Last week was so busy. On Monday it was the National Restaurant Awards winners’ lunch for the industry, and I was hugely honoured to be asked to make the opening address. This was a very select gathering of chefs and restaurateurs: those who had been honoured at the National Restaurant Awards last October – including Brett Graham of The Ledbury, Claude Bosi, my good friend Bruno Loubet and many others.
The subject was one which is so current at the moment – what are the secrets of service? Le Manoir was honoured to receive the award for ‘Best Front of House’ at the NRAs in 2009. If you would like to, you can listen to an except from my address here:
After the address and a Q&A session, we moved on to address some of the issues facing the restaurant sector today – including “is theatre becoming more important than food in the restaurant sector?” What do you think on that subject? I would be interested to know. We concluded with a marvellous lunch at the very impressive Hakkasan in London’s Knightsbridge – wonderful food and a great atmosphere.
Then, in the late afternoon, I joined a huge crowd of chefs to celebrate the second shiny Michelin star awarded to Hélène Darroze. This elegant party was organised by the General Manager of the Connaught, another compatriot of mine, Nathalie Seiler-Hayez. Between Hélène’s exceptional culinary offerings and the warmth of Nathalie’s hospitality, we were all in heaven…
So much so that some of us were late to the celebration of the opening of Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park... Not me, though! I was the first chef to arrive in the kitchen palace, nestled at the heart of the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
Heston already had a big grin on his face, and for good reason: everything felt so right: the drama of the glass-walled cellar, the equally visible finishing kitchen with many young chefs working within, focused and precise. The only voice was Heston’s Executive Head Chef, Ashley Palmer-Watts announcing the checks at the pass.
Heston was happy, and also proud – and he has every reason to be. He has worked so hard on this adventure. As he showed me his new domain, the little patisserie on the same floor, immaculate and functional. And then the two preparation kitchens downstairs.
All the other friends and colleagues arrived and sat in Heston’s restaurants. There was lots of kissing, hugging, congratulating, happy conversations. For a moment I felt as if I was in France, with long lost friends, it felt so right…
I then realized that certain ‘mechanismes’ or attitudes are changing in our profession – AT LAST! The culture of threat, fear, jealousy, mistrust, petty measurements and rumours is slowly dying. This had dominated London for many years and had spread its ugly content across the country. Instead, chefs today were openly discussing together food, new ideas, new techniques, ingredients, designs – or even talking about Michel Roux’s wonderful programme ‘Service’.
At this precise moment, I knew that the world of chefs and of gastronomy were reconnecting to their true values and meaning. Our profession will gain so much from this new approach: young people can safely join this profession, embrace it…. Or, am I a romantic? As it was at the Connaught, the quality of this moment was ‘extraordinaire’, intimate and very special. I was proud to be there.
Then, in the evening I was cooking again – filming a series of short videos for the website: you can see a delicious and simple dessert au chocolat for Valentine’s day on my Home Page now. You still have time to shop and prepare for your beloved!
And then, on Wednesday, back into hospital for an operation to remove the various plates and screws my surgeon put into my leg almost a year ago, after I fell and broke it in six places. I asked the nurse if it would hurt as much as when they did the original operation? She turned and smiled serenely at me…. “Oh, my dear, it will be much MUCH worse!”.
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