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The Restaurant Show Top 10: Chicken, bricks and Michelin stars - what we learnt at the trade show

By Peter Ruddick, Emma Eversham & Luke Nicholls , 12-Oct-2012
Last updated the 25-Feb-2013 at 14:36 GMT

Related topics: Business, Venues, Events & Awards, People, Trends & Reports, Restaurant Trends, The Restaurant Show, Restaurants

The annual three-day restaurant extravaganza has finished for another year and, with tonnes of chef interviews, restaurateur panels, product launches and competitions, it's easy to feel you missed something, so BigHospitality produced this must-read Top 10 of what we learnt at The Restaurant Show.

From chicken on a brick to Jamie Oliver on private dining and desserts in a recession to Marco Pierre White on knick knack food, BigHospitality's The Restaurant Show Top 10 reviews the trade show to make sure you didn't miss a thing

From chicken on a brick to Jamie Oliver on private dining and desserts in a recession to Marco Pierre White on knick knack food, BigHospitality's The Restaurant Show Top 10 reviews the trade show to make sure you didn't miss a thing

If you couldn't make it to Earls Court 2 this year or were too busy making connections or trying out new products and services to see all the show had to offer - don't panic.

BigHospitality covered every inch of the event, watching chef demonstrations at Centre Stage, attending all the relevant panel discussions at the Business Bootcamp, sizing up the contests at the Competition Theatre and even sampling the street food on offer to bring you our Top 10 snippets you might just have missed.

Keep it simple says Marco

Legendary chef Marco Pierre White drew the biggest crowd to the show’s Centre Stage where he demonstrated how to make a simple Steak au Poivre using some Worcester Sauce, cream and Knorr bouillon in a bid to show how food should be kept simple.

The chef, who now owns a string of pubs and nine small hotels, has a hatred of multi-course tasting menus featuring what he called ‘knick knack food’ and said he wouldn’t be caught dead placing micro herbs on a plate with a pair of tweezers.

“Let’s keep it really simple,” he said, waving a knife into the audience. “The more we do to food the more we take away. When I was at The Boxtree the chefs didn’t make pictures they created flavours. I don’t go in for knick knack food. The only time I use tweezers is to pin bone a salmon.”

The chef also revealed a surprising new hobby. “One of my favourite past times is to go to salvage yards and buy antiquities. There was a day when I bought 21 old benches from a railway station, ” he claimed.

Out with plates. In with bricks

Ex-Roganic head chef Ben Spalding unveiled his latest dish to a fascinated audience on Wednesday - chicken on a brick.

The creation, dreamt up when the chef was using a brick as an ashtray and spotted its plating potential, is a house brick coated in caramel and topped with chicken parfait.

Spalding also revealed details of his John Salt residency at Five Eight Zero's Islington venue Keston Lodge. John Salt is set to open at the beginning of next month - the entire kitchen brigade has now been recruited and Tristan Rockliffe, formerly of Sketch, will be restaurant manager - all that is left is to buy thousands of bricks!

"We're not going for a stuffy service, we want it to be about the food with the service as complimentary," he said.

Private dining isn't pukka

Jacques Dejardin, head of operations at Jamie Oliver Restaurants and the man in charge of the celebrity chef's businesses in the City of London, revealed the boss isn't keen on the concept of private dining.

"It is a Jamie thing that he doesn't particularly like private dining," Dejardin told an audience at the Business Bootcamp looking for ways to counter the recession.

"It is something he has always shied away from so it is always a difficult one to try and sell and make work across the group. There is something super-inclusive about restaurants and the noise and banter across the room."

"He was in Barbecoa one night when we launched and we had an event in our curtained private room and they had a PA system and you could just hear this voice booming and that was the end of that!" 

"I love that because it is about the way that restaurants feel and private rooms don't feel like the restaurants so if it is not who we are or want to be then why are we doing them? Then I spin something about the commercials and the money and he says 'alright but be careful of the ones you do'," Dejardin said.

Sat Bains wants to chillax

Two-Michelin-starred chef Sat Bains, who appeared on centre stage at the Show on Monday, told us that his next business venture could come in the form of a more relaxed, brasserie-style restaurant - but he insisted he is still content with his eponymous site in Nottingham, also claiming that the London dining scene isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. 

"Yes, maybe in the future I’ll do something a bit more chilled out and relaxed like a brasserie," he said. “But I can’t do what we do in Nottingham again - it’s just too hard and all my time and effort goes there."

Restaurant Sat Bains moved up the UK rankings on Monday evening, coming in fourth in the 2012 National Restaurant Awards. It also recently retained its two-Michelin-starred status in the Guide which was released a fortnight ago. Watch our full, exclusive video interview with the chef here.

The power of Michelin et al

A discussion on the power of awards and accolades in the Business Bootcamp with Tom Kerridge of the Hand & Flowers and Good Food Guide editor Elizabeth Carter found that having Michelin stars and being represented in the guide books can not only have a massive influence on a restaurant’s daily business but can also be important to the financial forecasters.

Good Food Guide consultant editor Elizabeth Carter told the audience that the owner of one restaurant had reported to her his delight that he was granted a bank loan to pay for the addition of some letting bedrooms simply because his bank manager had seen the restaurant’s high position in the recently released Good Food Guide. 

