Archive for September, 2009

The Past, Present and Future of Gastronomy?

Posted on: September 26th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood


We discuss the history of gastronomy; the leading lights of the past, review the current state of play and assess the possibilities for the future.  Should you ask many of the Michelin Starred chefs of today – “Who is the godfather of modern Haute Cuisine?” – you are likely to get but one answer; Escoffier.

Georges Auguste Escoffier was born on 28th October 1846 and died on 12th February 1935. His seminal work – Le Guide Culinaire (1903) – remains close to the hearts and minds of chefs of today. His contribution to the chef world was enormous on several fronts – far beyond that of a modernising recipe and textbook on food. He essentially lifted the field of cooking to an art form, gaining it genuine, across the board, respect as a true profession.

He was also the first to introduce a structured brigade system into the kitchen – the one we know and understand today: Head Chef, Sous Chef, Chef de Partie, Commis and so on.  In acknowledgement of his contribution to cooking he was recognised in France with the Cross of the Legion d’ Honneur and before his death promoted to an Officier of the Legion. This was a truly extraordinary feat for a chef.  Instigated in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Legion d’ Honneur (in five categories) remains today as the highest accolade that can be bestowed upon a civilian.

While some might argue that Escoffier spent the peak of his career cooking at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo, he was probably more famous for the time he spent cooking at The London Savoy (in other words, outside of France).  It was during this time that he further developed an association with Cezar Ritz – who would go on to found the Ritz Hotels.  While at the Savoy, Escoffier is credited with having created Peche Melba in honour of the opera singer Nellie Melba and Tournedos Rossini in honour of the composer.

The Michelin brothers creation – Guide Rouge – did not start awarding stars until the mid-1920s, perhaps they too were inspired by the feats of Escoffier. Since this advent was somewhat after Escoffier’s prime, it is hard to tell how many protégés were spawned with multi- Michelin stars to their name.

The proliferation of Michelin starred chefs today demonstrates how far gastronomy has come, both as a respected and recognised profession and one that is accessible to a wider audience.  An interesting observation of the Michelin starred chef community of today, is the predominance of interlinked backgrounds: Like sharing the same school in common, except in this case the schools are Michelin starred kitchens of mentor Michelin starred chefs.  You could view an organisation chart or matrix of the backgrounds of today’s Michelin Starred community and you would find a myriad of links, where each link reflects a period of work experience with one another. Perhaps the best way to view this is as a kind of family tree.

An extraordinary factor is that to achieve the necessary heights of recognition a chef must go through the barrier of self-development.  Training by a mentor is one thing and being able to reproduce somebody else’s work precisely is an achievement. However, it is the artist, not the forger that receives the accolades.  Each chef, having completed the first part of the journey in a mentor’s kitchen, must “find their own cuisine” and “express themselves” as food on a plate. This can prove the longest part of the journey and to achieve two Michelin Stars, one imagines a fully developed ‘unique’ approach is utterly essential.

Before we move on, let us consider two other chefs from the history of Gastronomy and consider their contribution. One before Escoffier, who some have argued inspired the great man and one slightly after.

“The king of chefs, and the chef of kings” Marie Antoinne Careme was born on 8th June 1784 and died on 12th January 1833 and was perhaps the first true celebrity chef. He cooked at the Congress of Vienna (after the fall of Napoleon) and was also chef de cuisine for George IV, Tsar Alexander I and banker James Mayer Rothschild.  Careme’s level of influence is debated – did he invent serving one dish after another instead of all the food arriving at once? Did he invent the chef’s hat (toque)? Did he actually (eventually) inspire what Escoffier much later called Tournedos Rossini?  He certainly officially categorized sauces and made a step change in gastronomy from where it had been in France – fresh vegetables, fewer ingredients, sauces and sauces that were lighter (sound familiar?).

Now for one final chef from the history of gastronomy – Fernand Point. Point was born in 1897 and died in 1955. His main restaurant was La Pyramide, south of Lyon. Point’s recipe book Ma Gastronomie was produced after his death and remains a collectors item.

Point mentored many great chefs – Alain Chapel, Paul Bocuse, The Troisgros brothers, Louis Outhier and Georges Perrier.  In fact at one time, seven of the eighteen Michelin Three Star restaurants in France were headed by chefs that had been through his kitchens.  Fernand Point is often cited as the godfather of what became known as nouvelle cuisine.

It has been argued that authors Henri Gault and Christian Millau (of The Gault & Millau Guide – which remains a leading guide in France today) coined the phrase when describing the style of cooking employed by the leading chefs that were commissioned to cook for the maiden flight of Concorde in 1969.  Gault & Millau went a step further and described a list of ten characteristics that defined this latest application of the phrase – nouvelle cuisine. While many may remember, during the 1980s, the application of nouvelle cuisine as going to an extreme of tiny courses and as a ‘fashion that faded.’  However, just take a look at the defined criteria of that time and see how they hold up in the present.

