March 2009 Archives

MPW's US TV career bombs

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Marco Pierre WhiteMarco Pierre White's (MPW) TV career across the pond has bombed.

The former three-Michelin-starred chef-turned-restaurateur had hoped to step into the footsteps of erstwhile protégé Gordon Ramsay by captivating US audiences but unfortunately his antics didn't go down too well.

NBC is pulling his show, Chopping Block, from primetime after just three weeks on the air, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The show apparently debuted "modestly" two weeks ago and fell in the ratings with each episode.

But that's not where the bad news ends. Chopping Block will be replaced with, wait for it, repeats of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." Ouch.

On the bright side of things MPW will be returning to our screens soon with his second series of Hell's Kitchen.

Let's hope the celebrities have their Knorr stock cubes ready when entering the kitchen.   

Marco Pierre White to debut on US TV tonight

Welsh restaurants accused of beefing up menus

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Fresh vegetables unlikely on Welsh menus?Shaun Hill and Stephen Terry aside, Wales isn't exactly known as a culinary destination.

And in a further blow to its reputation restaurateurs in the northern part of the principality have just had their knuckles wrapped over exaggerating their menus.

Trading standards have accused some pubs, hotels, restaurants and takeaways in north Wales of beefing up their menus in a bid to drive up prices.

A survey found that a fifth of descriptions were misleading to customers, with menus offered by national chains containing the most false descriptions at a staggering 47% of the food on sale. This compared to 16% for independent operators.

Officers at the North Wales Quality and Metrology Panel, which conducted the survey, said with operators having to increasingly compete for business, terms such as local, Welsh, fresh, traditional and homemade were being used on menus more and more to attract premium prices.

Chairman Richard Powell said: "It is worrying that a fifth of the descriptions inspected were found to be incorrect.

"Businesses must ensure they take all reasonable actions to verify any claims they are making."

The Welsh - what are they like?!? 

Gordon RamsayGordon Ramsay's two-Michelin-starred restaurant at the London in New York has stopped serving lunch.

But it's not because business is bad, his spokeswoman assures me.

"The restaurant has been closed for lunch during the winter months as is standard practice amongst New York's fine dining restaurants," she says.

"It will be reopening for the summer in due course."

Having had a quick flick through New York's Michelin guide, however, it seems it's not at all standard practice for the city's fine dining restaurants to close for lunch during winter.

And while a number of Michelin-starred restaurants serve lunch only on specific days, this doesn't appear to be seasonal at all.

Does Ramsay's spokeswoman know something we don't?

PETA protestors outside FifteenPoor old Jamie Oliver, he can never get it right, can he? There he was trying to help British pig farmers by encouraging consumers to buy the meat of well looked after British pigs instead of the poor old swine brought up under much worse conditions in other parts of Europe.

And what does he get in return? Two naked heavily pregnant campaigners in cages protesting outside Fifteen.

Most people can understand the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' (PETA) bugbears when it comes to foie gras or fur coats but targeting someone who's actually trying to do something positive for the "ethical treatment of animals" does seem slightly misjudged.

Not in PETA's minds, who argued: "The answer to saving pigs is not to buy British pork, it's to go vegetarian."

Does that seem reasonable to you? It certainly doesn't to me.

Jamie's spokesman seemed equally bemused. "They do seem to be protesting against somebody who is trying to help the situation," he said.

"It's a slightly odd place for them to be protesting but nonetheless they are welcome to do that. My main concern was that they would get cold."

Gordon RamsayGordon Ramsay this week added a 13th star to his constellation of Michelin accolades after his Maze restaurant in Prague was awarded its first star.

But the fiery chef remains number three in Michelin's global ranks, with French über-chefs Joël Robuchon (25), and Alain Ducasse (19) still some light years ahead of Ramsay.

While gaining the star at Maze Prague is no doubt a great achievement, the award was somewhat ill-timed coming just a few weeks after Gordon Ramsay Holdings (GRH) sold the restaurant at the Hilton Prague Old Town to the hotel's owner.

Oh well, a star's still a star.

Of course, the good news was again overshadowed by less good news for Ramsay as it emerged that he has also sold his two-Michelin-starred restaurant at the Trianon hotel in Versailles.

The move brings the number of restaurants GRH has disposed of in the last month to three (he also sold his Michelin-starred restaurant at The London West Hollywood in Los Angeles) and rumours are ripe that Angela Hartnett's Florida venture, Cielo, is set to follow.

Watch this space.

Mat FollasNewspaper reports this week have suggested that the 2009 MasterChef winner, Mat Follas, has been offered a job with Michelin-starred French chef Raymond Blanc. 

