Million Pound Menu sees budding entrepreneurs vying for investment in their fine-dining concepts with three-day trials in a pop-up restaurant. While it's clear this is a fierce competition, it's also one the show's presenter, First Dates' Fred Sirieix, is emotionally invested in.
MILLION POUND MENU LOOKS TO BE A GREAT WATCH. TELL US WHY YOU WANTED TO BE INVOLVED.
I've been in the industry now since 1988, so I think everybody who works in the hospitality industry dreams of opening their own restaurant. Invariably, the hurdle is money. 'Do I have enough money? Can I get the capital?' And really, the money is the least important thing. The most important thing is that you are the right person and that you can meet the right investors, and that you have the right concept. So, it's great to be able to be there at the onset, when the brand-new concept - the next Wagamama, the next Pizza Express - is going to be born.
VIEWERS KNOW YOU AS THE MAITRE D' OF CHANNEL 4'S FIRST DATES. ARE YOU KEEN FOR MILLION POUND MENU TO SHOW A DIFFERENT SIDE OF YOU?
This is very different - but what I do is this. I have been running Galvin at Windows [a Michelin-starred restaurant at the London Hilton] for 12 years now as a general manager. I also run my consultancy firm, based on customer service. But for me, the restaurant world is what I do. When I come to a restaurant, it's a bit like Keanu Reeves; I can see the Matrix, because I've been in it for so long. And so I am in my element, and I really enjoy it.
WHAT'S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE THE RESTAURATEURS FACE IN THIS PROCESS?
I think you have to be very clear about your idea and your concept. Also, is it scale-able? Can the concept transfer into a restaurant? And do you have the skills to transfer it, because it's not just about the cooking or the correct product - there's so much more that goes into an operation. You employ staff, you need to have some knowledge of HR, you need to have some other knowledge of marketing, you need to have a basic knowledge of finance.
IT'S AN INTENSE PROCESS, WITH A REAL FOCUS ON BUSINESS TOO.
The Million Pound Menu is a much more rounded restaurant business programme, which is what I like. In terms of the actual presenting role, it's very different because I dig deeper than I do in First Dates. We work so hard and, to take a boxing pun, we didn't leave anything in the ring. For three weeks, we worked every second of the day, frame by frame, second by second, to make sure the programme was as good as it can be.
YOU'VE SAID THE FINE DINING SECTOR IS ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING IN THE UK. HOW WILL THAT IMPACT THE FOOD INDUSTRY?
It's growing at an incredible rate, which is going to be a problem for us because we're not investing in training, we're not investing in education. There's something like 200-290 catering colleges in the UK, but a lot of it is underfunded and some, for example, don't have a restaurant where students can practise. So, if you can't practise your serving skills or your cooking skills, it's going to be very difficult to be able to run a restaurant.
AFTER SHOWCASING THEIR CONCEPT, THE COMPETITORS HAVE A NERVOUS WAIT TO FIND OUT IF THEY'VE SECURED INVESTMENT. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE FOR YOU TO WITNESS?
I was emotionally invested throughout the process and I can't help but put myself in their shoes. You're talking about human beings here, who have put everything on the line, and all the investors were the same. They didn't come there to play, they came there to win and they gave it their best shot. But invariably, before the investors come, you don't know whether you're going to get it or not. You have no idea. So it was nerve-wracking.
WHAT ADVICE HAS STUCK WITH YOU THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?
I was always taught to be with the best and always learn from the best, because it rubs off. I was determined to build up my knowledge to a point where I would feel confident that I know what I'm talking about. I've worked with some really, really good people, and I carry on surrounding myself with the best people.
Million Pound Menu starts on BBC Two on Thursday, May 17.
Meanwhile this week saw National Waiters’ Day, and Fred Sirieix is campaigning for a waiter emoji to be developed in recognition of the much-loved profession, which for some is a lifetime career choice.
Whilst there are currently emojis for a variety of careers including teachers, chefs and scientists, the waiter remains unrepresented. To draw attention to this oversight, Fred, along with a group of waiters, gathered at Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner to call on the powers that be to create an emoji for their profession.
Fred Sirieix commented on the campaign; “I set up National Waiters’ Day to celebrate the hard work of our nation’s food and service staff and to inspire young people to seriously think about a career in hospitality. This skilled, rewarding profession has so much to offer; meeting lots of different people, the opportunity to travel and most importantly, have tremendous fun whilst making others happy.
With over five billion emojis used daily across the globe, what better moment than National Waiters’ Day to campaign for our wonderful industry to be represented. There is a chef, so why not a waiter?!”