What follows is taken directly from the Wikipedia entry for nouvelle cuisine:-

• A rejection of excessive complication in cooking.

• Cooking times for most fish, seafood, game birds, veal, green vegetables and pâtés were greatly reduced in an attempt to preserve the natural flavours. Steaming was an important trend from this characteristic.

• The cuisine was made with the freshest possible ingredients.

• Large menus were abandoned in favour of shorter menus.

• Strong marinades for meat and game ceased to be used.

• They stopped using heavy sauces such as espagnole and béchamel (originally defined by Careme as ‘Mother’ Sauce Groupings), in favour of seasoning their dishes with fresh herbs, quality butter, lemon juice, and vinegar.

• They used regional dishes for inspiration.

• New techniques were embraced and modern equipment was often used.

• The chefs paid close attention to the dietary needs of their guests through their dishes.

• The chefs were extremely inventive and created new combinations and pairings.

There has certainly been a continued trend in the modern era to cook food to optimise clean, clear and deep flavours of the main ingredients, avoiding heavy or cloying sauces and using the best, freshest possible ingredients.

There too, has been a continued trend in making interesting combinations that excite the palate.

So where are we in the modern era? Perhaps we experience greater diversity as many more chefs have exploded onto the restaurant scene bringing their own interpretations of the past while adding their own unique signature to the present and future.  Do we have a Careme or Escoffier or Fernand Point in our midst? The likes of Ferran Adria, Heston Blumenthal and Rene Redzepi are among the men of the moment.

What was once described as ‘molecular gastronomy’ is certainly very interesting – it demonstrates, what could be argued, as a natural link between cooking and science. A link that can only grow over time.  The fact that we can now understand that long, slow cooking at lower temperatures protects the molecules of meat and in so doing optimizes taste and texture can only be a positive step forward – or too that chemically, certain combinations can be proven to have an enhanced effect on the palate.

It is also fascinating that engagement of the other senses can improve the eating experience above and beyond enhancing taste.  Likewise, science will have a part to play with obtaining the optimum level of nourishment from a dish (its ‘bioavailability’) and what we understand of as ‘healthy’ in a menu today may be redefined over time by science.

Michelin Chef’s have certainly made natural strides in the modern era to present dishes that are significantly more ‘healthy’ than their forebears but are we due to see a step change here?  There is on going and significant research being conducted into foods, the combining of foods and the associated health impacts.

Only time will tell. In spite of the fact that man has been eating since the dawn of man – top end gastronomy remains a relatively young art or should we say, science?

Interview: Elizabeth Carter, Editor Good Food Guide (2009)

Posted on: September 16th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Elizabeth Carter

Elizabeth Carter, Editor Which? Good Food Guide

The Which? Good Food Guide is a long standing, trusted companion – providing an interesting read as well as a reliable source of information.

The Guide was founded by Raymond Postgate in 1951; during the last 58 years there have been only seven editors.  Elizabeth Carter (left) is in her third year as editor and found time to speak to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide.

Interview took place Thursday 2nd April 2009 at 2 Marylebone Road, London.

Tell us some background about yourself?
I was born to work in guides.  I grew up in a family that relied exclusively on The Good Food Guide and from about the age of twelve I wanted to be the editor. So I’m doing my dream job (smiling).

The first position that whetted my appetite was working for the American Nancy Fielding, who, with her husband Temple, founded Fielding’s Guide to Europe. But it was when I got a job with Egon Ronay’s Guides that my hardcore training in guide books really started.  It was incredible  – we would travel all over the country visiting hotels, restaurants, cafes and pubs  –  apart from the ever present report writing I sometimes had to pinch myself that I was actually doing a job.I met Tom Jaine, the then editor of The Good Food Guide, at the launch of my book, Majorcan Food and Cookery. When he asked me to come on board to edit Out to Eat – the budget Good Food Guide, it seemed a natural progression. During this stint at Which? I also wrote and inspected for The Good Food Guide.  Eventually I built up my freelance career, going on to edit various guides, the AA Restaurant Guide among them.  Then a couple of years ago, quite out of the blue, Andy Turvil called me to say he was standing down as editor of The Good Food Guide and suggested I apply for the job.  I had a big smile on my face when I got it.

And you’re only the seventh editor in the Guide’s history?

Yes and the first woman!  There’s been a lot of continuity in general but also with myself as I had previously worked under Tom Jaine and with Andy Turvil (two previous editors).

What was your immediate brief?

We were looking at a big re-launch of the Guide.  It had become very ‘cheffy’, very ‘haute cuisine’ and had a danger of drifting out of touch with readers.  Which? was seeking fresh eyes to look at how the Guide was put together, to broaden the appeal, and be in tune with how people are eating out today.

