and we catch occasional shots of Karren’s perm unravelling under the weight of the tedium. In the cab home, Luisa is already lining up Fran as the sacrificial scapegoat. The only seasonings are malice and a large pinch of self-regard.

And so the boardroom. Alex admits they were conceptually torn, but that he was ultimately swayed by Myles’ possession of offspring. Alex has been told off for riding his own hobby-horse in the past. After some predictable comments about skulls – and a great suggestion of Homicidal Humous – Myles counters the obvious threat by offering that “Alex’s strong point was listening”. Myles, you sly old bitch … I suspect Jordan and Leah are in the clear, however, as the food was universally liked.

For Evolve, Luisa says she didn’t want to put herself forward as PM as she wanted to avoid arguments. Who says the programme isn’t funny anymore? Her avoidance of the kitchen is called out as strategic by Karren, and I suspect they might not be sharing recipes after the filming is over. Everyone agrees Neil was good (except Karren, who calls his pitching ‘laborious’), and – less fortunately – that Oh My Pow sounds like dog food. And very bland dog food at that. And Fran’s decision to not taste as she went along is judged as bizarre rather than informed. But the results settle it.

 

Oh My Pow

Deadly Dinners

Ocado

300

1000

Morrisons

0

0

Asda

2500

0

Neil’s tedious pitch won the day for Fran’s dire dinner, and they get to drive a Ferrari round an aerodrome in Bedford. Oh, the glamour. Back in the caff, Alex is convinced Myles lost them the task, while Jordan burbles about housewives being purchase managers. Jordan seems hugely capable until he speaks, and his usual habit of being on the winning team is serving him well.

Back in the boardroom, the decision will plainly be between Alex and Myles: the latter forgot who the customer was, the former forgot who the PM was (although he was battling memories of being told off for following his instincts: the inconsistency of feedback messages in the programme is another of its strange relationships with reality.) Jordan’s pitching skills are duly noted, and escapes back to the mansion. Alex wants to bring back only Myles, but reluctantly adds Leah to the final stew.

The panel moment gives us an early indicator. Leah’s cleverness doesn’t mask a lack of contribution, apparently. Myles has already pleaded guilty to a truly terrible marketing idea. Alex is young and enthusiastic, but can’t focus on end goals.

As they are wheeled back in, Leah is challenged to defend herself and makes another classic Apprentice mistake: talking, talking, talking, talking … ‘Mr Monaco’ is asked how he’d feel in Loughton, but counters that he’s flogged beer in Putney, flat-pack furniture and generally been a long way from his yacht throughout the series. Alex’s Achilles heel seems mostly to be his business plan rather than his performance, as his lack of legal knowledge is discussed at odd length for an episode based around microwaveable grub. And everyone talks over Leah again, which might actually be a good thing for her, although she’s falling into the ‘Lord Sugar thinks you’re too quiet’ trap. (Given some of the loud ones, I wonder why this is such a failing.)

Myles is told that outsiders would think him lucky – as the You’ve Been Fired panel and audience proceed to do – but that he deserves to stay, and it’s Alex who gets the cab back to the valleys. He goes politely and with good grace, and gets the second ‘regretfully’ of the series, but his flitting from idea to idea has sunk him. That’ll never work will it: computers, phones, property development, TV presenting … Nah, stick to what you know, mate.

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