JAN MOIR: The turndown of celebrity chefs’ chain restaurants is hardly surprising… we’re fed up with posturing TV cooks who are all about fame
A chill wind is blowing down the High Street, where celebrity chain restaurants are in big trouble, suffering financial misfortune nearly all of their own making.
In recent months, Jamie Oliver has closed 12 (out of 37) of his Jamie’s Italian outlets, following an emergency deal with his landlords to stop his business going into administration.
Carluccio’s is entering into a similar arrangement that could see a third of its 103 branches across the country close.
And Gordon Ramsay is shuttering Maze, a flagship venue in the London Marriott Grosvenor Square, amid losses of nearly £4 million in his restaurant group.
In recent months, Jamie Oliver has closed 12 (out of 37) of his Jamie’s Italian outlets, following an emergency deal with his landlords to stop his business going into administration
This turndown is hardly surprising. The public are utterly fed up with posturing television celebrity cooks who are all celebrity and no cook. They have had it with overpriced and underwhelming experiences at their myriad restaurants.
They can see — and taste — that the figureheads are too busy focusing on the huge financial rewards of their TV careers to bother sufficiently with the wilting side salad and the lukewarm welcome.
The chefs blame Brexit, they blame rising rents, they blame the Government, they blame anyone but themselves.
But the truth is that some restaurants are doing well in the (admittedly crowded) mid-market dining sector.
These are the ones that have embraced the new economic climate and kept their focus on simple food at a reasonable price for families and couples on a budget.
Who would buy a £13 ‘posh pepperoni’ pizza at Jamie’s if you can get a chorizo one for £7.70 at Franco Manca?
This turndown is hardly surprising. The public are utterly fed up with posturing television celebrity cooks who are all celebrity and no cook. They have had it with overpriced and underwhelming experiences at their myriad restaurants. Picutured: Jamie’s Italian at Dundrum shopping centre
Antonio Carluccio was still involved in the chain that bears his name until his death last year.
When it opened its first cafe in 1999, it at least had a spirit of authenticity and generosity.
Now, the usual corporate greed bleeds across the brand like a thin and bitter tomato sauce.
What once felt big-hearted and properly Italian now feels mean; each portion of pasta meticulously controlled, every last borlotti bean counted out by, well, bean-counters.
Celebrity chefs are not alone is this economic meltdown.
The Restaurant Group — behind chains such as Garfunkel’s and Frankie & Benny’s — plans to sell off some branches.
Italian chain Prezzo is more than £200 million in the red and closing 94 of its 300 UK branches.
Hamburger chain Byron is closing 20 restaurants, while pizza restaurant Strada has shut more than a third of its outlets.
Sandwich chain Eat has lost its appetite and faces restructuring, while the firm that owns Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia and Las Iguanas had annual losses of £60 million.
What happened? Britain is supposed to be in the grip of an eating-out boom, but the truth is we are as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more. Diners are fed up with being taken for mugs.
We realise restaurants are cutting their margins to the bone and the cheapest of ingredients are used. Bosses cut corners by not hiring properly trained staff.
In the kitchens there are few proper chefs who understand ingredients, provenance and recipes.
In front of house, waiters and waitresses who are not paid or treated terribly well by their employers will hardly be motivated to make your experience one to remember in a positive way.
No wonder people are turning away in their thousands. But those ailing establishments owned by celebrity chefs?
Their sin is far greater, because they have exploited a relationship with the public for their own greedy ends.
Once, chefs were just people in a kitchen who knew how to chop a carrot and get the main courses out on time.
Then suddenly they were being feted as rock’n’roll stars, earning millions from shows, books and crockery ranges.
Opening more and more restaurants — or lending their name to franchises — they used their highly seasoned celebrity to get customers across the threshold.
Thirteen years ago, almost to the day, Gordon Ramsay opened his first Maze restaurant in Central London
We saw them on television, using fabulous ingredients and being passionate about food. Customers believed they would get the same thing in their eponymous restaurants — only to be greeted with pale, overpriced imitations with charmless service.
It wasn’t always like this.
Thirteen years ago, almost to the day, Gordon Ramsay opened his first Maze restaurant in Central London.
It was exciting and new, with a cream leather bar and a small plates menu. Small plates!
They were a novelty, just like the lobster in sweet-and-sour sauce and the spicy marinated peaches.
Back then, Ramsay was the most ubiquitous chef on Planet Foodie. The nation had to cower from a blizzard of Gordon cookbooks, Gordon TV shows and Gordon opinions on everything from Christmas turkeys (rub them with five spice) to vegetarians (rub them up the wrong way).
