Birmingham represents the UK in worldwide culinary network Delice, the Good Food Cities of the World, and last week hosted a culinary exchange programme with French city Lyon. David Colcombe, head chef of local restaurant Opus, spoke to Kerstin Kühn about the event
Caterer What's Delice all about?
David Colcombe It's an initiative designed to promote city-to-city sharing of culinary excellence as well as good practice and, most importantly, the development of young talent and educational skills in the hospitality industry. There are 20 cities involved including Barcelona, Milan and Chicago, so it's a fantastic honour that Birmingham was picked to represent the UK.
Caterer Why do you think Birmingham was chosen?
DC I think it's because, from a culinary perspective, Birmingham is a very young city that's constantly growing and there's a lot going on. In Lyon, there are restaurants that have been run by the same family for generations, and that's something we don't have over here. But we're all trying to work together to improve things and make Birmingham more of a culinary destination.
Caterer What was on the agenda during the exchange with Lyon?
DC Four Michelin-starred chefs from the Toques Blanches Lyonnaise [France's leading chefs' organisation] were sent over and their visit included dinners at Simpsons and Opus restaurants as well as a dinner at the University College of Birmingham, with the leader of Birmingham City Council. We also set up a Delice Scholarship that will give two young people - one front of house and one kitchen worker - from each city the opportunity to go on a four-week city-exchange programme.
Caterer Tell us about the dinner at Opus.
DC Mathieu Viannay from Restaurant Mathieu Viannay and Joseph Viola from Danielle et Denise came to cook at Opus. Mathieu prepared a starter of warm langoustines with chestnut mousse and a main course of lobster fricassee with veal sweetbreads and sauce Americaine. Joseph made a dish of cream of mushroom and morel tart with roasted scallop and a dessert of roasted pineapple with gingerbread toast and Earl Grey ice-cream. They both came into the restaurant in the morning and had a hands-on approach that was really inspiring.
Caterer Did you learn anything from them?
DC What really inspired me was the way they all worked together and supported each other despite coming from different restaurants. That's what we need to do in Birmingham.
Caterer Does the UK lag behind France in terms of culinary excellence?
DC We don't lag behind France at all, and the food offering in the UK is getting better all the time. It's not about Michelin stars but about having high standards generally. Compared with 10 years ago, French chefs really respect what's going on in Britain now, and that's so much more important than Michelin stars.