As well as addressing the modern needs of the consumer we wanted to pay respect to our roots – Raymond Postgate founded a consumer-led Guide in 1951 – and so we wanted to deliver reader-led awards, which we inaugurated in 2008 (in conjunction with the broader Which? Awards). These are now held annually in June and help to promote our reader feedback online – we had 20,000 restaurant nominations last year!

How have you stamped your personality on the Guide?

Well Which? always go through consultations with the consumer before making significant decisions and certain focus  groups were conducted.  The first result of that was a preference for county navigation.  This made perfect sense as you are generally travelling to an area looking for a restaurant and can navigate the guide accordingly.  Previously the alphabetical list put too much reliance on the maps in the guide to actually find a restaurant.  Now the map for each county is on page one of that county and readers can navigate to restaurants from that point – this has been a real hit with the readers although there will always be those who prefer the old alphabetical list way of doing things.

The Top 40 list is a new departure and one that I think was overdue.  The previous way of just listing those restaurants at seven and above needed updating.

It’s also important that the “Also Recommended” restaurants are credible restaurants of their type.  They are restaurants that may not be worth a score but are in keeping with the quality standards of recommendations made by the guide.  “Reader Recommendations” are those entries that reliable reporters have put forward, based on a consensus of reader reports suggesting inclusion. We will not have had the opportunity to send an inspector, but if the reports are from trustworthy sources we will run them as reader recommendations and see how they develop over the year.

The marking scheme is out of 10, any plans to change?

No.  It has been out of ten since 1996.  I know in the past we’ve had schemes out of twenty and out of five but ten fits well and everyone knows how it works.

And are the marks purely about food on a plate?

Good question.  To a certain extent it has to be; service is very subjective, one person’s bad service is another’s walking out of the restaurant best friends with the maitre d’.  And one style of décor or ambiance may appeal to one demographic and not another. However, there is a slight softening on the stance about food on a plate from The Good Food Guide.  For the general public the sum of the parts that make up the overall experience is important.  We have a slight advantage with our guide in that we can write about all of these things and inform our readers accordingly.

Our trusted reader reporters and inspectors are able to benchmark and compare restaurants and part of it is experience and instinct that allows them to say “this restaurant is on a par with that restaurant” and so on.  Should you become too analytical about the detail of the cooking then you lose sight of the overall dining experience.

Having said that our top inspectors have a lot of international experience, so when they are assessing the likes of Marcus Wareing, The Square, Ramsay or the Fat Duck they are making comparisons with the very best in the world.  “How does this compare with Michel Bras, El Bulli, Noma or Per Se?”  They may ask.

How are the team of inspectors organised?

They are divided up regionally.  We have some cross fertilisation of inspectors going on longer inspection trips to ensure consistency, but I tend to prefer a regional inspector to be able to tell me what the top ten restaurants are in their region and give me the marks for each.   We have actually taken on more people this year, new people tend to approach us and we test them out to see how they would get on and this system works well.  I also have a great senior editor in Lisa Grey, who looks after the day to day running of the guide. She has picked up what we’re looking for very quickly and is doing very well.

Do you have a dual role of inspector and editor?

Yes I do.  With the inspecting experience it just makes sense.  In fact I travel some long distances, especially to check out the top 40 feature!

How do you think restaurants will cope with the recession?

Some restaurants are still doing fine.  I’m finding that with our top 40 restaurants, often I’m able to ring at 3pm and get a table for that night. Not that they’re empty – but trade is a little slower and I’ve even seen them take walk ins.  Elsewhere, the ones that have the price right, have the food right and the welcome right are doing well.

We’re finding that many of our potential new entries are the more affordable, flexible and perhaps more informal restaurants.  This is a trend coming through.

It would also be nice for wine lists to get more realistic and this too may happen.

Something good or at least interesting for the restaurant scene has often come out of a recession – In the 1980s we had Marco Pierre White and modern British cooking, out of the 1990s came the Gastropub (which subsequently became too expensive, leaving a hole in the mid-market) . This time around we may find that all day dining is the next big thing.

What do you think of the rise of the internet and the amateur food critic?

I often do a quick google to help form some research and develop a consensus idea about a new recommendation from readers.  It goes no further than that; the inspector has to make the decision entirely independent of discussion on the internet.

Is there an internet version of the Which? Good Food Guide.

Which? Have around 750,000 subscribers and that audience has an option to gain access to an excellent on-line version of the Guide.

How often can an included restaurant expect to get inspected?

Between trusted reader feedback and inspectors every restaurant will be covered in the year.  In terms of pure inspector visits there is a rotation system that ensures all entries and those with potential are visited within a fixed period of time.

The Good Food Guide can be ordered on 01903 828557 (£16.99, p&p free) or at or bought from bookshops.


