Young Apprentice: Too many cooks prove to be a recipe for disaster

Young Apprentice met Hell’s Kitchen as week two saw the teams asked to create a cookbook and pitch it to prospective retailers. In a case of too many chefs (sic) and not enough Indians, the task clearly displayed the perils of having a weak team leader. Project manager Sean Spooner made two critical errors which cost Odyssey victory in a task which, as an aspiring young publisher, he should have been well equipped for. As a result he became the second victim of Lord Sugar‘s Digit of Doom™, leaving us with just ten Teenage Tycoons of Tomorrow™ battling it out for the £25,000 investment fund prize.

Ready, steady, cook!

Race to the phone – tick. Task win – tick. Chalk up two victories for Lucy (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

It’s a sunny morning at the Apprenti-Mansion™ as cake baker and aspiring lawyer Lucy Beauvallet wins this week’s Race to the Phone™ and is told that the candidates’ destination for their briefing is the restaurant Sketch in the heart of London’s West End (although several of them mistake it for a gallery and begin speculating about the possibility of an art-based task). Sugar soon corrects them, though, directing them to come up with a new cookbook concept and secure as many orders as possible. But before sending the Apprenti-Kids™ on their way, Sugar executes his first Apprenti-Shuffle™, sending Irish online trader Maria Doran over to Odyssey and replacing her in Platinum with Steven Cole.

Maria is quick to put herself forward as project manager, but loses out to existing publisher Sean. Meanwhile Lucy, with her experience running her own cake business, gets the nod over Alice Smith, who the producers helpfully inform us sells eggs – and promptly spends the rest of the task hurling rotten ones at her project manager.

Maria railroaded Sean into a poor decision on their target market (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The teams’ first task is to decide on their target market. While Andrew Tindall cautions against taking such a narrow approach, Maria champions a book targeted at professional women, which Sean decides to run with. Platinum, on the other hand, opt for a student cookbook, taking on Steven’s suggestion of a comic book design and coming up with the contemporary Twitter-inspired title #where’s mummy – although shouldn’t it really be #wheresmummy? – much to the feigned bemusement of Nick Hewer, who has actually been on Twitter for quite a while (@Nick_Hewer) and knows full well what a hashtag is.

The teams then split up to research recipes and conduct focus groups. Platinum are confident enough to forego the research, whereas Odyssey might as well not have bothered after Maria convinces Sean to ignore their focus group of mixed professionals’ clear direction not to target solely women, despite Andrew and David Belotelli™ Odhiambo‘s repeated protests. I pointed out in last week’s recap that one of the golden rules of the Apprentice is that you ignore market research at your peril. In that moment, you just know that Odyssey are destined to lose.

Alice didn’t do herself any favours with her constant finger-pointing (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Which is a shame, because Platinum’s day one performance is nothing short of disastrous. While the Three A’s – last week’s winning PM Ashleigh Porter-Exley, Alice and Amy Corrigan – concoct recipes, Lucy, Steven and budding politician Navdeep Bual head off to cook the actual meals and get them photographed. It quickly becomes evident that a widening chasm exists between the two sub-teams, with Lucy and Alice at the eye of the storm. The project manager becomes impatient when she only receives lists of ingredients rather than recipes, Alice is quick to stick the boot, the knife and the chopstick in, and after three “Whatevers” and a hung-up conversation which nearly reduces the project manager to tears, Lucy’s sub-team are serving up food which looks like it has been created by Jackson Pollock on one of his more random days to be poked at by models who look they really aren’t being paid enough for a better than 50% chance of contracting botulism.

It’s evident from the snippets of conversation – for which read: ‘shouting at each other while not listening’ – we see that the Three A’s are furiously making it clear that nothing is their fault and that Lucy is, like, the Worst Project Manager Evah™. Alice’s behaviour is by far the worst of all – lingering resentment for losing out on the PM role, perhaps?

Help! Were’s the spel-chek?

The following morning sees both teams taking delivery of their finished books, both looking rather good in their own way. Odyssey’s The Professional Woman has a suitably professional look to it – although it’s hard to tell that it’s actually a cookbook rather than one of those generic self-help manuals. Platinum’s comic-book design for #where’s mummy has great stand-out, although we quickly discover that it is also littered with typos because the Three A’s didn’t proof-read their copy properly. They have misspelled ‘ratatouille’ (not exactly an easy word to spell), ‘courgette’ (oh dear) and, most perplexingly, ‘of’ (just plain careless), not to mention referring to ‘rashes’ of bacon (is that what you get when you have swine flu?)

