I had a contemplative Sunday yesterday, because until I opened The Observer I didn’t know that Egon Ronay had died. When I learned that, it certainly brought back memories.
The first time I saw Egon Ronay in action was when I was about eight years old. It was a Sunday afternoon at my grandparents’ house, the telly was on, and my brother and I were glued to it while the adults slumped on the sofas making small talk.
I can’t remember what we were watching. It could have been a holiday show. However, it’s more than likely to have been Masterchef, which was staple Sunday afternoon viewing at that time. Masterchef also happened to be one of our favourite comedy programmes, firstly for its hilarious opening sequence of an egg being cracked in slow motion into a bowl of flour (which we liked to record on VCR and rewind…), secondly for Lloyd Grossman’s double whammy of silly name and sillier accent, and thirdly for the way the judges admired the painstakingly poised food for a brief moment before thoroughly demolishing it, eating one spoonful, and leaving it behind, razed to the ground. The audacity.
It’s not important how or why Egon Ronay had a slot on whichever show it was: what caught my attention was his job title. (His name too, in all honesty. But mostly his job title.) At that age, I was constantly being asked what I wanted to do when I grew up. Up until then I’d answered firmly that I wanted to be a waitress, because I loved the black dress and frilly pinny I’d seen on the French serveuses in ‘Allo allo. I hadn’t thought beyond that, except for the fact that I also wanted to read Enid Blyton at university.
(I wrote this in July 2008. Unfortunately, funds didn’t stretch to my own analysis of which is the world’s best restaurant.)
Best Restaurant awards generate as much hyperbole as they do consternation. As awards and accolades become more commonplace, what’s the point in point scoring, who’s counting – and who are the real winners?
FOODIE LEGEND has it that when then Restaurant editor Thom Hetherington went for an after-work drink with his mates one evening, the conversation turned, inevitably, to eating out. Soon the friends were involved in a passionate debate about which restaurant was the best in the world.
Hetherington, renowned for his maverick style and originality, decided to run a light-hearted round up of the top fifty candidates in his magazine. Grabbing a discarded cigarette packet, he jotted down the list as the rankings were settled.
Spanish chef Ferran Adrià’s restaurant El Bullí came out on top. The list, published in 2002, was seized upon greedily by the press. It still provokes excitement, derision, incredulity and fierce debate seven years on.
“They sent out a press release and people stupidly believed this kind of nonsense,” explains Guy Dimond, editor of the restaurant section of London’s Time Out. “People don’t think of the criteria of how it’s judged. There’s no substance to it. It got Restaurant magazine tonnes of publicity. And the next year they thought ‘oh my God, we’d better do it properly’.”
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Tagged awards, best restaurant, blog, Chez Bruce, Egon Ronay, El Bullí, Fat Duck, Gourmet Garden, Guy Dimond, Harden's, Jay Rayner, restaurant, Restaurant magazine, Sat Bains, The Observer, Time Out