Tom Aikens – Restaurant Review, September 2009

Posted on: September 11th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Just like the man himself, the food of Tom Aikens has mellowed. From the long gone enfant terrible days of Pied a Terre, to the master of his eponymous restaurant, there is now a greater assurance, a confidence that comes with experience. This means that the menu has stabilized. Whilst there are still exciting combinations and a creative spark, gone are the frenetic days when the set lunch menu changed daily; and whilst seasonal changes are reflected on the carte, established favourites remain. Not that the quest for more stars has diminished. Indeed, one is constantly delighted by the genius and generosity that characterise his style.

Whether choosing from the set lunch menu or the carte, diners can be assured of well sourced ingredients, precision of timing, and fullness of flavour. Combinations of fish and meat are paired without the clashing of tastes and textures. From the amuses- bouches, through the six different types of bread including an excellent bacon brioche, to the pre desserts and petits fours, the attention to detail is meticulous. Nor are luxuries absent from the cheaper options: a set lunch featured scallops, foie gras and Anjou pigeon. Prices are very fair indeed for a rising two Michelin star restaurant: £30 or £65 for three courses on the set lunch and the carte respectively.

An amuse bouche of lobster meat, jelly and lime foam was light and zesty, perfectly serving its purpose of stimulating the palate. A brilliant set menu starter saw a large roasted scallop, its caramelized sweetness perfectly balanced by crisp pickled carrots, flecked with herby nasturtium flowers.

On the carte, plump langoustines were roasted and served in a tempura-style beignet. The braised pig’s cheek and ginger sauce offset the crustacean well, although the dish did not benefit from the pig’s cheek beignet.

Breast of Anjou pigeon, marinated in almond milk, was gently cooked to conserve its tenderness. It was served with confit leg and a fig puree to counter the gaminess of the meat. A beef dish from the carte was outstanding in its conception and execution. The roasted fillet, topped with summer truffles, was perched on a disc of ox tongue and duxelles, and enhanced by cubes of bone marrow. A port and truffle sauce of great intensity added to the uncompromising richness of the dish. The ratte potato, with its nutty texture and buttery flavour, was a perfect vehicle for a mash.

Desserts reach the same stellar levels. A trio of panacotta, ice cream and mousse revealed exemplary consistency in all three elements. The black truffle in the panacotta and ice cream exuded a heady fragrance which complimented the white chocolate elements in the dish. Poached strawberries with pannacotta, vanilla ice cream and mint syrup from the set menu proved a most refreshing summer dessert.

Special mention should be made of the petits fours, surely the best in the country. Whist other top restaurants have taken short cuts, Tom Aikens has extended the boundaries. A tray of fruit compotes, flavoured sugared tuiles, warm madeleines, truffles, and “tasting” spoons is presented with justifiable pride. This would be a good reason to opt for cheese instead of dessert, allowing the petits fours to add the sweet note. Surely they are a loss leader at £5, including coffee?!

Service is highly professional, being well informed, helpful and unobtrusive. The sommelier Gearoid Devaney is happy to suggest matching wines for each course without breaking the bank. Of particular note was the unusual Ice cider Leduc- Piedimonte 2006 which enhanced the poached strawberries.

Food of this accomplishment is well served by the sophisticated elegance of the restaurant itself. Generously proportioned round tables are well spaced in a room of white and black minimalist lines. Spotlighting is supplemented by table lamps perched above the bamboo window screens. Set in a quiet residential Chelsea street, hard to find for newcomers, the modest entrance belies the grandeur of the cooking within. Overall, the chef patron goes from strength to strength, having achieved numerous accolades, and definitely worthy of at least two Michelin stars. One feels it is only a matter of time before this and more is achieved.

Waldo’s Cliveden – Restaurant Review. September 2009

Posted on: September 11th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

This site has been witness to a series of notable executive chefs, the most recent being Robert Thompson, Daniel Galmiche, and Mark Dodson. Each has added their individual stamp – no matter how briefly – to the reputation of Waldo’s, the fine dining restaurant, but none has shown the unique approach to fine dining offered by the present incumbent.

Chris Horridge, late of the Bath Priory Hotel, displays a missionary zeal in promoting a style of cooking which is has all the richness and sensuality of haute cuisine whilst also maximizing nutritional benefit. This is his “3 dimensional cuisine” emphasing presentation, flavour and nutrition. He speaks with the passion and erudition of a chef scientist who has skillfully created dishes which present delicious and nourishing ingredients in a beautiful, well balanced way.

His cooking is necessarily complex and labour intensive, but the effect is not heavy or cloying. Impeccably sourced ingredients – notably baby vegetables from Richard Vine- are treated with imagination and sensitivity. The menu and kitchen are a constant hub if invention

Descend the wide spiral staircase off the Grand Hall to the intimate setting of Waldo’s. The light mahogany paneling, large portraits, wall lighting, elegant settings on well spaced tables, and deeply upholstered banquettes create a discreet, traditional setting for the very modern cooking. This incongruity does not, happily, detract from the enjoyment of the overall experience

Diners can choose from a three course menu with four alternatives at each stage (£68), or opt for one of two gourmet, seven course menus, featuring smaller versions from the carte. (£79)  The “With” menu opened with Lambourne crayfish and veal sweetbread, coated in an unctuous crayfish-butter sauce. Acknowledging the debt to Fernand Point, this dish epitomized the utter sophistication of classic French cuisine. With other courses featuring red mullet and squid, pan fried and torchon foie gras, and a stunning “mosaic” of lamb, this alternative provided a more classical route to fine dining

However, the main attraction has to be the “Without” menu which avoids the use of sugar, cream and gluten. Not that the diner will notice, given the rich taste and polished appearance of the dishes.