Meanwhile, Jamie was opening his restaurants and it all seemed new and exciting.
But how naive we were.
In the space of a few years, Jamie and Gordon became ruled by profit margins and expansions.
Their restaurants became concepts to be rolled out like pasta, becoming thinner and less satisfying with each new pressing.
They will commit no more culinary crimes, and for that I am glad.
Let’s hope something new and fresh will rise from the ashes — something that won’t leave abused diners with such a bitter aftertaste.
Heaven 17’s debut single (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang wasn’t a big hit, but it did attract attention for its Leftie lyrics.
Amazing to think that back in 1981 it was banned by the BBC because of concern by Radio 1’s lawyers, who feared it libelled American president Ronald Reagan. Why?
The lyrics called him a ‘fascist god’ who did what he was told by military generals. Hark at how times have changed!
It seems you can’t get on a BBC show today unless you sign a contract in triplicate promising to Trump-bash from first breath to the last.
In a flap over menopause UK
Really, what did Bank of England deputy governor Ben Broadbent mean when he described the economy as ‘menopausal?’
That it was in a hot sweat, possibly capable of committing murder, deranged, exhausted, greying, furious, considering a ginger rinse, a holiday in Greece, an affair with someone inappropriate, never speaking to men again, optimistic, despairing, mellow, irritable, elated?
Whatever he meant, his remark was thoughtless and beneath contempt.
I can’t get angry about it. Or can I?
No, I’d like to say something but I’ve forgotten what it was. STOP PUTTING ALL THIS PRESSURE ON ME. I don’t care anyway. No, I do, but I have to go to the bathroom now.
To be honest, I am more annoyed about the girl fund that has been launched by Legal & General.
It is being masterminded by superwoman Helena Morrissey (pictured right), the chief executive who has nine kids.
The fund will invest only in companies with a suitable percentage of women on the board, among the chief executives and in the ranks.
But once you exclude companies because of an ethical prejudice, you start losing money — and everyone loses out.
Speaking of which, TV news presenter Jon Snow has taken a 25 per cent pay cut to alleviate the gender gap at Channel 4.
He joins BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine, News At Ten anchor Huw Edwards, Today presenters John Humphrys and Nick Robinson, North America editor Jon Sopel and Radio 5 Live presenter Nicky Campbell, who have all agreed to a salary reduction.
Is this progress? Sometimes I wonder. Sometimes I don’t.
Anyone got a Rennie?
A fling won’t pull strings
The waitress who claims she once bedded Orlando Bloom after meeting him at a fashionable London restaurant has accused the actor of disrespecting her.
If she wanted respect, maybe she shouldn’t have served up the full menu (plus specials) five minutes after meeting him. Just a thought.
Aspiring actress Viviana Ross, 22, was working at Chiltern Firehouse when she met Bloom. She claims he ignored her after their fling and believes she has been unfairly shunned by film moguls as a result. Have they even heard of her?
‘I’ve lost so much, but Orlando’s not lost a single thing. He showed no class whatsoever,’ she complained in The Sun this week.
Viviana. A word. As Elizabeth Taylor once almost said, pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together. Put this sordid episode behind you, instead of trying to make a career out of it.
More sparkle for Ms Markle
Have we had enough of Meghan Markle? No. Not now, not ever.
Contrary to stories suggesting she would be doing her own make-up for the big day — as if! — I can reveal that she has flown in professional make-up artist Daniel Martin from the U.S. to be responsible for her wedding-day pout.
Daniel and Meghan are friends, and he has done her make-up several times before.
By all accounts he’s a genius; a Dior Beauty brand ambassador, a wizard with a mascara wand. Designers, magazines and clients fly him first-class around the world to work his magic.
They include actresses Elisabeth Moss, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, Reese Witherspoon and Kate Bosworth, businesswoman Olivia Palermo and model Naomi Campbell.
Note that while he preps Miss Moss for red-carpet appearances and award shows, he also did her make-up for a photocall for The Handmaid’s Tale.
Those familiar with this wildly successful television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel will know that Moss plays a woman reduced to a cipher by a repressive and patriarchal society, with her old name removed, her new one the signifier of her owner.
No one is saying that might not be a useful primer for the new duchess-to-be.
Technical details? Daniel takes two hours to get a star red-carpet-ready. He always does eye make-up before foundation and lips last.
His philosophy? That his clients are ‘comfortable being beautiful’. Don’t you love it?
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