Food and Drink: Celebrity chefs should stay at home

MANY YEARS ago, when professional cooking was an honourable trade, Emile, a rather louche, slightly cross-eyed chef with a Gauloise dangling from his mouth, would take a break from his labours. Sometimes this came about because he wanted a change of weather (damp springs, a late snow, the melancholy of autumn), sometimes because he wanted to go fishing. And very occasionally these brief migrations included l'amour.

As he was not rich and had cousins he could stay with (also cooks), and as Montelimar was not Saumur, he would be tempted to exercise his trade while on holiday. He did this as a matter of course. He had a certain curiosity: there were new ingredients; the customers had different habits; the ambience in the kitchens was subtly other.

After a few weeks he returned home: to his wife, bent over her cash register as usual, his pestiferous son (who had new- fangled ideas about cooking) and the testy bachelor notary who ate his lunch daily at the same table. Cooking was what Emile (not his real name) did for a living. His little town had a man who delivered letters, another who said Mass and so on. He was a cook. Voila.

Now to the point.

The other day, a dear friend invited me to a gastronomical dinner at a fine hotel, one so good that the president of France commandeered it on one of his brief excursions abroad. I had heard of this dinner on the wireless for a week before receiving my invitation. It was advertised in the kind of hushed tones we devote these days to grande cuisine. Only a few of us, only the most connoisseurish among us, were to be privileged to enjoy a visiting chef's 'selections for his spring menu'.

The chef in question, Marc Haeberlin (ably assisted by Andre Chouvin), of the Auberge de l'Ill in Illhaeusern, equidistant between Strasbourg and Belfort and thus much favoured by visiting Germans and Swiss, is a member of a family that has held its three Michelin stars for many years. He had graced our hotel the year before and done handsomely by his guests. Or so I am told.

I can only vouch that this year's meal was something less than a triumph, and my point is that this sort of gastronomical event - in which I with my deadly eye spy yet another form of the faux-chic that afflicts contemporary gastronomy - is by its nature spurious. The travelling star chef is a by-product of our glamourisation of a perfectly ordinary profession ('trade', my mother would have said). And my view is that, if you take a chef away from his familiar surrounds, from the unseen and unsung staff who sweat away in his kitchens, from the customers who know his menu and demand the best, from the suppliers and ingredients on which his efforts are spent, you are asking for trouble.

But there was worse. Star chefs do not come cheaply these days, and a hotelier anxious to 'animate' (that wonderfully loose French concept) his restaurant will have to pay a pretty price. In this case an excessive one, for the meal was literally hijacked by what I would call a blatant promotion: of the wines of the Trimbachs of Alsace.

Say what you want about Alsatian wines, my view is that a little goes a long way, and that to 'compose' a meal in order to offer a commercial for someone's wine is to defeat the purpose of eating. If you work your way through a meal that is (moderately) 'nouvelle' - a foie gras in vegetable aspic, a splendid but meagre oblong of sturgeon, squab, and pears in filo pastry - while being drowned in a succession of not very fine wines, all of them high in acidity, all but one white, you are going to have a headache plus indigestion the next day: especially if you cannot choose what you want to eat and you have to wait (drinking) nearly a half- hour between courses.

There is no gainsaying that Mr Haeberlin and Mr Chouvin are fine cooks. Individual parts of the meal were excellent (though I do not appreciate so much salt in a boudin de foie gras, which should be on the sweetish side), but its composition left much to be desired.

You see, Emile and I have this antiquated concept that a meal is a whole and that, like a gastronomical essay, it has a beginning, a middle and an end, the parts enhancing the whole. If so, why send your diners in cold? You have put away a few glasses, you have heard speeches, you have applauded the staff (before eating, a fatal mistake]), you sit down and what have you got: a wonderful and artful little slab of tarted up foie gras. (That gives the star time to do his cooking, right?) When fish arrives you are relieved, and it was excellent. But then, why serve a meat course and a pudding both in pastry?

No, avoid these occasions. Skip the animation. Visit Mr Haeberlin chez lui. And please, could we recognise that cooks are just cooks? Nice people plying an honest trade? It is the media that batten on the celebrity they create.

Good eaters will remain sceptical. Emile just did his stuff. He did not have Trimbach on his back. And he was not promoting a thing.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?