For those of you who doubt the power of celebrity chefs to make a real and positive difference to Britain’s food culture, I’ve a salutary tale for you.
The new neighbour of a friend has recently taken on the running of a large, well-established pub near the provincial city in which they both live. People visit the pub as much for the food as for a drink, and, as most publicans will attest, that’s how it has to be if they’re to stand even a chance of making a living out of the venture.
For all that, increased competition from other casual eating spots has been damaging the pub’s business in recent years, and customer expectations demand rather higher expectations than previously when it comes to food – standards that the chef of twenty-five years wasn’t, it seems, quite up to meeting.
She ran an economical and efficient kitchen. Every Monday, she would prepare the dishes for the week ahead. On subsequent days she would microwave these, pour over a packet of well-nuked sauce, and ring for service.
The new landlady had, incidentally, already replaced all of the front of house staff by this point, ensuring that politer, more presentable and more professional service would arrive to deliver that dish from the kitchen to the table.
With the chef herself showing little sign of willingness to change, it looked as though she too might have to be shown the door. With 25 years of continuous employment, however, she was nigh-on impossible to sack without all kinds of complications ensuing.
So the new landlady had a think, and came back with a proposition.
The chef was told that she was to be sent on a whistles-and-bells residential cookery course headed up by a well-known TV chef… one that would probably involve spending time in a cottage near to a river.
She resigned that afternoon. By all accounts, her replacement is a joy.