Toby Young

Judge Toby Young explains the difference between being the weakest link and the weakest chef in Restaurant Wars.

on Jan 21, 2009

Who in their right mind would launch a new restaurant, particularly in today's economy? Restaurants are a bit like Broadway shows in that the failures vastly outnumber the successes and anyone investing in them is almost guaranteed to lose money. Indeed, it is such a tough business that the lifespan of a particular restaurant should be measured in dog years rather than real time: a restaurant that has stayed open for 10 years is the equivalent of any other business surviving for 70. I have to confess, if I was reviewing either Sahana or Sunset Lounge - the two restaurants cooked up by the remaining contestants in last night's episode - I wouldn't rate their chances. These days, it's not enough to offer good food and great service in the right location; you've got to be original, too. And the problem with both Sahana and Sunset Lounge is that there are hundreds of almost identical restaurants in New York City.

They both offered pan-Asian cuisine, possibly in a misguided attempt to impress Stephen Starr, this week's guest judge who owns Buddakan, Morimoto, and a dozen other modern Asian restaurants. Done well, this food can be mouth-wateringly good, but it is all too easy for the region's distinct flavors to become muddled up and watered-down and you end up with a generic mish-mash. That was true of Sahana and Sunset Lounge.

Many people watching the show last night will have thought that Leah ought to have gone and concluded that the only reason she remains is because the producers want to keep alive the romantic subplot involving her and Hosea. In fact, the producers don't try and influence the judges' decisions one way or another and the reason Leah survived is because she was lucky enough to be a member of the winning team. That was largely due to the quality of Stefan's desserts. In effect, Leah was saved from elimination by the fact that Stefan was on her team - which is ironic, considering she picked him last.