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15 minutes with ex-Michelin Guide Editor Derek Bulmer

by Helena Lang

Ever wondered what the best job in the world is? Travelling the globe to eat in the world’s finest restaurants has to come pretty close. Derek Bulmer, former editor of the Michelin Guide, made his living doing just that. We ran into him at The Cinnamon Kitchen in central London and had to ask him to share his experiences with us.

What did you love most about the job?

I love travel, food and wine, so it encompassed everything I was passionate about. Initially Michelin just covered Britain and Ireland then, after 10 years, I started visiting other European cities, which added a whole new element to my job. Later, Michelin branched out of Europe to New York, and the world became our oyster.

Which chefs have been the most influential in British cooking?

You can’t underestimate the influence of the Roux brothers; they were the first to come here and do something we hadn’t seen before. Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay made a huge impact, too, then Heston Blumenthal came along and started doing it all differently. The likes of Gary Rhodes, Alistair Little and Simon Hopkinson helped take the stuffiness out of restaurant dining.

Have things improved in any other ways?

In the early days, the Michelin-starred restaurants were very formal and not always pleasant places to be. Now informality is the key – people no longer feel they have to be in luxurious surroundings to serve good food.

What does a restaurant have to do to get a Michelin star?

The star is about the food and nothing else. It’s about creating a memorable dish, prepared with skill, flair and imagination, taking account of flavour combinations and making sure the dish tastes how it’s supposed to. It’s basically good products, well prepared.

Where’s the best place you’ve ever eaten?

The first time I ate at Le Gavroche, I remember thinking I hadn’t eaten anything that good before. More recently, The French Laundry in California was a great experience, and there’s a little sushi restaurant in Tokyo called Sushi Saito where the chef prepares the food in front of you. I didn’t think sushi could get that good.

Is there anything that frustrates you about eating out?

Waiting. Three hours is my cut-off point for a meal – any longer and I start to get very fidgety!

Which up-and-coming chefs are exciting you right now?

Just before I retired, I tipped Nathan Outlaw as one to follow. I awarded him a second star, and wouldn’t be surprised if he went all the way. His fish cooking is as good as it gets in this country.

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