Wednesday, July 06, 2011

TV Chef Takes Pot Shot At Food Bloggers

I wish there were more chefs like Gordon Ramsay’s former right-hand man Mark Sargeant in the world. Chefs that just say what they want rather than check with their PR agents first.

The TV cook let rip on Twitter today over negative comments in two food blogs (take heart Adrian Gill there are some critical food bloggers out there) about his new restaurant Rocksalt. But he didn't name names - because he was “not here for petty arguments just voicing my opinion as they clearly feel they can!”

“Also I'm not cooking for stars so why would I do anything more to Dover sole than cook it simply! Un imaginative!?! Stay in London please!!” he twatted.

Ironically, the unnamed blogs he was referring to – Dos Hermanos and Gourmet Traveller – made references to how the purpose-built restaurant with its trendy London ways and “sleek modern decor” looked a “tad incongruous alongside the small wooden shacks selling whelks and crabsticks” in Folkestone.

It was almost like he’d set it up that way for rich Londoners and second-homers rather than what Dos Hermanos called the slightly “chavtastic” locals who “worship regularly at the temple of St Primark”.

“Ps thanks for calling my restaurant an "up Market chain"! I hope your 10 readers enjoy your "reviews"!” Sargeant ranted, referring without name to Gourmet Traveller’s comments about “feeling distinctly underwhelmed” by the “unadventurous menu (and) lacklustre service”.

It’s an easy swipe having a pop at bloggers. But it’s also very out of touch with the power of social media. Gourmet Traveller’s twitter account has almost 5,000 followers – nearly as many as the fuming chef himself – so even if only 20% read her blog, it’s still 1,000 readers. Probably more than the local Kent rags he puts his (obviously) glowing advertorials in.

And then he let off more steam, slamming the lack of research in food blogs by pointing out that he didn’t even have tripled-cooked chips on the menu (a reference now corrected by Gourmet Traveller).

He couldn’t stop himself: “Also we serve more than just one local beer if you care to look at our bottled beer list! We even stock 3 varieties of cider from Kent!”

Sargeant’s PR agent got involved, and @HERMANOPRIMERO – one half of the excellent Dos Hermanos blog - pointed out that he’d only been “offered Early Bird that was local” and suggested it might be better to highlight the local booze on the menu because he’d completely missed the Kent wine section.

There was a bit of banter about which blog Sargeant, 37, was referring to with which update, and what was wrong with a few critical comments anyway. “Think it was a cherry picking from both. Must remember that the phrase ‘nascent chain’ might offend,” said @HERMANOPRIMERO.

Many bloggers said they couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, and said if people have opinions – even negative ones (eek) – it’s always worth the owner checking them out. Others praised the chef for having the courage to speak his mind – without the usual PR muzzle.

Then Rick Stein’s ex-wife Jill plunged in, pointing out how reviewers from that there London always criticise a restaurant if it serves decent, simple food (at £30 a fish).

“They used to criticise us for cooking food simply. They don't get it,” she complained. “Because we cooked fish simply I am convinced that is the reason Michelin never awarded us a star!

“When Rick cooked I think he would have liked a star. I didn't!”

It was certainly true. The first thing the Italian sous chef told me when I began my chef training with a week at Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, was: “Do not, under any circumstances, mention Michelin stars to Rick! Even Bib Gourmand make him crazy!”

“Coming from you Jill that's a big honour. I am a massive fan of what you do down there you are the blueprint of what to achieve!” replied Sargeant.

It was true. Sargeant is harbouring dreams of turning Dover, sorry Folkestone, into Padstow, or as Dos Hermanos called it, “a sort of proto-Padstein. Sarge-ville if you will”.

Sargeant, who clearly has a lot on his plate what with running Rocksalt and his other new venture, an upmarket fish and chip shop specialising in sustainable species, quickly put it behind him.

“Right, moving on....some stunning fresh seabass caught this a.m. With roast fennel and vanilla. Josper lobsters and beautiful turbot!”

There was no picture attached. Perhaps he was too angry? He couldn’t help himself...

“All simply cooked of course!!!”

I’m pleased there are restaurant owners like Sargeant ready to let off steam and that the occasional rant still slips through the PR net. But you’re left wondering about that old saying, if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Because it holds as true for marketing and PR as it does the dripping brow of the cramped furnace.

When a chef like Ramsay’s bright-eyed former TV side-kick enters the realm, or at least the precincts of the realm, of becoming a celebrity chef in his own right, then he can’t start moaning if he gets a bit of negative publicity once in a while - as well as all the rewards of running a branded gold mine like Rick Stein’s.

Neither review was particularly harsh, people are entitled to their opinions (even food bloggers), and every new restaurant should expect teething problems – especially with service. You can understand him being protective about his first restaurant, but after all those years working for Ramsay, you'd think he'd have the hide of an elephant (see video below). It makes you wonder what he'd say if he got a bad review.

Sargeant as junior sous chef being savaged by Ramsay:


MeLikeyUK said...

"Sargeant, who clearly has a lot on his plate what with running Rockpool"
Is the name of the restaurant not Rocksalt?
Interesting article. Personally I thinking his venting was a good process - shows he is human ;-)
I'd be interested to know how his restaurant has been received by the people of Folkestone. The last time I was there, the choice of restaurants was limited so I would have thought they would have welcomed his offering.

Lennie Nash said...

Hi there,

Thanks for that. Lot of people on the blogs praising Sargeant for speaking his mind. Yes, it'd be interesting to know how many of his customers are locals.

All best



(Via Twitter)

Nicely put. You are the voice of reason sir, in an increasingly mad world.

@gourmetraveller said...

(Via Twitter)

Great piece - wonder if it'll ignite more fireworks! enjoyed the Rick Stein pic.

@NorthernSnippet said...

(Via Twitter)

Poor Rick. My heart goes out to him...Mind you if he dropped his prices a bit he could bag himself a Bib!

@maisonmattmoo said...

Nice piece. My brother lives in Folkestone but is a heathen when it comes to food so he'll not be reviewing!

@ChefHermes said...

Having eaten at the Seafood restaurant, it didnt deserve a * IMHO, Yes it was good fresh fish but a * never.

Nice post by the way ;-)

@SimonMajumdar said...

Has @hermanoprimero been upsetting chefs again? Nice to know we can do it on both sides of the Atlantic.

Damn @hermanoprimero for spending his money on meals & writing about his experiences. How are these delicate chefs to cope?

Frank said...

I've now read both reviews and it sounds like a restaurant I'd love to visit were I ever to visit Kent. Proof there is no such thing as bad publicity. For the bloggers as well as Sargeant.

Emmy Dylan said...

for those who might be interested in the subject of food bloggers, you might need to read this:
This should be the standard, the rule in food blogging.