The amuse bouche, normally a prelude to more memorable courses, was, perhaps, one of the most accomplished of all. An essence of tomato, enlivened by a little gas, was poured around some tiny vegetables and a sorbet of cod liver oil, olives and parsley. The clear, pure sweetness of the essence balancing the pungent intensity of the sorbet produced a true taste sensation

The Paillette of young vegetables was an exemplary summer dish: a delicate medley of asparagus, peas, broad beans, mushrooms and crispy sea kale, each retaining their distinct flavour, and contrasting in textures and temperatures. Pollen and omega rich seeds were scattered in the light dressing for added nutriment and contrast, whilst the whole dish was enhanced by the perfume of summer truffle.

Seared scallops were exactly timed to produce a gentle caramelisation that worked well with a puree of sweetcorn. Two garnishes elevated this dish: the roe had been powdered and baked to the thinness of paper; and a basil seed “all sort” resembling the liquorice variety gave the nutritional lift. When one appreciates that basil contains anethole, the same chemical that makes anise smell like liquorice, and that it contains large amounts of E beta caryophilline – good for inflammatory bowel diseases and arthritis – the cleverness of this dish is confirmed.

Sea bass is rarely served cured, yet this was successfully executed using the natural salt in samphire. The result was a fish a denser texture and more robust flavour. A delightful touch was the skin rolled to resemble a sardine tin being opened, facilitating its removal if preferred. The garnish of caviar added a luxurious finish to the dish

Perhaps the most classical and least adventurous course was Aylesbury duck breast. Here the skin had been replaced by a coating of “crisp tongue dredging,” The dish had all the deep game flavour of duck without its fattiness, the richness being cut by purees of apple and turnip

The cheese course clearly broke the non dairy stipulation of the “Without” menu. However, it would have been a shame not to grant this indulgence given the variety and prime condition of the selection.

Desserts exhibit the same invention and artistry of the other courses. “Lime burnt cream, without the cream?” is a signature dish whose recipe is a closely guarded secret. Its creaminess and delicate texture would match the finest of creme brulees, whilst the presentation – in an eggshell perched on a heap spun sugar – mimicked a bird’s nest

The final course was a stacked composition featuring chocolate fondant, opera and sorbet on an orange and carrot sauce. Here the main Valrhona ingredient contained the healthier Xocoline, the alcohol based sugar substitute. Similar attention to nutritionally biased eating was seen in the Probio soup of summer fruits, accompanying a Lemon Berbena blancmange on the “With” menu.

Petits fours of Lemon grass and orange jellies, tiny meringues and cumin flavoured chocolates completed a memorable meal.

Service was highly professional and friendly without being intrusive. The maitre d’ demonstrated an extensive knowledge of the cheese trolley, whilst the sommelier expertly paired Old and New World wines with each course. For instance, Domaine du Trapadis, Rasteau, 2006 was a perfect match for the chocolate dessert.

The quality of Chris Horridge’s cooking is rare in the ever advancing world of top end restaurants. There seems to be no end to the creativity backed by a vision of healthier gastronomy. Having achieved a Michelin Star at the Bath Priory, Chris must surely repeat this achievement at Waldo’s, and perhaps go further.


Chef Interview: Chris Horridge (September 2009)

Posted on: September 6th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Tell us some background about yourself?

I was fortunate that in my family, life centred around the dining table. When my father came home from work, the whole family would sit down together for dinner & discuss the day’s events. Food was always an integral part of family life with both my mother and grandmother giving me a great introduction to good cooking.

My family have a military background so it was an easy decision to enlist when I finished catering college. I joined the Royal Air force at 18 and had a great 9 years before leaving at 27. While I was there, two Michelin Starred Chef, John Burton-Race, inspired a half hour TV comedy series which actually inspired me to consider a future as a top end restaurant chef.

After leaving the forces, I got a break with one of the top restaurant kitchens in the country, initially working as a commis in Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. I had a great and extremely hard working 5 years there.

I left as a senior sous chef, winning both an employee of the year award and – thanks to Gary Jones (unsung hero and Executive Head chef at ‘Le Manoir’) and Raymond Blanc – a Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine ‘Acorn award’ along the way.

I took a break after leaving ‘le manoir’ and worked as private chef to a Canadian entrepreneur. Then one day I received a call from the manager at The Bath Priory asking me if I would like to put my name forward for the head chef position – I took the role on and within 6 months, on an anxious January day in 2006, I was to open the Michelin website and was delighted to find that The Bath Priory had retained the Michelin Star, something the restaurant continued to retain during my tenure.

Early on at Bath Priory, Raymond Blanc took me to one side and said “this is the time to find your own style, your own cooking, your own signature and express yourself in your cooking”, “don’t copy me or others but find your own cuisine.” Find my own cuisine? How?

I put my large collection of recipe books to one side and decided to start from scratch armed with a little blank leather book and a pencil that I carried everywhere to record ideas. Slowly I started to create ideas, that although initially were influenced by what I had seen and experienced, were from my head rather than straight out of another chefs book. A few months down the line and whole sheets of A4 paper would be full of scribbles, pictures and half recipes as the process became second nature.

This is when my passion for nutrition was rekindled from a time in the early ‘90’s when a major operation would make me research foods to get me back in the kitchen quicker.

Have you always set yourself goals or has your success just happened?

I’m very much a believer in objective and goal setting. This is something I do in both my social and work life. When I was 25, I set myself a goal to be a Michelin starred chef by the age of 35. Within a few months of the deadline I achieved it. Without planning there is no way that an ex RAF cook could go on to achieve a Michelin star.

There was a certain amount of leaving the pride at the door when entering the Manoir kitchens. I was 27 and had 18 year olds who could not only cook better than me but also had more responsibility.

Having a goal helped me through some difficult times; there was one day in particular that I stopped my car on the way in to work and said to my self what am I doing? Do I really want to put up with this? I had been at Le Manoir for almost a year and was running on empty as were most of the other 15 guys in the kitchen (now Le Manoir has close to 40 chefs). Having my ten year goal was the one and only thing that made me turn the engine back on..

Fortunately, during my second year, Gary Jones arrived and the situation improved beyond recognition. I left indebted to Le Manoir and its team for being absolutely pivotal to my career.

All of my close colleagues know my career story well. I believe it’s very important that as a manager you are seen to be human and pass on anecdotes of key moments in your life that might help them when they are in a difficult spot or undecided on what to do. I think it’s important to decide on short, medium and long term goals and work backwards from the end objective; have a plan in the present to ensure the goals are achieved in the future. I use the same principles in my personal life although it took a bit longer than planned for the conception of my baby boy!

How did your interest in Nutrition in cooking begin?

Originally, in the early 1990s, I stumbled upon a book in the N.A.A.F.I called ‘Healthy eating’. I set about planning a diet that gave me all the recommended vitamins and minerals in two meals leaving me to eat what I wanted for the third meal of the day. It seemed logical to me that a good balanced diet can help repair the body and make it function more efficiently and this was evidenced by the pace of my recovery following an operation which at the time surprised my doctor and ultimately led to me, 10 years on, “finding my cuisine” as Raymond Blanc had suggested..

In more recent times, thinking about nutrition in a ‘Michelin style’ gastronomic context, was started by bumping into various scientists, nutritionists and experts through a string of fortunate accidents. It began several years ago when I chatted to a herbalist from University College London and found that more and more of the questions I was asking were about the nutritional and potential medicinal elements of herbs.

It was quickly apparent that I needed to meet a nutritionist and so I did.

I wanted to discover how the fundamentals of good, sound nutrition could be embedded in fine dining cuisine without affecting the level of apparent richness or tastiness of the food. Healthy food still has this stigma that because its healthy it must taste and look awful, however, we are at the stage now where I’m confident that customers would not tell the difference between the Waldo’s “with” and “without” (“without” meaning virtually sugar, gluten and dairy free) menus and only know of a difference because we label the menus with obvious titles.

So how would you describe your gastronomy?

It became apparent after talking with various journalists and interested people that I needed a catchy phrase to sum up what we are doing so I eventually came up “Three dimensional cuisine”. The three dimensions being presentation, flavour and nutrition.

Presentation is important – it’s the first thing the diner experiences – and has to be appealing. I’ve always been interested in art and architecture and take some inspiration from the many visits to galleries I’ve made over the years. I have also been inspired by the great chefs of history such as Fernand Point so correspondingly the dish is very simple in presentation.

Flavour is obviously critical in fine dining – having clear, clean, deep and balanced flavours across the whole dish. In fact balance is a key word – balance across the ingredients of a dish, amongst taste, texture and temperature but also right the way across the three dimensions of the cuisine. Although an idea may come to me initially through a process of visualising its presentation I am always careful to ensure that flavour backs it up. To coin a phrase I think I’ve learnt that “presentation is folly unless it stands on the shoulders of flavour”.

With nutrition, it’s principally about digestibility and importantly, bioavailability and it is this area that fascinates me. Bioavailability is essentially getting the maximum possible nourishment out of each ingredient. Can you increase the availability of the vitamins and minerals by combining ingredients? This is not as far fetched as it may sound. Put iron & fibre together and the fibre will bind the iron making it less available to your normal digestion process. Grapefruit juice was discovered in drug trials many years ago to increase the drugs’ side effects.

I could talk for hours about nutrition and where we are with our research but I suggest those that are interested pop into the restaurant for a night out and have a chat. Only if you’ve got an hour or so to talk though!

To what extent does nutrition affect your perspective on food?

I was a founding member of the Nutrition Research Group (NRG), which is a loose collaboration of like minded individuals looking into the benefits and applications of nutrition in food. The like minded people turned out to be professors, doctors and nutritionists. As I previously mentioned it was a set of fortunate accidents that brought us together and the idea of formalising things seemed the next logical step. We are ever expanding: Currently there are four universities involved with many people acting as associates so we can pick their brains if and when needed. The focus of that work is to look at how nutrition in food can significantly aid recovery and recuperation in hospital patients.

As head chef in a fine dining kitchen I believe the only thing that limits us all is our imagination and the drive to achieve what ever it is we set out to achieve. I am in the fortunate position of not only cooking for the pleasure of others but being able to use the information we glean from our research to help others.

Give examples of things that inspire your dishes?

I am inspired by many different things. I’m a very visual person so always attempt to get the feel of my initial inspiration through the presentation of a dish and find this approach more instinctive.

For instance, I was researching the great chefs of history and their recipes when I took the position here at Cliveden (I also look after the dining experience in the Terrace restaurant at the hotel). I stumbled upon ‘Ma Gastronomie’ by Fernand Point or rather, the collection of recipes and ideas his wife put together when he passed away. Fernand Point was the Heston Blumental of his era – respecting history while doing things his own way. In particular he questioned the very structured style Escoffier had brought to haute cuisine. At one time in France, 7 of the 18 three Michelin starred chefs had been through his kitchens!

I wanted to recreate one of his dishes but put it off until we could do it justice. After many trials, the homage to Fernand Point crayfish and sweetbread dish went on the menu. As a matter of respect I deliberately kept it very simple, it just didn’t feel right to come up with some type of overly modern presentation.

An irony was that one of his famous sayings was “butter, butter and more butter”. I’m not sure what he would make of my ideas on this but I hope he’d appreciate the dish in his name! Our customers certainly do.

Sometimes I’ll read a piece of information about nutrition that will spark an enquiry and eventually end up being a dish. A year or two ago I discovered that a significant proportion of the global population (up to 50% is estimated) are lactose intolerant so I asked myself “could we do a crème brulée without cream, dairy products, or soya and vastly reduced amounts of sugar?” Pretty much make a crème brulée that tastes and looks the same as the classic version but with none of the normal ingredients, and do it using natural ingredients rather than fancy chemical powders. It took months to get right but when we were 99.9% sure it was good we put it on the menu du jour at The Bath Priory without mentioning that it was made without cream, no dairy and about 95% less sugar than otherwise would be the case. The last 0.1% was down to our customers and critics – who never mentioned it! Now it’s an integral part of our “without” menu at Waldo’s.

Since then we have further developed the idea for other dishes such as our classic French ‘opera’ that is traditionally laden with cream, sugar and flour where our version is not.

What can you expect from the Waldo’s menu?

We are attempting to be inclusive, ie to appeal to everybody. Although I am predominately known for my “without” style of food we are actually trying to welcome one and all. That’s one of the key points of what we do. Not only can those that just like good food enjoy themselves, but also those that normally have a problem when eating out because of dietary conditions. Our “without” menu caters for the latter, where dairy, gluten and sugar is kept to an absolute minimum, i.e: 0% in all dishes except the brulée where we use a small amount on the top to caramelise but none in the mix. We like to think that the menu retains the typical fine dining attributes in terms of taste impact.

There is also an a la carte menu made up of dishes taken from our tasting menus. We are fortunate in that we sell on average 75% tasting menus. The restaurant is open at dinner times only which means we can research, experiment and take dishes and ideas forward during the day. I also have the other kitchens to overlook so it’s a careful balancing act.

How often does the menu change?

The menu will change as we go, for example we worked on two dish ideas this morning that we’ll develop over a period of time and then ease into the menu when we are happy that it’s the best we can do. Sometimes we go over the top and have to take a step back as an idea may have been better several stages before but that’s the excitement of creativity.

Other times, a dish that I have worked on for what seems an age just doesn’t make the grade so its either moth balled if certain specific information is stopping the idea going further or binned if it’s plainly going nowhere. It’s really an ongoing dynamic process as and when we have creative moments.

The menu is not specifically seasonal.

What is the size of the brigades in front of house and kitchen?

A compact size of me and three others in the kitchen and four in front of house plus a sommelier. It’s a kitchen that’s like an old railway carriage in width & length and the team is very small which is great. They are all very focused, loyal and dedicated. I’m hoping I have a Michelin starred chef or two of the future within my current kitchen brigade.

