NEW YORK (Reuters) - British chef Robert Irvine doles out tough, and often much needed advice, to owners of struggling American restaurants on his television show “Restaurant Impossible.”
In each episode, Irvine visits an eatery on the brink of bankruptcy and with the help of his team he devises solutions to revamp its menu, operations and decor. The transformation happens in 48 hours with a $10,000 budget.
The 46-year-old, who was born in Manchester, England, spoke to Reuters about fixing failing restaurants, the need for regular makeovers and how owners react to his suggestions.
Q: What is the common mistake of the struggling restaurants you’ve helped on your show?
A: ”For the most part, once they are successful, the owners get caught up with the money flowing. The good times will roll as they say, and they forget when something goes wrong. Instead of putting a percentage of their net earnings into a rainy day fund, they enjoy the fruit of their labor which is fine.
“But come the economic changes or when equipments need to be bought, or God forbid, something goes wrong with the restaurant, they have no money to redo it. Most restaurants in my opinion need to be made over every three years. I‘m not even talking about knocking walls down, but fresh coats of paints, new wallpaper, maybe new linen, new table top, new spoons and plates.”
Q: What is the worst restaurant you have helped so far?
A: “I can’t pick any one restaurant out because of their unique needs. You could never paint a picture of one restaurant as being the worst. The food may be good but the décor may be terrible. It may be dirty. There are so many different facets. I think they are all bad in some manner, shape or form. That’s why I‘m there. They are on the verge of bankruptcy. They wouldn’t call me otherwise.”
Q: You often counsel the restaurant owners on a personal level. What is that like?
A: “I want to understand the pain they are going through so they could talk to me like a therapist, for lack of a better word. It’s only if I could get to the bottom of those things. What is causing the problem? Is it a restaurant that opened down the road that’s selling beer cheap? Is it their way of running the business? Is it their family situation? Is the owner angry at everybody for whatever reason because they all play a big part in the hospitality business? It’s real people with real emotions and real problems.”
Q: Why are most owners resistant to your recommendations at least initially?
A: “People are embarrassed -- that is a normal human reaction. How could they get so far in debt? How could they put their house on the market? How could they put their kids through this? And they are telling this to a total stranger so a lot of it is just embarrassment.”
Q: You have worked with a lot of different types of restaurants that offer different cuisines. Have you been comfortable to deal with all of them?
A: “To me, it doesn’t matter what type of restaurant it is. The principle is the same, the cooking technique whether you use oregano, thyme, tarragon; the style whether it’s steaming, roasting, frying. It’s all the same. It’s just the food that differs and the seasonings. I‘m as happy with a Greek restaurant as I am in a Chinese restaurant or an Italian restaurant.”
Q: Chef Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” is similar to “Restaurant Impossible.” When you or Ramsay is screaming, who is scarier?
A: “I think Gordon. I think he is an amazing chef. I have never met him. I would love to meet him because he’s an inspiration of mine. He is so passionate. When you are in the kitchen, you scream because you want things to be perfect. Do I scream like that all the time? No. He has his style and I have a different style.”
Spinach and blue cheese stuffed beef tenderloin
(Yields 4-6 portions or 15 slices)
2-3 lb beef tenderloin
2 cups fresh spinach
2 cups good quality blue cheese
2 tbsp salt and pepper
3 tbsp grapeseed oil
Butchers twine 2 feet
1. Lay tenderloin flat on a cutting board and with a knife, fillet loin from bottom side, lengthwise and 2-3 inches deep. Continue to slice or fillet open the loin to form a 10-10 inch open square-1/2 inch thick throughout the loin.
2. Season loin with half of salt and pepper, evenly coat interior of loin with blue cheese then top with spinach, leaving a 2-inch portion at top of filleted loin without stuffing. Next roll loin tight, allowing clean, not topped portion edge, to be the top edge or final edge.
3. With butchers twine, tie several knots around stuffed loin, 4-5 times, thus binding the loin before cooking. In a heavy bottom sauce pan or on a flat top range, over high heat, season exterior with remaining salt and pepper, add grapeseed oil to cooking surface and sear all sides of stuffed loin, one after another until browned, 2-3 minutes per side.
After browning, remove from pan, place loin on cooking sheet and bake in 350 Fahrenheit degree oven for 15-22 minutes or until interior loin temperature reaches 135 degrees, then remove loin and allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney