'This article was just a bit underhand and at the moment it's just bad form'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Yesterday, Michelin-starred chef and owner of the black swan in oldstead, tommy banks, put out a message in response to a Daily Mail review of one his recipe boxes, which gave it a score of 1/5

The chef's flagship restaurant The Black Swan in Oldstead was ranked best in the world by review site TripAdvisor this year, and has held a Michelin star since 2013; and he himself was the winner of Great British Menu in 2016 and 2017. But, as indiscriminate as the pandemic has been for everyone in the hospitality industry, both his debut site and his latest venture, Roots, were brought to a complete standstill.

Tommy launched his Made in Oldstead recipe boxes in April, delivering two three course meals nationwide on a weekly basis, as, like many restaurants up and down the UK, it was a way of continuing to earn revenue for their restaurants despite the lockdown.

In a video post on Twitter, the chef explained that a freelance journalist on assignment for the Daily Mail, Sudi Pigott, approached him asking for a free box, for an article "supposed to be about the diversification of restaurants and food boxes." 

He said was surprised to see that the box had received a 1/5 review in a Daily Mail article in the following days, describing the box as 'not quite the taste of Yorkshire' - and using terms the chef described as "scathing," with comments describing the tomato tart as "unremarkable" with "greyish pastry," the cold soup as tasting like "decaying veg" and the overall box as "clumsily seasoned ready-meals."

'Not sour grapes'

The chef said he was "pretty shocked and upset" to see the review, and that the article was not what it purported to be when the journalist approached him. 

Emphasising that he didn't want to sound like "sour grapes" - he insisted that what most upset him was the underlying lack of empathy in the review. 

"We set up Made in Oldstead during coronavirus and started a new business from scratch. It's been really really important for us," allowing them to keep a large proportion of their staff in work. 

"All my team have been working incredibly hard, it's been a great business for us, it's provided us with security and jobs for people.

What's more, he said: "we use all the same suppliers as the restaurant, fishmongers, butchers, all the same farmers and we've been able to put huge orders in with them throughout this whole period," adding that "we've had great messages from our suppliers, thanking us and stories like 'in order to fulfill your orders I'm bringing this person back off of furlough'." 

"It's been a real good news story and positive thing, and that's down to the hard work of a lot of different people."

'Scathing and massively unfair'

The chef described the review as "scathing and massively unfair", and said: "Last week, my mum was out picking out all the tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers for the food box that week - it goes in so fresh, everything's made as 'a la minute' as we can make it and it goes out."

"I tried everything that went into those boxes, it was all great, so to receive such a scathing, unfair review for a box that we effectively gifted, it's just hard to take." 

Thanking a large part of the media for its support to the hospitality industry, he said: "largely this is positive, but I felt this article today was just a bit underhand and at the moment it's just bad form." 

"99 percent of people have been awesome but if you're not on that sort of wavelength, maybe you need to rethink things a little bit because everybody needs as much support as they can get at the moment."

Sudi's side

Speaking to The Staff Canteen, journalist Sudi Pigott denied any foul-play, and said that she gave the restaurant feedback about the box six days before the article was published, adding that "they could have taken mitigating steps, but chose to ignore me."

She said: "My responsibility is to readers who trust my opinions, not to propping up a family business which I doubt is suffering to the degree many paying rents are," adding that the impact of the pandemic has been felt in the hospitality media, too. 

"Each publication has a different format and we are transparent about that," she added, "and they could have taken the time to check."

The journalist stressed that it is not in her interests "to undermine a good restaurant," and said: "I want all restaurants, especially independent ones, to thrive."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 2nd September 2020

'This article was just a bit underhand and at the moment it's just bad form'