Roll reversal

This week on The Apprentice: 13 candidates, 16 bread rolls and one hell of a mess.

“This is turning flour into serious dough.” Someone really needs to get Lord Sugar a new script writer. Britain is awash with out-of-work journalists and underemployed writers — surely they could come up with some more convincing lines for Britain’s Number One Business Brain.

Let’s get back to this week’s episode, which like Shibby’s business pitches and Melissa’s cherry muffins ended up promising a good deal more than it delivered. Lord Sugar first did a little mixing of his own, by sending Shibby and Chris over to join the ladies of Apollo and chucking the indigestible — or should that be combustible — combination of Melissa and Joanna in with Stella and her boys (Synergy).

The task involved brainstorming some ideas for a range of baked goods and then selling them to a selection of commercial customers and London’s unsuspecting public, who were probably still suffering the after-effects of those sausages. Oh, and they also had to make all those rolls, muffins and croissants themselves. That meant that Princess Paloma and Scary Sandeesh would once again have to don unflattering outfits and stand around looking disdainful at the whole mucky concept of food manufacturing.

Aficionados of The Apprentice will know that the candidates who shout loudest about their professional know-how usually end up with egg on their faces. Remember last year’s sandwich king, Rocky Andrews, in the catering task? No, I thought not. With her background in food business management, the “bag of nuts” that is Melissa Cohen managed to beat Jamie Lester in the battle to be project manager of Synergy. Over at Apollo, former surgeon and self-confessed “business virgin” Shibby Robati was having a much easier time grabbing the limelight. But which of them would come out on top?

Shibby’s team got off to a flying start by actually making some decisions about their products. Meanwhile, Mel’s team procrastinated about what they should bake — cue some well-timed sighing and tutting from Nick Hewer and the disappointed Jamie. It wasn’t looking good for Synergy because as last week’s show cruelly demonstrated, a lack of ideas leads inexorably to inventions like the utterly useless book eeze.

Someone should tell Melissa that it’s not a good idea to boast that “We can do many things”, when you can’t even get your sums right. Maths teachers up and down the land will have been sighing as she failed to master her calculator during a tense meeting with a leading hotel. Timing wasn’t a strong point either, as she took a two-minute break to get those figures right and came back 15 minutes later. They didn’t get an order.

By comparison, Shibby and his “angels”, Laura and Paloma, looked polished, numerate and completely in control in their first pitch. They secured an order for 1,900 breakfast items from the same hotel — including a whopping 1,000 bread rolls — with a lot of help from the totally convincing Paloma. Well, I’d buy orange croissants from her and I don’t even like oranges.

As it turned out, Shibby’s moment of triumph was short-lived. The members of the team back at the bakery were not excited, they were incredulous and, in the case of Sandeesh, openly contemptuous. No-one bothered to tell them they had to make any croissants — let alone 400 of them. It seems that Paloma’s propensity for “up-selling” failed to take into account the limitations of the manufacturing operation. As Shibby informed a harassed Liz that “We need to make whatever our clientele want”, I realised that this guy was a total idiot.

During a long evening of stirring and kvetching, ex-Royal Marine Chistopher Farrell got the Synergy bakery running like clockwork as they worked to fill an order for the Apostrophe boulangerie chain. Over at the Apollo bakery it looked as though a bunch of chimpanzees had run riot. As dawn broke, Shibby delivered the news that Sean the Chef did not want to hear: his 600 guests would be breakfasting on just a handful of muffins and a total of 16 bread rolls. Now Jesus might have been capable of making that meagre quantity stretch a lot further, but divine intervention was nowhere in sight. Shibby’s suggestion that the hungry hordes should “go on the Atkins diet”, summed up this fiasco neatly.

Branding themselves Le Pain Artisan, half of the Synergy team headed to a market stall in Kingston-upon-Thames, where “Brand Baggs” distinguished himself as a bagel salesman. Over in Soho, Melissa was “dragging her heels” and demonstrating that sales is another area in which she does not excel. Shibby flogged his muffins for all they were worth — and more — in Covent Garden. But could Apollo recover from their capitulation at the hotel, where their leader had meekly handed back £130?

The results went in Synergy’s favour, though Melissa would no doubt have struggled with the basic concept of profit and loss. They made nearly £200 more than Apollo, and so got to experience the delights of Eastern dining. In Stuart’s case this included a side order of snake, served by a belly dancer.

Back in the boardroom, Shibby’s final mistake was to bring back Paloma and Sandeesh. It was a bit like a guppy inviting a couple of piranhas to share his tank. I don’t know what sort of surgery he used to practise, but the excess of designer stubble suggests that he is not overly familiar with the contours of his own chin.

After the fireworks of the past couple of weeks, the denouement was a bit feeble. There was no real comeback from Paloma’s retort “I’m a businesswoman and you’re a joke”, while Sandeesh got off the hook despite Lord Sugar’s suspicions that she is one of those people who “don’t do much”. Concluding with yet another of his feeble gags, the boss delivered the words that Shibby had been dreading: “After a thorough examination I have got some bad news for you . . .”

The baker’s dozen has now become 12.

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