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THE RESTAURANT 2009 RETURNS TO BBC FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

Following the huge success of Raymond Blanc's The Restaurant over the last two years the internationally renowned chef returns in 2009 for the third series to find a winning couple to go into business with him.

 

Introduction to The Restaurant

Raymond BlancWorld-renowned chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc returns to BBC Two on Thursday 29 October at 8.00pm in his third series of The Restaurant, with nine couples hungry for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to open a restaurant with him.

From their first meeting with the Michelin-starred maestro the nine couples are in at the deep end facing a series of increasingly tough challenges. All are designed to test the creativity and practical skills they need to display before they get the keys to their own restaurants. Get it wrong and the doors are closed.

Tough times on the high street mean Raymond Blanc is not in the market for dreamers – and the pressure is on to show him they have what it takes to survive.

"The industry is under tremendous difficulty," says Raymond. "Every day restaurants are closing down. I must tell you that the customer has become demanding, picky... he wants the best value for money and expects great things. So the pressure is on us all. We must aim higher. We must do better."

Throughout this series Raymond Blanc is a regular presence in the couples' restaurants – scrutinising their relationships, business ideas and cooking skills. No disasters or triumphs go unnoticed as the couples fight to keep their restaurants open.

Upping the pressure are Raymond's eagle-eyed industry experts: Sarah Willingham and David Moore who, as investors in this year's prize, are looking for a strong brand concept and service excellence.

The filming of the series takes place in Bristol in the competitive market of a typical UK high street, with couples eager to prove they can cut the mustard in this culinary minefield.

Executive producer Chloe Solomon says: "The ability to grow is what Raymond is looking for. He is driven by an incredible work ethic and is inspirational – in part because he knows a dream is not enough – success depends on sound business sense and hard work, as much as creativity.

"Having nurtured more Michelin-starred chefs and front of house managers than any other chef it is an undeniable privilege for our couples to learn from one of the best."

The judges

Raymond Blanc
Born in Besançon, France, in 1949, Raymond Blanc is acknowledged as one of the finest chefs in the world. His exquisite cooking has received tributes from every national and international guide to culinary excellence.

Raymond Blanc arrived in England in 1972 to work as a waiter at the Rose Revived Restaurant near Witney. When the chef became ill he took over and, two years later, the restaurant gained entry into the Michelin Guide.

At the age of 28 Raymond Blanc opened his first restaurant, Les Quat' Saisons, in Summertown, Oxford. After just one year, the restaurant was named Egon Ronay Restaurant of the Year and a host of other accolades including Michelin Stars and Pestle & Mortar awards followed.

It was in 1984 that he fulfilled a personal vision, creating a hotel and restaurant in harmony when he opened Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Great Milton, Oxford. Le Manoir is the only country house hotel in the UK which has achieved two Michelin Stars for a total of 22 years.

In 1986, Raymond opened his first Brasserie Blanc in Oxford – his aim was to be the best within the brasserie scene in England, serving good quality, affordable food. He now has eight brasseries across the UK.

Passionate about sharing his knowledge, in 1991 Raymond Blanc established his eponymous cookery school, welcoming both enthusiastic amateurs and professional cooks to the kitchen. The school provides the opportunity to develop your own skills while learning some of Raymond's own kitchen secrets.

In 2008, he was awarded an honorary OBE (Officer of the British Empire) in recognition of his services in promoting culinary excellence and for raising awareness of the importance of healthy food as a central element of family life.

Raymond has also written a host of best-selling cookery books.

Inspector, Sarah Willingham
Sarah Willingham is one of the youngest, most successful people in the food and leisure industries.

Sarah was recently acknowledged by Management Today and The Times as one of the "35 most successful women under 35" in the UK; she joined the Courvoisier's top 500 in 2007; Who's Who of Britain's business elite in 2008; and was voted as Business Weekly's Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2007.

Sarah has three business degrees including an MBA from Cranfield University.

In 2004 Sarah raised the finance to buy The Bombay Bicycle Club, where she turned a heavily loss-making business of six restaurants into a very profitable group of 17 – establishing the largest chain of Indian restaurants in the UK. She successfully sold them in 2007 and is currently working on a number of other business ventures.

Inspector, David Moore
David is the long-standing creative force behind London's Pied à Terre restaurant, which opened in 1991.

He began his career under the leadership of Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons. His superlative front-of-house management skills have taken him to some of the most illustrious dining establishments including The Box Tree in Ilkley, the Louis XV in Monaco and La Belle Otero in Cannes, France.

It is a love of French haute cuisine that drives David forward. Since its launch, his restaurant has achieved two Michelin Stars.

In 2007, he opened a sister restaurant, L'Autre Pied, with business partner, Shane Osborn, and Chef Marcus Eaves from Pied à Terre.

As befits a consummate front of house professional, David prides himself on his attention to detail and can even be found rearranging objects in other restaurants to improve the aesthetic. Extolling the virtues of a well-organised waiter station, he is an expert multi-tasker who insists on keeping an air of mystery in his restaurants, adding to the magic of the dining experience.

In the past year, as well as working on his first cookery book, David has also backed an ex-Pied à Terre chef, Tom Van Zeller, in opening his restaurant.

The couples

Barney and Badger

Barney and Badger
Barney (Chef) and Badger (Front of House)

Barney and Badger (Gary and Barrington) are from Essex and Kent.

These former military men, with a combination of 35 years in army service, see modern English cuisine as the order of the day.

They want to create "a relaxed and informal dining experience", but they intend to operate both front and back of house with military precision as they share the same work ethic – "to get the job done" – and see running a restaurant as the same as running any army operation.

Badger was in the army for 22 years, serving as a logistics specialist.

Barney is a sergeant with 13 years as an army chef and an NVQ 3 in catering. While head chef at the barracks in Colchester, he was cooking for 400 soldiers on a budget of £1.97 per person each day.

He is dedicated to honing his skills and regularly organises large catering functions within the army. He's also cooked for royalty, including Princess Anne and Prince Harry.

The pair joined forces to take part in The Restaurant – they've known each other for just six weeks after Badger head-hunted chef Barney to apply with him to create an unbeatable combination.

On the menu in their self-named eatery, Barrington and Badger, would be signature dishes including pan-fried sea bass, slow-roasted pork belly and lobster-stuffed chicken.

"My dream is to own a Michelin starred restaurant, if I be truthfully honest," says Barney.

Chris and Nathan

Chris and Nathan
Chris (Chef) and Nathan (Front of House)

Chris and Nathan are from Kent and London.

These best mates from South East London want to serve Modern British cuisine in a restaurant where the atmosphere is laid back with a youthful, lively vibe, serving top-class food at mid-priced eating.

Chris is currently a chef at a weight-loss boot camp in Wales but has been in the catering industry for five years.

Nathan, meanwhile, trained at Westminster Kingsway College in catering but then moved on to the London College of Fashion, specialising in hair design, and is now working as a hairdresser.

Chris has an NVQ Levels 1-3 in cookery and hospitality management and a food hygiene and health and safety certificate. His current role entails cooking nutritional, healthy meals as part of an expensive and respected weight-loss programme.

Chris and Nathan have been friends since high school – they used to pot-wash in a kitchen together! Neither is afraid of a bit of hard work and they can't believe their shared dream of opening their own restaurant could be turning into a reality.

For Nathan, front-of-house charm comes courtesy of his current role as a hairdresser where chatting with clients and making them feel relaxed is second nature. He has also got a year's training at catering college in basic food knowledge and front-of-house skills.

A typical dish from their restaurant would be lamb rump with 3-pepper ketchup and sweet potato chips. Also on their menu are a coconut and amaretto parfait and a strawberry strudel with white chocolate ice cream.

"We feel good food shouldn't have to break the bank. Our concept gives affordable food – almost like a champagne lifestyle with a lemonade pocket," says Nathan.


Daisy and Nadine

Daisy and Nadine
Daisy (Chef) and Nadine (Front of House)

Daisy and Nadine are from Herefordshire and London.