Alice and Ashleigh are quick to offer their excuses – the former is dyslexic (fair enough) while the latter says she can’t spell – which ranks right up there with “the dog ate my homework”. Spell-check, people? Belissimo Moment™, anyone?

As Navdeep later asks in frustration:

How can you spell ‘of’, which is two letters, wrong?

This doesn’t deter Lucy, however, who in the Apprenti-Carrier™ en route to their first pitch breezily says they should aim for one million orders. (She must have been watching the last season of grown-up Apprentice and Jane McEvoy’s attempt to secure an order from Amazon for one million Splish Splashes …)

Both teams have to pitch to three potential customers: supermarket Sainsbury’s (which has over 1,000 stores), online retailer Play.com (who have over 15 million customers) and bookseller Waterstones (whose largest stores stock over 200,000 titles and who earlier this year annoyed the grammar pedant in me by dropping the apostrophe from their name).

Despite their differences, Andrew worked well with Maria during the pitches (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Despite initial hints that Maria and Andrew are still at each other’s throats over their disagreements the previous day over their target market, the pair do a fine job in Odyssey’s pitches at Sainsbury’s and Play. Maria presents with confidence and clarity – handling questions about the narrow target market deftly – while Andrew proves to be a dab hand at demonstrating how to prepare the recipes. Navdeep similarly copes well representing Platinum, refusing to be ruffled by criticism of the team’s poor spelling and not being put off by the Play buyers’ obvious horror when offered the opportunity to taste their dishes of dubious edibility.

Both teams pitch to Waterstones last. To give everyone a chance, Sean caves in to fashion designer Patrick McDowell‘s request to pitch and breaks up the dream team of Maria and Andrew, to the disgust of both. Patrick’s presentation sells their product about as well as his wetsuit kimono creation did in last week’s task. He spends most of the pitch looking down at some hastily scribbled notes on a scrap of paper, and where Maria was clear and incisive in making her points he could hardly have been more wishy-washy if he had donned his wetsuit kimono and ventured out for a stroll in the middle of Super-Storm Sandy. It’s an appalling presentation. He knows it. Sean knows it. The entire team knows it. Don’t Try This In Real Business, Kids!™ It’s not a sign of weakness to know what you’re not so good at. Focus on your strengths instead.

Boardroom Brouhaha™

So, two clear errors by Sean: allowing himself to be badgered into a bad targeting decision by Maria, and then allowing an ill-equipped Patrick to pitch in a poorly-timed show of democracy. And yet he receives praise from his team in the boardroom, with David complimenting him on being calm and collected. Unsurprisingly, Lucy’s leadership gets a less enthusiastic vote of confidence from the Three A’s, in particular Alice, as their post-task review quickly turns into an exercise in unedifying finger-pointing, while poor Steven looks wistfully across the room wishing he was back on the boys’ team.

Patrick’s poor pitch contributed to a heavy defeat (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

But not for long, though, as the results reveal that Odyssey failed to gain any orders from either Waterstones or Sainsbury’s and a paltry 800 from Play. On the other hand, Platinum sold 1,000 copies to Waterstones, 1,500 to Play and an impressive 5,000 to Sainsbury’s. (I found this somewhat surprising, given the poor spelling, their visually unappealing dishes and the fact that students aren’t really Waterstones’ core market, but there you go.) It’s a damning indictment of Patrick’s presentation skills, Maria’s vehement championing of professional women as a target market and Sean’s decision-making.

Platinum’s reward for winning the task is a trip to a specialist dessert bar, while for Odyssey it is the well-trodden journey to the Cafe of Broken Dreams™, where the team wish they were able to desert the sinking ship like rats as the post-mortem begins. Sean identifies Maria’s concept as the biggest flaw. Maria says there were no other ideas (although I do wonder if this was because she wouldn’t shut up long enough to let anyone get a word in edgeways). Andrew points the finger at Patrick for his poor pitch.

It’s looking like Sean has an easy decision on his hands as to who to bring back with him – Maria and Patrick – especially when Sugar quips to Patrick about how he “always sounds like it’s Monday”. (I take it he’s not thinking of the Happy Mondays, then.) Mind you, Sugar also tells the team that:

When you sell something you want to sell to the widest market possible.