“I know that when a restaurant wins a reader nominated award, business goes up 30 per cent and chefs report that their places have been full for winning awards, so they are definitely good for business,” she added.

“The amount of footfall that comes through the door is phenomenal," Kerridge revealed in the discussion. "We haven’t got a table for a Saturday night available now until well into next year,” said the chef, whose pub retained its second Michelin star last week.

The recession can taste sweet

Fresh from her dessert plating masterclass at the Centre Stage, legendary pastry chef Claire Clark dropped in to see BigHospitality and give her top tips on how restaurants with small kitchen brigades or those suffering from recessionary pressures could still produce top dessert dishes.

"Keep it simple," she suggested. "Get a few core dishes you know you can do well and make them fabulous. The things that will sell well and are cost effective are things people identify with. I can put numerous things like pavlova with lemon sherbet mousse on my menu and then put crème brûlée and you know what I am going to sell most of?" 

"If you are trying to cut costs use fabulous ingredients - so for crème brûlée use good cream, eggs and vanilla and don't mess around with it - make the most wonderful vanilla crème brûlée and some people will come in and say they had forgotten how good it was."

Clark also had some more unusual ingredient tips including custard powder. "What is wrong with using convenience foods? You can enrich them and enhance them with good products." For people plating on a budget Clark had another answer: "I am a big advocate of wild flowers. You can get a lot of seasonal ones without having to buy them. If you have a herb garden you are probably going to get borage, chive flowers, blossoms from courgettes, strawberry or onion flowers. Use them!"

Restaurant's hottest trend came from McDonalds?

From creating its own street inside Earls Court 2 for a collection of food vans to serve from to hosting a discussion on its revolutionary impact on business, this was the year The Restaurant Show really bought into street food.

However Richard Johnson, author, broadcaster and founder of the British Street Food Awards, had an unusual take on where the current hot trend in the industry came from.

"There has always been a demand to eat on the street - we have done it since there were streets. Dickens used to eat song birds in his frock coat but the Victorians put us off the idea of eating in front of other people - it was somehow too sensual, carnal and something that should be done in the privacy of one's home."

"Actually I think it was McDonalds that re-dignified the idea. I remember being a kid when it arrived and being so excited by this cool burger that came from America and made me look like James Dean as I ate it around other people - and I wasn't embarrassed that I had cheese on my chin! Something happened around that time to make eating as a popular occasion acceptable and that has just continued," he claimed.

Time to consolidate

Autumn in the restaurant industry is known as a time to knuckle down and work hard in keeping standards high as summer fades and Christmas looms on the horizon. In recent years with many TV and other summer solo projects in the can the autumn has also been a time when big name chefs might return to their kitchens.

No different this autumn it seems as BigHospitality spoke to two chefs both planning to return to their stoves and work hard on consolidating their restaurant's offer - both will be coming back from a busy period dominated in part by competitions such as the National Chef of the Year which have also now drawn to a close.

Alyn Williams, this year's winner of the Craft Guild of Chefs prize,  has had a particularly busy period after seeing his eponymous restaurant gain its first Michelin star and make the top 20 in The National Restaurant Awards 2012.  

"Whats next? Back to the restaurant! I want to go back to my restaurant and spend some proper quality time in my kitchen. I have been out of it a little bit over the last few weeks so it will be nice to get back behind the stove properly and just crack on with building a business," he said.

The situation is no different for chair of the judges Phil Howard who was also a winner in Monday's awards. "My future plans are to make my life outside The Square as simple as I possibly can so I can just keep doing what I do -  it has got a bit busy in the last year or two."

Now could be the perfect moment to pop into some top restaurants.

We need to speak with one voice

The hospitality industry needs to unite and speak with one voice when it comes to finding, nurturing and retaining the sector’s future leaders, according to a selection of industry experts partaking in BigHospitality’s panel discussion.

The discussion, which took place at the Show’s Business Bootcamp on day three, focused on how to attract the next generation of talent to hotels, restaurants and pubs across the UK. It centred around the view that the industry is overcrowded with trade bodies which, despite trying to help more young people break into the sector, are actually overcomplicating the issue.

Suzy Jackson, head of the recently-established Hospitality Guild, said: “The problem is very real. Seventeen per cent of all employers in hospitality have job vacancies and, of those, 64 per cent are at manager level.

“As an industry, we’ve got 156 trade bodies and there are around 4,000 various initiatives, all of which are right in their own ways, but we just speak with too many voices.”

Product placement

The Restaurant Show is the place to be for product innovations. From heavy-duty cooking equipment through to self-serve pub tables  - this year's Show had it all. 

"It's been a bit overwhelming," said Paul Ainsworth, who appeared on Centre Stage on the final day. Stuff's being developed all the time, when you come here you actually realise how much is on offer. I love to go and look at new gadgets, luckily I had my demo to do which kept me at bay from spending lots of money!"

See our New Products section for a selection of products that were on show at the Show.

For more on this year's The Restaurant Show check out the daily highlights videos below and don't forget to plan ahead for next year's event - 7-9 October 2013 at Earls Court 2 - once again BigHospitality will be reporting live!

Day One Highlights:

Day Two Highlights:

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