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Autumn 2007 saw the return of Raymond Blanc to prime time television with BBC2's reality food programme The Restaurant in which nine couples competed for the prize of opening and running their own restaurant

The Restaurant – grand final

RAYMOND BLANCTwins Laura and Jess, children's entertainers from London, and Royal Marine chef Jeremy and his wife Jane, a trainee teacher from Devon, made it to the grand final of BBC Two's The Restaurant.

The two remaining couples had to battle it out for the unique opportunity to go into business with legendary chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc.

Says Raymond: "I have been enormously impressed by how much effort all nine couples have put in to the competition – their determination to make it work has been obvious. In this final challenge I wanted to test the couples' flexibility and resilience.

"When I opened my first restaurant in Oxfordshire I brought a little bit of France to the UK, so I wanted the couples to take a little bit of Britain to France and see how they fared. It is all credit to them that they made a good impression. They had to create something at the drop of a hat and they all did really well.

"Our final couples have shown fantastic teamwork, winning restaurant of the week more than once along the way. They have excellent concepts and they have shown strength together, becoming driven teams who are able to pass on their knowledge."

Nine couples started out in the competition and to test their skills all the couples had to run their own restaurants for the very first time. But to help him make the ultimate decision, Raymond told the finalists to take their restaurants to his home town of Besançon in France – the place where he grew up and started his own career.

The two couples, however, were shocked to learn that they had less than 48 hours to reopen their own restaurant there for one night, and introduce the French to their British cuisine.

It proved to be the toughest of all the challenges the couples had been given during the series. They had to come up with a menu that would appeal to the French, negotiate for ingredients in Raymond Blanc's hometown market, and train their new French team.

There were tears and tantrums as the kitchen and front of house struggled to cope with the packed restaurants, as well as pleasing Raymond, his family and, most of all, the woman who taught him to cook . . . his mother Anne Marie.

Would she like her first whole-food burger served by the twins' Brown And Green restaurant, or would she prefer Jeremy and Jane's taster menu extravaganza served from Eight In The Country?

Laughs Raymond: "My Maman tasted her first lamb burger and she asked for the recipe – an accolade indeed."

At stake was the chance of a lifetime – a restaurant in partnership with and backed by Raymond Blanc.

Jeremy and Jane - The Restaurant Laura and Jess - The Restaurant
Jeremy (32) and Jane (29) live in Devon. Jeremy was a Corporal in the Royal Marines and has recently returned from Afghanistan after a tour of duty. Two years ago Jeremy re-trained as a chef with a view to gaining enough experience to set up his own restaurant when he left the Marines. His wife Jane has previously worked in the restaurant business front of house and says: "My experience in restaurants and my Prince's Trust work have all been invaluable – they got me where I am today." Twin sisters Jess and Laura (28) from London work together as entertainers for children's parties. They currently have their own party company, but they are both keen cooks and love throwing dinner parties. Says Jess: "Our concept is a very earthy natural kind of place, comfortable with very good quality food but with a real home-grown organic feel."

It was a shame a winner had to be announced but in the end Jeremy and Jane came out on top. Were they the deserving winners? It is hard to say as we only had the evidence of what TV allowed us to see and of course we never got to taste any of the food. Jeremy consistently came across as the one chef that could really cook and for me he seemed the one with most ambition to continue to learn. So congratulations to Jeremy and Jane and commiserations to Laura and Jess.

The two finalist always seemed obvious from almost the first episode with many of the contestants having been included for their "cringe" factor. I am not sure now knowing what the programme involved that any of them would do it again. If a second series is to be made finding contestants of the right calibre will be difficult when they know what they are letting themselves in for . . . and being made to grovel in front of the cameras is sure to put many would be restaurateurs off!

Thame, Oxfordshire, is where the new Raymond, Jeremy and Jane restaurant will open in November. As well as Raymond Blanc, Lee Cash (one of the Inspectors) and the Peach Pub Company will be supporting the winners. The Peach Pub Company will provide support for the couple, including front-of-house and kitchen training in a Peach pub as well as back of house advice when the restaurant opens.

