Following his role in Masterchef: The Professionals, Michel Roux Jr continues his rise towards TV stardom with the new 8-part series “Michel Roux’s Service”, currently showing on BBC2 in the United Kingdom.
The premise, as described on the BBC website, is that “Michel Roux sets out on a personal mission to train eight young people as front-of-house superstars” – in short, this is “Jamie’s Kitchen” for waiters. The eight contestants are aged from late-teens to mid-twenties, and include a teenage mother, a cleaner, and a history graduate who can only get jobs in office admin. At the end of the series, two contestants will be given “scholarships” to kick-start them in the industry, and help Michel fulfil his dream of improving the general standard of service in the UK (good luck with that one). We don’t know exactly what the prize is, but I imagine it to be something like a job cleaning toilets in a wierd Swiss boutique hotel.
In the first episode we’re introduced to Fred Sirieix, a top London maitre d’ and one of Michel’s proteges. Following a posh meal and some hi-jinks, self-doubt and firm-but-inspirational bollockings from Fred and Michel, the contestants are left to manage a dinner service in a busy chain restaurant. They cope reasonably well to start with, but as you would expect it all falls apart at the end. Comic relief comes from Nikita repeatedly offering diners “a glass of prosciutto” and Ashley hiding when he finds it all too hard and announcing that he was going home as soon as his last customer left. I expect him to make me want to throw things at the TV during forthcoming episodes.
Typical back-of-the-taxi-revelations aside (“I’m just beginning to realise the enormity of the challenge we’ve got ahead” etc), you really do get the feeling that Michel is wondering what the hell he is doing there. Surely he’s got better things to do, and there must be a string of young people a mile long who would relish such an opportunity without the incentive of TV fame and a shiny prize. At least when Jamie Oliver opened Fifteen he was working with disadvantaged people in a charitable context. These contestants need some life direction for sure, but they’re not drug addicts, criminals or on the poverty line. A good kick up the backside is what most of them need.
In the second episode, the trainees have a go at running a busy London cafe. 18 year old Brooke gets off to a great start by turning her back on a long queue to swap phone numbers with a random cutomer. Cut to a quick studio interview with her, and she looks like she’s either been drugged or there’s a gun to her head just out of shot. Michel politely reminds her that “it’s not a knocking shop”. 23 year old Jarel minces his way up and down the counter shouting “black pudding” so sarcastically that I feel like I’m watching Little Britain. The next challenge is dinner service in a top Birmingham Indian restaurant, and the drama continues.
Of course, this is reality TV – we have a group of carefully selected people thrown out of their comfort zone and left at the mercy of editors who will create drama and conflict whether it’s there or not – but there’s no point in criticising the show for being part of its own genre. On a positive note, it was certainly a refreshing change to get an insight into the demands on the other side of the kitchen in Michelin-star land, and I will certainly keep watching until the end. No doubt in Australia it will surface on Lifestyle Food in due course, and I’d recommend tuning in when it does.