Lucky Dip – Monday, August 1st, 2011

If you’re one of the millions of people who tried to get a reservation at El Bulli and never could, looks like you’re outta luck. The current incarnation of Ferran Adria’s restaurant is now closed. [Toronto Star]

No dogs on chairs! Marco Pierre White has been buying up pubs across the UK with plans to turn them into authentic ale and cider houses. The locals of one such pub, in business since 1420, are unimpressed by his move to stop selling Strongbow and Foster’s. Among the other things he’s banned – swearing, tattoos and dogs on chairs, making “down pub” right boring innit? [Caterer Search]

Does your server know enough (and by that, I mean “anything”) about beer? [Toronto Sun]

More on kids being banned from certain restaurants – seems the trend is spreading. Other things I’d like to see banned from restaurants: guys who don’t remove their hats indoors; large groups of shrieking women; hipsters. [Bites]

A lot of folks are calling foul on McDonald’s addition of apple slices to all Happy Meals. But you know who thinks it’s a great move? Apple growers. [Chicago Tribune]

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Life Beyond the Kitchen – Chefs Build Their Brands with Chef Network Inc.

The food scene in Toronto is abuzz this week with distress over UK chef Marco Pierre White’s decision to become the face of Knorr bouillon cubes. Disregarding the fact that White has been the face of Knorr in the UK for a few years, food writers and chefs seem genuinely distressed that White has “sold out” for the corporate big bucks.

Known as one of the best chefs in the world, White’s decision to become the face of Knorr (and his insistence that all of his restaurants use the product in place of real stock) is confusing, amusing, and to his fans, especially other chefs, understandably upsetting.

The world may never know White’s real reasons for taking the endorsement, but in an era when even successful chefs don’t make a lot of money from cooking, branding yourself has taken on a much greater importance, especially for chefs coming to a point in their careers when it’s no longer enjoyable to work the line every night.

Chefs everywhere are in big demand – for cookbooks, personal appearances, television shows, and yes, endorsement deals. But it’s not as easy as one might think to hook up with the big players, and it’s not always a good idea for chefs to try and broker deals on their own.

That’s where Carmen Correia and Chef Network Inc. (CNI) come into play.

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From Away

You’ve gotta give Marco Pierre White credit – his whole career has been about stirring things up and being in the spotlight, even if it hasn’t been all positive. He was in town last month to promote Knorr stock cubes, a product that he’s shilled in the UK for a few years. When challenged on their use, he gets defensive, insisting that he uses the product in all of his restaurants. Okay, whatever.

The fuss this time around comes from a piece in The Atlantic that basically skewers a couple of Toronto food writers for gushing about White and his stock cubes when he was in town, making the writers (newspaper writers, mostly) out to be bumbling hicks. My opinion of newspaper food columns is not what I’m on about today, though. In defense of the individuals – it *was* Marco Pierre White. And whether you like stock cubes or not, there’s no arguing that he’s the original rock star chef. It would be like a bunch of music writers being invited to a private jam session with the Rolling Stones. Even if you hated their last album, you’re not going to pass up the experience to meet them. You might have less respect for them because of that last album, but you overlook it compared to their lifelong body of work.

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Slave to the Kitchen

 

You’ve gotta have a lot of respect, and a healthy does of fear, for someone who can make Gordon Ramsay cry. Anyone who has spent hours watching Hell’s Kitchen wondering where the hell Ramsay learned to run a kitchen like THAT can look no further than his teacher and mentor, Marco Pierre White.

The original enfant terrible chef, White tells his tale in an autobiography entitled White Slave. The product of an Italian mother who passed away when he was very young and a perfectionist father who was also a chef, White was driven early on to become the best chef in the UK. He racked up Michelin stars, wives and restaurants.

White Slave details White’s childhood struggling with dyslexia (the book was “ghost” written by James Steen), his early days in the kitchen, his various romances and his philosophy for running a kitchen. He became notorious for kicking out customers who complained about any aspect of their meal, often with a system in which the front of house staff completely cleared the table, including tablecloth, and left the customers sitting there, speechless. His drive and perfectionism were passed on to his proteges such as Ramsay, Mario Batali and others.

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If you Can’t Stand the Heat

Bill Buford hurts my head. That’s really my first thought when I try to size up the book Heat, An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany.

He hurts my head because he may well be obsessive-compulsive, and the book is really the literary equivalent of a man obsessed, grabbing the reader by the hand and dragging them off on some wild goose chase in search of knowledge that no one cares about. Well, except Bill Buford.

I’m guessing that most people picked this book up because of Buford’s links to celebrity chef Mario Batali. Buford convinces the chef to give him what is basically an apprenticeship (Bill works for free to learn the ropes) in his flagship restaurant Babbo, and the writer documents his journey through the back of house. There are a few dirt-digging scenes to keep the Batali fans amused; one describes Batali digging through the garbage bin and pulling up celery tops and peelings, insisting they can be used for a soup; but the story is ultimately about Buford himself.

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