Posts Tagged ‘Little Chef’

Big Chef Takes On Little Chef

January 20, 2009

The Great British Food Fight, alternatively referred to as ‘more cookery rubbish’ by the public at large, kicked off last night with Heston Blumenthal’s much-touted attempt at reinvigorating Little Chef’s branding, by way of the focal point of their operation – their rancid menu.

Like Blumenthal, I’ve not been inside a Little Chef in twenty-odd years. When Channel 4 eventually ventured in, it was both heart-warming and disturbing to see that absolutely nothing had changed in there. Not only in terms of the style of the interior, but also the actual interiors themselves. No broken chairs or peeling wallpaper appears to have been fixed. Now, this may not be true of every branch. Channel 4, devious bastards that they are, are probably using one bad example to tarnish the whole change. All the same, wilting pink walling isn’t what you want to see as you eat a leathery mixed grill.

Speaking of the food, it’s hard to defend what Little Chef were putting out. Hardened, overcooked, frozen meat. The fish pie looked like mixed bodily-fluid with the skin of an old woman floating on the surface. The Hawaiian Burger looked like roadkill. Heston and pals even gagged as they sipped the coffee. It could have been pantomime snobbishness, but it looked the real deal. Even as someone who despises the meaningless, middle-class bullshit of the word ‘foodie’, the food here simply looked unappetising

The strange thing with Heston Blumenthal is that, despite his running one of the most celebrated ponce-kitchens in the world, he comes across like a very decent bloke (and the kind of boss we all wish we had). He reminds me most of certain posh kids at secondary school who were almost embarrassed of their accents and sought to rid themselves of their upper-middle class roots by selling hash by the teenth in the playground. He comes across, essentially, as a stoner schoolchild with a frying pan.

Heston B’s approach to food is, fundamentally, at odds with what Little Chef seek to do. They’re operating in completely opposing markets – as Channel 4 knew full well when setting this absurd venture up. And fireworks have already started to fly, with the show’s one special ingredient turning out not to be the not-very-nutty professor Heston, but rather the Head Honcho at Little Chef, Ian Pegler. Pegler gifts Channel 4 the tools with which to make entertaining television, and from the moment he refused to give the company’s GP (or any figures at all, as it turned out) to Blumenthal, we knew we were on to a winner.

Ian is the anti-Alan Sugar, by way of Alan Partridge. From his bewilderingly misplaced use of the term ‘bluesky thinking’ to his assertion that Heston B could do absolutely anything he wanted with the company (so long as he didn’t change the menu), the befuddled swine was a trove of amusing vignettes, no moreso than the point towards the end at which, when pressed, he hung up on Heston Blumen-heck in a mild panic – a comedy moment which had to be seen
to be believed.

So far it’s a curious little programme this. You can’t help but feel HB is the only one of Channel 4’s four chefs who could actually do something with the idea. Hugh FW would start blubbing straight off the bat, Ramsay would fail, then blame everyone around him and Oliver would fail whilst pretending he’d succeeded, playing some Snow Patrol over the end credits by way of insisting he’d changed the world.

It’s interesting watching snobbishness battling inverse snobbishness and so I’ll watch this through to the end. It’s worth it for the guilty pleasure of the hilarious hatchet job on Ian Pegler, which would be cruel rather than amusing, if only it wasn’t Ian himself himself holding the hatchet.

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