Nine’s The Hotplate turning good restaurants into great restaurants

Nine’s The Hot Plate dishes up new food format as main course

By Sally Rawsthorne

It just got that little bit hotter in the reality television kitchen – Nine is entering the fray, with original series The Hot Plate set to go head-to-head with Seven’s latest cooking show, Restaurant Revolution. Judged by Melbourne chef Scott Pickett and renowned food critic Tom Parker Bowles, The Hot Plate pits local restaurants against one another for a chance to be crowned the best restautant and win $100,000.

Nine’s EP for The Hot Plate Courtney Gibson spoke to Mediaweek about the Endemol production which she described as being a strong format. “The things we wondered about were that, unlike shows where people are home cooks and put under the pump, these are professional restaurateurs who cook for crowds every night – so how much drama would there be, how much of a challenge would it be? But the fact is that they faced quite a bit. If you’re a chef, you’ve got a repertoire and you’ve tested those dishes for months before they appear on the menu and you serve them. So challenging restaurateurs to come up with them on the night was very challenging for them, and they absolutely lifted their game. The standard of the cooking at the beginning of the series compared to the end was completely different,” she explained.

Gibson said that she believes the process was beneficial to the contestants. “Because they were stepping out of their comfort zones, it meant they were taking some calculated risks and they paid off. They got new items for their real menus, having tried things out during the show. They got authentic feedback from a brilliant chef who completely emphasises with where they’re at, and can look dispassionately at their menu, décor, clientele, business and brand to give them really informed advice. Then you’ve got one of the world’s leading food critics coming in and constructively criticising what you do. The interesting thing about the contestants is that they’re very opinionated – it’s actually scarier getting critiqued by each other than it is from the judges.”

Although she noted that many of the contestants “don’t take criticism well”, Gibson explained that The Hot Plate casting was done on restaurant credentials – not personality. “We wanted people who really love what they do, and want to get better at it. We want people like Scott who are dyed in the wool – they are 100% in, they want their restaurant to win. Beyond the competition, they just want their restaurants to succeed. They want to dish up the best food and their guests to walk out having had an incredible experience. If someone has that about them, they are going to be great on the show.”

As well as a cast with food experience, many of the crew that made The Hot Plate had other food shows on their resume. “A lot of our crew had worked on My Kitchen Rules or MasterChef, right back to The Chopping Block on Nine years ago. The great thing about all these years of food shows is that we have a lot of crew who really know how to make these shows. When you’re doing a brand-new format, it really helps to have people on board – the camera crew, the sound crew, the lighting guys and the producer teams – who understand how to make these cooking shows. There is a real knack to them. I made The Great Australian Bake Off for Nine, but I’ve never made a show like this before. Having people around us who have made cooking shows before is worth its weight in gold. You’d be mad to not go out and hire them. If you hired The Block crew for The Hot Plate, it might not work out so well,” Gibson continued.

In contrast to her experienced crew, neither Pickett nor Parker Bowles has done Australian television before. “They were really bang up for it. They met when we were filming the auditions, and they got on like a house on fire. They were like Margaret and David, a great double act from the get go. They’re chalk and cheese, but both have passion for food, lots of wisdom and knowledge, expectations of a certain level and good taste,” she enthused.

No word yet on whether Nine will commission a second series, but Gibson said she was hopeful. “We hope it will do well for several reasons – one because it’s a great show, two because then we’ll get a second series and three because it’s a brand-new format. We don’t do a whole lot of paper formats across the FTA channels – Seven does some, but largely the commercial networks don’t do much of that. If it doesn’t work, nobody will touch those paper formats for years to come, but if it does work then it creates an appetite for more of those.”

Gibson refused to specify what sort of numbers she was hoping for. “I can’t say. That’s the worst question ever! It’s a jinx! But now we’re focusing more on the consolidated figures, it’s not just about overnight any more. We want as many people as possible, because it really is a great show. You never know in TV, but it really is a fantastic show and we hope that people find it,” she said.

As to the competition from Seven’s Restaurant Revolution, she was pragmatic. “It’s never great when you’ve got a show of one genre going up against another show of that same genre, because you’re splitting the audience who love those shows. But when a new show comes along, people give it their time. It’s not ideal, but so often this is the way that things pan out in our schedules.”

The Hot Plate launches Tuesday July 28 at 7.30pm on Nine.

>> The judges

“It was a lot more hard work than we thought it would be! We were sort of sold the dream early on, but television is not glamorous – it’s hard work! It looks great on screen when it’s cut and edited, but when you’re doing 18-hour shoots and trying to keep your energy and focus up, it’s intense,” Scott Pickett told Mediaweek at his restaurant Estelle recently.

“What separates The Hot Plate from other cooking shows is that these people have already taken a risk – they’ve mortaged their houses, they’re borrowed money to get their start, they’ve made sacrifices. Now, we want to turn these good restaurants into great restaurants,” he enthused.

“They were good to start with, but by the end the two finalists blew our minds,” agreed fellow judge Tom Parker Bowles. “We thought we knew who was going to win, but it constantly confounded us. The teams were evolving and developing constantly. There were low points and high points, and in the end there was this weird ragtag army going around Australia!

“These restaurants were successful to start with, but we wanted to up them a bit. They knew what they were doing, so we came to offer constructive criticism and just do a few tweaks. It wouldn’t be right for us to come in and start criticising, we just came in and offered what I’d like to say were pearls of wisdom. We hope that this program shows the hard work involved in running a restaurant,” he said.

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