The Fork in the Road: Clare Smyth

In the latest of a series of interviews with top chefs for The Caterer, in which I examine the turning points that led them on their path to success, Clare Smyth talks about her journey to becoming the UK’s first three-Michelin-starred female chef

7718153Things happen by chance, and it just so happened that when I was 14 and working at a local restaurant in Northern Ireland, my head chef gave me a book on classical sauces. It was this book that ignited my interest in reading about fine food. It spurred me on to read more and more cookbooks and ultimately led me on my path to becoming a chef.

The very first cookbook I bought for myself was Anton Mosimann’s Cuisine à la Carte. From there I went on to read the Roux brothers and the more I read, the more I came to understand what fine dining was. That really inspired me and made me realise I wanted to be a chef at the top level.

As soon as I left school, I went to England to go to Highbury College in Portsmouth. I got an apprenticeship and worked four days a week at Grayshott Health Spa in Surrey. I was lucky enough to have a great mentor there and I remember him being really surprised by my knowledge given my young age. But everything I knew, I had learned from books.

After working at Bibendum and the St Enodoc hotel in Rock, Cornwall, for a while, I decided to go Australia for six months and did a number of stages at restaurants around Sydney. When I returned to the UK, I knew I wanted to get into a top kitchen. I applied for positions at most of the two- and three-Michelin-starred restaurants and did trials at the Fat Duck, the Waterside Inn, Le Gavroche and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, which had just got its third star. I knew from the moment I set foot in the kitchen that it was the place for me. I felt like I belonged right from the start.

It was by far the toughest kitchen I had ever been in. Gordon was there every day and the standards were incredibly high. It was like a military operation and almost like boot camp; you were either good enough or you weren’t. But I had expected it to be hard and that’s why I went there: I wanted to learn from the best. I loved the discipline; there was an energy about it that was just incredible and I knew that if I could handle it and thrive in this tough environment, I would be good enough to make it one day.

WORKING WITH ALAIN DUCASSE
After three-and-a-half years and working my way up from demi chef de partie to senior sous chef, I decided that I wanted to go and work in another three-star kitchen. One of the chefs I had always been drawn to was Thomas Keller, so I went to the US and did stages at Per Se and the French Laundry in 2004. After that, I knew I had to go and work with Alain Ducasse and I managed to beg my way into the kitchen at Le Louis XV in Monaco.

Working at Louis XV was the second biggest turning point in my career. Again, right from the moment I arrived, I knew it was where I was meant to be. I stayed for 18 months and it was an amazing place to work and a completely different environment from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. The head chef, Franck Cerutti, was a really happy, gentle soul who would come into the kitchen every day with a big smile on his face. He was as passionate as Gordon during service – especially when something went wrong – but he was just a totally different spirit and very much himself all the time.

The brigade was much bigger, with 26 chefs, but we were like a big family and I’m still in touch with many of the chefs I worked with back then. The produce was phenomenal and some of the finest I have ever worked with to this day. And while the cooking was very, very classical in its roots and most things were cooked à la minute, the simplicity but precision of the cooking, coupled with the passion for the product, was simply incredible.

7718152RETURNING TO LONDON
When Alain opened his restaurant at the Dorchester in London, he offered me the position of executive sous chef. But at the same time, Gordon was opening his restaurant in Paris and asked me to come back to Royal Hospital Road as head chef. It was a difficult decision to make, but I knew I had to take the head chef position with Gordon – it was too good an opportunity to pass on. Alain was very angry when I told him and I remember feeling down about having upset the best chef in the world. But then one of the other chefs said: “You’ve just been offered jobs by two of the best chefs in the world – you have nothing to be down about!”

Until I started at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, I didn’t quite understand what would happen and the amount of pressure I would find myself under. I was the first woman in the UK to head up a three-Michelin-starred kitchen, so there was a lot of interest from the media. I knew there was also a chance I could be the first woman in the UK to lose three stars. I was never really confident about retaining the stars and it was something I was very nervous about for a long time.

