TV winners enjoy the heat of Raymond Blanc's kitchen

Oxford Mail: Jane and Jeremy Hooper with Raymond Blanc Jane and Jeremy Hooper with Raymond Blanc

The winners of a BBC television show are being put through their paces in an Oxford restaurant by celebrity chef Raymond Blanc.

Jane and Jeremy Hooper, who won BBC2's The Restaurant competition, are undergoing a 10-day intensive training course at Brasserie Blanc, in Walton Street, Jericho.

Royal Marine Corps cook Mr Hooper and his wife, a trainee teacher from Devon, beat eight other couples to win an opportunity to run their own business.

The couple faced a series of demanding challenges over eight weeks, designed to put their culinary skills to the test.

Now, work is under way to refurbish Eight at the Thatch in Thame before they take it over next month - finally running their own restaurant.

But this week, Mr Hooper has been consigned to the kitchen at Brasserie Blanc - while his wife is being taught front of house duties, bookkeeping and general management.

Mrs Hooper said their most difficult challenge was during the first week of filming when they were set the task of serving only local food.

She said: "People must have thought it silly that we couldn't find any local food, but remember Jeremy had only just returned from Afghanistan, where seasonal food is non-existent.

"We were also in an area that we did not know. It was all very fraught.

"Also, we didn't get to meet Raymond until that moment when the keys were placed on the table at Le Manoir and we learned which restaurants we would be taking over during the competition. It was so daunting."

Once that episode was over, Mrs Hooper said the celebrity chef helped them relax.

She said: "He was so very kind, so positive. He never knocked us down, and he accepted the fact that Jeremy had only just returned from Afghanistan, that we were undergoing that adjustment period couples go through when they have been separated for some time.

"That was why there were so many tears. But as the days, then weeks passed, we got stronger and stronger."

Mr Blanc said he had chosen the couple because they had a genuine desire to succeed.

He said: "Remember Jeremy gave up his job in the Marines to do this - that was a huge gamble.

"I knew that the couple I chose had to be strong, capable of being hosts and, more importantly, capable of creating a great restaurant."

Mr Hooper admitted it was a big leap from cooking in a camp kitchen for up to 2,000 troops.

He said: "It's canteen food, of course, cooking in bulk rather than turning out small, top-quality prestige food to customers paying a lot more money.

"But I learned a great deal while in Afghanistan. Remember that the troops need all the energy they can get. We were concentrating on giving them the right balance of calories and carbohydrates."

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