Jamie Oliver has put his name to the latest addition to Cornwall's restaurant scene. The third venue from his registered charity the Fifteen Foundation is due to open at Watergate Bay near Newquay on 19 May.
After openings at gritty central London and Amsterdam addresses, the Cornish coast seems an unusual choice. In the face of competition from 2,000 applicant locations for a Fifteen franchise around the world, what convinced Oliver that Cornwall was suitable for the latest Fifteen? "It's a beautiful place, and the site at Watergate Bay is breathtaking," Oliver enthuses. "There are great local producers there and a commitment to make the restaurant scene even better."
Of course, the Fifteen concept is about much more than pretty scenery. Its principal aim is to give disadvantaged young people a real opportunity to start a fulfilling career in hospitality.
"There's not a lot on offer for unemployed young people in Cornwall," Oliver explains. "I think Fifteen Cornwall will be a brilliant restaurant in a hard-to-beat location but, more importantly, it will make a real and badly needed difference to the lives of the local young people."
The decline of agriculture and fishing has had a profound effect in Cornwall, particularly in remote communities. But the successful 20 candidates, selected from 300 applicants, will have a rare chance to improve their lot.
So how did the Cornish project come about? The men behind Fifteen Amsterdam were inspired after reading an article about Oliver's original Fifteen in London; similarly, former local councillor Betty Hale saw the potential of such a venture for Cornwall after watching Oliver on TV.
She made the first approach to the Fifteen Foundation, and her tireless campaigning pushed the proposal to fruition. She remembers making the connection between Cornwall and the Fifteen concept. "I'd seen Jamie Oliver on TV," she says. "I enjoyed his refreshing attitude, his real passion for food. Cornwall has everything to make it work - the local produce, the hospitality and wonderful settings. What it also has, in common with London, is popularity as a visitor centre and a cache of chiefly unemployed, excluded youth craving a sense of direction."
Hale arranged a meeting with Fifteen Foundation director Liam Black. Meetings with council officers, local businesses and JobCentre representatives followed. The Watergate Bay hotel was chosen as a venue - convenient for Black, as it's a short taxi ride from Newquay Airport.
After a proposed site at Mevagissey was rejected as unsuitable, the Fifteen Foundation realised that a better venue was nearer to hand - a few metres from the Watergate Bay hotel, in a building looking on to the beach. That building, housing the Extreme Sports Academy and its upstairs restaurant, is run by Henry Ashworth, whose brother Will is the managing director of the Watergate Bay.
The Ashworth brothers were more than willing to see the upstairs restaurant, the Beach Hut Bistro, transformed into Fifteen. Both invested time and money in the enterprise, which they believe will bring far-reaching benefits to this corner of Cornwall.
Negotiations entered a new phase when Black met with possible funding bodies and regional government agencies, college, tourism and youth organisation representatives. Will Ashworth has now become one of the directors of Fifteen Cornwall's operating company. The new restaurant has a commercial lease of more than 20 years, and Ashworth is convinced the Jamie Oliver name will have an effect similar to that of the Eden Project, bringing more business to the hotel, the Extreme Sports Academy, and the region as a whole.
Whereas the Beach Hut Bistro experienced seasonal peaks and troughs, it is anticipated that Cornwall Fifteen will be a year-round destination restaurant.
With the Ashworth brothers on board, the Cornwall Fifteen project went ahead with a £1.07m funding package from the South West Regional Development Agency and Objective One programme. The money has covered the refurbishment of the former bistro, plus marketing costs.
Training and support Funding for running costs has come from Restormel Borough Council, JobCentre Plus, the Learning and Skills Council, the Hotel & Extreme Academy, Watergate Bay, St Austell Brewery, HSBC and Barclays. This is being spent on providing training and support for the 20 trainee chefs.
Black sums up the project saying: "The business model is common to all: a top-end restaurant selling great food inspired by Jamie with, at the heart of it, a training programme every year of 20 or so disadvantaged people, giving them a unique opportunity to better their prospects and take up a real career in the industry. It's not about getting rich but being part of this very exciting brand and inspiring young people."
All profits from Fifteen Cornwall will go back into the restaurant, funding the Cornish recruits' places on the scheme, this time around and in the future.
