Michele English and Russell Clement won Raymond Blanc's BBC2 television series The Restaurant last year. The pair will launch their own venture The Cheerful Soul in the Hare and Hounds in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, next month. English spoke to Kerstin Kühn
Caterer Why did you enter The Restaurant?
Michele English Russell and I had been running our own small catering business from home and wanted to expand it. But we didn't have the necessary finances to get our own premises, so when we saw the call for entries for The Restaurant we jumped at the chance.
Caterer What was it like being on the show?
ME It was really hard work. There are so many pressures and not just with running the restaurant, which was actually the easy part. Living in a hotel for so many weeks and not seeing your friends and family was really tough for me. There were serious time constraints, as you're given just 30 minutes to write the menu and they only allow you to enter the restaurant at a certain time of day and then you have to be ready for service by 6pm. The filming was really difficult, as you're trying to concentrate on the job and then they stop you in the middle of it for interviews. Running a restaurant and filming definitely don't go hand in hand together.
CatererWhat advice would you give to future contestants?
ME The main thing I would say is to enjoy yourself, as it's an amazing experience to be involved in a show like this and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Keep going no matter how hard it gets. You'll be tired, hungry, stressed and lonely, but don't doubt yourself. You've got to have a strong sense of self-belief.
CatererWhat have you been up to since winning the show?
ME We spent the last five months training with the team behind Brasserie Blanc. Managing director John Lederer has spent a lot of time with us teaching us about the operational side of running a restaurant and Ian Glyn, who is the chairman of the business we have set up, helped us find the property. Russell has spent a few weeks with Raymond at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and the chefs there have helped him refine his dishes.
CatererTell us about the Cheerful Soul.
ME It's a 65-seat restaurant housed in a 17th century country pub in Marlow. We will serve a classic British menu focused on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. It will have bright interiors and a warm and welcoming atmosphere where people will be happy to bring their kids. I will be in charge of front of house while Russell will head up a kitchen brigade of four chefs. There is some really tough competition in Marlow and the surrounding area but I'm confident that we are offering something different to the other restaurants.