Paul Merrett, co-owner and head chef of the Victoria in Sheen, south-west London, stars in a new TV series called Economy Gastronomy, which airs on BBC2 tonight. He spoke to Kerstin Kühn about the show, which also stars Leon co-founder Allegra McEvedy
Caterer What's Economy Gastronomy all about?
Paul Merrett It pretty much does what it says in the title - it's all about cooking great food without spending a fortune. The backdrop is that our nation's skills of housekeeping and managing a budget seem to have gone awry and people spend way too much money on food. The show aims to show them how to slash their food bills and eat well at the same time. There is also an accompanying cookbook co-written by me and Allegra McEvedy.
Caterer How did you get involved?
PM By chance really. I was having a conversation with someone I know who works in TV and we were bouncing ideas around and this was one that came up. I only met Allegra the day we started filming and it was just good luck that we got on so well. She's a really great person and I think that one of the show's main strengths is our relationship.
Caterer How does the show work?
PM Each episode features a member of the public who spends way too much money on food. We've got a range of different people from big families, to a single mum and two gay dads, as well as people who are quite well off and others who are less fortunate. We had a family of four who, on average, spent £300 a week on food which is just ridiculous.
Caterer What are your top tips to consumers wanting to save money on food?
PM It's all about planning. Any chef knows that you need to set out a plan for the week - list exactly the meals you will be cooking and what ingredients you will need and buy them as unprepped as possible to save money. Consumers don't know this and waste an awful lot of food. But the same principle can be applied to the hospitality industry, too, and, especially in these tough economic times, restaurateurs need to shop carefully and price their menu to suit their local market.
Caterer How are you coping with the recession?
PM We launched the Victoria right at the beginning of the economic downfall and on day two of us trading Lehman Brothers collapsed. But I think we've benefited from the recession. Sheen is a middle-class area and, while a year ago someone living here may have jumped into a cab on a weekend night and gone for an expensive meal in the West End, they now choose to save the money on transport and babysitter and eat out somewhere locally where they can get an equally great dining experience.
Caterer What's next?
PM I'm in the kitchen at the Victoria pretty much every service and for now it will stay that way. My business partner Greg Bellamy and I have thought about expanding and in the future we would like to open something else.