The restaurant is 20 to 28 covers so it’s busy in the kitchen during a full night. We pretty much work in silence apart from the checks being called and the odd comment between orders. In that regard I think it’s quite unique. Relaxed, confident but intently focused.

I like an atmosphere where my team is focused on their job rather than worrying about how I will react to a minor incident so I will never bark at anyone. I think they appreciate the way we work. They all came with me from Bath and most will have done over 4 years before we decide the best move for them.

Once they’ve left they know where I am & I’ll be watching their careers too. So far I have two of my guys who have moved from me in Bath to work as Chef de Parties in 2 Michelin star restaurants and another who has taken his first position as head chef with the ambition and ability to get a star. Once a chef has proven himself in my kitchen I’m always there for them no matter what the scenario and they know that.

What is your proudest professional achievement?

It was exhilarating and slightly deflating when I won my first star in January 2006. It had taken 10 years and thanks to the guide and its hugely respected inspectors, I and my team had achieved it. I was in a type of limbo for a short while until I found my next life goal.

Now I long for a major breakthrough in the research with ‘The nutrition research group’. It’s the various puzzles in the area of nutrition and cuisine that both keeps me up at night and gets me up in the morning and if I can help other people with this then job done. We are about to place a grant application with one of the world’s largest biomedical research charities for a website we intend to launch to raise awareness of pre-operative nutrition and the benefits it can bring to recovery. Currently there is nothing out there. After a brief meeting they expressed an interest but if we get accepted, now that would be another day to remember!

Life at the moment is hugely satisfying, exciting and highly motivating!

September 2009: Fine Dining Guide September Newsletter

Posted on: September 4th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

fine-dining-guide is pleased to announce the continued sincess of an iTunes podcast series, the latest episode – The Past, Present and Future of Gastronomy? features a review of some of the great chefs of the past, assesses the current state of play and considers the future.

You can access the podcast series (free) by typing “fine dining uk” in the main iTunes Store search box.

newsletter interviewees

Our lead feature for this issue is an interview with Michelin Two Star Chef, Claude Bosi of Hibiscus – Claude talks about his background including his move from Ludlow to London and expands upon his philosophies of both cooking and being a successful chef/patron.

We also feature an interview with Michelin Starred Chris Horridge of Waldo’s Cliveden. Chris speaks about his early inspirations including his now consuming passion for nutrition. A truly fascinating piece. We also review Waldo’s Maureen Mills, founder of Network London PR also found time to speak to fine dining guide. Maureen is a clear leader in her field – of top end restaurant PR and marketing – and her insights have proved the most popular twitter web link reference to date!

The cheese board has always been an enjoyable and fascinating part of the fine dining restaurant ‘theatre’ experience. Fine dining guide were delighted to interview Eric Charriaux, co founder of Premier Cheeses and leading supplier of artisan cheese to top end restaurants. This proved an informative and educational piece.

Twitter: The fine dining guide Twitter page continues to be a popular fine dining news service ( with approaching 1000 followers. For those less keen on visiting Twitter, the latest 20 or so news tweets can be found on our News Homepage

General Website Updates: The popular Restaurant Picture Gallery section continues to be updated. And we anticipate updating all our lists (found in the 1% Club) by mid-October 2009 – to allow for the new Which? Good Food Guide 2010 and The AA Restaurant Guide 2010. The lists will be updated for a final time at the end of January 2010 to reflect the publication of the Michelin Red Guide.

Since the last Newsletter, the website has experienced at least 50,000 page views from around 18,000 unique visitors. In general around 100 specific google searches each day reach a page on the website.

Opinion/News: Naturally, such are the economic circumstances of 2009, not a newsletter goes by without reference to the recession. It has been noticable that, at different times during the year, Elizabeth Carter (Editor of The Which Good Food Guide), Derek Bulmer (Editor, MIchelin) and Maureen Mills (Network London PR) have all made reference to how the industry was shaping up in these difficult times. (See interviews on fine dining guide).

We know that cutting price while maintaining the value of an offering or increasing the value of an offering while maintaining price can only be a very short term promotional tool. Why? It affects the brand! The brand value goes down. As soon as there is an upturn re-adjusting the brand value will make the challenge twice as hard.

We see, to an extent, the guides maintaining a focus on the top end – Michelin handing out lots of stars (a GB&I record in 2009) and the Which Good Food Guide 2010 emphasising the ‘Top 50’ in their press release. However, both at the same time giving significant weight to trumpeting the mid-market; Michelin Bib Gourmand has been underscored as becoming of significantly increased interest to readers and The Good Food Guide features more informal, mid-market eateries than ever before.

The possibilities for lasting outcomes from the recession (that are go-to-market positives) seem less easy to pinpoint than just a few months ago. At the top end, a lower entry price point, perhaps weekday only, set menu offering at dinner times would be a welcome lasting addition.

Until next time, Happy Eating!