Young Apprentice, Episode 2: In Need Of Further Seasoning

You can pretty much see how the cookbook task is going to pan out (sorry) fairly early on, to be honest. Before the challenge is even set, Maria is being ‘assertive’ and saying ‘The boys are actually weak compared to us’. We’ll judge that one, dear: you just let them speak occasionally, eh?

Mind you, David isn’t helping, talking up how the boys have ‘boardroom experience’ now. “We’ve done losing in depth” is a very strange pitching strategic. And one of the boys is clearly seen wearing what I can only describe as novelty socks. I know they’re young, but please: you’re on the telly. Have some dignity. (One of the few lessons that life has taught me conclusively is the wit in men wearing novelty socks usually stops just above the ankle.)

And so to the brief. The task is all about ‘good presentation’. (Which possibly explains why Karren is wearing what looks for all the world like a tight black leather sports bra. Has Patrick been doing some private commissions?) Translating this into something more concrete, they are going to create a cook book, punt it at three major retailers and – surprise! – the most sales wins. To stir things up a bit, Maria becomes a boy and Steven becomes a girl. Not literally, of course. I doubt the BBC has the courage to broadcast a game show about teenage cross-dressing right now.

And so to choosing the leaders. For Odyssey, Maria is convinced the job is hers. It’s about cookbooks and she’s the only woman. (Escoffier, the Roux Brothers, Ramsey, Waring, Blanc and a cast of thousands have presumably passed her by.) Sean brandishes his World’s Youngest Publisher Award, talks about his professional experience ‘overseeing publishing’ (I’d love a translation of that particular expression, but I don’t get one.) He has 12 writers and a ‘head of online’. Sean wins, and it’s already not hard to think their fate is sealed. Maria is already a woman wronged. (As this appears to be her dream role, you’d think she’d be happier …)

Over at Platinum, there’s some highly competitive talk about cupcakes while Steven rubs his spots plaintively and wishes the camera wasn’t there. Oh Mary Berry, what a tragic and doleful legacy you have unwittingly left us. (And if you’re watching, please send Paul Hollywood round to give them a stiff talking to.) Lucy interviews to camera that sometimes she thinks she can be a bit bossy. Well, they say self-awareness is a critical first step towards great leadership. I pray quietly that she’s realised that the task may involve allowing Alice near kitchen knives, which might not be good for Lucy’s health.

Next up, the ideas stage. (No tittering now.) The girls (and Steven) either decide they don’t need a focus group or it hits the edit room floor. Mind you, Steven suggests doing a student cook book in a comic-strip format, which is verging on a truly cool idea. (And no-one even had to schlep to Brick Lane in a cab to have it.) He caps this by suggesting the title should be a hashtag. In a gruesomely modish sort of way, this boy could go far.

(At this point, we get a strange segment where @Nick_Hewer pretends he doesn’t know what a hashtag is. Who has tweeted 1518 times in your name exactly then, sunshine? With that much experience, how come you don’t know hashtags don’t have apostrophes or spaces in them? Mind you, none of the plucky children of the digital age seem to spot that little problem either. It’s our first hint of a potential ‘Belissimo!’ moment. Meanwhile, out in the Twitosphere, someone remembers this. )

For the boys, Maria is – astonishingly – adamant. It should be a cookbook for professional modern women. Something the assembled project team are so personally familiar with, of course. (Karren’s straight-face maintenance efforts here should get an A+ for effort.) Arguing – what other verb would suffice? – that the book has to stand out, I’m wondering quietly if the team are any more acquainted with bookshops than they are with professional women. I can think of a dozen ‘quick suppers for busy working people with breasts’ books off the top of my head, and I’m a flat-chested unashamed foodie. And as the Monk Seal blog points out:

Maria, your cookbook is automatically going to stick out by being the only one without a celebrity chef (/”ex-model” who “knows the truly authentic secrets of Greek cuisine” because she was conceived when her parents got trashed on ouzo) on the front. Stop shouting.”

The boys send Andrew – who is also looking like not giving him a sharp knife while Maria is around might be a ‘safety first’ idea – and Steven to the focus group of young business professionals. Who tell them that aiming a book at professional women is condescending, naff and misguided. Men do most of the cooking in many a relationship. And empowered women buy microwaves or eat out. Maria is now torn between playing the ‘people never listen to me because I’m a woman’ card (which may be undermined by the clearly expressed opinions of the actual professional women in the focus group) and the ‘you should never listen to focus groups, except the bits where they agree with me … oh I’m sorry. I mean you. Plural, obvs’ card. Jokes about playing with a full deck aside, she somehow manages to play both. (She’s also starting to remind me of someone, and not in a good way. Speaking of whom, there’s nothing like a bandwagon is there …)

Ashleigh, Alice and Amy go meet a food writer and chef to ‘design meals’. Quite why they need a qualified professional when they come up with peanut butter and chilli noodles and a bacon, cheese and potato bake is never entirely explained, and the ‘meal design’ process’ seems strangely like a bunch of 17 year olds buggering about in a store cupboard. Which may be authentic student cuisine (he understated sweetly), but may not be a great help with the actually ‘designing a blaaddy book’ thingummy. Even the prematurely mumsy Ashleigh seems to have a sentience-bypass when it comes to remembering that a recipe involves knowing not just how much of each ingredient, but the actual instructions. Even when Lucy demonstrates her ‘slightly bossy’ side and phones them for you know, like recipes and stuff, they seem to continue to generally fork about. Although to demonstrate their breadth, they do bring a bit of resentment to a rolling simmer. (Although thankfully much quieter on the volume scale, Alice is plainly no happier at not being PM than Maria. Hell hath no fury like an egg farmer mildly peeved.)

Sean’s team continue to have problems with the sex thing. Maria, who has not yet had her way, is still banging on, unconvinced by the merits of being influenced by other people. Unless you’re Sean, of course, when you very urgently need to be influenced by Maria. Even in Apprentice-approved holding positions, the phones can pick up the wincing of Andrew and David. Sean’s magnificent (ahem) hair proves fatally not to provide any acoustic baffles, and he relents. Meanwhile, in the boys’ kitchen, the food is looking rather good (later, the team will magically forget that David appears to be cooking most of it). Andrew, who rather too proudly announces himself as ‘sweating like a pig in a butchers’, is also spitting feathers despite the lack of visible poultry, but the pictures are looking very ‘professional’. (Although Maria’s “you have to stand out” is stumbling a little at the ‘square white plates, blonde in black M&S jacket poking at garnish” hurdle. Very slick, but a very slick low-fat spread advert.)

In the girls kitchen, they have now successfully combined passivity and aggression, not that anyone’s finding it particularly palatable. They’re running late, still don’t have any pictures over the designer, and the food isn’t looking good. The poor model, sprawled on a spotless beanbag as students so often are, won’t eat it. It’s hard to blame him, frankly. Most models work freelance, and it’s hard to earn while you’re recovering from botulism. All three kitchen angels are now giving Lucy ‘constructive feedback’ about her PM skills, which seems a bit harsh given they’ve had all afternoon and a chef to come up with three quick, easy recipes. As Lucy sniffs back a hurt teardrop, Steven mans up and hangs up.

When the books arrive at Apprentice Towers the following morning, Odyssey’s book looks very ‘professional’, but fails to mention it’s a cookbook anywhere on the cover. #where’s mummy (sic) looks ‘cool’, but is also riddled with typos and Lucy’s equilibrium is imperilled again. Too late now, people, it’s time to work on the pitches.

For Odyssey, Maria has to be in all of the pitches. Obviously. Andrew will man the pans. Sean agrees while Patrick can’t help but think out loud that Sean can’t control the group. (You know, that group of Irish women.)

