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Celebrity chef pop ups? No thanks, I'd rather spend my money on the real thing

Qin Xie
1 May 2013
World's 50 Best Restaurants are revealed tonight but should you care?
World's 50 Best Restaurants are revealed tonight but should you care?

Have you noticed a sudden influx of international chefs to London recently? And that visiting chef pop-ups of the Michelin-starred variety are popping up everywhere?

Well, as you'll have probably gathered, they are in town for the World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards. The highly regarded award, now in its 11 th year, draws some of the world's best chefs to the city. With their arrival however, came the slew of pop-ups.

Why not showcase their skills? After all, they are already in town.

Indeed many of these chefs are worth seeing in action, not only for their food, the demonstration of skills but also for the local knowledge that they can share. For the average person, it's a great insight into some of the world's best chefs, their food and their restaurants.

It all comes down to cost...

The problem is, these events come at a great cost.

Take The Lab Event at the Tobacco Dock for example, the tickets cost a princely sum of £75 for an evening's entertainment. For that, you get access to a handful of chef demonstrations, albeit from some of the hottest talents in the industry such as Alex Atala (D.O.M.) and James Knappett (Bubbledogs), plus four dishes and two drinks.

I toyed with the idea of buying a ticket and then asked myself, "am I even getting food that's cooked by the chef that I want to see"? The answer was, "probably not".

Close to the real deal...

Another option was Craft at Viajante which offered a different "50 Best" chef every night. It's probably as close you'll get to the full experience of the visiting chef's food without being at their restaurant. But at £135 for an eight course tasting menu, excluding wine and service, it's a hard pill to swallow.

Similarly, Harrods hosted the Identità Golose lunch with seven Italian chefs totalling 13 Michelin stars. At £150 for a seven course sit down experience, the extended meal, which took place over several hours, was billed "lunch of a lifetime". On the plus side, there was selected wine matching too.

At the cheaper end of the scale, and perhaps the best value, was the Observer and Phaidon hosted Cook It Raw. For £40, you're treated to talks and discussions from the likes of René Redzepi (Noma) and Albert Adria (previous El Bulli) but you also get a copy of the Cook It Raw book which costs £35 on its own.

The downside is, you don't get any food so feeding your mind will have to be enough.

Why so costly?

Working in the industry, I can understand why these special dinners are so costly to put on. There's the cost of the chefs and their teams coming over, transportation of equipment and of course shipping in the ingredients themselves. Added to that is the premium for a brand - the celebrity chef.

It's almost acceptable if you get a great meal at the end of it because you really are saving on the expense of travelling to a restaurant that might be on another continent.

When I went to a Chef Showcase dinner at Viajante last year (similar to Craft this year) with Mauro Colagreco (Mirazur) as the guest chef, I had a great meal. There were some really interesting dishes and unusual techniques being used. I didn't actually pay for the dinner myself but at £80 for more than eight courses, it really was a bargain.

Given the price hike this year, I did wonder, is inflation really that high?

Bite the bullet and do the real thing...

Having tried Colagreco's food in London, I made the time to visit his restaurant Mirazur in Menton last year. It was, as I was told all along, so much better and more real than what can be reproduced in London. And with tasting menus starting from 68€, it really was much better value.

Much of it was down to produce - Colagreco has his own organic gardens in Menton which feeds the restaurant. Some of it also comes down to what dishes can be produced in one night only as was the case in London.

Of course, there are plenty of more costly restaurants out there and Mirazur is often cited as an exception to the rule. But when you're getting a true experience - the reason why these restaurants are garnering the accolades that make them worthy visits, isn't it so much better to be spending the same amount of money on that better experience?

If you're thinking about taking on the real deal, this year's list for World's 50 Best Restaurants is available at www.theworlds50best.com.

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