Friday, 16 October 2015

BBC's The Restaurant

In 2009, I applied for BBC's programme The Restaurant. This is the story of how it went.

I fill out the form in about two minutes. What are you prepared to do to win? the form says.
Nothing, I retort. It's that kind of thinking that got us all into this mess in the first place.
I put my sister down as my front of house because there has to be two of you.
I get a reply asking if we'd like to come to the audition.

Sunday: I turn up in a short flowery dress with bare legs. It's sunny. I'm tired because I've been cooking the night before. Food will not be provided, they said about the audition. So I bring a basket with leftovers... pizza baked in the Aga, a wild garlic flower and mache salad, a little bottle of dijon mustard dressing, half a bottle of white wine and a teensy handbag size bottle of creme de cassis. 
My sister is waiting for me in the lobby. She is wearing a bright coloured dress with roses and skulls. She looks great, all tits and smiles. 
She says, "Your legs need shaving. I've got a razor, we could do it in the loos".
There are many other London people waiting. Most are very dressed up. Some have young children with them. We get our passes and we go upstairs. 
In the lift one of the men has orange foundation on his face. My sister and I look at each other. "Is he one of the presenters or one of the contestants?" 
Sitting in a large room, we open the picnic basket and start to snack. The others look at us strangely, then start to smile. One Italian-looking guy with a handle bar moustache and pecs encased in a fitted black shirt smiles. He's obviously the chef. I can always tell who the chef is in the couples.
We are called into an interview with Melissa and Monica, two women in their late twenties, early thirties. I ask if they know about The Underground Restaurant. They say 'um er no'. But they clearly do. Then one of them fesses up "yes that's why you are here". 
They start to ask my sister about the Underground Restaurant. I answer their questions. I find it odd, that they are addressing these questions to her not me.
What do you think about each other? they ask my sister and I.
I say: "My sister is quick tempered, stubborn, a creative thinker, funny, a lateral thinker". In fact I could sum her up by saying she's left handed.
My sister launches in: "She's....obsessional...focussed. She's funny."
They nod to this. 
We are sent out back to the main room again. We think we are going home. Some people are taken downstairs. We await our turn. But we are not taken downstairs. We are taken to a circular corridor. There are some familiar faces which I characterise in my mind as:

Posh n beck
Cheeky chappie
Lesbian Argentinian couple

Then in another corridor:

Mum and son team.
Stroppy presenter girl.

We do a filmed interview.
I show blue curacao 'caviar' and wild garlic pesto that I made for my recent supper club.
We are the last. We go home.
I feel rather confident.

Monday: Audition at Southall. We cook an omelette, mine turns out well.  Then we wait to go to another room facing the two producers.There is a large sack and we are asked to pick an item from it and then talk about it non stop for one minute. I get a riding hat. I talk about riding. I know little about riding. My sister tells me I did ok.

Sunday: We do our licensing exam so that we can serve alcohol if we get onto The Restaurant. I'm hungover. I'm not taking anything in. We sit on the table with two guys from the army. They are funny and bright. I can't hear the lesson so I move to the front.
We do a practice i get 38 out of 40. So not so bad.

Monday: First appointment at the BBC is with the attractive lawyer. He says that Michelle and Russell, last year's winners, are terribly passive.
"I had to put a rocket up their arse", he admits. "You two ask questions. That's good. Right now you are not in a good position to negotiate but later maybe you can be. The prize is a 10% non directorial holding in a restaurant with Raymond Blanc. You will work for him for a year for 20k." 
Not exactly 'winning a restaurant' is it?

Then the Medical with the BBC doctor. He is wearing face make up and mascara. He looks like he's popped down from Holby City to administer to us. 
Next we are going to see the Psychologist. Going into the test we pass the army guys in the lift. They look a bit shaken my sister says. The psychologist is a horrible man who cross-examines me as if I were in court for a crime. He manages to filet and carve me up within seconds. It is an unpleasant experience even for me; I'm used to therapy, know the language. But I'm not used to rapid fire questions from a therapist. I try to defend myself. I said:
"I've had my bad times but who hasn't? I'm not 22."
"I've met people of 60 who haven't been through shit." He said. "And that's my job not yours to establish what is normal."
He asks if I'd had an abortion, I say yes, twice. He asks if I'd ever hit anyone. I say yes, once in Africa when a girl I was travelling with crashed the car in Kruger Park while my kid was in the back. We couldn't get out because of the lions and had to wait for a ranger. I was very angry and she wasn't apologetic so I hit her. At the time I felt that was justified but now, saying it in the cold light of day in a BBC shrinks office, I feel like the most depraved unstable person on earth.
Afterwards I go to Westfield, the nearby shopping centre, and cry. My sister finds me sobbing in one of the white plastic modern chairs. I'm driven back to times when the world seemed dark. When I was alone, beaten up in the street, head-butted by a boyfriend in front of my daughter. 
I go home and go to bed. I ask my neighbour for a joint, a rare thing. Feel gutted in the truest sense. Sleep. 

