Who will be the hottest chefs to watch in 2008, what will customers be looking for, and what other trends are likely to emerge? We asked a panel of 10 top chefs for their predictions. Tom Howard reports
With Michelin poised to publish its latest guide to Great Britain and Ireland on 25 January, Caterer decided to draw together a panel of 10 of the UK's top chefs to reveal who they thought would go up or down in the star ratings and to discuss what will be hot on the domestic culinary scene in 2008.
Not surprisingly, on the Michelin star front, a lot of the talk revolved around Claude Bosi at Hibiscus, newly moved to London from Ludlow, and Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. Four of our chefs tipped Bosi to retain his two stars, with Jason Atherton describing him as "definitely one of the best chefs in the country", while three predicted that Ducasse's new London restaurant would go straight to two stars in the new guide. As Andrew Pern summed it up: "Alain Ducasse and Claude Bosi have raised London's profile again. They're very different to each other and they're keeping London on the top of the pile for the culinary scene."
While the panel bemoaned the lack of three-star chefs in Britain and Ireland, for Kevin Mangeolles at least, one strong contender next time round could come in the shape of Phil Howard at the Square in London. Also tipped to make the leap from two to three stars in January were David Everitt-Matthias at Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham John Campbell at the Vineyard at Stockcross and Michel Roux Jnr at Le Gavroche in London.
While our chefs were full of praise for Japanese cuisine, after Michelin awarded an unprecedented 191 stars - more than London, New York and Paris combined - to restaurants in Tokyo in November, most felt the effect on the domestic scene would be minimal. "Tokyo won't affect anything," said Tom Kerridge. "People should cook what they want to cook, and if they're any good, they'll get stars." According to Marcus Wareing, "only idiots" would copy Japanese chefs. "They're in a league of their own," he said. "They spend so many years training it's much too hard to copy."
One knock-on effect, however, might be a reduction in the numbers of inbound Japanese food tourists, said Simon Hulstone. "It might affect our trade because people used to come over to England to eat in Michelin-starred restaurants, but now they've got their own," he explained.
Of more interest to our chefs was how the performance of Tokyo, now with eight three-Michelin-starred restaurants, threw that of London into sharp relief. "It's embarrassing that we're supposed to be a great culinary nation but we don't have the ratings to back that up," said Mangeolles. "Tokyo confirmed we need to work harder."
Pern agreed. "It's a shame there's not more three-star restaurants in London. It amazes me," he said. "But there's no rhyme or reason to Michelin - that's the beauty of it."
So Japanese success is unlikely to result in our chefs scrambling to produce menus awash with teriyaki and soy in a bid to gain elusive Michelin stars. More pressing for domestic chefs are issues such as food sourcing, although our panel was divided on the importance of the issue. "Sustainable stock is a big issue. You'll see lots of different fish on the menu," said Hulstone, although he admitted that changing customer perceptions can be difficult. "If you put pollack on the menu, they think it's a cheap imitation of cod," he said. "It's the same with skate, or pig cheek."
Atherton also expected to see more in-season and economically viable food coming in - "no onions travelling from Italy to London" - while Nathan Outlaw expected to see a lot more artisan produce from local suppliers. "I've got a veal producer who takes just one carcass a week to slaughter, and I buy half of it," he said. "Bigger suppliers are getting complacent they need a kick up the arse."
"Proper fish markets really inspire you," added Pern. "I'd like to see people concentrate on the regionality of an area, and make people more aware. That's what it's like in France."
But some feel the issue is overplayed. "There needs to be more honesty and less bullshit with sourcing," said John Campbell. "There's too much emphasis on it. People need to be more grown-up about it. Who cares if you were in the market at four in the morning? I don't buy my veg locally. Just because it's a local supplier doesn't mean it's local. I just buy top quality ingredients."
Kerridge also admitted he's "not a big fan of the local thing". He added: "Just because it's local doesn't mean it's good. The best chefs will try to find the best produce. Sustainable fish resources are a big thing, though."
When it comes to the food itself it seems that chefs expect to be taking a back-to-basics approach in 2008, with simple, hearty, unpretentious fare. "Fusion cooking is gone," said Wareing. "Wild Honey has set a new trend. They're stepping down a level, cooking simple food and going back to basics, but doing it brilliantly. Pig's trotter on toast with quails' eggs. It's very clever."
"Wild food and foraged food are quite trendy at the moment," said Brett Graham. "There'll be more casual dining and English food. We're doing a bit more slow cooking like cooking lamb shoulders for 24 hours."
According to Outlaw we'll see a move away from heavily stock-based sauces. "People want clean, healthy, natural sauces and juices," he said. "Foam sauces are definitely on the way out, unless they're totally necessary."
"There will definitely be less foam sauces," echoed Campbell. "They'll be replaced by classics: good savoury sauce, good light fish sauce, good jus."
It seems food presentation will also be stepping away from an overly attentive past, with minimum fuss and good flavour taking preference over appearance. "Fancy presentation is less and less important," said Atherton. "Food just has to be tasty. Even if it's just a bacon sandwich or a steak, if it tastes good that's great."
"Presentation has gone from pretty to rustic to random, and it's starting to be ‘random pretty' now," said Campbell. "Random pretty will look nice, but natural. There should be less shaped glass and more concentrating on the flavour on the plate."
A key factor behind this move was financial, said Kerridge. "If you've got four instead of 15 chefs in the kitchen, the presentation is going to be simple," he added.
With half the population forecast to be overweight by 2050, health matters now more than ever, and next year will see a greater demand for healthy food. "You won't get so many 12-course tasting menus because people can't eat them," said Outlaw. "Too much butter and cream means they don't even get to dessert. Heart disease and cholesterol are a big deal to customers these days. Health is a big trend."