However, Follas has now come forward branding the stories as "over-egged".

The 42-year-old from Dorset won the MasterChef title after a gruelling all-male five-day final, which was aired on the BBC last month.

Raymond Blanc, who runs the famous Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire, told the Daily Mail that he followed the show with great interest and was keen to add a chef of "'MasterChef quality" to his brigade.

"Mat is obviously a talented chef who has a flair for preparing good, honest, locally produced food," Blanc said.

"I followed his progress on the show with interest, especially because he has a passion for sourcing and growing his own food wherever possible."

But in an interview with local news website Bridgport News Follas has now said that despite the interest, the reports of a job offer from Blanc had been "over-egged". However, he added that "it would be great to see Raymond and hopefully get a placement".

Follas said his dream is to launch his own restaurant in his hometown of Bridgport and that he is confident that he will be able to raise enough funds to fulfill this dream.

Marco Pierre White to debut on US TV tonight

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Marco Pierre WhiteMarco Pierre White, our very own enfant terrible, is making his debut on US television tonight.

Following in the footsteps of erstwhile protégé and now arch rival Gordon Ramsay once more, MPW, who famously stated he would never take part in a reality TV show, is now hosting his very own reality TV show on NBC.

Called The Chopping Block, the programme is kind of a US version of the BBC's The Restaurant with Raymond Blanc.

To be more specific, it's a competition that sees two teams of four couples running neighbouring restaurants in New York. At the end, the winning pair gets $250,000 (roughly £180,000) to fund their own restaurant. 

In an interview with Time Magazine MPW chats about the show, what he's like as a judge and mentor to the competing couples and also about what he looks for in a restaurant and his favourite eateries in the Big Apple. 

"I met 10 couples, who turned up on the stage of Chopping Block with a dream. And that dream was to win a restaurant. There are a lot of people out there who've run very successful restaurants who don't know how to cook. There's more to a restaurant than a plate of food, my love. And when you give someone a restaurant as a prize, it's not just a prize, it's a responsibility."

Read the full interview here.

Fat Duck still closed but Heston has customer support

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Fat DuckIt's been awfully quiet around the Fat Duck camp but it seems that, contrary to common belief, no news isn't always good news.

After hopes were high that Heston Blumenthal would be given the green light to reopen his three-Michelin-starred restaurant this week, a spokesman for the chef told me yesterday that tests are still ongoing and no reopening date has been set.

Heston closed the Fat Duck on 24 February after 40 diners had been afflicted with a mystery illness resulting in vomiting and diarrhoea. Following the media coverage of the outbreak, the number of potential cases leapt to 400, increasing its scale and complexity on an unprecedented level.

I can't help but wonder whether there's a bit of jumping on the "Fat Duck bandwagon" going on and Stephen Minall, managing director of consultancy Moving Food, shared the sentiment.

"With food poisoning people will usually be affected within a space of a few hours, while viral infections take no more than 48 hours so it seems highly unlikely that with the Fat Duck being a 40-cover restaurant a number as high as 400 could be accurate," he said. 

What should be encouraging to Heston and his team, however, is the support they have received from their loyal customer base. Take a look at some of the messages posted on the BBC website by Fat Duck diners from as far afield as the USA. 

Galvin at Windows

THIS WAS A LIVE EVENT AND IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE

In a first for the UK hospitality industry London restaurant Galvin at Windows is today running a live online tasting event.

Embracing the social networking phenomenon including Twitter, Facebook and Qik, the restaurant on the 28th floor of the London Hilton on Park Lane has teamed up with Ustream by WorldTV.com, allowing anyone in the world to watch the event, learn and interact.

Guests will be presented with several varieties of oysters such as Fine de Claires, Helford Native and Duchy of Cornwall which will be paired with a range of Champagnes from houses such as Laurent Perrier, Bruno Paillard and Galvin's own brand.

 

If you are having problems viewing this please click here

Fat Duck unlikely to reopen this week

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Heston BlumenthalHeston Blumenthal is unlikely to reopen the Fat Duck this week, the Telegraph reports.

The chef was forced to close the three-Michelin-starred restaurant last Tuesday after up to 40 diners were afflicted with a mystery illness resulting in vomiting and diarrhoea.

Environmental health inspectors were called in to scour the restaurant kitchens but no direct cause has been found, with Blumenthal insisting that "absolutely no food poisoning organisms have been found".

Today a spokesman said the chef was "upset" and "frustrated" by the health scare.
"We are still waiting for the final results to come back but all tests so far have been negative," he said.