Which goes somewhat against the principle of having targeted marketing, does it not? While there is an element of truth in Sugar’s words for mass-market products, it is a long way from being a hard and fast rule, as brands such as Ferrari will testify. And it’s hardly as if Platinum’s student-targeted cookbook had a particularly broad appeal, is it? Indeed, bookstores are full of quite carefully targeted cookery books: Chinese food, baking, vegetarian and so on. I know what Sugar’s driving at – don’t restrict yourself to too narrow a market, especially when research tells you the appeal is limited – but it’s a sweeping generalisation of a statement which doesn’t really stack up.

However, Sean swims against the tide by electing to bring back Maria and David, who had a relatively quiet task but did nothing really wrong. This final piece of poor judgement effectively seals his fate. Sugar openly questions his decision not to nominate Patrick, tells David he shouldn’t be there and gets in his all too predictable “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” Sound of Music quip as she continues to put words in Sean’s mouth before declaring:

Being a woman, I really love being heard.

One mistake too many cost Sean his place (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

I think we’d worked that one out already. Have this week’s Statement of the Blahhdy Obvious Award™.

In fact, for a brief moment it looks like Maria might just have talked her way out of the competition as Sugar criticises her for her flawed idea and excessive forcefulness, nearly reducing her to tears. But then he switches back to Sean, who he dismisses for bringing the wrong person (David) back into the boardroom.

Had Sean done the sensible thing and put Patrick in the firing line, he would almost certainly have lived to fight another day. In the end, it was just one misstep too many by the losing project manager.

In the Riches-To-Rags Roller™, he took his dismissal with good grace:

Although Lord Sugar fired me today I think I can walk out of this with my head held high. I’m going to go home, continue working on all the things that I have coming up and make sure that in five, ten years’ time I’m going to be successful.

Assessing the candidates

Did Sugar fire the right candidate this week? I think so. Sean lacked the ability to provide strong leadership – Nick nailed it when he said “he bends with the wind” – and while one mistake is forgivable, he made far too many errors here to justify his retention. The worst of the lot was not bringing Patrick back in with him who, after two poor weeks in a row, looks like a dead man walking. Even more so than David last week (and the jury is out on him, as he has yet to show any real substance behind his ready supply of quotable soundbites), Maria has had her card marked as a trouble-maker and a poor team player. Of the current Odyssey team, only Andrew has shown well in both tasks so far and must be considered a strong contender.

Navdeep: quiet but impressive. An early favourite? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

It’s probably fair to say that Platinum won in spite of themselves rather than because of their efforts. Whereas we saw relatively little of the girls in winning last week, we saw enough of the negative aspects of Ashleigh, Amy and particularly Alice in this episode to suggest that they are unlikely to wind up as the ultimate winner. Despite some teary moments, Lucy stuck to her guns and pulled through in the end. Steven’s contribution was positive and he generally rose above the bitching. And although we saw relatively little of Navdeep’s pitches, the results showed that she clearly impressed the buyers despite their book’s dodgy spelling. I would put her up there with Andrew as my two early favourites.

However, it’s still early days and a lot can yet change. But I’ll be amazed if Patrick doesn’t go sooner rather than later.

Next week: It’s the traditional negotiation and buying ‘treasure hunt’ task, as the teams must go out and procure ten items to be used as props in an opera. La Traviata? Or simply La Travesty?

Young Apprentice continues on BBC1 on Thursday at 8pm. Full recaps will be posted here after every episode.

Link: BBC Young Apprentice website

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8 thoughts on “Young Apprentice: Too many cooks prove to be a recipe for disaster

  1. Totally agree, Tim. I also thought Sugar’s pearls of wisdom about marketing were too general. I like Andrew, and Maria may get to stay because she is good (car crash) TV. Patrick does look week, ans could well have gone. In this task, Sean’s poor leadership just about out-trumped Maria’s poor judgment and domineering behavior. I feel a few enemies have been made!

    You can read my thoughts at http://markdecosemo.com/2012/11/09/young-apprentice-week-2-poor-leadership-proves-to-be-a-recipefordisaster/

    • Hey Mark. It was the series of bad mistakes – with the omission of Patrick in the final three the key one – which did for Sean. I think sometimes we get too hung up over things when someone makes a mistake – we all make them, even in business – but Sean made one after the other: accepting a flawed concept, letting Patrick pitch, then letting him off the hook altogether. Making a mistake happens. Making repeated mistakes is a sign of poor judgement on the task.

      I’m sure Maria will last several weeks at least. If she can dial down the temptation to shout over everyone she might well be very good – but we haven’t seen anything strong yet other than immense self-belief (which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, annoying though it can be for others).

      As for Sugar’s comments, all cookbooks are targeted in some way! And I fail to see how ‘professional women’ is any more niche than ‘students’. The targeting was not the big problem – failing to listen to the focus group feedback was the problem. A book targeted at professionals (both male and female) might have fared better, something along the ‘posh meals in minutes’ line.

      It was glossed over quite quickly, but Platinum made the extraordinary decision to do NO research at all. Had they lost the task, I’m certain that they would have been crucified for this. As it was, they did have a solid idea with a nice creative execution. The poorly structured recipes and the spelling mistakes were a huge flaw, but luckily (for them) not task-killers in themselves.

      • I don’t think they did no research. The voiceover indicates that the teams split in half at the start of day 1, with half going to a focus group, and half doing “recipe research”. We didn’t see Odyssey’s recipe research and we didn’t see Platinum’s focus group, but they probably did happen. It’s just that neither of them provided anything particularly funny or relevant to the plot.

        Yes, I can’t quite understand Lucy Beauvallet meeting a bunch of students not resulting in comedy gold either, but there we are.

        • Having rewatched the episode, I think you’re right. The voiceover tells us they’ve already decided on their target market, and it probably wasn’t particularly helpful to the narative as you say. Oops.

          I think we’ve yet to see the full comedy potential of Lucy tapped. Hopefully this week … :-)

  2. I’m sure people have been fired before for aiming too widely and NOT narrowing their proposed market so I did a bit of a double-take as well at the comments this week, you guys. Having said that, they were obviously wildly wrong to go with the niche they did, and Sean deserved to go for letting the whiniest, loudest people in the team (hi Patrick and Maria!) tell him what to do, instead of using common sense.

    The student cookbook idea was a much better one, well done to Stephen and Navdeep, and boo hiss to the Three A’s who were horrible. The hashtag thing and cover were very smart. Shame about what was inside…

    • I’m sure they have too, CJ. Sugar has a way of stating for the camera: “you were 100% wrong to take Decision A, you should have taken Decision B instead” which makes it all sound very black and white, as I guess it has to in order to provide a clear narrative. But in the real world, obviously, there’s more than one way to be successful, and Decision A often turns out to be equally valid in 50% of cases.

      It’s almost as if Sugar tailors his sage answers according to which strategy won the task (often as much down to good fortune as anything). Nah …

  3. There was a strong case for firing both Sean & Maria, neither of them would’ve been a wrong decision. I think you’re right in saying the final nail in his coffin was bringing back David instead of Patrick, as one last example of his poor decision making, but even if he had brought Patrick in I still think it would’ve been between Sean & Maria for the firing, as however poor Patrick’s pitch was, it surely wasn’t responsible for losing the task as there was no way anyone could have got the 6,700 orders needed to beat the other team for that flawed concept.

    Possibly the most damning thing wasn’t the niche target market, but the title itself. Something targeted towards women does not need to have “woman” in the title, and in addition to not making it clear it was a cookbook, if they did realize, some women would probably have been affronted by the implication that “cooking is for women”. Although i don’t think he’d have gone this week, Patrick is clearly as you say a dead man walking and Sugar will no doubt to be keen go get rid of him ASAP.

    • If there’s one thing Sugar doesn’t like, it’s missing out on the opportunity to skewer a candidate he believes deserves skewering, so Sean definitely didn’t help himself one iota by not bringing Patrick back in. Your point about Patrick not explicitly losing the task is very fair – but then when does Sugar ever base his decisions on logic? (Has he ever?!?) I think he’d have been in real jeopardy with this mis-step off the back of week 1’s debacle, but we’ll never know now. He’ll only go and win now … ;-)

      Agree 100% with your comments about the title. Still, at least they didn’t call it “The Professional Women’s Cookbook (Not For Men, No, Really, We Mean It)” …

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