Yay to Michelin, Nay to TripAdvisor: Calum Franklin blasts online review site on The Nightcap

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd May 2019

Salt owner Paul Foster has released the first episode of his podcast, The Nightcap, and true to form, the central focus of the episode - The Michelin Guide - was overshadowed by the chef's deep hatred of TripAdvisor

Together with host Simon Alexander – podcaster, producer and daytime cooking show contestant and runner-up on Yes, Chef, the pair will host eight chefs at the restaurant, where they will enjoy an eight-course dinner and sit down for a nightcap to discuss all things culinary. 

For their first guest, the pair received  the executive chef at Holborn Dining Room, famous on Instagram for his pies, Calum Franklin - enjoying a choice of lemon tea or Chardonnay. 

Nightcap

They kicked off with an episode about receiving a Michelin Star. 

Paul Foster The Nightcap
Image: Paul Foster and host Simon Alexander

Simon asked the chefs to answer questions like what sets Michelin star restaurants apart from others: whether the food, the feel is  different, and is there something you can put your finger on; whether the system works, and why; whether it ends up defining you as a restaurant and whether Paul or Callum have visited restaurants and wondered why they don't have any stars. 

The chefs agreed that nowadays, it is harder to differentiate. 

Calum said: “You can go to one kitchen where it’s still run the old military way and there’s silence all the time, you don’t touch your nose, you don’t blink, and then you go to other Michelin star kitchens and it’s much more relaxed – people come in in their underpants.” 

Both chefs also agreed that  while the Michelin inspectors love a bit of "cloak and dagger" mystery, the system encourages attention to detail and consistency, and that that isn't a bad thing. 

But most often, star or no star, familiarity is what makes customers return time and time again, they said, like at Noma, where guests are greeted by the entire team as if they were entering someone's home.

TripAdvisor - a chef's enemy?

They then moved on to talk about Paul Foster's favourite subject - TripAdvisor. While the host defended the platform, both chefs were intransigent in their objection to it.

They joked about when Gary Usher received a review saying “I’ve just driven past and it doesn’t look like the type of place I’d like to eat,” along with a 0/5 rating, and when Paul wrote a fake review for a kebab shop in Stratford-Upon-Avon saying the spitroast Pikachu was delicious. 

“There could be a geezer in Islamabad writing a review of Salt at the moment; there’s nothing that can stop that from happening," Calum said.

But the real problem, he said, is that TripAdvisor is "the first thing people will look at, because of the Google algorithm.”

“That’s the danger, because if people are writing trash on there all the time, that’s the first thing people see. Not everyone sees our side of it, where you’re in the business.”

And we know by now that Paul never ignores a bad review, but Calum agreed on how difficult it is.

"Today I was sat there having a little manager’s talk about the business and someone said we got a rough one the other day, and I was saying to myself: 'just don’t look at it, because all that’s going to happen is that it’s going to make you furious. And I looked at it. And I was furious.”

Finally, the chefs spoke about stress in the kitchen, and how to address this. 

Calum said he had been so stressed that he once bent down to pick something up on the floor, only to sit up and see a chef staring at him as clumps of his hair fell out onto the floor. 

Months later, after ignoring symptoms he had put down to tiredness, Calum collapsed on the street and was hospitalised for five months. 

“That’s another great thing about being a chef, you generally don’t take care of your health properly," he joked. 

“I was out of the business for five weeks at a time when I genuinely thought I was so important to the business I could not be away from it. And you know what happened in five weeks? Nothing. The restaurant was perfect. We had a review out which was amazing while I was in hospital, and it taught me so much.”

“Chefs can be thick skulled. I wouldn’t take an afternoon off to go to a GP and I ended up being five weeks out of the restaurant.”

Following episodes in The Nightcap series will feature Brad Carter, Frances Atkins, Simon Hulstone, Pete Sanchez, Paul Welburn, Tim Allen and Aaron Mulliss and, as this episode, will be available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd May 2019

Yay to Michelin, Nay to TripAdvisor: Calum Franklin blasts online review site on The Nightcap