I didn’t take holiday for the first two years, as I was so determined to make sure that every single plate of food that left the pass was right. It wasn’t until a few years after retaining the three stars that I started to feel comfortable. I slowly managed to find the confidence to put my own touch on the restaurant, to make changes and evolve things. When I became chef-patron in 2012, I began to feel like I could own the three stars.

Now, after eight years at the helm, I feel like I have done most things I could have done. I have been awarded an MBE, received five AA rosettes, three Michelin stars, won Chef of the Year and achieved 10/10 in the Good Food Guide. But on a personal level, I have a lot more I want to achieve. That’s why I am opening my own restaurant.

The Fork in the Road: Alain Roux

This is the first of a series of articles I have been commissioned to write for The Caterer, in which I trace a successful chef’s career path to the top: Three-Michelin-starred Alain Roux, son of Michel and chef patron of the Waterside Inn, talks about his route to join his family’s culinary dynasty.

7715598I made the decision to become a chef when I was 14. My parents were divorced and I lived with my mother in France, so I didn’t spend a lot of time with my dad when I was growing up. I only saw him during the school holidays when I would come to the UK and follow him around everywhere. He was all about work and I remember, during one of my holidays, spending a few days in the kitchen at Le Gavroche when it was on Lower Sloane Street. I wasn’t really working, but more observing the action, watching my father and uncle work.

Seeing them in the heat of the kitchen definitely inspired me to want to become a chef. In some ways it was probably also a subconscious decision to get closer to my father but, more than anything, I got the feeling of the team spirit that exists not just in the kitchen but front of house, too. It’s like a family.

MY FIRST MENTOR
The first real turning point for me came after dad arranged for me to begin my training in pastry in France. I started at Pâtisserie Millet in Paris under Denis Ruffel, who was my tutor when I was just 16. When I think about my career now, I realise that what shaped me more than anything else was this beginning and training under Denis – he was truly exceptional. His capability as a pastry chef as well as a cook and a mentor had a huge impact on me.

He taught me everything there was to know. It wasn’t just about pastry but also about cooking savoury dishes. From him I learned all the basics of French cooking. I discovered all the ingredients and different techniques through trying different recipes. It was very hard work, being locked up in a small, hot basement in front of the three-decker oven cooking a few hundred trays of bread or viennoiserie. But he somehow gave me my love for the job.

He also really pushed me with my studies. I was training at a specialised pastry college at the same time as working for him and he helped me not only to pass my exam – which was the first exam I ever passed in my life – but also get a very good mark for it. Denis
Ruffel made me progress and gave me my love of the whole business of cooking. But he also built up my confidence by making me aware of what to expect, and helping me understand that it’s all about hard work and the relationships between people.

From there, I went on to work at five Relais & Châteaux restaurants: Maison Pic, Le Domaine d’Orvault, La Bonne Etape, Château de Montreuil and La Côte Saint-Jacques, and I did my military service at the Élysée Palace. All the places I worked at during my eight years in France were very different but also similar in many ways as they were all family-run. Some were one-star Michelin, others were three-star, and the brigades varied from five to 50 or 60 chefs. I really loved working at all these places and meeting all these wonderful people who were so in love with their trade; each chef I worked under was so different from the next and I learned so much from all of them.

7715602JOINING THE WATERSIDE INN
Then dad told me that it was time for me to get ready to come and work with him. I was happy that he hadn’t forgotten about me and was keen for me to come back. It made me feel privileged and proud. This was to be the second biggest turning point in my life.

I joined the Waterside Inn in 1992. Mark Dodson was the head chef at the time and I started at the bottom of the ladder. I had never worked with dad before then, so it was a strange experience and very daunting at first. We didn’t know each other all that well, having spent so much time apart when I was younger. I knew I had to prove myself because ultimately one of two things would happen: either I would learn, work my way up the ranks and open my own restaurant with dad’s support; or I would take over the business.

