"People are always looking for new restaurants": Fred Sirieix on the return of Million Pound Menu

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

Fred Sirieix on Million Pound Menu second series

Related tags: Television, Fred Sirieix, Restaurant, Million Pound Menu

My Million Pound Menu returns to BBC2 on 8 January with a reworked format that sees budding restaurateurs compete to gain investment from hospitality industry veterans.

BigHospitality​ caught up with presenter and Galvin at Windows maitre d' Fred Sirieix to reflect on the first series and find out what the show has in store this year.

Million Pound Menu has changed its format slightly this year…

Yes, we wanted to make a better series and go behind the scenes and really get to know the participants. Each week we meet three operators who cook and present their signature dish to four investors, then the one they think has the most investment potential is chosen to go to Manchester and run a pop-up restaurant for two days.

The first day is a soft launch with 50% off, then the operators have a meeting with the investors who interrogate their business plan. Finally, they do a lunch service and at the end they are either given a life changing investment or not. This way you really get inside the operators’ heads and understand how important it is for them. It’s not an easy task, a lot of them have food trucks or stalls so have never run a restaurant before.

Have there been any surprises for you this time around?

Always! All the operators are surprising because they’re so different. In the first episode we see Jah Jyot, which is a Punjabi concept; Duck Truck, which is a single product offering; and the Filipino inspired BBQ Dreamz. They are all good and know what they’re doing, but that’s all I can say because I don’t want to give the game away.

You’ve been in the industry a number of years, what’s the most interesting thing for you about doing the show?

It reinforces my view that if you have a great idea and you know how to do it money will come. If you can dream it you can do it. Hard work always beats talent.

Why is the show based in Manchester again?

It’s a fantastic city and the food capital of the north. People are so friendly. I love London and have lived here for almost 27 years, but often people don’t want to talk to you. The show would definitely be different if it was in London. Northerners are so hospitable, kind and fun.

Do you keep tabs on any of the operators from the first series?

Finca ran a summer residency in Manchester and they’re doing well (currently running pop-ups in Liverpool). Prince [Owusu] was running Trap Kitchen out of his mum’s kitchen in London, it got so popular he has opened a proper takeaway place in Manchester (and is looking for a London site).

Is there anyone from series one you wish had gone further that didn’t?

The guys from Hollings (run by two ex-Hix staff) were very good but they refused the investment they were offered (from chef restaurateur Atul Kochhar). It was their choice, but I don’t understand why they went on the show to refuse it. They probably have some good reasons, so good for them for sticking to their guns.

It’s your job to wait with the operators at the end to see if any investors will return with an offer to work with them, what is that like?

It’s nerve-wracking because they are exhausted and almost don’t sleep for two days [during the show]. They work so hard and suddenly have to wait. It’s like the last two miles of a marathon, it’s the hardest part. When they get the investment at the end it’s worth it, but if they don’t they nearly fall apart. It’s really hard to witness and is difficult to pick people up and make sure they understand that despite giving it their best shot it wasn’t meant to be. Losing is difficult and I know from losing at boxing. You feel completely heartbroken but you have to get back up.

What do you most enjoy about the show?

The whole thing. I go in to the selection process blind so I meet people just like the viewers do. I don’t know how they’ll operate the restaurant or how good they’ll be. It’s so unexpected and you have to take it as it comes.

You’re pretty busy with TV work,​ how often are you at Galvin at Windows?

Every day. You get better at juggling things the longer you do it. You start with three balls then get five or six and all you have to do is keep the balls in the air. You never succeed in isolation. I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to work with a great team of people, and I enjoy it much more that way.

The hospitality industry had a difficult time last year, what advice would you give someone looking to open their first restaurant in 2019?

You have to focus on quality, it will always prevail. You’ve got to be on your toes and understand what’s happening in the market and how the customers are reacting. Also do something that’s relevant and what people want, otherwise it’s game over before you even start.

If you’ve got the right concept and you know how to do it of course it’s a good time [to open]. People are always looking for something new. They still have money to spend, but they want to spend it wisely.

My Million Pound Menu airs at 8pm on BBC Two on 8 January.

Related topics: People

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