Chef Collaborations: London's High-End Dining Trend

londonJohn O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, August 30, 2013

London diners without the time or inclination to travel have been gifted some major guest appearances in recent years. In 2011, The French Laundry was transported from California to Harrods for 10 days, while in 2012, Copenhagen’s Noma took up a summer residency in Claridge’s .

As enticing as those occasions were, the pop-up trend has been going for some time now and is looking a little tired – two forthcoming events suggest that the next high-end dining trend could well be chef collaborations.

In September, Alyn Williams launches the first night of the inaugural CHEFstock. From September 3 and on every Tuesday of the month thereafter, a different chef will join Williams in the kitchen of his eponymous one-Michelin-starred restaurant . The two UK-based chefs to participate are Sat Bains (September 3) and Simon Rogan (September 17). They’re joined by Bart de Pooter of two-Michelin-starred Pastorale in Reet in Belgium (September 10) and Ignatius Chan of Iggy’s in Singapore (September 24).

Chefs are characterised as a temperamental lot so how does a collaboration like CHEFstock actually work? On each night both chefs will cook four dishes each to create a one-off eight-course tasting menu; the guest chefs choose their four dishes first and then Williams will construct complementary choices. All of the chefs were invited to participate by Williams as they’re talents he admires, but is competition in the kitchen likely? He doesn’t think so: “I don’t think that chefs these days are as precious about their cooking and restaurants as they used to be... Collaborations like this are meant to be fun and push boundaries – it's an exciting time to be a chef and I think everyone shares that feeling and wants to be a part of these sorts of events and diners can enjoy the benefits of being cooked for by not just one Michelin-starred chef, but two or three in one sitting.”

For the limited number of diners in attendance each night, the event will provide a one-off opportunity to sample a unique menu and the combined talents of two established chefs, but, other than strengthening their brand and introducing their cooking to a wider audience, how do these partnerships benefit the chefs? For Williams, it provides an opportunity to improve his skills further: “Ask any chef at any level and they'll say you never stop picking up tips from your peers. Each chef puts his own personality on the plate, it is their food and their style which sometimes can never be repeated. It is unique to them and what stands them out from others… During CHEFstock we will both be learning from each other.”

A month after CHEFstock finishes, Mayfair restaurant The Greenhouse hosts its own chef collaboration between resident head chef Arnaud Bignon and his mentor Eric Frechon. Frechon, head chef of three-Michelin-star Epicure at Le Bristol hotel in Paris, will work in the restaurant from October 23-25. After serving a series of lunches and dinners over his first two days, he will join Bignon to create a ‘four-hands’ dinner on his final evening in the restaurant. Cornish crab with mint jelly, and monkfish with cockles and razor clam are two of the dishes diners will enjoy on the night.

The two chefs began their relationship at Epicure, where Bignon was Frechon’s sous-chef for many years, and for Frechon the opportunity to work in London with his protégé was an attractive one: “I know his cuisine and I really appreciate it. I have often said that Arnaud has always been my best ‘student’ and I am very proud to work with him again, to cook with him and am delighted that he is doing so well in London.”

Tickets to CHEFstock cost £180 per person on each night, with the price including all food, wine and Pol Roger Vintage 2004 Champagne. Dinner reservations at The Greenhouse can be made on October 23-25 for £195 per person, including service. Lunch reservations can be made on October 24-25 for £145 per person, including service.