There were some really tough moments during the first few years. The Waterside Inn is unique – it is small but very busy and when you have to do things to the standard of three Michelin stars for so many people, it is very challenging both mentally and physically. I could hardly speak English and I had so much to learn, but at the same time I had eight years in France under my belt, so starting again at the bottom was tough for me even though I was only 23. It felt like I was taking three steps back. Some of the chefs felt threatened by me because my name was Roux, but dad was very old-fashioned in his way of working and he was treating me like everyone else. Of course, that was fair enough – but as a son it probably wasn’t the best environment to get to know my dad.

At the end of 2001, Mark Dodson left and I became joint chef-patron. We decided then that it was time for dad to pull out and for me to take over. It was very scary; it was a big new start and a huge challenge that was intimidating, but also exciting. I knew I would either make it or fail.

Thomas Keller apologises after Per Se disappoints New York Times food critic

12621998_975256932557275_8230811442901115718_oThomas Keller has today issued an apology for failing to meet the high standards he and his team are committed to providing to their guests at his New York restaurant Per Se.

The apology comes after New York Times food critic Pete Wells panned the three-Michelin-starred restaurant in a review earlier this month, awarding Per Se just two out of five stars.

In some of his most acerbic comments Wells declared Per Se’s tasting menu “among the worst food deals in New York”; compared a mushroom broth to “bong water”; called overcooked lobster “gristle of the sea”; and pronounced the waiting staff as “oddly unaccommodating”.

Here’s Keller’s response:

To our Guests:

At all of our restaurants, in our kitchens and dining rooms, we make every effort to provide you with the best possible experience. We consider it our professional responsibility to ensure that every one of you feels special and cared for. To us, it is imperative that we improve and evolve every day. We constantly examine ourselves, our menu, our service and our standards.

Regretfully, there are times when we do not meet those standards. The fact that The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells’ dining experiences at Per Se did not live up to his expectations and to ours is greatly disappointing to me and to my team. We pride ourselves on maintaining the highest standards, but we make mistakes along the way. We are sorry we let you down.

We are not content resting on what we did yesterday. We believe we can do better for ourselves, our profession and most importantly our guests. We have the opportunity, the tools, the self-motivation and the dedication to do so.

When we fall short, we work even harder. We are confident that the next time you visit Per Se or any of our other restaurants, our team will deliver a most memorable experience.

— Thomas Keller, Chef / Proprietor

El Celler de Can Roca’s ‘Cooking Up a Tribute’ to premier at the Berlin film festival

Below is the trailer to ‘Cooking Up a Tribute’, a documentary film showcasing brothers Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca, owners of the three-Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, and their decision to close their restaurant for five weeks and go on a road tour.

Directed by Luis González, the film recounts a tour which last summer travelled to six cities – Houston, Dallas, Mexico City, Monterrey, Bogotá and Lima – in four countries in the Americas to prepare nearly 50,000 dishes for more than 2,700 people. Up to 56 new and different dishes were created and adapted to Texan, Mexican, Colombian and Peruvian cuisine. Some 200 ingredients and 29 wines were used for each menu in each country.

In addition, the Roca brothers trained more than 7,000 cooking students and selected 13 of them to receive a training scholarship at the kitchen of El Celler de Can Roca, which is currently ranked number two in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Joan Roca said: “For us, this crazy decision has meant weighing the anchor of our restaurant for the first time in search of the mild weather of the South and making our dreams come true in real gastronomic paradises. We have enjoyed an extraordinary professional and personal experience, which has been intellectually rewarding and allowed us to grow as a team.”

Josep Roca added: “This tour has been a real challenge, a bold decision, an act of courage draped in responsibility and code of ethics. An opportunity to continue to learn, seek inspiration and be true to the training we have received and we can share with so many catering students in the places we visited,” explained Josep Roca.

And Jordi Roca said: “With enthusiasm, willingness to learn and much modesty, and above all, as a professional and personal challenge, we have taken our entire team to another continent. Latin America has a dream store cupboard of fruit, spices and, obviously, the best cocoa in the world. It’s been a real inspiration.”

‘Cooking Up a Tribute’, produced by BBVA will premier at the Berlin International Film Festival on 10 February.

Chef profile: Ludo Lefebvre

This is an extract from an article I wrote for The Caterer. You can read the full version by visiting thecaterer.com

Displaying ludo8small.jpg

Ludo Lefebvre is pretty badass. With his full-sleeve tattoos, pierced ears, scruffy facial hair and sly smile, he epitomises the rock ‘n’ roll chef. But the surly exterior is misleading and underneath he’s surprisingly mellow, easy to talk to, honest and fun.

He doesn’t hold back, doesn’t care too much about saying the wrong thing and, refreshingly, doesn’t take himself too seriously either. There’s no trail of emails from his publicist demanding questions in advance, there’s nothing he refuses to discuss, and we’re given a generous four hours for the interview and photo shoot – an eternity in Los Angeles celebrity terms.

We meet at Trois Mec, his restaurant in Hollywood that has taken LA by storm. Voted by Zagat as one of the 10 hottest restaurants in the world right now, it may be a far cry from the temples of haute cuisine Lefebvre grew up with, but by breaking all the rules of what a high-end restaurant should be, it is right at the forefront of a new movement of fine dining that is redefining LA’s restaurant scene.

Trois Mec, French for three dudes, opened last April in collaboration with Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, two of the LA restaurant community’s biggest names, who together run Animal and Son of a Gun. Trois Mec is a mainstream restaurant with the sense of a secret underground supper club. Hidden away in an inconspicuous strip mall behind a petrol station, it is housed in what was previously a cheap pizza joint. The original yellow ‘Raffallo’s Pizza & Italian Foods’ sign remains, along with a piece of paper stuck to the door stating: “Closed. No more pizza”.

Once inside, however, the remnants of the past are no more and the space is modern, clean and elegant. There are just 24 seats, no tablecloths and a counter lining the open kitchen. You do not reserve a table at Trois Mec – you buy a ticket online at 8am sharp on the alternating Fridays the restaurant releases its tables. Your ticket encompasses the full price of dinner – $97 (£59) per person for a fivecourse set menu, including tax and tip. Wine is paid for on the night, with a full pairing priced at $49 (£30).

Although Trois Mec may seem like it’s trying very hard to be different and trendy, Lefebvre’s reasoning behind the concept makes complete business sense. The ticket system allows the restaurant to control costs (Angelenos are notoriously flaky, but if they’ve paid in advance they’re almost guaranteed to show up) and the strip mall location means low overheads, which allows Lefebvre to make his dinners affordable to a wide audience. “High-end restaurants are expensive and there aren’t enough people to support them. I want to be accessible – I want to cook for everybody,” he says. “Besides, high-end restaurants can be boring, too. These chefs take themselves so seriously; they’re not cooking for their customers, they’re cooking for the press, for Michelin stars. High-end restaurants are vehicles for chefs’ egos. I know that because I have been there too.”

THREE-STAR MENTORS
Lefebvre got his first job in a professional kitchen at 14 and, right from the start, spent his formative years working under some of the most renowned chefs in France. His apprenticeship was spent with Marc Meneau at his then three-Michelin-starred restaurant L’Espérance in Vézelay, Burgundy. From therehe went on to work with Pierre Gagnaire, who first encouraged him to “experiment with spices and unusual flavour combinations”. After serving in the French army as personal chef for the French minister of defence, he joined Alain Passard at L’Arpège.

“All of them were very different,” he says. “Marc Meneau was very classic, Pierre Gagnaire very modern, and Alain Passard, he was the first chef to cook vegetables. Now everyone is doing it. What I learned from all of them was the importance of consistency. Every day is a new day, but the food has to be the same – it has to be as good as the day before. Being creative is easy; being consistent is so difficult. To find the best ingredients every day and to manage your team and get the best out of them, that’s what makes a great chef.” He goes on to say that running a kitchen is much like running an army. There have to be rules in place, he insists, adding that his kitchen at Trois Mec is run in the “traditional French way”. “I am very strict. I push my chefs a lot.”

