Humble pie tops the menu for TV chef
HE COOKED venison for the Queen's birthday, pops up regularly on our television screens and charges guests up to £300 a day to master the culinary arts.
But Nick Nairn, one of the UK's foremost celebrity chefs, has been forced to eat an exquisitely prepared portion of humble pie by a team of health and hygiene inspectors.
Unannounced visits to the chef's cook school at Port of Menteith near Stirling between 2003 and last year resulted in no fewer than 13 recommendations to improve standards of cleanliness, equipment and food storage.
Perhaps most embarrassing of all, officials invited the Aston Martin-driving chef and his staff to attend a cleanliness seminar.
Nairn last night insisted the criticisms were minor and did not affect food safety, and revealed his cook school was shutting for a week this summer for a major refurbishment that would exceed health standards.
The 48-year-old has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame, becoming in 1990 the youngest Scottish chef to win a Michelin star. Four years ago he quit the restaurant business to concentrate on his cook school, which attracts around 6,500 paying customers a year.
But while the vast majority of trainee chefs no doubt thoroughly enjoy their day, documents obtained from Stirling Council under freedom of information laws show environmental health officers were not entirely happy on any of their three visits.
Although they found the overall standard of hygiene was "very good", the issues raised included:
• A fly killer was coated in dead insects and inspectors demanded more frequent cleaning;
• Specialist advice needed to be sought on how to store smoked salmon produced on the premises to stop it going off. Staff were given a five-point, step-by-step plan on how to make sure the fish was kept safely.
• Part of the kitchen had a damaged floor covering, which could make it difficult to clean away bacteria;
• A thermometer used for food temperature monitoring did not appear to have been checked for accuracy, and a record of checks was asked for;
• Containers with tight lids were required to store open packets of food;
• Clothes which had been worn outside were not kept away from kitchen areas and inspectors ordered that lockers be installed.
In one letter to the school of cookery, inspectors offered an invitation to a 10-a-head seminar on keeping to kitchen hygiene regulations.
Last night Nairn
told Scotland on Sunday: "We take these recommendations very seriously and we act on all of them. We have had a lot of dialogue with the health and safety officials and we employ a consultant to come in and check on a regular basis and advise us.
"We are going to close for a week in July for major work and we want to exceed, not just meet, all the rules. I would also point out that the faults, although they shouldn't have happened, are very, very minor and don't affect food safety, which is always at the highest standard."
Andrew Fairlie, Scotland's only two-Michelin-star chef, said he sympathised with Nairn: "It's just one of these things: every restaurant, every hotel, every hospital, is going to have something. I don't know anywhere which will be absolutely perfect, the rules and regulations are so strict.
"And it raises the issue of whether these records should really be public. People can look at a record and come to the conclusion that if there's one or two failings then it's not safe, which is completely wrong."
For 300, a customer can learn from Nick Nairn how to cook the ultimate luxury "modern Scottish" meal. One menu consists of filo basket of mussels with bacon and brie, followed by roast rump of lamb with spinach gratin and tomato basil sauce, then bramble and almond tart with custard.
Other Nairn specialities include spaghetti with crab, and honey and whisky ice cream.
Guest chefs, whose classes are typically cheaper, include John Webber, formerly of Kinnaird Country House in Perthshire, and Alan Mathieson, the former head of executive dining for the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The issue of food safety and cleanliness has become increasingly important in recent years. In 1996, 21 people died after eating contaminated meat supplied by a butcher's shop in Wishaw, Lanarkshire, in the world's worst-ever E.coli epidemic.
The most recent statistics on notifiable cases of food poisoning show that cases rose from 6,804 in 2004 to 6,918 in 2005. As well as E.coli, which is linked to red meat, other notorious food bugs include salmonella, typically found in eggs, and campylobacter in poultry products.
If environmental health inspectors do find something seriously wrong with a restaurant or takeaway, then they have the ultimate power to close premises down if necessary. However, in most cases, they will insist on a detailed action plan to make sure premises literally clean up their act.
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