Best friends since secondary school, Daisy and Nadine share a passion for food and a dream of running a restaurant together.

Although not Nigerian themselves they would like to open a rustic Nigerian restaurant called D'Soirée and with their motto, "greatness achieved through excellence", they want every customer to leave with a smile on their face!

Daisy, who currently works for TFL (Transport for London), was taught by her mum, who has been cooking "forever". She's a voracious dinner party host with a diploma in Events Management and is currently studying for a Level 2 Professional Cooking certificate.

Meanwhile, coping with all the trials and tribulations as a midwife means nothing should be able to faze Nadine which, combined with her bubbly, vivacious personality, should ensure front-of-house success.

For both, running a profit-making restaurant should be a cinch with their strong business credentials.

On the menu would be classic Nigerian dishes such as okra soup, pounded yam, jollof rice and fish with plantain. They want to emphasise their colourful choice of cuisine with unusual meat dishes peppering their menu including guinea fowl, goat meat and duck.

"My main aim is to put Nigerian food on the map – to capture the true taste of Nigeria," says Daisy.

Janet and Sean

Janet and Sean
Janet (Chef) and Sean (Front of House)

Janet and Sean are from Berkshire.

Partners in life and in business, Janet and Sean want to put their tried and tested skills and impeccable teamwork to a new venture.

The couple are hoping to incorporate Swedish cuisine into their menu (Janet lived in Sweden in the Eighties) with an emphasis on seasonality and an aim to update their menu regularly.

Their motto is "less choice and more quality".

Janet is a keen amateur cook. She strongly believes in seasonality in cooking and grows her own fruit and vegetables on an allotment, and in their garden she grows herbs and fruit.

Sean is the host with the most and a self-confessed born entertainer. Together, the happy couple host dinner parties most weekends, plus the occasional party for clients, creating and serving three-course dinners for upwards of 20 guests.

The couple's love and knowledge of all things floral will be a main feature within the interior décor and also in the food. Edible flowers are something Janet would like to incorporate into savoury and sweet dishes to give their restaurant extra panache.

"It has been a dream for many years now to have our own restaurant. At this stage in our lives this would be such a huge step up on the ladder," says Janet.

JJ and James

JJ and James
JJ (Chef) and James (Front of House)

JJ and James are from London.

Friends, housemates and business partners, the hugely ambitious pair boast a host of management and marketing credentials between them.

Currently co-owners of a cocktail bar in London, the two are hoping to expand into the culinary world with The Picnic Club – a picnic platter concept where diners would be invited to choose classic picnic snacks and grilled items, which are brought in hampers to their tables to create the "perfect picnic spread".

Front of house, James is Australian and met award-winning cocktail maker JJ 10 years ago on a rugby tour. They often throw dinner parties for friends and come from big families who are passionate about cooking.

JJ has successfully competed in various cocktail and bartending competitions.

Food will be classic style British food but the presentation will be Tapas and Thali in style – mini scotch eggs, corn on the cobs, pork pies, quiches, etc, with an extensive selection of home-made sauces available to accompany the dishes – such as apple and pear, red-wine gravy and fresh tomato chutney.

They want an extensive cocktail list including an ex-pat drinks menu with beverages dedicated to Britain's historical colonies.

"We've got confidence in the fact we're going to win this competition for sure. We don't take anything on unless we're going to go at it 100 per cent," says James.


Sarah and Joe

Sarah and Joe
Joe (Front of House) and Sarah (Chef)

Sarah and Joe are from Devon.

This mother-and-son partnership are sure that their solid relationship will help them succeed with a French-English menu – comprising simple dishes packed with lots of seasonal flavour – despite having not worked together before.

The look and feel of their place will be modern, unpretentious, warm and inviting.

Sarah is a part-time cook with 12 years experience in the restaurant trade – responsible for everything from menu-planning, cooking, sourcing and ordering food to organising staff. She also has five years in a vegetarian eatery, plus a season working on board a French boat in Antigua and her 'foodbook' of food styling and recipes to help her.

