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Reality bites (in a good way for MasterChef champions and runners-up)

Unlike some TV shows, MasterChef can lead to lasting success
  • @susiemesure

What with most reality TV shows having a winner a week, it can be hard to keep track of each victor’s prospective new venture – not least since most fail to get off the ground. Or they might look as if they deserve to fail, for example, last week’s Apprentice victor Leah Totton and her plans for a chain of high-street Botox clinics.

But a clutch of recent MasterChef champions (and almost champions) are hoping to turn those negative notions around with a feast of new restaurant openings that are exciting even jaded industry insiders.

First up is Nanban, a Japanese-focused restaurant from Tim Anderson, the 2011 winner, who has found a site in Shoreditch, east London, to open his 60-seater venue next month. Marianne Lumb, a finalist in the 2009 series of MasterChef: The Professionals, will follow shortly after with her eponymous restaurant in west London. Completing the trio will be a branch of a Spanish chain called Bilbao Berria that promises Basque tapas, known as pinxtos. This last venture, on Regent Street, is spearheaded by Ash Mair, who won the show’s Australian version.

They all follow Keri Moss, the joint winner of last year’s professionals format, who opened the Corner Restaurant and Champagne Bar in Selfridges this spring. Then there is Shelina Permalloo, the winner of MasterChef 2012, who is hosting the latest of her so-called pop-ups in a small south London café on Thursday. She hopes the experience will hasten her goal of having her own restaurant next year, but added: “I still need to learn the skills of the trade and understand what people want. I’m still a home cook, not a chef. You have to earn your badges to become one of them.”

It’s this humility that separates the MasterChef crowd from the rest of the reality TV offspring, according to William Drew, editor of Restaurant magazine. “With a lot of these shows, the [relevant] industry would be slightly standoffish, but someone like Tim Anderson has proved himself with pop-ups and by guest cheffing at various restaurants. Plus, Tommi Miers set the tone with Wahaca,” he said, referring to the hugely successful chain of Mexican diners launched by the 2005 champion.

Success is not guaranteed, however. Mr Drew cautioned that the wannabe restaurateurs had to prove they could turn their talent into a viable business. And it is not a cheap business: Mr Drew estimates that outside of premium locations “you’re probably talking between £100,000 and £500,000”.

Someone who has made it work is Alex Rushmer, who opened the Hole in the Wall in Cambridge two years ago. It took the 2010 finalist 18 months after filming had finished to raise the £20,000 it cost to open his place. He said MasterChef differed from get-famous-quick shows because “there’s no prize, other than the title and the trophy – there’s an honesty that perhaps isn’t present in other reality TV shows”. Perversely, not winning helped him, he added: “I didn’t have any pressure to do something high profile immediately.”

Marianne Lumb added: “What sets MasterChef apart is that cooking is incredibly honest. Plus everyone can relate to it because everyone loves food. Doing well on the show endorses your passion and your drive for cooking.”

Alex rushmer

Runner-up to Druv Baker in 2010, Rushmer opened his own restaurant, in Cambridge in 2011.

Keri Moss

Professional contestant Moss opened a bijou restaurant in Selfridges in May.

Natalie Coleman

Coleman won the most recent series of Masterchef; she has yet to announce future plans.

Marianne Lumb

Understanding the key to success is managing scale. Lumb’s first restaurant, in west London, will have just 14 seats.

Tim Anderson

Fans will remember Anderson’s campfire pudding; now the 2011 winner is putting Japanese cuisine front and centre of a restaurant in London.

Shelina Permalloo

She wowed the judges with her Mauritian cooking last year; now she is building her experience with a series of pop-ups.