The business case for celebrity chefs

04 June 2010 by
The business case for celebrity chefs

This week, David Nicholls casts light on his role as corporate director of food and beverage for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.

It's a job that puts him in regular contact with some of the greatest chefs in the world.

Hotel groups have long looked to star chefs to add weight to their food and beverage operations, and it's an approach to which Nicholls evidently subscribes.

By year's end, his group's London property will boast offerings from Daniel Boulud and Heston Blumenthal - the latter's first foray out of his Bray stronghold. Elsewhere, Pierre Gagnaire, Carme Ruscalleda and Vineet Bhatia have put their names to other Mandarin Oriental hotel restaurants.

Both parties stand to gain from the marriage of convenience between chef and hotel.

For the chef, assuming control of a hotel's dining room offers a chance to work in a prime location with a ready-made clientele and low capital costs.

For the hotel, having a feted chef's name over the door injects glamour into the site, draws non-resident visitors, generates valuable PR and secures expertise to maximise the potential of its food offering.

Not all hoteliers are fans of the outsourcing route, though. Kit Chapman, proprietor of the Castle at Taunton, is among those who prefer not to see a hotel's identity eclipsed by the chefs it engages. A recent post on his eponymous blog decried the modern hotelkeeper's "pathological aversion to the business of running restaurants under his roof".

He continues: "Those clever young hoteliers - fearful of their boards of directors and the shareholders - call it good business. I call it laziness, a sell-out, a cynical indifference towards what should be the heart and soul of any proud hotel, its kitchen."

In truth, there's no right or wrong, only judgement calls.

Nicholls works to the formula that conducting solid market research to establish an appropriate concept, price point, design and ambience, then building a strong team, will result in a winning restaurant.

If that concept requires the services of a big-name chef, so be it.

By Mark Lewis, Editor, Caterer and Hotelkeeper

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