Tues: Melissa the BBC producer calls:
We love you, she says. We just need your medical records. 
Why you are worried I might run amok with a carving knife? She 'laughed'. 
I'm very unhappy about this but I go to the doctor and ask for the consent form. I explain to the receptionist what they want.
"That's very intrusive", she says. "Everybody has been through the sort of stuff you've been through."
Later that day I meet a well-known figure in the food world. He thinks the prize is shit too. He worked for a famous chef for seven years as his patissier. He worked so hard he had to go to hospital for dehydration and malnutrition. Malnutrition at a three star Michelin restaurant? He says that Gordon Ramsay used to buy the desserts for his restaurant from him but denied it. He also says that Tana Ramsay's dad owns 35% of the Ramsay restaurants.
I say "Who gives a fuck what Tana Ramsay cooks?"
Him: "I hate it when wives jump on the bandwagon".
Wed: The shrink, Stephen F, calls. He wants to do an online questionnaire. It's full of questions like: "When I feel down I drink a lot. True or False." Or "Sometimes I feel really really happy and excited for no reason. True or False."
So the first one is asking if I'm an alcoholic and the second if I am bi-polar. I'm neither. I've had depression in the past but that's it. 
I talk to my agent. She is in two minds as to whether I should do it too. 
By the evening I feel tired. My heart hurts. The shrink has taken me back once again to a bad place. Starting to feel angry about being put through this.
I tell my teen. She's in therapy right now. She looks like she wants to cry. 
I look at Youtube clips of the programme. First time I've watched it. It looks terrible. 
Cold feet.
Thurs: go to see my shrink, the one I am currently seeing. Have misgivings all night. My shrink says that the Beeb shrink was abusive. My shrink virtually never offers an opinion so this is meaningful. Yes. 
Have lunch with mum and Joy. Joy said the happiest days of her life were at Le Manoir, learning cookery. She shows me photos of the amazing but very traditional dishes that they created. The cookery school was in the kitchen at first. Now it's in an adjunct building. A runner up from Masterchef was there as well as Nick the drummer from Pink Floyd. Some of the dishes the students made went out to diners, some were eaten by staff. Monsieur Blanc is courteous, never shouts. Everybody respects him. People address him with their arms by their sides. 
Joy says that he would appreciate passion for food. That she didn't like the show. The couples were set impossible tasks. They were given characters, the bad one, the good one, the cheery one, the gay ones, the ethnics. She said that last year's winners, Russell and Michelle, were her favourites. They seemed united. 
My sister and I are not united. My sister wants to take over. She has 'ideas'. Trouble is her ideas on decoration are generally awful. She has little taste. There will be conflict and Joy said it will show. On my own I have a chance, with my sister, I don't. My sister doesn't actually want a restaurant.
Joy tells me to always look for the catch in every task. There would always be a catch. 
My mum then recounts a divine meal in Clerkenwell. A Michelin star restaurant. At one point two large burly guys entered, they were scruffy and crumpled. One of them in particular was huge, maybe 6 foot 3 or 6. He has a menacing presence. They walked straight into the kitchen. My mum tugged my dad and said, I think there's going to be a fight. Then the largest man came out and opened a bottle of champagne. There wasn't going to be a fight, they were expected at the restaurant. Somebody on a nearby table whispered "That's Marco Pierre White"
Mum says MPW's cooking was noticeably better, more refined, than anything she'd had before.
Apparently they only speak French in MPW's kitchen. In Raymond Blanc's kitchen they speak English, but there are many French people working there.
Joy says don't let them know you speak French, it might be an advantage. You might find things out. 
Thursday evening: Melissa the producer calls:
"Unofficially you are through".
Saturday morning: My sister rings up and says they've told her it isn't official. We may not be through.
Monday: Amanda, the serious faced exec producer rings with sad voice and says
"I'm afraid you are not through. You are not even a reserve. You didn't fit in with the line-up".


  1. Shocking behaviour..... You would think you were going to work with Royalty ....

  2. What an eye opener. Great post on a intrusive experience.

  3. Had a very similar experience for a cooking show in Australia- they don't really care about food - just want stereotypical 'types' to clash on TV. You ( and I ) dodged a bullet

  4. What complete arseholes. It's all a fix anyway. Hope they pay for you therapy as a result of that terrible shrink. I think you had a lucky escape.

  5. My god Kerstin, what a total farce... all that energy and emotion wasted. This makes for a great read, but not great living through that kind of experience. I'd say you were better off out of it.

  6. How fascinating. Sort of confirms what I always suspected. Think you're better off without it. Hugs

  7. Love this post...! You had me hooked. I appeared on Masterchef Ireland and luckily the application experience was nothing like this. Far more laid back!!!


I would love to hear what you think of this post! I try to reply to every comment (if there is a delay, I am probably away from an internet connection or abroad)