One thing is for sure . . . the first few months will see them swamped with curious (as in nosey) diners. Will Raymond lend some of his own experienced staff to help everything get off to a good start? Will the TV cameras be there to do a fly-on-the-wall documentary? They have certainly had the best PR they could have ever hoped for before they have even launched.

Introduction to Raymond Blanc's The Restaurant on BBC2

Raymond Blanc The RestaurantAward-winning top chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc puts nine couples through their paces to see if they have what it takes to run their own restaurant in a brand new television event for BBC Two.

Incredibly, more than 1,000 new restaurants open every year in Britain; unfortunately, approximately 50 per cent close within two years.

The Restaurant features couples, some of whom have little or no experience other than cooking at home and throwing dinner parties, but whose dream is to run their own eatery.

They have to create their perfect restaurant and then open the doors to the paying public. Their first crucial decision – who will take on the kitchen and who is best equipped to run the front of house?

It's a dream that many couples have entertained. Secretly perhaps we all think we could run a restaurant.

It's so simple. Lots of us can cook. We have all been to restaurants. We all think we know what people like to eat. If only we had the money and the opportunity.

For one couple this programme will realise that dream.

"It is a life changing decision to take part in this programme – it is not just a game. They are making many sacrifices without even knowing if they are going to win", says Raymond Blanc

During the eight week series every decision, every mistake the couples make, every argument they have, will be caught on camera. They are working and living together twenty-four hours a day, under enormous pressure.

Each of the nine couples takes over an empty restaurant, makes it their own and will open their doors to the paying public. It is up to them to create the right atmosphere!

Every week each restaurant is visited by Raymond's panel of "inspectors" – restaurant industry experts Lee Cash, Sarah Willingham and John Lederer.

Raymond will then select the three restaurants he judges to be the worst performing. One of these restaurants will be closed at the end of the week.

The three selected restaurants are given a tough specific challenge. They must prove in this challenge that they are good enough to stay open.

Each week, one of the restaurants will be eliminated from the competition by Raymond, acting as judge and advised by his panel. The restaurant that fails the challenge will have its doors shut. Raymond's decision is the one that counts.

By the end of the series just one couple and one restaurant will be left open. The winning couple will be able to run their own restaurant financially backed and personally supported by Raymond Blanc. Raymond is investing a six figure sum in the new business.

The show is a brutal insight into the business of running a restaurant and the incredible pressure of living and working with your partner.

Competing for the top prize are Martin, a prison caterer and his fiancé Emma who works in a bingo hall; Jeremy, a chef in the Royal Marines and his wife Jane; Lloyd and Adwoa, an engaged couple who run market stalls selling food; jazz drummer Sam and his wife Jacqui, an actress/waitress; Eddie and his older brother Michael, a communications consultant; advertising copywriter Grant and his wife Laura; sisters and children's entertainers Jess and Laura; Nicola, a home cook and successful businesswoman, and her son Tom; and mature university students Chris and his partner Jade.

Says Raymond: "Opening a restaurant is one of the most popular start up businesses, everyone thinks they can do it. Likewise, our couples also think they know how to run a restaurant business, but most of them will soon realise how complex and tough it is.

"These inexperienced couples will be thrown in at the deep end as they go into an empty restaurant and in one week must open to the public; so they will have to learn fast."

The series is an uncompromising, but entertaining, insight into the business of restaurant management, bringing with it the incredible pressure of living and working with a partner, learning how to cook, managing staff and a reminder that the customer is always right.

Interview with Raymond Blanc

Raymond BlancWorld-renowned chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc has rarely been tempted by reality television. Agreeing to work on BBC2's The Restaurant, therefore, meant breaking a promise he had made to himself.

