His face might be new to our television screens, but Fred Sirieix, the general manager of London's Galvin at Windows restaurant, is already a bit of a star on Britain's restaurant scene. Renowned for his innovative ideas, dedication to training, passionate views on front of house and lively sense of humour, he's become one of the hospitality industry's treasured secret weapons.
This year, Fred took his expertise to a wider audience as one of the mentors (along with Michel Roux Junior) on the BBC2 television show that did for service what Masterchef did for cooking. The eight-part series Michel Roux's Service saw Fred, the chef and other front of house leaders mentor eight inexperienced British youngsters in the hugely under-appreciated art of restaurant service.
And Fred is quick to emphasise that service is an art. "One of my dreams was always for people to really appreciate the beauty of great service - being able to point with their finger at what is fantastic about it, just like they would watching a football match, a wonderfully choreographed ballet or anything done well, with class. Hopefully this programme will help people to see it for what it is, which is a fun and rewarding career."
Throughout the series, Fred et al set out to transform their young hopefuls into a top-notch front of house team, worthy of the UK's best restaurants, with two of the candidates being offered six months' training in the hospitality industry at the end of the series.
It's a concept not entirely alien to Fred, who has been instrumental in the success of charitable apprentice scheme Galvin's Chance. But despite his previous work experience with disadvantaged young people, the process for the show was still a challenging one.
"The eight candidates were between 17 and 24, with very different backgrounds and a complete lack of knowledge of dining out and restaurants," he says. "The concept of eating a starter, main and a dessert with different wines was unknown to some of these kids, whose idea of dining out was a cup of tea and a cooked breakfast. The challenge for Michel and me was to make them understand the why and the how - to teach them about service and hospitality, but also teach them basic social skills and life skills that one can use anywhere."
Having worked his way up from a kitchen porter to running the floor of one of London's most glamorous restaurants (recent patrons include Graeme Le Saux, Gemma Arterton and Robert Redford), with stints at iconic restaurants La Tante Claire and Le Gavroche along the way, Fred knows only too well what a career in front of house can offer.
"It's amazing!" he says. "There is so much diversity in what I do. Every single day is different and dealing with people every day makes the job very interesting. You have to be very creative and think outside the box and that for me is the fun." But for the Frenchman, who has been working in front of house in the UK for 20 years, there is still a lack of appreciation in the UK for service as a career choice, and this is something that he is passionate about changing.
"British food has improved so much in the last 40 years, since the Roux brothers changed everything, and front of house is the last piece of the jigsaw," he says. "There is still a lack of culture around service and people are not interested in doing this job because it's seen as being subservient. It's the sixth biggest industry in the country, it employs 2.5 million people, we've had a royal wedding this year, the Olympics are around the corner, people are opening restaurants left, right and centre and yet you still can't find staff.
Sirieix hopes events like the royal wedding and the Olympics will highlight good service
"Education around this industry needs to change. There are some people, and I'm one of them, who aren't interested in studying a traditional academic curriculum, and want to do something different, but there is so much pressure to get a degree or PhD.
"I can still be creative, I can still have fun and enjoy myself and do something that I love. I don't go to work, I go and play. My ambition is to change the British culture of hospitality, and I think now there is a real chance to do that." Something tells us if anyone can, Fred can.
Fred's top eatery
"Cafe East in Surrey Quays is a very good Vietnamese. I love the banh cuon (rice pancakes stuffed with pork), and pho (noodle soup) with rare beef."
Five things you might not know about Fred
"I'm a keen boxer. It inspires me, I do it three times a week, and running. It's about winning but it's about the mind too - it's a very philosophical and technical sport - it's not just brutal.
"I have two kids. Andrea is six and Lucia is 15 months. I play with them, take them to the pool, we go to the park, we eat together, read stories, watch movies and we play tickling games.
"I was a model this year, catwalking for Fashion Week. It was for a show called Once in a Lifetime, and there were 200 people watching this show. I was modelling a pink kilt with a red tie and pink socks for The English Kilt Company. I wanted to wake my wife Alex up in the morning and say: 'do you realise you're sleeping with a model?'"
Fred's top tip for a career in service
"Work with people who can give you something - find people who can inspire you and work with the best."