Life

Million Dollar Menu's Fred Sirieix: I can't help but put myself in contestants' shoes

Million Pound Menu sees budding entrepreneurs vying for investment in their fine-dining concepts with three-day trials in a pop-up restaurant. We ask the presenter, restaurant expert Fred Sirieix, about the show

First Dates' Fred Sirieix fronts new show Million Pound Menu

TELL US WHY YOU WANTED TO BE INVOLVED IN MILLION POUND MENU.

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 outset, 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. WILL WE NOW SEE 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.

AFTER SHOWCASING THEIR CONCEPT, THE COMPETITORS HAVE A NERVOUS WAIT. 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 IN 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.

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