In most British cities, restaurateurs welcome a ‘celebrity chef’ to the fold with gusto, seeing their arrival as an endorsement that their turf is on the UK food map, viewing the competition as a challenge and welcoming the inevitable waiting list overspill to their already established businesses. But not in Bath. Despite being a long-term, public supporter of the city that I call home, I’ve recently found myself having to dodge verbal blows at dinner parties, bars and even as I walk down the street – all because I’ve committed the apparently heinous crime of interviewing Jamie Oliver before going on to favourably review his recently opened restaurant.
I’ve been accused of ‘selling out’ (oh, how quaint!), ‘betraying’ local businesses (despite the fact that Jamie’s Italian employs hundreds of locals and relies heavily on local producers) and ‘licking corporate arse’. I’ve been told that Jamie doesn’t do face-to-face interviews (that was one heck of a talented actor I spent an afternoon with, then), that none of his chefs have been trained and that Gennaro Contaldo – Jamie’s ‘mentor’, currently overseeing proceedings at the Bath branch – doesn’t actually exist. As for the food: according to the naysayers, the packet soup purveyors have never had it so good.
And when they’re not slagging Jamie off with all the vitriol they can muster, they’re whining about how demand for their £16 main courses (£19.50 if you want three carrots with that) has fallen, totally overlooking the fact that their (totally untrained) staff can’t manage to get those dishes onto the tables in less than 45 minutes and their chef is busy working tinned pomegranate juice, New Zealand lamb and pineapples into their ‘locally sourced, largely organic’ menus.
‘Brasserie Blanc’ opens in Bath next year. The self-defence course beckons...