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Apr 23, 2001 03:50 AM

The Observer "Food" Magazine: A rant

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Was anyone else unfortunate enough to be confronted by this hugely offensive piece of tosh on Sunday morning?

What purported to be a magazine for "serious foodies" turned out to be one of the most patronising, tired, lazy, flabby pieces of garbage I have ever come across. It was given away free with the Sunday paper, and nothing was still far too much to pay for it

Rather than have a single article of any interest to anyone at all ( surely not so difficult when you have the supposed weight of Fleet St behind you ) it was a procession of micro celebrities ( yes I am back to that again ) discussing their eating habits. Sample articles included

Celebrity nutritionist Jane Clarke ( Oh yes, you can become a Z lister for telling people to drink eight glasses of water these days ) analysing the shopping basket of Josie Lawrence ( our American cousins will say "who?" don't worry, so do we. ) Can you believe that they still come up with this idea and think it is new. But this time they devoted a double page spread to it. How the editorial team must have swapped high fives when they thought up that ground breaking idea.

Secondly we had, "so "Z" list he is off the scale" Philip Schofield ( again my American chums, you really don't want to know ) in a cutting article called " Me & my clarets "

Finally, we had Marco Pierre White ( you just knew he was in there somewhere didn't you?) criticising other chains for being run by accountants and having no love of the food. So, the 1hr 45min turn around time at Mirabelle is to contribute to the whole eating experience eh Marco?

Not only that he then proceeded to vent forth with some of the most racist comments I have seen in print for a long time. When asked about the different needs/behaviour of different nationalities in his "restaurants" he resopnded " well the Jews always want the same seats, while the Japs want their bill straight away. As for the Americans, they are just like children" Ho Ho, what a character.

I thought this sort of trite publishing was kept to OK magazine and the Enquirer, but I guess not. I certainly will not be forking out any of my hard earned money for that rag again.

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  1. Just came across a new magazine here (in NY) called Foodie - only glanced at it briefly, but, if I may steal your adjectives, I think "flabby" and "lazy" should appear in the reviews of this bore, too. Though, unlike the Observer version, Marco Pierre White made no "witty!" contributions. What the heck does it matter how much the man loves food if he (obviously) doesn't love his fellowman/woman! Amazing that the magazine printed those comments in a newly-launched publication.

    1. For us Americans, and those of us who just don't know, who is this Marco Pierre White, and what are his restaurants so that we can avoid them?

      14 Replies
      1. re: LBQT
        Simon Majumdar

        MPW is the supposed Enfant Terrible of british cooking. He ran a rather good restaurant in London called Harveys which deservedly gained a star rating and then he went on to open a couple more places. All of this was fine as the food was superb and one could put up with his slightly lame " I throw pots at the comis" schtick.

        However, he then became and entrapeneur. Setting up what is in effect a chain of "upscale" places run by bean counters but taking lots of cash from people who bought into his floppy fringed ferocity. He wrote a very arch and knowing cookery book called "White Heat" which says it all.

        The restaurants are IMHO, universally appalling, overpriced, with quick table turns and in my experience, poor service. They are legion now and include Titanic ( loud and full of waif models ) Mirabelle, Quo Vardis etc. I have no problem with the guy making the fortune he must be making but when he pontificates about how bad chains are, one has to smirk

        The real shame of it is that he is perhaps the most talented chef to come out of the UK in 20 years.

        Ho hum

        1. re: Simon Majumdar

          also has at least one hotel breasserie franchise which actually was quite pleasant for Brunch, at Post House in Belsize Park -- and will soon open something incongruously called "Steakhouse Parisienne" in Knightsbridge.

          1. re: magnolia
            yvonne johnson

            and some (ok, me included) might say he is extremely good looking. this might contribute to his fame. the writing in 'white heat' may be over the top, but MPW does photograph well. and his mum died when he was six...that messes you up in terms of temper tantrums.

            ps: magnolia, main reason i'm chiming in-- it was a while back, but we were talking about shopping habits and layouts of shops, and i think there was a ? about an author. anyway, i came across Paco Underhill's "Why we buy: the science of shopping" NY: Simon & Schuster. Quite interesting, like an anthropological take. i wondered if this was the book.

