Gordon Ramsay’s hunt for the best UK restaurant has had us couch cooks on the edge of our seats – but what is it really like in the heat of the TV kitchen?I caught up with SweetMandarin‘s Lisa Tse, whose hopes of getting the Manchester Chinese restaurant into the final were dashed this week, to get the insider’s view.
First of all, the question everyone wants to know the answer to, how scary is it being up close with Gordon?
Lisa didn’t seem to find him daunting at all:
“Gordon Ramsay is actually very different in real life to his TV persona. In real life he is friendly, charming, polite (i.e. no swearing) and smiles a lot. I think his swearing is all for the camera – but he’d probably do better without the swearing. I was amazed that he didn’t swear at me ! If he did, I probably wouldn’t have been able to cook!”
But surely when the heat is on, that kitchen must be hell?
“The F word kitchens are very hot because an Aga is constantly on. There are cameras pointing at you in all directions. There was only one sink – which was a bit awkward as both teams needed to use the sink at the same time.”
Lisa has become well-known among Manchester’s digital community, and spread the word of her Northern Quarter restaurant further afield, by utilising Twitter, and she told me that her followers had played a part in the selection of recipes for the programme.
“Gordon requested that for the starters we had to use squid as our ingredient. So we opted for our bestseller, salt and pepper squid – and one of the Twitterer’s favourites. For the mains we were allowed to choose anything from our menu – so opted for the house special (our Mum’s dish), the Mabel’s Claypot Chicken.
“I have always loved this home cooked rustic dish with its chunky chicken, lapcheung, bak choy and chinese mushrooms. I was so happy when 42 out of 50 of the F word diners voted to pay for this main course – throughout the series, we scored the highest main course vote. For the desserts we were instructed by Gordon to cook Banana Fritters.”
The support the restaurant received from the local community, as well as those online fans, has been remarkable – even causing the Sweet Mandarin restaurant website to collapse at one point.
“The level of public/community support has been phenomenal. We’ve had 180,000 hits per minute on the website (which has caused it to crash). The phone has had at its highest level 250 calls a minute. Its been crazy and a brilliant response. “
And although viewers will have seen her knocked out of the running earlier this week, Lisa said she remains open for similar opportunities in the future and is not downhearted.
“”I learnt that our customers are really the best and I will do as much as I can to help them and continue to feed them my good food. I learnt that if you really believe in your offering, and continue to work hard and improve every day, then it will be recognised.
“I think that the scores speak for themselves. We scored 82 out of 100 and came second on the leaderboard, winning the title the Best Local Chinese Restaurant in the UK and I’m really proud of that achievement – its is an accolade of a lifetime and a huge honour which I dedicate to all of Manchester and to all Twitterers, as well as my Mother and Grandmother.”