"I speak to my customers and they all want healthy food," said Wareing. "They're all so knowledgeable. They tell you to watch the butter and cream. It's no longer the attitude of ‘I'm the chef, you eat what you're given'. Now it's what the customer wants." And as Atherton put it: "Why wouldn't you want to be healthy? No one wants to be fat and old."
It's not just the food that will be changing in 2008. "There will be more trends actually in the kitchen, rather than in food," said Kerridge. "We've gone to an all-electric kitchen and methods are changing regarding power, efficiency and fuel. People will start looking at induction cooking rather than straight gas. It makes it colder in the kitchen and things get less heated."
Meanwhile, Campbell expects to see more people being mindful of "proper, more ethical" training. "You need to tell people what they're cooking and why they're cooking it. You have to value their opinion and nurture your team's understanding, otherwise the future is a bad one," he said. "Watching young people grow as chefs, that's a legacy. Not a Michelin star."
2008 AT A GLANCE
• Brasserie food is back. Nothing too stuffy, nothing too smart, just good honest food, cooked properly, and eaten in a pub.
• Sustainable fish stocks. Look out for pollack and gurnard replacing overfished sources like cod and salmon on menus.
• Local sourcing. Prepare to use nice food grown or reared locally.
• Induction cooking. All-electric kitchens are the future running everything on gas could be a thing of the past.
• Healthy food. It matters now more than it ever has. People want it, people need it, and everyone likes feeling good about themselves.
• Culinary legends. Ducasse and Bosi in London, expect some Michelin sparks to fly.
• Regional newcomers. Fraiche in Liverpool, No 6 in Padstow and Anthony's in Leeds are all looking to get on the Michelin radar.
• Proper training. The rise of an education for chefs and waiters in the food that's cooked and served and where it comes from.
• Sauces. Less foam, jelly and stock-based sauce. More natural, clear, healthy sauces and jus.
BACK-TO-BASICSIS, ER, BACK
Simon Hulstone "Brasserie food is coming back with people like Arbutus. It's good food without being overly pretentious - grown-up food, if you like."
Simon Hulstone, the Elephant, Torquay, Devon, one star
Marcus Wareing "Places like Le Café Anglais are great. You get comfort food in fine-dining restaurants."
Marcus Wareing, Pétrus, London, two stars
Kevin Mangeolles "Reasonably priced, good honest food is great. Just because it's simple, it doesn't mean it's bad. There should be more emphasis on tasty than fancy."
Kevin Mangeolles, the Neptune, Hunstanton, Norfolk, one star at the George, Isle of Wight, before opening the Neptune
Tom Kerridge "The back-to-basics trend has been going on for a couple of years. There are more and more very good pubs with a great wine list and good food. It's a more basic, simple and relaxed environment. People are more likely to become regulars."
Tom Kerridge, the Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, one star
Andrew Pern "There's a more relaxed attitude to eating out. It's nice to go middle-of-the-road sometimes, where there's something on the menu for everyone."
Andrew Pern, the Star Inn, Harome, North Yorkshire, one star
John Campbell "I'd like to see more understanding of food and a move away from the wacky, funky stuff. Just back to good cuisine and good cooking."
John Campbell, the Vineyard at Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire, two stars
Brett Graham "People are definitely moving away from Michelin cooking and going to good, simple food like Bentley's or Wild Honey. It makes dining more pleasurable."
Brett Graham, the Ledbury, London, one star
Nathan Outlaw "Places like Le Café Anglais, Hereford Road and St John are back in. They have a simple style and their principles are seasonal produce, from the market. It's hard work, but it's clean food."
Nathan Outlaw, Marina Villa, Fowey, Cornwall, previously held one star at St Ervan Manor and the Black Pig
Jason Atherton "Food just has to be tasty. Even if it's not pretty, no one can deny it if it tastes good."
Jason Atherton, Maze, London, one star
Claude Bosi "This year will be a bit less formal, with the same standard of food but less stuffy. It's nice, it shows people are more relaxed."
Claude Bosi, Hibiscus, now relocated to London, two stars
Our panel's top Michelin star tips
Tipped to rise from two to three stars
- Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham: two tips for David Everitt-Matthias to get a third star.
- The Vineyard at Stockcross: one tip for John Campbell to go one better than last year and get a third.
- Le Gavroche, London: one tip for the Rouxs to finally emulate the Waterside and win a third star.
Tipped to hold their star status
- Hibiscus, London: four tips for Claude Bosi to retain his two stars following the move from Ludlow.
Tipped to rise from one to two stars
- The Greenhouse, London: three tips for Antonin Bonnet to get a second star.
Tipped to gain two new stars
- Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, London: three tips for the 15-star man's new restaurant to go straight in at two stars.
Tipped to gain a first star
- Tom's Kitchen, London: three tips for Tom Aikens to get a first star at his new restaurant.
- Anthony's, Leeds: three tips for Anthony Flinn to get a star.
- Galvin at Windows, London: two tips for Michelin-starred chef Chris Galvin to get starred.
- Wild Honey, London: two tips for Colin Kelly and Anthony Demetre to get a star.
- Number 6, Padstow: one tip for Paul Ainsworth to get a star.
- Danesfield House, Marlow: one tip for Adam Simmonds to get another star, the first for Danesfield.
- The Nut Tree in Murcott, Oxfordshire: one tip for Michelin-starred Mike North to get another, the Nut Tree's first.
- Purnell's, Birmingham: one tip for Michelin-starred Glynn Purnell to get a star.
- Texture, London: one tip for Agnar Sverrisson to get a star.
- Trinity, London: one tip for Adam Byatt to get a star.
- Fraiche, Oxton: one tip for the Wirral restaurant to get its first star.