THE GASTROPOD is hugely amused to notice that the Consumers' Association is openly advertising for a new editor for the Good Food Guide, some two months after this column revealed that the job had been anonymously offered through a recruitment agency, without informing the incumbent, Tom Jaine. After weeks of speculation, we are no nearer to knowing who will accede to the title of Public Stomach No 1.

Despite the quality and volume of the applications, it seems that the round of interviews, conducted in strict secrecy, has turned out to be inconclusive. Or perhaps the most suitable candidates declined to take on the task, once they realised how much work and how little pay it entails.

The new advertisement indicates a philosophical split between the powers that be at the association who, having putsched Mr Jaine, are unable to decide on the style of his successor. Should they appoint another academic food enthusiast in the 40-year tradition of the guide, as established by Raymond Postgate (the original Public Stomach)? Or should they go for someone with a more popular approach.

To weigh the alternatives, one need look no further than the introductory articles to next year's recently published edition of the guide.

On the one hand, Andrew Jefford, wine correspondent of the London Evening Standard, contributes a learned article about which wines to drink; on the other, freelance writer Elizabeth Carter reports on the French anti-smoking law and its implications for British restaurants.

No doubt Mr Jefford and Ms Carter, both of whom were widely tipped as contenders for the job, are disappointed by the latest developments, but it does leave the field wide open to all- comers. Any who feel themselves qualified and fancy their chances as editor of the guide are advised that the closing date for applications is next Friday.

IF THE Consumers' Association is stumped, perhaps it should consider approaching the elusive Bernard Branco, managing editor of the rival Hotels and Restaurants - Egon Ronay's Cellnet Guide 1994.

It is now a year since the Gastropod remarked that no independent witness had actually met Mr Branco, and suggested that he does not actually exist; rather, that he is merely a figment of Roy Ackerman's imagination.

Mr Ackerman's company, Leading Guides, publishes Egon Ronay's guide, although Mr Ackerman himself does not apparently have anything to do with it editorially. Instead, he prefers to publish a colourful and critically lightweight guidebook under his own name.

Encountering Mr Ackerman at the launch of his guide, the Gastropod remarked on the continued low profile of his associate, Mr Branco, who failed to show his face at the launch of the latest edition of the Ronay guide.

Mr Ackerman responded by expressing his regret that Mr Branco is so shy, but denied that he is bogus and issued an invitation to meet him in person over lunch in Paris. Ready when you are, Mr Ackerman]

WHEN Joanna Blythman wrote about Duchy Originals on these pages back in May, sales doubled overnight and have remained at that level ever since. The organic oaten biscuits from the Prince of Wales's Home Farm estate in Gloucestershire have proved to be so popular that demand has outstripped supply and, the Gastropod can reveal, a second variety of the biscuit has been


Although the prince's miller is being remarkably taciturn on the subject, the Pod is reliably informed that Duchy Originals No 2, a wheaten biscuit flavoured with ginger, will be making its discreet debut at the better class of provisioners within the next couple of weeks.

IT MAY BE broadly true to state that Balti cooking is a speciality of the East, but the Gastropod was under the impression that the particular part of the Orient where Balti was developed is the eastern suburbs of Birmingham, around Sparkhill. It was there that the Pakistani community established Indian restaurants quite different from the Bengali-run tandoori houses common across the rest of the country.

The typical Brummie Balti house is distinguished by a long menu, listing obsessive permutations of kitchen-sink curries, served by the bucketful with vast naan breads to sop up the sauce. Its principal virtue is low, low prices.

According to Pat Chapman of the Curry Club, however, Balti cooking has a long and honourable history that stretches all the way back to Baltistan, a Himalayan mountain region of Kashmir. The balti, ancestor of the Chinese wok and elsewhere called a karahi, is a wide, high utensil with handles on each side, in which food can be quickly cooked and conveniently served.

As the author of the Balti Curry Cookbook (Piatkus, pounds 12.99), Mr Chapman can claim to be the principal expert on the cuisine in this country, and is quite well aware of how popular Balti has become. His book has been reprinted four times in six months, and so far has sold about 25,000 copies.

Now he has been hired as a consultant to a chain of nine Indian restaurants in the London suburbs and Surrey, which is bringing the Balti craze south.

The Haweli group aims to de-Brummify the Balti experience with a rigid insistence on using only freshly ground spices, serving the dishes in customised baltis and charging rather more than Adil's in Balsall Heath could get away with.

SUPERFICIALLY, the Best of Chef may seem to offer a good deal to ambitious cooks looking for some professional pointers. The perfectly bound, glossy, sloppily produced magazine is a compilation of the highlights of the Chef supplement, which is published 10 times a year with the weekly trade magazine, Caterer & Hotelkeeper.

In fact, the Gastropod feels that nearly four quid is far too much to charge for a compendium of second-hand, out-of-date articles, whose authors (including the Pod in another guise) have not been paid a re-publication fee. Nor received so much as a complimentary copy.