Dome Watch: Celebrity chefs snub chance to bring posh nosh to the Dome

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The Independent Online
PLANS TO take the Millennium Dome up-market with the launch of Acclaim!, a prestigious restaurant showcasing Britain's top chefs, has already met with a cool response.

Rick Stein, Cornwall's TV chef, will be the first to take part next February, but the Dome authorities are still trying to finalise a high-profile list of names to create a different menu each month.

But Gordon Ramsay, one of only two British chefs (the other is Marco Pierre White) to be awarded two Michelin stars, found the idea of joining forces with his rivals for the sake of the Dome distinctly unappetising. "I can't think of anything worse than having to share the restaurant with 10 other chefs. It wouldn't appeal at all. It all sounds too tacky for me."

Now Dome organisers face the tough task of finding 10 celebrity chefs in the next few weeks willing to involve themselves in a project that doesn't bear their signatures. It seems unlikely so many egos will want to hang out in one kitchen.

Jean-Christophe Novelli, the owner of four restaurants, is more interested in building up his own name. "I have not been asked. Isn't it strictly British? Frankly, even if they did ask I'd say 'no.' I'm dedicating myself to Novelli, to making it the greatest restaurant in London."

Rowley Leigh of Kensington Place wasn't too impressed either. "It's a deeply silly idea. It's like saying, 'Let's produce a novel and get a different author to write each chapter.' "

Still, if they're struggling for names, they could always approach Michael McEnearney, head chef at Notting Hill's cutting-edge eaterie Pharmacy. "It could be interesting", he says cautiously. "I think you'd have to be very varied in your approach. Just because you're using British produce doesn't mean you only have to produce British food. I use local producers but my influences are from around the world."

According to Jonathan Spiers, Acclaim!'s manager, the restaurant will promote British produce, including English wines and cheeses. There basic menus will be priced at pounds 18 for two courses and pounds 22 for three. "The chefs can come along for however many days they want to," he said. "Their main priority is to come up with the menu."

They can also oversee their month's special menu from afar - although that maybe a little too close for some of the country's leading cooks. Since "celebrity" chefs are notoriously committed to creating their own culinary empires, it seems unlikely they'd want to be one of eleven contributing to someone else's. It's hard to imagine Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay sharing the same kitchen - even if there was a month between them.

And equally hard to imagine them voting to share their space in the Dome with other catering outlets: two McDonald's; Harry Ramsden's fish and chips; a juice bar, 'Juicespiration'; the Great American Bagel Factory; Costa; Aroma; a 50-seater Yo! Sushi and the Millennium Pub. With this list, the Dome was in danger of sounding more like a Granada motorway service station food court than a showcase for the next century.

Which is, presumably, why the organisers have such high hopes for Acclaim! Sadly, Mr Leigh and others do not share their enthusiasm. "I really can't think of anything special for their menu," he said, "except, perhaps, a ton of gelignite."