Waiter, is that a male hormone in my soup? Egon Ronay condemns 'testosterone-driven' chefs

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Indy Lifestyle Online

When he arrived in post-war Britain from Budapest in the 1950s, Egon Ronay found the country in the culinary dark ages. Through his pioneering restaurant guides and by serving such dishes as paté de campagne and bouillabaisse he helped changed a nation's eating habits.

When he arrived in post-war Britain from Budapest in the 1950s, Egon Ronay found the country in the culinary dark ages. Through his pioneering restaurant guides and by serving such dishes as paté de campagne and bouillabaisse he helped changed a nation's eating habits.

But as he prepares to relaunch the eponymous guide after an eight-year absence, Ronay has declared that some of the country's brightest young chefs have strayed too far from tradition.

In the foreword to Egon Ronay's RAC Guide to the Top 200 Restaurants in the UK, he writes: "The most striking characteristic of restaurant fare in Britain today is what I can only describe as testosterone-driven cooking.

"During the past few years there has been a remarkable proliferation of very able young British cooks, not yet out of their twenties, and the great majority seem to have a passionate and understandable urge to break through traditional culinary barriers.

"But there is another side to such revolutionary zeal. Unfortunately it sometimes looks more like hubris when the result arrives on your plate and you rush back to the menu in order to discover precisely what it was you ordered."

The broadside has been interpreted as a thinly disguised attack on Britain's most famous exponent of "molecular gastronomy", Heston Blumenthal, chef and proprietor of The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire.

Molecular gastronomy applies chemistry, physics and other scientific principles to the preparation of food. It enables Blumenthal to conjure such dishes as bread ice-cream, crab syrup, smoked bacon and egg ice-cream, oysters with passion fruit jelly and sorbet of sardine on toast. The phrase was coined in France and the experimental cuisine has been developed in the El Bulli restaurant of chef Ferram Adria, near Barcelona.

Despite a string of accolades for The Fat Duck - including three Michelin stars - its menu drew some harsh comments from Mr Ronay's new guide. While praising some dishes, it says Mr Blumenthal "is possessed of an urge to indulge in gastronomic eccentricity".

Oliver Peyton, of the Atlantic Bar and Grill in London, said: "I sort of agree with him. The problem is that in this country, because of a lack of culinary tradition, a lot of chefs think they are greater than they are.

"It's because we don't have the same depth of knowledge of food and we don't go through the same gastronomic hurdles as France, for example. I don't think there is any harm in experimenting, but to have everybody experimenting would be grim. There's a place for experimentation but there's a place for traditional, sound cooking as well.

"Food in this country is going through a big metamorphosis. You can't have great restaurants without great farms and the farms are beginning to realise restaurants want small amounts of high-quality food. When Britain develops deeper roots to its cuisine then perhaps there will be fewer chefs who are ready and willing to take on pretensions."

But Richard Harden, editor of the Harden's guides, said: "Heston Blumenthal is the most polarising of chefs in the UK. There are sensitive and intelligent people who think he is great. There is clearly a view that someone who has been in the restaurant business for the last 50 years might be a bit reactionary.

"My view is that there are not many chefs trying to do things that are extraordinary. What strikes me is that there is a lack of experimentation and a fixed roster of foods that are considered suitable."

In the new Ronay guide, there are just three restaurants given the highest rating. Special praise went to Hibiscus in Ludlow, Shropshire, which was named Restaurant of the Year. The guide describes Claude Bosi, chef and co-owner of Hibiscus, as "one of the great cooking talents in Britain".

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