Conviction Kitchen is about giving a second chance.
IT is hard to flip through the channels these days without seeing someone wielding a chopping knife or cooking up a stir fry – and MasterChef hasn’t even started yet.
And like DIY and reality genres before, the success of a few series has spawned a host of other shows.
But Ian Curly isn’t worried about any of that.
The acclaimed Melbourne chef’s new series, Conviction Kitchen, is about giving convicted criminals a second chance at a normal working life.
It just happens to be set in a restaurant.
The new series, based on the UK hit, follows Curly as he mentors 12 convicted criminals through a crash course in cooking and hospitality.
Six of the trainees work in the kitchen alongside Curly and his sous chef Jean-Vital Syverin, and the other six work front of house with restaurant manager Lisa Parker.
“I wouldn’t have done a cooking show where I’m making a fairytale story,” Curly said.
“What I want to do is have something with a little bit of conflict, and hopefully it works and if it doesn’t, oh well. I’ve got my day job and I’m quite happy doing that.”
And there was conflict. No sooner did Curly get his trainees in the kitchen than he had to re-evaluate his entire plan for the restaurant.
“The second day we’re there training and I said, ‘get me the basil’ and two of them went, ‘basil’?
“Then one of them gags when he has an oyster. I thought, ‘how am I going to do this?’,” he said.
“In my head, I hoped they would be a lot better than what they were when we started. I realised I’m going to end up doing all the cooking and they’re going to have to plate up and do a majority of the prep, but they were beautiful.
“You can’t expect much from anyone who has had a really strong heroin addiction for 15 years and gets short-term memory loss.”
But Curly wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It was hard work and I didn’t enjoy all of it, but I enjoyed most of it,” he said.
“I admire Seven for having a go at it. Even if it was a disaster then at least it was a new piece of television, rather than me making like a fairy cake or me showing someone how to make a quiche lorraine.”
Back at his restaurant, European, Curly has received mostly positive feedback.
“I’ve only had one person who said, ‘why are you glamorising them?’,” he said.
“I said, ‘well I’m not really’. You can ask any of my chefs and none of them think it’s glamorous working for me.”
Read about The Guide’s dining experience at Conviction Kitchen online in the entertainment section of your local paper’s website.