"I said I would never do a reality TV programme, I am a people person first and foremost, I want to inspire and create, to believe in people, not bully, humiliate and crush them. But as soon as I saw that the series concept shared my values I agreed to this wonderful opportunity – so never say never.

"I feel I could have written this programme myself because for eight years I had a scholarship at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons which offered young talented people, who like me had received no formal professional training, a chance to realise their dream of owning their own restaurant."

The flamboyant Michelin-starred restaurateur was so convinced by the programme idea that he has put up a six-figure sum of his own money, as well as committing his time to the project and placing his reputation on the line.

The participants are couples with a dream, not industry professionals, some have only ever entertained guests at home – yet the winners of the series will come away running a restaurant business personally and financially supported by Raymond.

"Thousands of young people dream of owning their own restaurant, a few manage to save enough money to do it, and even fewer succeed. On top of winning a share in a business with me what they will gain is my experience, my team's experience and myself guiding and supporting them.

"I am very excited about this series, I think it will make fascinating viewing for all the right reasons. I would like any aspiring restaurateur to realise that the business, however demanding it might be, can also be incredibly rewarding. It does not by necessity involve unbridled masochism and egotism – for me true creativity cannot flourish in that sort of environment. I want to see joy not just pain!

"I hope the series will inspire many people because at the end of it is this huge prize. I'm putting serious money into this new restaurant and if the winners make it successful, they will have a share in a great business. I'm committing myself to it and I know my reputation is at stake."

The nine couples competing for the dream prize will face a journey fraught with difficulty, as Raymond explains:

"Owning a restaurant may look really sexy, but that wonderful image is deceptive and very different to the real world. The first lesson to learn is to balance your ideas with the reality. If your head is in the clouds your dream could easily crash down and become a nightmare and you will become one of the statistics.

"My second piece of advice is to learn all the facets of this amazing world which means understanding your customers, becoming a good businessman and a good communicator, marketeer and trainer – turning your restaurant into an experience and, of course, learning how to be the perfect host. You must do your homework. Part of what also makes a great restaurant is consistency.

"On top of that you need a good-natured philosophy on life to deal with the problems that arise out of these huge challenges, together with plenty of energy and stamina to deal with all the pitfalls you will encounter. It's a constant balancing act. You need to be able to get back up and smile about what has happened and most importantly learn from it.

"Opening a restaurant is one of the most popular start up businesses, everyone thinks they can do it. Likewise, our couples also think they know how to run a restaurant business, but most of them will soon realise how complex and tough it is. These inexperienced couples will be thrown in at the deep end as they go into an empty restaurant and in one week must open to the public; so they will have to learn fast."

While working with someone you love sounds like a wonderful idea The Restaurant will bear witness to how the relationships of the couples fair under pressure. During the show they will live and work together 24-hours a day. Every decision, every mistake and every argument they have will be caught on camera.

Explains Raymond: "It is very demanding in the kitchen, the stress of the heat, proximity, demands from the guests, stress of co-ordination, sourcing the right produce, training, marketing, timing… and of course making a profit. There are so many different pressures, and the first thing they will have to do is cope with that stress working together as partners. The strength of the couple individually and together, and how they complement each other, will be the platform of their success."

Raymond Blanc is totally self-taught. Today he is one of the country's most respected chefs and restaurateurs and has been recognised this year with an OBE.

Raymond laughs: "Not bad for a little French man who arrived in Britain with absolutely nothing!"

Raymond started his career in England as a waiter at the Rose Revived Restaurant, and when the chef was taken ill one day he took over.

The son of a working class family from Besançon near Dijon, Raymond understands the many challenges facing the participants. In 1977 he risked his savings to start his own restaurant Les Quat' Saisons in Oxford alongside his first wife Jenny. They put together all their meagre savings and mortgaged their house to raise the cash.

"That is how most young people start their business risking everything in order to achieve their dream.

