Million Pound Menu: Big bucks and bigger appetites

Photo Credit: IMDB

Photo Credit: IMDB

Million Pound Menu is a combination of business and culinary talent hosted by the popular, flirtatious and lovable Frenchman, Fred Sirieix. This Netflix original is a battle between small scale chefs who pitch their food, business plan and overall vision to a panel of influential investors.

In season one, the investing tycoons pick two businesses to go head to head in pop-up restaurants just 100 feet apart in Britain’s popular food sector. The most recent episodes in season two, however, switches the format up a bit. Three chefs prepare one plate to present to the investors and from there the investors pick only one to host a pop-up restaurant for three days. The investors eat at the restaurant for both lunch and dinner service while enjoying (or spitting out) the food. The investors evaluate the front and back of the house, the hospitality and overall ambiance of the restaurant. From there, they decide to invest or not.

This show is the perfect mix of Dragon’s Den and Masterchef. It combines the competitiveness and big bucks of the den, while showing off the culinary expertise of Masterchef. As a big fan of both of those shows, Million Pound Menu seemed like a no-brainer favourite. The investors are the perfect amount of intimidating and offer a hard reality check to dreamers, while the chefs and restaurants competing are underdogs. The combination of hardball investors and determined cooks results in a suspenseful fight to the final investment. Million Pound Menu features very on-trend themes in the culinary world. Episodes are themed on the most popular and profitable ideas in the restaurant world today, such as vegetable-based restaurants and businesses focused on sustainability.

One of the most admirable components of this show is the culinary diversity that is celebrated throughout the series. Each episode has a different twist but always offers opportunities to small start-ups, who often only have one kiosk-style grab-and-go restaurant. The exposure to restaurateurs and investors is invaluable to the small scale dreamers. From Filipino flavours, to an Indian burger stall, to Taiwanese cuisine — Million Pound Menu truly displays a huge range of food and styles. Flavours from all over the world are created by chefs with equally diverse backgrounds. This British series welcomes all skill levels; some cooks are self-taught working out of their home kitchens, while other chefs are classically trained with years of experience.

Who are the investors that make or break these chef’s businesses? The recurring investors include Atul Kochhar, the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star and a successful restaurateur. He is down-to-earth, and usually forgiving to the contestants. Kocchar’s expectations are high, but he is one of the only investors to offer non-fiscal deals. Often, after the suspenseful minutes leading up to the investor reveal, Kochhar will surprise the contestant with a mentorship deal.

Lydia Forte is another favourite investor. Her judging is hard, but with good reason as her goal as an investor is to fill her five-star hotels with new, innovative concepts. Not all the investors are as kind-hearted as Kochhar and Forte, as the villain role is filled by David Page, who is the chairman of The Fulham Shore investment group. He is behind popular chains overseas like Pizza Express, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, The Real Greek and Franco Manca. He is fairly harsh to the contestants and seems to always, without fail, complain that his food is cold. Whether it actually is or not, we will never know, but it seems like an ongoing theme in his critiques. These investors are joined by other restaurant experts decided on the basis of who is interested in the restaurant at hand and they may drop out of the proposed deal at any point.

Aside from the entertaining and competitive premise of the show, the production value of this cook-off is consistently strong.

Netflix is notoriously a stage for other networks and producers to shoot their originals in the foot as they pump out more episodes (Riverdale is really the only example needed). Yet, Million Pound Menu has equal production value, attention to detail and quality of competition in every episode. No expense was spared on the pop-up restaurants used to host the competitors. The investors and competitors are all in it to win it, real money is on the line and real people’s lives are influenced.

Million Pound Menu is one of the better Netflix Originals to grace my split-screen while “doing work”. It is the perfect combination of competition, passion and mouth-watering food.

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