For Platinum, Navdeep – who has experience as a public speaker – will lead while Ashleigh will demo a recipe. (There should be a gold star for bravery there, I feel, but the girls aren’t doing charitable works.) Sainsbury’s are baffled by all those typos, and everyone gets a bit muddled about Twitter. Someome mentions “the #where’s mummy ‘page’” and even the Twitterphobe on the sofa behind me titters rudely. Nick, too busy sucking lemons to recall Dan Quayle, wonders aloud how someone could spell ‘potatoes’ wrong. Those who forget history …’s panel are very polite, describing the food as tasty, but they’re a bit worried that the conversational style might make it hard to follow the instructions. (‘Lob stuff in pan, stir, get it down you’ doesn’t sound too hard, but then we’ve not seen the actual text …) The Waterstones pitch is a bit messy, as everyone talks at once – and mostly about those typos. And then Amy says something about targeting the middle-class and Waterstones have an on-camera demographic-pitching-confusion crisis. Does Amy have no idea that ‘middle-class’ is bordering on a deadly insult, even to people who go to bookshops?

Odyssey’s pitching starts at Andrew does a rather good job of demo-ing (why are you not on Junior Masterchef instead?) while Maria heads the pitch. The actual words have a worrying whiff of begonias, but she delivers them crisply, energetically and very firmly. She seems politely outraged by their suggestion that the ‘professional women’ angle might be limiting their potential, but is presumably unwilling to concede her well-defended if sticky wicket quite so publically. It’s a well delivered but flawed pitch – as it is at Sainsburys – but the buyers like the food. Although they may not matter much in cookbook sales … And then Sean lets Patrick pitch to Waterstones while David cooks. No amount of diamante can save Patrick’s woeful delivery, pitched as it is over the sound of David pureeing peas to a pulp. Andrew checks his watch. Maria will hopefully be kept away from anything sharp for a while.

And lo, Squeaky Bum Time looms. Siralun immediately applauds Sean for sticking to what he knows – publishing. Uh-oh. Maria launches into another passive-aggressive tirade about her targeting decision. Her forcefulness is noted in despatches. Patrick wonders aloud who made the decisions. Siralun wonders aloud why the cover doesn’t explain it’s a cookbook. For the girls, Alice equally can’t quite contain her desire to queer Lucy’s pitch, although she almost tries. The typos rear their heads, and the bickering breaks out again. Steve looks like a man praying for a sudden trapdoor. Siralun points out publishing includes spellchecking, but likes the hashtag wotsit doodah thingy. But to hell with all this, give us the figures.

  Odyssey Platinum
Waterstones 0 1000 800 1500
Sainsburys 0 5000 (subject to healthier recipes)

The comic/Twitter concept has strolled it, despite the typos (and the food), although Steven seems under-thanked.

So, let the monstering begin. Sean blames Maria, who he took on trust. Maria completely disagrees, saying that she’s not responsible for Sean being a walkover. (Interesting approach: blaming someone for being a carpet while they’re covered in your own footprints.) Andrew continues to seethe at the total ignoring of the focus group (whose opinion was vindicated across the pitches). David agrees, too understatedly for his own good. Patrick is accused of seeing the programme as a talent show. (Silly boy, it’s light entertainment. Now behave.) Sean as PM should have stopped him from pitching. And Sean brings back – Maria and David. (Maria is getting the knife in even before they’re ushered outside for a few minutes.)

Siralun’s first question doesn’t bode well for Sean: why is Patrick back in the house when David is here? Maria tries yet again to embed a knife handle between Sean’s little shoulders, although with a verbal lack of support from Karren. Maria’s “I really love being heard” sentence somehow misses out on Understatement of the Year.

As the Evil Finger is prepared for Firing, David is reminded that his contribution wasn’t entirely visible (even if the bits he did contribute have been quietly forgotten by, it seems, everyone). Maria is told, astonishingly, that she needs to learn to shut up. Who’d have thought, eh? But Sean failed to assert authority as PM (first fatal error) and then brought the wrong person back (second, even more fatal error). His fate is sealed. Hair today and gone tomorrow. Never mind Sean, at least it’ll be quieter for you next week …

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