COMING TO AMERICA
Lefebvre moved to the US in 1996, when former mentor Meneau organised a job as chef de partie at L’Orangerie, one of LA’s, and indeed the country’s, most acclaimed French restaurants. “It was always my dream to live in America,” he says. Despite speaking hardly any English, he was promoted to executive chef within a year and overnight became one of LA’s most celebrated chefs, gaining a reputation for combining old world simplicity with exotic new world flavours.

“It was good and bad,” he says, suddenly looking serious. “I was only 25 and very young in my head. I had so much to learn about life, about food and about how to manage a kitchen. Being a chef is not just about cooking – it’s about being a leader and making an example. It’s about teaching your cooks how to cook. At 25 you don’t know enough about cooking to be responsible for teaching somebody else.” This was followed by two years at Bastide, another of LA’s most distinguished French restaurants, cementing Lefebvre’s status as one of the city’s top chefs after he became the only LA chef to receive the prestigious Mobil Travel Guide Five Star Award at two restaurants.

LUDO BITES
But after Bastide closed for refurbishment, Lefebvre decided not to return and famously became the chef without a restaurant, running a series of pop-ups called Ludo Bites. “The idea came from nowhere,” he shrugs.“I really wanted to buy my own restaurant but it’s very, very difficult. It was very stressful for me to find the right location. Landlords wanted to take advantage of me and everything was very expensive.”

Ludo Bites started after a friend, who owned a bakery-café called Breadbar, asked Lefebvre to help put together a dinner menu. Instead, he took over the space for three months. “It was a big risk for me because it was totally different from the froufrou, high-end restaurants I had come from. It was fun and very accessible, but it was a big challenge for me to get it right,” he says.

The pop-up was a runaway success, dubbed a “transforming moment in the Los Angeles restaurant scene” by the city’s most feared food critic Jonathan Gold. What started as a menu of simple small plates soon evolved into an elaborate chef’s tasting menu and reservations were so sought after, Ludo Bites once crashed the Open Table website. “After the success I realised that the business model was very good for me. It was just like renting an apartment,” Lefebvre says. He continued to run the pop-ups for five years, between 2007 and 2012, in nine different incarnations across LA and once in Hawaii. Ludo Bites was turned into a cookbook, a television show called Ludo Bites America, and an online series called Ludo Baby Bites. Branded the pop-up pioneer, Lefebvre became a celebrity. And after appearing on a number of TV shows, including Top Chef Masters, Hell’s Kitchen and Iron Chef America, he joined the judging panel of ABC’s culinary reality show The Taste, which premiered in the US in January 2013 and in the UK earlier this year.

REDEFINING FINE DINING
Lefebvre has said that his favourite restauant in the UK is Dabbous, and that is probably the closest thing London has to Trois Mec. Like Dabbous, Lefebvre’s food adheres to a philosophy of simplicity where the ingredient is the star of the show. Techniques and theatre happen in the kitchen, but what’s on the plate is understated, delicate, playful, interesting and, most importantly, delicious.

With Lefebvre, a simple plate of potato pulp is elevated with butter, bonito flakes, Salers cheese and onion soubise to delicious effect; a dish comprising thin slices of avocado covering crab ceviche has an intense citrus boost and added crunch from buckwheat popcorn. Service is down-to-earth but informed. Waiters seem to outnumber guests, yet the atmosphere is relaxed, with French rap music in the background. In many ways dining at Trois Mec feels like being a guest at Lefebvre’s home. “I want people to feel like they’re in my house,” he says. “Trois Mec is about hospitality, about looking after the guest. There are too many casual restaurants now and I think people want more refinement.”

Indeed, Trois Mec cleverly embraces the essence of a fine-dining restaurant and combines it with casual dining by rejecting the usual formalities. “With Trois Mec I have the freedom to do what I want,” Lefebvre adds. “Of course I would love to have a Michelin star, but I’m not living by that and I’m certainly not following their rules.” However, he does bemoan Michelin’s absence in LA (the guide discontinued its LA edition in 2009, saying there was no real food culture). “LA has changed so much and there are so many amazing restaurants here now,” he insists. “New York is all about high-end, established restaurants, but LA is all about variety and young chefs and Michelin should be here.”

Lefebvre has a point – LA’s food scene is undergoing a phenomenal awakening and Lefebvre is a driving force who has helped to move it forward. Now chefs like Ari Taymor of Alma, Miles Thompson of Allumette, Josef Centeno at Orsa & Winston and Curtis Stone at Maude are all delivering tasting menus that offer high-quality ingredients and accomplished cooking in an informal setting and at an affordable price. “A year ago nobody was doing tasting menus. Now lots of chefs in LA are doing them,” Lefebvre says. “I guess it’s nice to be copied.”

This article was first published by The Caterer. Please visit thecaterer.com to read the full version.

Massimo Bottura opens Ristorante Italia in Istanbul

Picture by Oliviero Toscani

Picture by Oliviero Toscani

Three-Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana in Modena today opens his first restaurant outside of Italy: Ristorante Italia in the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul.

The new restaurant, located in the residential Besiktas neighbourhood on the top floor of Eataly, brings together traditional Italian flavours and contemporary cooking techniques.  Bottura has reworked 100 classic Italian recipes from across the country, recreating iconic Italian dishes such as Mozzarella in Carrozza, Spaghetti Cetarese, Bollito Misto and Tiramisu.

Ristorante Italia will not use top imported Italian products but also source many of its ingredients from Turkey and take advantage of Eataly’s in-house dairy production.

Interiors of the restaurant feature lighting by Davide Groppi, leather upholstered chairs by Poltrona Frau and lounge furniture from Bottega Veneta’s exclusive home collection. To complete the Italian experience, an outdoor cocktail and gelato bar is found on the landscaped dining terrace with furniture and carpeting by designer Paola Lenti. Overlooking the Zorlu center gardens, the terrace looks back to the walk-in cellar and dining room, its walls adorned with a selection of contemporary art curated by Massimo Bottura.

Ristorante Italia di Massimo Bottura
EATALY Istanbul
Zorlu Center
Levazým Mahellesi Koru Sokak no.2
Besiktas
34340 Istanbul
Turkey
reservation@ristoranteitalia.com.tr
Tel: +90 212 336 66 66

Sergio Herman opens new restaurant The Jane in Antwerp

Sergio HermanDutch chef Sergio Herman, who closed his three-Michelin-starred restaurant Oud Sluis last December, is today opening a new restaurant: The Jane in Antwerp.

The new restaurant, which is run by Herman and Nick Bril, who spent three years developing the concept, has a big focus on art and design.

Herman said: “To me, dining out is about more than a plate of fabulous food; the overall restaurant experience has become progressively important in recent years. So it’s not just the dishes that must reflect our vision and our ‘feel’, but everything that surrounds them too, from the front desk to the tablecloths, the crockery – even the bread baskets. Everything at the Jane was specially made for us. And that takes time.”

The kitchen, which is designed to look like an artist’s studio, is the headed up by Bril, Herman’s former right-hand man at Oud Sluis. The Jane offers both a fixed and an à la carte menu, which feature some of the classic dishes from Oud Sluis. There is also an in-house food and cocktail bar called the Upper Room Bar, which has a separate menu.

Bril said: “It’s hugely exciting to create something new after all those years at Oud Sluis. Naturally I’m shaking like a leaf. But we held a couple of trial dinners last week, and we’re now ready to roll.”

Reservations are now being taken for both the Jane and the Upper Room but don’t get too excited as the restaurant is already fully booked for the next three months.

Herman and Bril created the Jane in partnership with a number of artists, designers and DJs. Interiors were developed by Dutch architects Piet Boon and interior designer René Nijboer, while staff uniforms were made by G-Star, the printed windows were designed by Studio Job and Flemish designer Michaël Verheyden created the accessories, including the leather bread baskets and butter dishes.

Other features include an illuminated neon skull by Kendell Geers from the Walter Vanhaerents Art Collection and an 800kg chandelier with 150 points of light by Lebanese lighting design company .PSLAB.

France welcomes new three-Michelin-star restaurant

france-michelin-2014Michelin has announced its 2014 stars for France and promoted Arnaud Lallement’s Assiette Champenoise in Reims in the Champagne region to three stars.

The move comes after Lallement was named French chef of the year by the Gault & Millau guide last year. The results had been leaked earlier this month by Le Point weekly magazine.

“Three stars is the summit of the culinary art form,” Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guide, said at the release of the guide, praising the “subtle mix of flavours and textures” in Lallement’s dishes.

Meanwhile Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, which previously held three stars has been excluded from this year’s guide as the restaurant is currently closed for refurbishment.

The total number of three-Michelin-starred restaurants in France has therefore remained at 27, more than any other country in Europe but still less than Japan, which has 33.

There are six new two star restaurants in France, including Villa Madie (Cassis), Table du Connétable (Chantilly), Kintessence at Courchevel 1850 (Savoie), Chambard (Kayseberg), Akrame (Paris) and Il Cortile (Mulhouse), where Stefano d’ Onghia has become the first Italian chef to be awarded two Michelin stars in France.

Additionally 57 restaurants celebrated their first Michelin star, bringing the total number of one-star restaurants in France to 504. They included Table d’Uzès, where 25-year-old chef Oscar Garcia has become one of just seven chefs under 30 to win a Michelin star in France.

The Week in Restaurants – news round up

Grant AchatzThree-Michelin-starred chef Grant Achatz (pictured) made headlines this week, after he took to Twitter to question whether a couple bringing their eight-month-old baby to his restaurant Alinea in Chicago was acceptable. His frustrated tweet about the crying infant got such a huge reaction, a national debate erupted and the chef found himself on Good Morning America discussing whether babies should be banned from upscale restaurants altogether.

Here in California, new food safety laws have caused outrage among chefs and bartenders, who are now banned from touching certain foods with their bare hands. While a number of chefs – particularly sushi chefs – have labelled the new regulation ineffective and detrimental to their dishes, bartenders have called it off-putting and less hygienic.

The James Beard Foundation has announced that its 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award will go to iconic New York restaurateur Sirio Maccioni, who opened the legendary Le Cirque in 1974. The annual award is given to a person in the industry whose lifetime body of work has had a positive and long-lasting impact on the way people in America eat, cook, and think about food.

Trois MecEating out guide Zagat unveiled its list of the 10 hottest restaurants in the world right now, which features establishments from across the globe, from Brazil to Singapore. Among them is French restaurant Trois Mec (pictured) in LA, where pre-paid dinner reservation tickets are about as hard to come by as a comment from President Hollande about his alleged affair. It also includes Story in London, where 26-year-old chef Tom Sellers is serving up his exciting menu inspired by the history of England and his personal experiences with produce; and Joshua Skenes’s incredibly expensive Saison in San Francisco where a special tasting menu will set you back $398.

Lanshu Chen of Taichung, Taiwan’s Le Moût has been named Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2014 by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants – even though her restaurant hasn’t yet been included in the list. At Le Moût, which opened in Taiwan in December 2008, Chen has built on her experience in some of the top kitchens of France and America and continues to explore the boundaries of haute French cuisine and its place in Taiwan’s growing gastronomic scene. She will be presented with her award next month.

David_ThompsonMeanwhile Thai food aficionado David Thompson (pictured), who formerly ran the Michelin-starred Nahm in London and whose Bangkok outpost is currently ranked number three in the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, is to open Long Chim at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands resort. The chef will take over a space currently occupied by Guy Savoy, with plans to unveil the Thai street food concept, which has plans to be rolled out as a worldwide chain.

In France legendary chef Paul Bocuse, owner of the three-Michelin-starred L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges in Lyon and founder of the world-famous Bocuse d’Or culinary competition, was released from hospital after back surgery. The 87-year-old chef had been hospitalised earlier this month to treat back pains and complications due to Parkinson’s.

