TV

Ben Bayly’s unsung heroes in The Restaurant The Makes Mistakes

The TV chef is championing the talents of his latest restaurant recruits

Losing his grandmother Joan Green last year to dementia meant top Kiwi chef Ben Bayly already had a deep understanding of the condition. So when he was asked to return to TV to be a part of The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes, the decision was an easy one.

“My grandmother’s death was a traumatic experience for our family and left a mark on me,” he shares. “I think about her every day. She was a special lady and I love her so much. I just jumped at the opportunity to use my skills to help people.”

Ben as a baby with his beloved gran

The series follows eight volunteers all living with various stages of dementia, who are working under Ben’s guidance at one of his restaurants, The Grounds.

“People with dementia still have a lot to give,” insists the 43-year-old. “When they are stimulated and given a purpose, they are filled with confidence and can achieve lots.”

Ben – who is also the owner of restaurants Ahi, Aosta and Origine – says he loved watching the volunteers overcome tough situations throughout the episodes. The participants served some high-profile Kiwis, including TV chef Michael Van de Elzen and TVNZ journalist Jack Tame.

“We had so much fun,” he recalls. “They are all good, brave people, showing their weakness to the whole of New Zealand. Seeing them still have a sense of humour about life was so inspiring.”

Ben’s volunteers (clockwise from top left) Graeme, Suz, Dawn, Bevin, Cliff, Marilyn and Mark.

It’s the next prong in the fork for Ben, who began his culinary career aged 16, washing dishes after school at a local restaurant in Te Awamutu.

“I would work until 10 o’clock at night and then fall asleep in class the next day,” he says of his early days. “It wasn’t ideal, but I loved it. Weirdly, I still love washing dishes. A good dishwasher is the most important person in a restaurant. The unsung hero.”

After cheffing in top restaurants overseas in his twenties, Ben returned to New Zealand and landed the role as executive chef in Auckland’s The Grove and Baduzzi, before opening popular restaurant The Grounds in 2016. Viewers will remember Ben working as a judge on My Kitchen Rules NZ and, more recently, on A New Zealand Food Story, which saw him travel the country meeting our finest farmers, growers, hunters, divers and foodies.

Now, the dad of Ella, 13, Mila, 11, and Bowie, eight, is passionate about raising awareness of dementia. Four out of five New Zealanders know or have known someone living with the condition and he hopes the show will remove some of the stigma surrounding it.

Joan, adored her great-grandkids. “I think about her every day.”

“Covid has really taken centre stage over the last few years, so lots of talk about dementia and other diseases has taken a back seat,” explains Ben. “People suffering have been forgotten about. The stigma with dementia needs to be broken down. These are real people and should not be kicked to the curb and forgotten about because they were unlucky enough to have a dementia diagnosis.”

And he’s thrilled with the results of working with the volunteers.

“They all respond above my expectations,” he smiles. “Wait until you see the food they produce, it’s impressive!”

Ben, who lives in Auckland with his children and wife Cara, loved working on the series so much, he’s determined to do more.

“I want to do a second season and open it up to volunteers around New Zealand,” he says. “I want to build a programme where people with dementia can come and cook with me and my chefs at a restaurant for the day. They can make food to take back to their families and be proud of what they’ve done. I want to give people with dementia purpose, confidence and motivation, and also to give their carers and loved ones a bit of a break for the day!”

The Restaurant that Makes Mistakes screens on Sundays at 8.30pm on TVNZ and TVNZ+.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect how well your brain works. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which around two-thirds of people with dementia have.

What are the symptoms?

Dementia symptoms are different for everyone and depend on which parts of the brain are affected, but the most common symptoms include changes in memory, thinking, behaviour, personality and emotions, which can interfere with a person’s everyday life.

Can I reduce my risk?

Dementia can affect anyone and as you get older, the chances of developing dementia increase. However, evidence shows you can help reduce the risk by keeping active, eating healthily, and staying socially and mentally active.

Where to get help

If you’re living with or supporting someone with dementia, you are not alone. Visit dementia.nz for more information and support.

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