Star Attraction

25th July 2006 (Last Updated July 25th, 2006 18:30)

Rebecca Burgess looks at who’s cooking up the perfect recipe in hotel kitchens around the world. With most top restaurants boasting a high-profile Michelin-starred chef, many hotels are turning to celebrity chefs to put their own restaurants on the map.

Star Attraction

Hotheaded Gordon Ramsay is one of the world’s top restaurateurs, and his talent and charismatic personality are in serious demand.

With his various London restaurants boasting a combined seven Michelin stars, the Scottish-born chef is himself a genuine star in the global cooking world.

As a result, the Conrad Hotel in Japan and the Hilton in Dubai weren’t slow about snapping him up to participate in joint ventures in their restaurants.

The 290-room Conrad Tokyo, located in the Shiodome district, is home to Gordon Ramsay’s first restaurant in Japan. The hotel offers two ‘Ramsay-based’ restaurants, the Gordon Ramsay at Conrad Tokyo and a brasserie, Cerise by Gordon Ramsay, both overseen by head chef Andy Cook.

“Tokyo is such a cosmopolitan city,” says Ramsay, “with the most vibrant people and a high level of produce. We have enjoyed wonderful custom from Japanese diners over the years in the UK, so it’s a privilege to give something back.”

He has also lent his name to the Verre restaurant at the 154-room Hilton Dubai Creek. Competition is fierce between hotels in Dubai, as billions of pounds are poured into the emirate in a bid to make it one of the top luxury destinations in the world. However, the 70-seat Verre is already going from strength to strength, having been voted Chefs’ Choice by the executive chefs of the five-star hotels in Dubai at the What’s On Restaurant Awards.

Ramsay opened the restaurant in 2001 with staff from his London restaurants and visits frequently to maintain a hands-on approach in the kitchen. Hotel executive chef Jason Whitelock is also in daily contact with Ramsay to discuss menus and ingredients.

“Verre has provided an invaluable learning curve for us all, and Gordon’s popularity and reputation among residents for providing the utmost in fine dining is well established in Dubai,” adds Whitelock.

Hilton argues that Ramsay’s popularity has created local and international exposure, which has in turn translated into a steady increase in revenue. Ramsay himself has the last word: “There is a real buzz about Dubai and I’m proud to be part of it.”

FROM RHODES TO ROSTANG

Another key player on the international circuit is Gary Rhodes, renowned worldwide for his numerous television shows and cookery books.

Several years ago, he became involved in the Calabash Hotel on the Caribbean island of Grenada, after striking up a close friendship with owner Leo Garbutt when he was visiting Grenada to film the TV show Gary’s Spicy Christmas in 1994.

“As we had both trained as chefs we had a good bond immediately,” explains Garbutt. “We set our sights on Calabash becoming the first "personality chefs" restaurant in the Caribbean. That requires a lot of discipline, and fortunately we came to a point where everything was in place and we achieved our goal.”

According to Garbutt, Rhodes’ influence ensures a solid training structure and consistency in all the dishes.

“Gary visits the hotel regularly and is involved in all aspects of the kitchen and restaurant, and we have one of Gary’s chefs based at the hotel to oversee quality control.”

“Having a celebrity chef gives high visibility to the restaurant and to the hotel.”

Indeed, having Rhodes on board increases revenue and is a huge help with marketing the 30-suite luxury resort, he says.

Also in the Caribbean is the 55-room Malliouhana Hotel in Anguilla, where two-star supervising chef Michel Rostang hosts the annual Epicurean Delight event, one of the highlights of any Caribbean food and wine connoisseur’s calendar. Each year, the hotel hosts some of the finest chefs and vintners from Europe, the USA and the Caribbean.

Hotel owner Leon Roydon says the chefs’ reputations have been crucial in attracting returning and new guests each year, with the hotel voted one of the world’s best for cuisine in the Condé Nast Traveller Gold List for 2005. It also allows the hotel to charge nearly £3,000 for a couple to attend the event.

EUROPEAN UNIONS

Another hotel which hosts an annual chefs’ gathering to raise its profile is the Hotel Rosa Alpina, where chef Norbert Niederkofler plies his trade.

Each year the 47-room hotel, based in San Cassiano in the Italian Dolomites, hosts the Chefs Cup. Hundreds of chefs, winegrowers, journalists and guests come from around the world to take part in skiing and car races and a spectacular culinary extravaganza, culminating in a seven-course gourmet dinner in the Restaurant St Hubertus, with each chef cooking a course.

Contestants in 2006 included David Nicholls from the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London and Michil Costa of the Hotel La Perla, Corvara in Italy.

According to spokeswoman Charlotte Aitken: “Overall, the restaurant gives the hotel much more publicity than any other marketing tool and increases the turnover.

“When Norbert was hired, the main goal was to be accepted as a member of the Relais & Chateuax. One of the prerequisites was an excellent restaurant, so Norbert, who was working in the area, was brought in. Although he isn’t that well known in the UK, across Europe he is regarded as a great chef. The restaurant has become one of the major selling points of the hotel, and the hotel benefits because people only come to stay if they also have a table in the restaurant.”

