THE LATEST food craze to sweep Japan, following steaks and burgers, is vegetable broth. A book called How To Become Healthy with Vegetable Stock, on the bestseller lists since April, catapulted its author, Kazu Tateishi, to celebrity as the country's leading health guru - at least for a while.

Tateishi claimed that drinking a simple vegetable stock made from carrot, white daikon, shiitake mushrooms and burdock root could prevent cancer, cure diabetes, reduce blood pressure and even alleviate the symptoms of a hangover. A tinned version of his miraculous broth became an instant hit when launched in the spring and its manufacturers expect to sell 300m yen-worth ( pounds 2m) by the end of the summer.

It appears, however, that Tateishi has overreached himself. Sceptics challenged his claim that the soup had made his bones so strong that a four-ton truck could run over him, leaving only a faint imprint of tyre tread. Established medical opinion sharply contradicted his contention that the soup kills cancer cells within three hours of being consumed. Hiroshi Maeda, a professor at Kumamoto University's medical school in southern Japan, described Tateishi's claims succinctly as 'insane'.

The final straw came when patients who had paid Tateishi for private consultations read in a magazine article that he has no medical training and that, before becoming a health guru, he made his living as a taxi driver. Now Tateishi has been imprisoned for fraud.

THE GASTROPOD salutes 11- year-old Eleanor Woodcock of Carlisle and 15-year-old Sally Vieweg from Rayleigh in Essex, who are the Young Organic Cooks of the Year.

The competition, organised by the Henry Doubleday Research Association, attracted hundreds of entries from children who were required to demonstrate some understanding of what organic food is, as well as create a recipe. Five finalists were invited to a cook-off.

Eleanor made a cheese souffle using free-range eggs from her own hens, because she thinks battery cages are cruel. Sally, who describes herself as 'an ardent vegetarian', made layered pancakes filled with mushroom and onion and served with spiced cauliflower because, she says, she thought it would appeal to non-veggies, too.

ALTHOUGH there is no requirement to use organic produce, the Egon Ronay's Guides Chef of the Year contest is a rather more demanding test of culinary skill.

Jean Christophe Novelli, chef at London's Four Seasons restaurant and haute cuisine's answer to Eric Cantona, went into the final as strong favourite, but appears to have let himself down badly with his pre-match preparation.

Nigel Haworth, chef/proprietor of Northcote Manor in Lancashire, won the first prize, a new car - which was just as well since his old one conked out on the way to the competition. Novelli had passed the previous evening talking tactics with Brian Turner, chairman of the Academie Culinaire and proud owner of what may well be the most potent collection of cognac in the country.

Despite this handicap, Novelli still managed second place and can console himself with a cheque for pounds 1,500.

THE FIERY Frenchman (Novelli, not Cantona) had no better luck when he turned out to play for Cutty Catering, fishmonger to the stars, in a charity football match against Quaglino's. After a hard game, the final score was four-all and about pounds 2,000 was raised for Leukaemia Research, but Novelli left the field with his arm in a sling.

None the less, the day was declared a great success and the Cutty crew are determined to organise a five-a-side inter-restaurant football tournament to be held in September. Anyone wishing to take part should contact Tony Allen at Cutty on 071-358 1617.