"We will not be opening tonight and it is unlikely that The Fat Duck will open tomorrow."

Ramsay breaches bank agreements

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Gordon RamsayAnother week, another scandal for Gordon Ramsay. But this time it's nothing to do with the fiery chef being accused of infidelity, lying about his football career or feuding with arch rivals former mentor Marco Pierre White or erstwhile protégé Marcus Wareing.

No, this time his company, Gordon Ramsay Holdings (GRH), has had to admit that it has been forced to renegotiate a multimillion-pound loan after breaching agreements with its lender, the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The group, which acts for 11 of Ramsay's multi-Michelin starred restaurants in the UK as well as his pub in London's East End, disclosed the breaches in its most recent financial statement. Released last week, the accounts were filed eight months late.

However, GRH did not specify what covenants were breached, neither did it clarify whether it breached the covenants in the financial year reported (2007) or whether the breaches are ongoing.

Naturally, the development has had a lot of interest from the media.

The Times reports on the matter as Ramsay facing his own Kitchen Nightmare.  

According to the Financial Times, although GRH's "accounts are for the 2007 financial year, the fact that they were signed off last month implies the discussions between the group and its lender are ongoing". 

Meanwhile, The Guardian discovered that GRH has lent £4.4m to Ramsay's US venture, and granted loans to Ramsay and his father-in-law, Chris Hutcheson, of £80,000 and £530,000 respectively.

The Telegraph found that the two directors in GRH, Ramsay and Hutcheson, were paid salaries of more than £2m in 2007. 

GRH's turnover increased £3.5m to £41.6m in 2007. Its operating profit was £3.3m, an increase of £2.3m.

However, as the Hardens point out, as recently as six months ago Hutcheson told the Evening Standard that turnover for 2007 was £46m, £5m more than the accounts reveal. 

Michelin France centième édition Michelin never gets it right. No matter how many stars the guide hands out or holds back on, someone's always got something to say about it. And this year's French guide is no exception.

Celebrating its 100th edition (they missed out several editions in times of war), Michelin awarded 73 restaurants with new stars bringing France's number of starred establishments to 548, four times more than in the UK and Ireland.

The guide awarded 63 restaurants their first star, including Alain Ducasse's Jules Verne restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower.

Nine chefs were given two stars, including Gordon Ramsay au Trianon in Versailles, but only one new chef was elevated to the coveted three-star-status, Eric Fréchon at the luxury Hotel Bristol in Paris, one of President Nicholas Sarkozy's favoured hangouts in the French capital. And this is exactly where the controversy begins.

France's most feared food critic, Francois Simon of Le Figaro newspaper, has come forward heavily criticising both Ramsay's and Fréchon's promotions by Michelin.  

Simon warns that any real food lover should object to the award of two stars to the "stereotyped" and "déjà vu" cuisine of Ramsay's restaurant, adding that while the quality of the British chef's food is "not bad at all" it's "nothing original". Ouch!

And as far as Fréchon's singling out for three stars is concerned, Simon insists it is linked to Sarkozy's patronage as much as the quality of Fréchon's cooking.

"No one will ask whether this promotion is deserved or not," Simon warns. "It is all part of Michelin's clever marketing, because this is the President's favourite place to eat."

Meanwhile, Michelin doesn't seem to care too much Simon's comments, with director Jean-Luc Naret brushing off any criticism: "Why change a formula that works? We have no competitor in France or internationally."

Heston Blumenthal puts on a brave face

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Heston BlumenthalHeston Blumenthal has put on a brave face after being forced to shut his three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck restaurant following a food scare last week.

Heston closed the Fat Duck last Tuesday after up to 40 diners were afflicted with a mystery illness resulting in vomiting and diarrhoea.

Environmental health inspectors have been called in to scour the restaurant kitchens but so far no direct cause has been found - with some sources even suggesting suspicions of sabotage.

Having to close your restaurant after a scare like this can't be easy for any restaurateur. Being one of only three three-starred chefs in the UK, who frequently appears on TV, certainly doesn't make this any simpler for Heston.

But in an interview with the Guardian's food editor, Matthew Fort, the chef speaks honestly about his experience putting on a very brave face indeed. He says that while the decision to close the Fat Duck represented a massive financial hit, morally it was the only option.

"You put so much blood, sweat and tears into this just to produce the quality and give the dining experience you want to give that the last thing you want is for anybody to leave the restaurant with so much as a headache," he says.

"But I don't regret closing the restaurant. I have serious regrets about the whole situation and it's been deeply upsetting. But closing the restaurant was morally and technically the only option." 

Watch the full interview on the Guardian's website here.

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