Friday 29 Aug 2014
Monday 12 April on BBC TWO
Chef James Knight Pacheco and front of house Alasdair Hooper are cooking up a storm in this new six-part series which follows the two popular runners-up of BBC Two's 2008 series of The Restaurant as they attempt to launch themselves in the world of event catering. The young friends from Devon come straight from an intensive training course under the watchful eye of Michelin-accredited chef and restaurateur Raymond Blanc at his world-famous Oxfordshire eatery Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons.
James and Ali face a series of challenges as they strive to provide an elite culinary service for a variety of clients – ranging from multi-millionaire businessman (and TV Dragon) Duncan Bannatyne to the hungry residents of Sandhurst and the hunting crowd enjoying a weekend away.
James tells Programme Information's Catharine Davey why he loved every minute of his time spent training under Raymond Blanc, following in the footsteps of many a famous chef – including the youngest chef ever to receive three Michelin stars, Marco Pierre White.
"Both Ali and I covered the whole of Le Manoir," says James. "We did the restaurant and reception and then I ended up in the kitchen. It was amazing! The best chefs in the world have come out of there. But it was really hard work. Cooking is not just cooking there. You have to think, really think, about what you're doing and why you're doing it. The hours were hard – you could be working from 7am till midnight. The standards are second to none – it's the best kitchen in Great Britain. The head chef, Gary Jones, was my mentor – he was an absolute legend in every sense of the word. Raymond is really inspirational and brilliant to be around, too. And the thing that you take away from working in a place like that is that every detail counts."
Despite their intensive training at Le Manoir, as well as years of experience working together in the catering trade, James admits that he and Ali weren't quite prepared for the intensity of each bespoke dining challenge on the menu in Out Of The Frying Pan. Flying to the exclusive hill-top town of Mougins, outside Cannes in the South of France, to cook for businessman Duncan Bannatyne and his wife, really tested the pair to the limit.
"The Bannatyne challenge was one of our favourites," says James. "But we felt that we had to really deliver. Duncan Bannatyne has obviously eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world and his standards are very high. It was really hard on the day because we wanted to come up with the goods. The thing is, we work really well together because we've learnt what pressure entails and how best to handle it."
James and Ali are childhood friends from Devon, so they are well used to spending time together and the pair share the same dream to one day open their own restaurant together and hopefully grab a few Michelin stars along the way.
"Ali and I met when we were 15," says James. "Eventually, I ended up being the head chef of a small pub in Exeter and Ali was working with me. I went away to try to get some experience in Michelin kitchens and Ali went to university to take his degree. But we got back together when I saw an advert for The Restaurant. I said to Ali: 'Let's have a go. Nothing is going to happen!' and here we are..."
James became used to thinking on his feet during filming – each challenge happened at top tempo and Ali and James were expected to cook up a menu for their clients at lightning speed.
"Putting a menu together comes from experience," says James. "You have to take pieces that the customer wants and mingle it with the things that you know as a chef. You know what goes together well, what doesn't go together well. And what is and isn't possible. That happened with every task that we did – we had to come up with a menu quickly."
Currently teaching at Ashburton Cookery School in Devon, as well as spending time with friends, family and his 12-year-old daughter, James admits that when he has time to cook for pleasure, he keeps things simple.
"At home, I favour quite a rustic meal – definitely home-comfort food and nothing fussy," says James. "When you are cooking in a high-class restaurant, it's completely different to what you would cook for friends and family. When I'm at home, I don't want to feel like I'm under pressure, so I do really simple dishes. I cook a lot with my daughter and that's great. At the moment, she's really into fish – lots of salads, sea bass, scallops ... you name it, she'll eat it."
Food is evidently never far from James's thoughts and the young chef's plans for the future are simple. In addition to opening his own restaurant with best pal Ali, his next challenge is to find time in his busy schedule to book a table at Le Manoir in order to re-experience their taster menu.
"Eating at Le Manoir is just the most amazing experience!" he says. "There is nothing served up anywhere in the world to beat its 12-course taster menu. And it hasn't got three Michelin Stars yet – shocking!"
James describes his experience filming Out Of The Frying Pan as the SAS training of contract catering and feels it will stand him in good stead for whatever the future serves up.
"We went to this beautiful country house down near the New Forest for one challenge," James recalls. "As I stepped out and
looked at the house, I thought, I hope it hasn't got an Aga. Actually, it had two Agas – one that worked and one that didn't! And what
they wanted me to do was to cook 14 soufflés! However, despite my reservations, the soufflés rose and we got a round of
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