            1. re: yvonne johnson

              Yes Yvonne - that's the book. Could not forget a name like Paco Underhill. And yes, MPW is quite a dish. If anything - he and other chefs-turned-chain-moguls, much maligned herewith (by me as well sometimes) like Claudio Pulze, Conran, a few others - can be credited with generally elevating the level of whatever you'd call the step above fast food, like Pizza Express - dependable, consistent, not usually fantastic and not usually horrible. Just usually disappointing to someone who's looking for a Chowhound experience. But I guess not everyone is a Chowhound...some people are just looking for something to eat.

              Found another good book on a semi-related subject to buyer behaviour - though more a bugaboo - "customer service" in France, if you read French, called "Service Compris" by Ralph Hababou & another author. Good stuff.

              1. re: magnolia

                I liked the OFM and thought it a damn site better than any other UK food rag currently on the shelves. This however, is saying not a lot as all the rest are terrible. I thought the Marco interview was really fascinating, and showed sides of him I had not seen in print before. The "racist" stuff was just astonishing.
                You can't really expect too much of a magazine with a fop like Nigel Slater at the helm, but if it survives 12 months, I think it could well be really worth a read.

                Marco's new place is called the Parisienne Chophouse and is now open (I bet Simon can't wait to make his reservation).

                Marco was beautiful, but has definately lost his looks, as the picture in OFM shows.

                1. re: Andy Lynes
                  yvonne johnson

                  Nigel Slater "a fop"? ah, that's not right, surely? (chuckle). i have nearly all of his books and think they are terrific. he writes well and tells it how it is. he quite rightly admonishes those who think a chicken can taste good without its skin. btw i've not seen him on tv so can't say if he's a pain to listen to or watch. maybe that's the problem?

                  ps. i add the observer/guardian web site which is really quite good for international news (email and password only -no further info needed- for archived material)for those who want to read the sordid tales about MPW. Just search Marco Pierre White. you will get lots of hits. I guess the story "Marco: man, boy" is the most recent piece.

                  Link: http://www.observer.co.uk

                  1. re: yvonne johnson

                    I would agree with you - I think Nigel is fab! I've bought every cook book he's written. I love his recipes (but occassionally modify them to reduce fat levels - he's almost as bad as Delia...'now just add 3 tablespoons of double cream to your 4 cheese mixture, and an entire stick of butter...'). Nigel doesnt have to worry about keeping up appearances as I understand that he is totally devoted to his 3 cats.

                    I do love his appreciation for simple ingredients and how to make the most of them. His '30-Minute Cook' has been my bible for years.

                    1. re: Hallie
                      yvonne johnson

                      didn't know about the cats. must be a good man.

                      i quite like the 30-m cook, tho my ed doesn't have pictures (the photos in his other books are dribbly, mouth-watering), and i don't think the recipes are as good as those in 'real cooking' and 'real food'. his book based on his contribs to marie claire is quite good, but again not as good as RC and RF i don't think.i recently bought 'appetite' and not having used it much can't give a balanced view.

                      i, too, cut back on the butter and cream. can't go overboard every single day can we?

                2. re: magnolia
                  yvonne johnson

                  i agree that PE is consistent and reliable. i'd go a step farther and say that the pizzas are lovely. nice thin, but not too thin, base. my favorite is the anchovy, caper, olive--the margarita, i think. their pizzas beat the ones i've tried in new york. i'm not keen on a chewey, strodgy base or lots of tom sauce.

                  1. re: yvonne johnson

                    I agree about the anchovy pizza! Coming from a nation where classic recipes are altered to suit the taste of people everyone seems to hates anchoviesb{what's the point of Caesar salad without anchovies???? why not just ask for iceburg lettuce with dressing} I am happy to have as many as can fit on the pie!

                    New York pizzas have been on a steady, perpetual decline probably since my parents were teens. I'm sure there's a thread about this here somewhere...

