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ANTONY WILD, a director of the East India Company, recently addressed an invited audience in the Nehru Gallery of the Victoria and Albert Museum on 'The Great Earl Grey Tea Mystery'.

According to research commissioned by him, the story put out by the Tea Council to explain how a blend of black tea with oil of bergamot came to be called Earl Grey is probably hogwash. The council says the recipe was brought back from China by the second Earl and sold by his agent to Jackson's of Piccadilly in 1830.

'The commercial importance of proprietary claims to the recipe should not be underestimated,' Mr Wild said. 'World-wide sales, though hard to substantiate, are estimated to be in excess of pounds 70m a year. There is a great marketing edge to be derived from claiming unique original proprietorship of the blend.'

The market for Earl Grey is dominated by Jackson's and Twining's. The fifth Earl endorsed Jackson's trademark applications, but the sixth Earl, the present one, has endorsed Twining's product, saying it has been enjoyed in his family for generations.

The original East India Company, which introduced tea drinking to the English- speaking world and enjoyed a virtual monopoly on tea imports until 1832, was never registered as a company under that name. So there was nothing to stop an East India Company being formed in 1987; and it will be marketing its own 'Staunton' Earl Grey, flavoured with Neroli oil (made from pressed orange-flowers), first in expensive caddies in time for Christmas, but eventually in tea-bags.

Mr Wild believes the blend of black tea and bergamot was first popularised in Britain by an old China hand named Staunton at about the time that Earl Grey was masterminding the passage of the 1832 Reform Act through Parliament. He says: 'The identification of his name with the tea may have been a simple sales ploy, one which in modern marketing- speak 'rebranded the product to target a growing ABC1 consumer market'.'

HUNDREDS of guests crowded into Langan's Brasserie last Sunday. They assumed they were there simply to toast the achievements of Albert and Michel Roux: the quarterly lunch of the Academie Culinaire had been given over to a celebration of the silver jubilee of Le Gavroche, which the brothers opened 25 years ago on the Lower Sloane Street site now occupied by Gavvers.

The brothers operate the only two restaurants in Britain to rate three Michelin stars, and have developed a double act which is the funniest thing on television since The Two Ronnies. Just about every Michelin-starred chef on earth came to Langan's, and towards the end of the afternoon they understood the real reason for the gathering: as Albert was finishing his speech of thanks, Michael Aspel stepped forward with his big red book . . .

IN THE green-room at LWT's Teddington studios for the filming of This Is Your Life was an ample supply of Laurent- Perrier and a buffet laid on by Antony Worrall-Thompson, the man who takes ubiquity too far. Not content with running two trendy London restaurants, dell'Ugo and Bistrot 190, AWT has now transformed the formerly swanky basement of the restaurateurs' club at 190 Queen's Gate into an informal fish restaurant called Downstairs at One Ninety.

Last week at a shindig hosted by the US embassy and billed as 'Civilised Wines of the Wild West', a bevy of Napa Valley vintners were dispensing samples. The Gastropod grabbed a glass and headed across the garden for what the invitation called 'high-falutin' grub' - only to be confronted yet again by AWT.

Of all the barbecues in all the gardens in the free world, what could he be doing at such an all-American event? 'Spiced pork with barbecued potatoes and pickled eggplant,' replied the cuddly cook in his distinctive Lancastrian accent.

FURTHER to Joanna Blythman's eulogising about dried cherries in these pages a couple of weeks ago, Delia Halpern of Halpern Enterprises, 301 Euston Road, London NW1 3SS, has written to advise us that she has a mail-order business dealing in unsulphured exotic dried fruits and sells cherries for pounds 10 a pound.

Diana Shaw writes from Milan to tell us that dried cherries were first produced for mass- marketing in the United States by Pam and Guy Auld, who can supply several varieties by post. Write to Chukar Cherries, 306 Wine Country Road, Prosser, Washington, US.

THE Gastropod is proud to be a member of the Confrerie du Franc-Pineau, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of Pineau des Charentes, the sweet, fortified wine from the Cognac region. Enrolment involves a bizarre ceremony conducted by men in tricorn hats and the award of a magnificent medallion. Once a year we Chevaliers get together; the annual dinner was held last week at Vintner's Hall in the City of London. We enjoyed pate de foie gras in aspic made with Pineau rose, turbot with a Pineau sauce and pears poached in Pineau. Then the business was conducted: this year's Pineau Bursary.

The award for the best work in spreading the word about the wonders of Pineau went jointly to Nick Mendes, who writes under the convincingly Gallic pseudonym Philippe Boucheron for the Birmingham Sketch, and Vanessa Greatorex of the Management Retirement Guide.

Andrew Jefford of the London Evening Standard won the bursary last year and was therefore ineligible for the 1992 award. However, the Gastropod feels he deserves recognition for a piece about Pineau in the Standard earlier this year, which included the fascinating nugget of information that the good people of Cognac are colloquially called cagouillards after a particularly corpulent and slothful variety of vineyard snail.

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