In Brussels, tables at the Sea Grill Restaurant in the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel, where Yves Mattagne is the executive chef, are also in high demand. Mattagne is best known for presenting 1,000 Seconds on Belgian RTL-TVI, in which he prepares a three-course dinner in 1,000 seconds.

Born in 1963, he started his career at the Hilton International in Brussels, moved to the Hilton International Gatwick in the UK and then returned to Belgium at L’Orangerie. Along the way he’s picked up a handful of awards that have increased his profile, including Best Hotel Restaurant Chef at the 2003 MKG Awards in Paris.

A spokesman for the Radisson SAS Royal says: “Having a celebrity chef gives high visibility to the restaurant and to the hotel. The publicity value reflects on the entire operation and gives us opportunities to organise high-profile events. [Mattagne’s] high visibility on television means we also attract guests to the restaurant because people want to see him "in real life" and taste his preparations.”

Elsewhere in Europe, Christian Lohse is putting the Fischers Fritz restaurant, in the five-star Regent Berlin, firmly on the map.

“Working with a celebrity chef results in increased PR and increased revenue.”

“Christian Lohse is one of Germany’s most critically acclaimed chefs and has worked at such illustrious establishments as the Dorchester, where he was the Sultan of Brunei’s personal chef,” explains hotel spokeswoman Nina Deutschmann.

“Working with a celebrity like Christian is a real public relations [coup]. It results in increased PR and increased revenue, and [provides] a shining example to the apprentices.”

Lohse specialises in seafood, with signature dishes including Anguille Fume et Fois Gras, Turbot and Chanterelles, followed by a dessert of block chocolate with half-liquid Guanaja chocolate cake and chicory ice-cream. Despite his celebrity, Lohse’s motto is: “The star in the kitchen is always the product, never the chef.”

ENGLISH TASTES

While some hotels try to make the celebrity chef an integral part of the property, others prefer to bring in chefs for special occasions.

Steven Tittman, executive chef at the Summer Lodge Country House in Dorset, a member of Relais & Chateuax, is currently working with cookery school owner Lesley Waters, who is better known for co-hosting the BBC television programme Ready, Steady, Cook.

She will be designing a starter and main course using local and seasonal produce of the region for a one-off dinner, explains spokeswoman Arnelle Kendall: “The event means ideas are exchanged in the kitchen, it attracts guests who might not otherwise have come and it provides another angle for publicity. This all results in increased revenue, as we charge slightly more for such a dinner and the special occasion attracts more guests.”

Also in the UK, TV regular James Martin is championing Yorkshire produce at a celebrity dinner at The Devonshire Fell Hotel in Burnsall. The hotel is hosting the dinner to promote Limestone Country Beef, from a rare breed of cattle that grazes in nearby Wharfedale, and to raise the profile of the hotel.

“It’s fun and a good thing to do because different events [ensure that] the name of the hotel restaurant [remains] in the public eye,” explains spokeswoman Liz Clayton. “We booked James because he has star quality.”

However, celebrity chefs come at a price, so the hotel is looking to wine sales and returning guests to make the event cost-effective.

WORLD OF CUISINE

Further afield, the celebrated master chef Peter Gordon is adding his distinctive touch to a literary festival held at the Le Prince Maurice Hotel in Mauritius, part of the Hotels Constance Group.

Each year the hotel hosts a literary prize that alternates between the French and English-speaking markets, and teams up with a celebrity chef of the same nationality. Two years ago it was Anton Mosimann; this year it is The Sugar Club’s Gordon, who also runs Providores on Marylebone High Street in London.

On the other side of the world, the Wharekauhau Country Estate in New Zealand is hosting celebrity chef Ross Burden.

The hotel, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is located on a 5,000-acre working sheep station overlooking 16 miles of stunning coastline. Burden, who has a high-profile TV career both in New Zealand and internationally, is flying in specially to host a one-offcooking class.

The four-day event is designed to attract new guests to Wharekauhau to have fun and learn about cuisine in a beautiful environment. It includes daily cookery classes and is followed by a four-course gourmet dinner prepared, cooked and hosted by Burden.

Another Ready, Steady, Cook luminary is Phil Vickery, who is known for showcasing specialist foods from around the world on television. He is currently working as a consultant to the Paramount Hotels Group, which has 20 four and five-star hotels across the UK.

According to spokeswoman Jill Channing: “Paramount does not consider itself as using a "celebrity chef" so much as an expert who knows exactly what customers need and has great experience in formulating exciting menus. It will increase revenue because of the menu, and the advantages to Paramount are experience, knowledge and inspiration for their chefs.”

Vickery himself says: “I’m happy to be working with Paramount because they know what they want and are extremely professional, which is important in this day and age. I like to work with the chefs in making a positive contribution to what they do and produce – it gives me and the team a real buzz.”

And it’s a buzz which is spreading in restaurants around the world, as hotels and celebrity chefs join forces to whip up a winning combination.