              2. re: magnolia

                Just had dinner at MPW in Belsize Park tonight - must admit, v. impressed (much more so than I thought I would be). We had Gnocchi Provencal and the duck which were both splendid. Service was okay (wait-staff disappeared for a bit too long) but overall impression was good - will certainly go back. Went to Titanic last year - totally over rated! The food was less than original (ubiquitous fish cakes - I like them but they are on every menu in London now - Cafe Fish does the best ones though...anyway...) would not go back to Titanic any time soon. Also, Marco Pierre White doesnt do himself any favours by being such a surly git. I can take Rick Stein's attitude problem because he tempers it with a certain earthy charm, but MPW just comes across as a cantankerous misanthrop!

                1. re: Hallie

                  I went to Titanic last year because of the Independent £10.00 offer (currently running again now by the way). It was the worst MPW experience I have ever had. The service was little short of chaotic. The room is huge and dingy and incredibly noisy. The food was reasonable, especially for a tenner but I would never go back. I beleive it has had some serious problems attracting custom and is now only open in the evenings. It can only be a matter of time before it sinks without trace. It isn't even mentioned on the White Star Line website, Marcos official site.

                  Link: http://www.whitestarline.org.uk

                  1. re: Andy Lynes

                    Interesting, my experience at Titanic was identical. The food was well and truly mediocre. The ambiance reminded me of having dinner in a high school gym decorated for prom night (complete with glittery ball hanging from ceiling). I would never go back - even for a £10 meal.

                    Since we are discussing our disappointments - may I add to that list The Oxo Tower...

                    Okay but over rated and way over priced. We were blinded by the setting sun for most of our meal, which didn't add to our enjoyment. I don't plan on returning.

              3. re: Simon Majumdar

                Thanks! And I thought only we Americans had pompous and obnoxious celebrity chefs!!!

            2. Head above the parapet time. Clear's throat. I'm one of those who, er, works for the Observer. I was not at all involved in the production of either the dummy or the first issue of OFM, despite being restaurant critic for the paper. (I'm away from the paper at the moment writing a book, and chowhound may prove to be a disasterously good distraction from it.)

              Personally I too think the celebrity element was far too hefty. MPW is less food man than restaurateur these days and, as I've never enjoyed eating in his places, I too could have done without a piece on him, despite the fact that it was a well written one. Ditto the spread on bloody nobu. And the basket wheeze is fun once but will become increasingly tired.

              All that said there was some fun and good stuff in there - i loved the chef writing about what menu language really means - and, when it finds its feet under the editor, who has only just arrived in position, I think it could prove to be a good thing. (BTW Nigel Slater isn't the editor. He just gets his picture in above the foreword because everybody loves him so much). Naturally I would say all this because I'm writing for it but...

              I'm not going to ask you to give it time. readers have absolutely no responsibility to the newspaper they buy. It's our job to get it right not your job to hang with us while we do. Still I do think it offers a better package than you'll get elsewhere, particulalrly if the cleebrity fetish drops away. MInd you, if the sales figures go up as a result of the mix in the first edition, then its going to be celebs all the way and nothing I say will change that.


              3 Replies
              1. re: jayrayner
                Simon Majumdar

                An honest appraisal and an honest food critic. The world must be coming to an end.

                While there is so much else about the Observer to offend and to drive me into the arms of Mr Murdoch ( now that is not a pretty picture ) I appreciate your candour

                Who knows in a few years when Titanic III is turning tables every 35mins for a £300 a head meal, when Jane Clarke ( who I have to confess I used to know in another life altogether ) has analysed so many micro celeb baskets she is reduced to chasing Timmy Mallett down the street screaming "nuts contain protein" and Nigel Slater and Nigella Lawson have morphed into one person whose whole life revolves around home made mushy peas, I might, just might buy The Observer again.

                Probably not though


                1. re: Simon Majumdar


                  you'll be pleased to hear that the next issue will contain a feature on Gordon Ramsay at Claridges. Order your copy now!

                  1. re: Andy Lynes
                    Simon Majumdar

                    Thanks for the warning Andy.

                    All they need now is an article called " Yo Sushi and Me" by Jamie Oliver and my nightmare would be complete.

                    It is just as if they have looked into the very deepest darkest caverns of my personal Room 101 and created a magazine out of it

                    may they rot in the bowels of Hell.