The Apprentice: Episode 6

Hannah Langworth's weekly take on The Gateway's favourite business show

My colleagues at The Gateway and I love our street food - from New York-style hot dogs to burritos, from Brick Lane bagels to fudge, we've paid our money and got it all over ourselves while trying to walk, eat and look like our usual super-cool selves all at the same time. So a whole episode of The Apprentice devoted to selling sizzling treats from open-air stalls was a mouth-watering prospect. As, incidentally, was this week's appetiser scene - Episode six opened with Lord Sugar marching up to the house to barge in on the contestants. They were already having a fairly good time innocently amusing themselves with some vigorous Wii activity but, as Dara O'Brien pointed out on You're Fired: "There ain't no party like a Lord Sugar party!" However, Big Alan was in no mood for festivities ("The bell didn't work hurt my hand whacking the door", he tweeted as the show aired), and he proceeded to curtly outline the parameters of the task to the startled candidates as they rather incongruously lolled about on multicoloured sofas in leisurewear. But with the task set (create a gourmet dish and sell it to the good people of Edinburgh), we were soon on familiar territory despite the shift in location to Scotland: suits on: check; barking into mobiles: check; barking ideas: check.

I've come across some funny food concepts in my time (ant rice, anyone? scorpion ice cream? - no, me neither) but this episode threw up (sorry) a veritable feast of culinary amusement, mostly from this week's losers Team Phoenix. There was editorial and research director Katie Wright "thinking outside the pizza box" in her stylish round and pepperoni-sprinkled dress, and team leader and market trader Adam Corbally wondering if anyone actually eats Japanese delicacies like sushi and what he called "cat" curry (the Japanese do for a start, as Dara helpfully pointed out).

There were more serious criticisms to be made of the Phoenix gang's attitude to cuisine. Adam was resolutely focused on producing a cheap product, despite Lord Sugar having instructed the teams to come up with a gourmet dish ("high class mobile grub", as he put in). The rest of the team managed to steer Adam away from corned beef and freeze-dried green flecks, but their offering still ended up looking below par; said Lord Sugar of the "Utterly Delicious" (â„¢) meatballs: "I've seen things like that in the elephant pen at the zoo." And food critic Tracey MacLeod and chef Gino D'Acampo both pointed out on You're Fired that the USP of the best street fare is seeing and smelling your food being freshly cooked in front of you, which both teams failed to realise and capitalise on, serving up almost entirely pre-prepared dishes.

Winners Team Sterling, however, took a relatively sensible approach to creating their dish in the main. Team leader and beauty salon owner Jenna Whittingham did choose a high-risk strategy in using expensive ingredients but, as aide Karren Brady recognised, it was one which paid off, as they ended up with a very good quality product that sold well once sampled. Jenna also did well to exploit the current trend for traditional British food prepared well with the odd twist - mixing some haggis into her stew seemed to go down well with the tourists.

Given the choice, I think I'd have chosen to sample Jenna's Scottish casserole rather than Adam's meatballs any day, but in many ways this task wasn't really about gastronomy at all. "You can't cook the books," said Lord Sugar - and the food business is ultimately not about how good a product tastes, but whether you can sell it. And it's in marketing and sales that I think Team Phoenix made their biggest mistakes.

Lord Sugar was right to argue that they made a error in not using the name of the celebrity chef who assisted them in creating the dish to add some spice to their brand. And in terms of selling, their choice of the football match as their first location was a very bad one - as Gino pointed out, pasta, especially a rough and ready dish like meatballs, could have gone down well with Hearts FC fans - but not at £3.99, let alone the £7.99 Katie suggested at one point - "they wouldn't pay that much for a striker," said Lord Sugar. And the tour bus gimmick was a waste of time - and energy (those Edinburgh steps looked painful, especially in a pizza dress). Team Sterling, on the other hand, didn't display any particular strokes of genius in their marketing and selling strategy, but didn't make any major mistakes either, which is often enough to win a task. They also had a bit of luck by finding a bagpiper in full regalia to plonk next to their stall ( - I thought most people paid them to go away, but the tourists on Parliament Square seemed to like him).

So Team Phoenix's loss seemed fair - as did Lord Sugar's decision to make mincemeat out of Katie rather than Adam, as she was close to most of the bad marketing and sales decisions. And anyone who appears in the boardroom three times in six episodes probably doesn't deserve any more second chances. I hope she's enjoying being back in Fulham - £6 burger with your football, anyone?

Comments