Stephen Jardine: Get back to the kitchen in 2012
IT IS the ultimate chefs’ club. You can only join by invitation and membership requires being able to keep a secret.
This weekend Le Club des Chefs des Chefs is holding its annual gathering in Paris and everyone present has something in common – they feed the most powerful people in the world.
Established 35 years ago, the club allows top chefs from the kitchens of the world’s political leaders to share ideas and swap tips on dinner table diplomacy. A lot is at stake. The head chef at the United Nations claims his food can influence the outcome of delicate negotiations.
We all know food can set a mood but can a dinner really change the course of history? “If politics divides then the table brings people together”, said Gilles Bragard, who runs the elite chefs club.
Chefs in politics have extraordinary access to leaders and top level discussions.
The head chef at the Elysee Palace has seen six French leaders come and go. Fitness-mad Nicolas Sarkozy pushed him to the limit by banning cheese but Francois Hollande has returned the fromage to its rightful place on the French dinner table. Proof that politicians come and go but chefs remain.
Britain is represented in the elite club by the Queen’s head chef Mark Flanagan but he’s not the only person to have cooked for Her Majesty. Our own Andrew Fairlie cooked for the Queen, George Bush, Tony Blair and other world leaders at the G8 Summit at Gleneagles. At the time he admitted he’d only become nervous when the CIA walked into the kitchen and stood around watching him cook.
But Jacques Chirac also piled on the pressure when he said of British food: “One cannot trust people who have such bad cuisine”. Over the course of dinner, he changed his view.
Afterwards Fairlie was ushered through to meet his guests and hear how much they’d enjoyed the meal. That was because the chef had done his homework and delivered what he knew they would like, including a special chocolate dessert for the Queen.
Thanks to The Great British Menu series, Nick Nairn also had the chance to cook for Her Majesty. He served up loin of roe venison at a spectacular dinner for the Queen’s 80th birthday celebrations.
Looking back, he says he only really relaxed when the plate came back empty and he knew his efforts had been well received.
With packed itineraries and secrets shared and overheard around the table, political leaders put a lot of trust in their chefs around the world, with one exception – in Russia, the Kremlin still employs an official taster just to ensure that President Putin’s food hasn’t been poisoned.
That’s something no chef would want to have to explain.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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