"Our restaurant was a humble little place on the wrong side of the city on the wrong side of the road within a dreary concrete shopping precinct between a ladies underwear shop and Oxfam. We bought second-hand equipment, decorated the restaurant with simple red and white tablecloths, and cheap prints of Paris on the walls. Cheap maybe, but charming and endearing too, and so so very French!"

The kitchen was another challenge altogether for the couple – when they arrived it was inhabited by a huge family of rats.

"The walls were covered in grease and solidified black tar with broken tiles. My kitchen was nine square metres of windowless misery. It was covered by a corrugated roof, and no insulation meant freezing temperatures in winter and of course boiling temperatures during the summer. I also inherited a one-legged, four-ring gas oven, covered with chipped enamel . . . and no bottom.

"It was in this humble place, so dear to me, that we won so many awards and during those formative years I discovered pain, sleep deprivation, sweat, money worries, family worries, health worries and business worries. But I also discovered with my team the sweetest reward that anyone can have – the knowledge that we gave our best."

Les Quat' Saisons was an overnight success, winning him Egon Ronay Restaurant of the Year, prestigious Michelin stars and a host of other distinctions. Now relocated to a sumptuous small country house in Great Milton and renamed Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, the luxurious hotel and restaurant is thriving, as is his chain of Brasserie Blanc restaurants and a cookery school. He is also the author of many best selling cookery books.

Says Raymond: "The couples taking part are very brave, they have to leave their families, or change the schooling of their children, it is a life changing decision to take part in this programme – it is not just a game. They are making many sacrifices without even knowing if they are going to win."

Each pair of contestants takes over an empty restaurant, makes it their own and is open to the paying public, responding to weekly surprises and tough challenges set by Raymond.

"My job is to inspire people, to give them the tools to succeed, to support them, as well as being tough with them when I need to be. Talent is never enough to carry you.

"I want boldness and I want the couples to reveal themselves and show me completely and honestly who they are and who they could be. I'm not investing in the finished article, because it takes many years to make a professional restaurateur, it's the potential I'm after. In the nature of being bold you do make mistakes but it's through those failures that we learn. It's painful, but I don't know of any success story without pain. The joy and reward come later."

To help him with the difficult task of judging which couples to eliminate, and selecting the overall winners, Raymond has the help of his panel of "inspectors" – restaurant industry experts Lee Cash, Sarah Willingham and John Lederer.

He says: "I am so proud of Lee, who had huge potential when I first employed him as a young waiter. He has grown so fast and now runs his own very special small group of pubs.

"John is a great seasoned professional with only success behind him running Michelin star restaurants, as well as small restaurant groups from bistros to fine dining.

"And Sarah is an amazing businesswoman, one of the youngest most successful entrepreneurs working in the industry running 52 high street restaurants. She is also sharp, witty and loves people."

Raymond is hopeful that the eventual winners of The Restaurant will have a bright future in the industry.

"The people who win this prize don't just win a business to run, they win me and my team beside them, nurturing them and helping them make it right. Whether they choose to stay with me long term is something else. This will be a rewarding experience for them, they will feel enriched and become stronger people.

"You have to start a restaurant for the right reasons. You have to be in love with it and be at the very centre of it. Whatever reasons you may have for starting a restaurant: food, money or even fame, the founding sentiment for success will always be the same – love. Most of all, the love of people, not just your guests but your team too. Love makes the difference, even when your first restaurant becomes many, without it that little restaurant will soon become a little monster.

"You've got to be present and completely involved. If you want to show off or use your restaurant as a status symbol, you'll soon realise that it can lose you a lot of money very quickly.

"Know about your market; be clever and creative. Don't be afraid to be an individual and don't follow the trends and fashions – yet, you must reinvent yourself all the time because the world changes every ten minutes.

"Passing on my love of restaurants and people to young people over the years has been for me the greatest reward. My deepest desire for my industry is to train young people who will also become great managers, managers of money as much as managers of people who want to give respectability to our industry – it is long overdue."


Source of content BBC TV
Published 21 August 2007

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