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Masterchef's Mat Follas: Transition from chef to restaurateur is 'scary'

By Peter Ruddick , 19-Jul-2012

Related topics: Business, Venues, People, Restaurants

As Mat Follas, the 2009 winner of Masterchef, prepares to open his second restaurant in Dorset, he has admitted the financial aspect of being a restaurateur and running a hospitality business is still a 'huge struggle'.

Mat Follas, who won Masterchef in 2009, has this week opened his second restaurant in Dorset - the Chesil Beach Café

Mat Follas, who won Masterchef in 2009, has this week opened his second restaurant in Dorset - the Chesil Beach Café

The New Zealand-born chef won the second series of the BBC TV cooking competition and opened The Wild Garlic restaurant in Beaminster less than six months later .

The restaurant, which features locally-sourced dishes including plaice and partridge, recently won its second AA rosette. However, with the opening of the Chesil Beach Café near Weymouth, Follas now has a second venture to occupy his time.

The 45-cover eaterie is a partnership with the Dorset Wildlife Trust and forms part of the rebuilt Chesil Beach Centre which the trust operates.


"I guess I am more restaurateur than chef there which is slightly scary," Follas admitted to BigHospitality. Although he will be spending time during the day at Chesil Beach, Follas will continue cooking at The Wild Garlic.

As the latest project will be a seven day/five night operation a head chef will be running the kitchen. Belgian-born Jean-Paul De Ronne grew up locally and will be heading up the team at Chesil Beach where the menu will include DWT-approved seafood and conservation grade beef from the trust's own nature reserves.

Although the venture is a partnership and Follas agrees he has learnt a lot since coming to prominence, he admits high rents and the financial side of the business are still a 'huge struggle'.

"Opening is a gamble I guess – the new venture is self-funded and we are very much on a shoestring. I am a lot more confident – I am now giving a head chef directions and the menu is mine."

"In three years I have learnt an awful lot - quickly. I have had too," he said.


The Chesil Beach Café also has the potential to double its capacity in the evenings when the focus is expected to switch from families visiting the centre to tourists.

The menu will allow people to order two or three smaller plates or one main with dishes including burgers cooked on an in-house BBQ, sticky prawns in garlic butter, mussel marinières, bouillabaisse and fish and chips.

Follas explained the menu was a lot simpler than at The Wild Garlic where the customers had shown a preference for food that was 'more posh' than he had been expecting to cook. On his future plans the chef said: "If I never have more than these two I would be very happy."

"I think if there was one I could possibly expand with it would be Chesil because people expect to see me cooking at The Wild Garlic and that is where I want to be cooking. There may be room, either on the Dorset coast or possibly even in town, to do another Chesil but I don’t know how successful it is going to be," he said.

Follas, who also said the impact of being a former Masterchef contestant, was getting less and less, echoed comments made by Hotel Inspector's Alex Polizzi  who said many operators in and around Wemouth were dubious about the impact the forthcoming Olympic sailing would have on the area.

After a soft launch on 14 July the Chesil Beach Café officially opens on 21 July.

At the opening of his restaurant Gregg's Table earlier this year, Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace told BigHospitality what he thought the impact of the TV show had been on the restaurant industry. Watch the video interview with Wallace below:


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