Joe, who has a GNVQ in both catering and business studies, has also been a head chef, a head waiter and is now working at a successful garden centre. He also has his own allotment.

Their menu includes warm reared beef with salsa verde and new potatoes, and raised field mushrooms roasted with spinach, peppers, garlic and goats cheese. They want their cuisine to only ever incorporate healthy, fresh food and there's plenty of room on the menu for lots of Sarah's signature salads.

"We thought of a few names – like Blanc-ity Blanc – but we didn't think Raymond would like that very much!" says Joe.

Frances and Lucy

Frances and Lucy

Frances (Chef) and Lucy (Front of House)

Frances and Lucy are from Gloucestershire.

They describe themselves as "country girls" who have been brought up on local produce and feel very strongly about incorporating this element into their restaurant model.

Their concept is for rustic, farmhouse dining with "a touch of modern elegance" using only locally-sourced food.

Currently studying biology, Frances spends her spare time working for a catering company and running a small catering business of her own with skills gleaned from a four-week intensive cookery course during her gap year. She also has silver-service waitress experience and never dines out without her notepad and pencil so she can record the pros and cons of each restaurant experience!

Young and ambitious, the girls have been firm friends since meeting at Cheltenham College in their teens.

Lucy would love to apply her strong marketing skills to the restaurant trade. No stranger to the front of house experience, she has worked as a waitress during holidays since the age of 16.

On their menu would be whole baked bream, herb-crusted rack of lamb and grilled rib eye steak, with an extensive wine list and staff fully briefed on which wines best accompany which dishes.

"Our concept is British contemporary food using locally produced seasonal ingredients. If it wasn't local it wouldn't go out," says Lucy.

Natalie and Sandy

Natalie and Sandy
Natalie (Chef) and Sandy (Front of House)

Natalie and Sandy are from Yorkshire. Mother and daughter have worked side-by-side in the kitchen at home and feel this will translate well in to a working environment.

Their dream is to serve English-Indian fusion food celebrating the Forties and the Days of the Raj, called Missy BaBa, after Sandy's nickname. Dishes would incorporate the colonial clash of cultures that came together during that time from the English, Irish, Indian, Goan, Mauritian and Burmese.

Natalie has 12 years experience in sales and marketing in luxury four star or above hotels – as well as being a qualified interior designer.

Missy Baba's would have forties style mirrors, chandeliers and ornaments adorning the interior.

Sandy says she is a "natural host" and as part of her day-to-day work as a bank manager she regularly deals with difficult customers. Working front of house does not faze her.

A daily special will be on offer, with signature dishes such as Missy BaBa's chicken feast and saffron rice, pan seared shrimps with fresh chilli and steamed mussels with cream and lemon glass. Desserts are important to the girls – a patisserie-style display cabinet tempting diners with fresh pastries will be set-up near the entrance.

"We see it as a great challenge and a great opportunity. We're in it to win it," says Sandy.


Rebecca and Stephen

Rebecca and Stephen
Rebecca (Front of House) and Stephen (Chef)

Rebecca and Stephen are from London.

Married couple Rebecca and Stephen want to serve simple, tasty, traditional British fare that caters for all the family in a smart, clean and colourful restaurant.

The order of the day for the couple is real value for money and a menu providing quality and not quantity.

Stephen has worked for 12 years in the catering industry and is currently catering manager/head chef at a private hospital. Although he designs the menu and works as much as he can in the kitchen he is often tied up doing more administrative duties and this frustrates him as it keeps him away from his primary passion: food.

Rebecca is a former estate agent who loves selling and loves people. Despite having no front of house experience she believes she is the best at sales – and that selling houses is the same as selling food on her husband's menu!

However, though claiming to wear the trousers in their relationship, she also admits that catering is her husband's domain and wants to take a step back now and learn how to bite her tongue!

On the menu would be lamb cutlets, beef and ale pie and sausage and mash.

"If I can do good food, and she sells good food as well as she can sell a bad house, we're both going to be a success!" says Steve.

www.raymondblanc.com

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