Mr Etchells first saw the potential of promoting chefs as pop stars in 1988, when he organised a trade show for restaurants; and he launched the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC in Birmingham in 1991. His chefs have been so successful that, for next week's event, American Express is forking out pounds 100,000 to build a 1,000-seat theatre in which the most popular chefs will perform.
The Gary Rhodes show will begin with a three-minute excerpt from his forthcoming TV series, Rhodes Around Britain, and is likely to end with a backstage autograph session. As Mr Etchells points out: 'Chefs have become very good at presenting themselves these days. Brian Turner, for instance, is a real pro.'
Mr Turner, chairman of the British branch of the Academic Culinaire association of professional chefs and a rising star of TV and radio, will be in the theatre on Thursday at 6.30pm. He will be joined by his regular sidekick, Antony Worrall- Thompson, and Alastair Little, for what Mr Etchells describes as 'a three-way, all-star celebrity cooking session'.
Admission to the show costs pounds 8, seats in the Top Chefs theatre pounds 5. Bookings: 071-373 8141.
AS READERS of this page will know, today is Potato Day at Royton Organic Gardens. Next week, however, the version of the spud that we like best will be celebrated in the second annual Chip Week, co-ordinated by the Frozen Food Information Service with help from the Potato Marketing Board. The Gastropod is grateful to both for providing the following information: two households in five buy frozen chips every fortnight; we spend more than pounds 213m on frozen chips each year; and each of us consumes annually the equivalent of one gigantic frozen chip, 4ft wide and 66ft tall.
CAROLYN COLLINS is a former artist, hairdresser and dog-sled racer who also liked to go fishing on Lake Michigan. She ended up curing the roe from her catch to make caviare, and over the past 10 years has popularised all kinds of roes that do not come from the Caspian Sea, including varieties of freshwater sturgeon such as bowfin, paddlefish and hackleback, which are black and salty and a darn sight cheaper than beluga.
Ms Collins's caviare is a cult in Chicago, where Gary Levy, a chef from Barnes, south-west London, first encountered it. Last week at his restaurant, The Stable, he served a vodka-infused whitefish caviare with celery; tagliatelle made with lobster roe; and corn- and-crab pancakes topped with a dollop of ginger caviare.
Best of all was the Lone Star caviare - smoked bowfin roe flavoured with liquefied chillies - served on a piece of tuna sashimi on pumpernickel. This rare delicacy is not easily available as yet, but Mr Levy is co-ordinating imports and can be contacted at his restaurant on 081-876 1855.
THE CHEZ GERARD group, which operates seven restaurants in London, including Soho Soho and Bertorelli's, is about to launch itself on the Stock Exchange - to raise money for some more. In the meantime, this most idiosyncratic of companies is experimenting with a couple of novel promotions. During the Piscean festival at Cafe Fish, which goes on until the sun moves into Aries on 20 March, a complimentary glass of champagne will be offered to anyone who can prove they are a Pisces or books a table under a fishy-sounding surname. Will any Whitings, Salmons, Pikes or Basses take the bait?