As far as the longer-term development of the venue is concerned, Oliver is in no doubt of his own continuing involvement. "I take a huge interest in the development," he says. "I'm working with Neil, the head chef, and Polly, the general manager, on menus and suppliers. The Cornish trainees came up to London and I'll be with them at the opening. After that, I hope to be involved as often I can, but the aim is that all Fifteens can stand strong without me having to be there all the time. It's not about me. It's about great restaurants serving great food and offering kids the chance of a lifetime."
Oliver says the Fifteen concept has surpassed his expectations. "I always knew the idea had potential, but the students have been absolutely fantastic," he says. "The Fifteen Foundation is really lucky to be supported by some of the top restaurants in London - the River Café, the Ivy, Le Gavroche, the Orrery, the Wolseley, Passione and Kensington Place, to name a few - all of which signed up to take the students on for year-long placements. It's great to see how the students develop over that time."
Some of the graduates from Fifteen are now working in prestigious restaurants in the UK, Sydney, San Francisco and Paris. This is obviously a source of pride for Oliver, and something of a relief, as the creation of Fifteen in 2002 was not all plain sailing. He admits that for a period, "it felt like the whole project was spinning out of control and looked like it was going to fail".
Oliver's plans for Fifteen are now truly global. "We're opening in Melbourne later this year with my mate and great chef Tobie Puttock in the kitchen. And we'll continue to work on opportunities to expand the idea to different countries.
"In 10 years, I hope we have a network of booming Fifteens. How great will it be when we have chefs and kids from all over the world getting together to celebrate and learn from one another?"
Three hundred applicants for fifteen cornwall opportunities
Mark Scothern, the foundation director at Fifteen Cornwall who has overseen the recruitment process, says there was no shortage of applicants.
Three hundred 16- to 24-year-olds applied, coming from some of the county's most deprived areas, many with troubled family backgrounds, some with a history of drug abuse. They were all given a face-to-face chance to convince the foundation that they were right for the job.
"We've chosen people with a real enthusiasm for the opportunity and with a real passion for food," Scothern says. Support has come from young offenders and homeless agencies as well as the regional development agency.
As at the London outlet, the foundation takes its mentoring responsibilities seriously.
"Alongside the people who are working on developing [recruits'] cooking skills," Scothern says, "there are other people whose sole focus is working on their welfare, and issues that can interfere with them achieving the goals in their lives."
Much is offered the raw recruits, but much is expected in return.
On the wall in the London restaurant's changing area is a very simple guide to getting on at Fifteen. It reads: "Turn up, shut up, and get on with it."
Scothern explains: "We make it very clear to the young people that they're not involved in a social work project, and we're not their mum and dad.
"We'll give them all the support they need and we'll be alongside them for as long as they want - all the way through to opening their own business.
"What we expect in return is for recruits to turn up to do their
work, be respectful and do their training. If they don't, after we've given them lots of chances, they're out."
Having studied for 12 weeks at Cornwall's Camborne College, the 20 trainees will do a month's work experience at various Cornish restaurants before joining Fifteen Cornwall in time for the 19 May opening. Head chef Neil Haydock will organise his chefs' shifts, allowing each student one-to-one supervision.
Fifteen Cornwall The third opening of Jamie Oliver's not-for-profit franchise will be in Watergate Bay, Cornwall, two miles from Newquay Airport. The former Beach Hut Bistro has been refurbished with the aid of a £1.07m grant.
- Opens: 19 May
- Owner: The Charity (known as Cornwall Foundation of Promise)
- Head chef: Neil Haydock, formerly of Conran's Bluebird restaurant in London, and the Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados
- General manager: Polly Dent, who was deputy general manager at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow for seven years
- Capacity: 100 seats (150 covers in an evening)
- Food: Italian treatment of local produce; 80% of ingredients will be grown or caught in Cornwall. Dent says: "Obviously, seafood is going to feature prominently, given where Fifteen is and the fantastic produce that's available."
- Lunch menu: includes grilled squid, chilli, mint, chickpeas and olive oil; seaside risotto, ravioli of ricotta, wild mushrooms with sage butter
- Tasting menu: includes smoked swordfish carpaccio with red chilli and capers; panzanella salad, and chargrilled line-caught Cornish sea bass
- Typical spend: three-course lunch should start at £24.50 per person; tasting menu (per person), £50 for six courses or £38 for four
- Address: Fifteen Cornwall, On the Beach, Watergate Bay, Cornwall TR8 4AA
- Tel: 01637 861000