Staying in France, the country’s government is aiming to put Burgundy’s vineyards and the entire Champagne sector on the UNESCO world heritage list. The move comes after ministers appeared to snub both wine regions in last year’s nominations round opting instead to put forward 25,000-year-old cave paintings in Chauvet and the volcanoes of the Auvergne.

Gordon-RamsayOn the subject of Champagne, sweary chef Gordon Ramsay (pictured) was stopped by airport customs in Doha after trying to bring a bottle of Dom Pérignon into the Muslim Gulf state. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been stopped by customs,” Ramsay said at a press conference. “The alarm went off and I got called into a little room. So it’s been confiscated – the first time I’ve ever lost a bottle of Dom Pérignon! It was a birthday present from a dear friend.”

In London, erstwhile Ramsay protégé, two-Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing announced that he is to revamp his eponymous restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel into a more informal eatery called Marcus, with a “high-end American” approach to service. “Michelin stars alone don’t fill restaurants anymore,” he told the Times.

Fellow two-Michelin-star restaurant the Greenhouse in London’s Mayfair was celebrating this week after being the only restaurant to be awarded four rosettes from the AA. A further 15 restaurants across England won three rosettes.

White Castle HamburgersAnd finally, back in the US, Time Magazine revealed its list of the 17 most influential burgers, which comes as the result of interviews with burger historians and experts (yes, these are actual jobs) to determine which patties made the biggest impact on the burger industry and the world at large. The top three were made up of the In-N-Out Burger (3); the McDonald’s burger (2); and the White Castle Slider, whose iconic square patty paved the way for the great American burger obsession, Time said.

Beneath the Whites – Massimo Bottura

Massimo Bottura is the chef-patron of the three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, which is currently ranked number three in the S. Pellegrino list of the  World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Undoubtedly one of the foremost ambassadors of modern Italian cuisine, his avant-garde cooking style is influenced as much by the traditions of his native region of Emilia-Romagna as it is by music, art and literature. Here Massimo shares a few thoughts on what inspires his culinary philosophies. 

What’s your earliest food memory?
Hiding, under my grandmother’s table, from my three older brothers’ torments and threats. I found peace at my grandmother’s feet as she rolled out the dough for tortellini, among the smells of broth and roast meats, and silenced by the constant chatting of my grandmother, mother and aunt who prepared meals for the 10 of us every lunch and dinner.

What’s your idea of comfort food?
My grandmother’s tortellini! They are small packages of Emilian flavor perfectly balanced and complete. Traditionally they are served in capon broth but at Osteria Francescana we serve them in a Parmigiano Reggiano sauce made without heavy cream but with water and emulsified Parmigiano Reggiano. We boil the tortellini in capon broth so that they can acquire the flavour of the broth, then dress them with the Parmigiano cream. Delicious! However, we haven’t modified the tortellini just the sauce – I wouldn’t dare change my grandmother’s tortellini filling!

What do you never cook without?
My team. I admire their dedication and loyalty. We are very focused on what we are doing: to achieve pure flavors and long lasting ideas.

Who’s had the biggest influence on your cooking?
Many things have influenced my cooking but of these the most influential are probably my travels, which stain my thoughts and therefore my food; my reflections on my own territory, family and traditions, which influence my choices; and finally contemporary art, which has had a big influence of the way I approach Italian cuisine.

When are you happiest?
Listening to music. I love to listen to vinyl records on my turntable after work. Sometimes jazz, sometimes electronica, and sometimes old classic rock that takes me back in time. The experience of listening to music, especially when you turn out the lights gives me space to think.

If you could travel in time, where would you go?
My speciality as a chef is to revisit traditional recipes and ideas and make them contemporary. If I could travel in time therefore, I would probably like to go back to explore our Italian history. History has placed many layers upon the surface of this country and many cross-cultural influences have left their mark on its cuisine. The better you understand your past the more you can use it to influence your future, or in my case my cooking!

Follow Massimo on Twitter @massimobottura