Chef Blumenthal says "I made the decision to be transparent about it." If Heston decided to be transparent, he forgot to direct his staff to do the same. I am one of the inconvenienced customers who lost a booking at the Fat Duck last week as the result of this incident. As for the reason I was given for the restaurant closure, I was outright lied to by Fat Duck staff -- not once, but twice. The first time was on Wednesday the 25th when I was told closure was due to a mechanical problem with the extraction system. I was told the same again on Friday the 27th when attempting to rebook. On Thursday the 26th I drove to Bray just to observe activity around the restaurant which was locked up tight. As I stood in the Hinds Head Pub looking out the window at about 11:45am, I saw Eric Doerr (Maitre d') casually walking across the street. I then asked the barman what he knew about the Fat Duck closure. He replied he understood there was a "mechanical problem". A few minutes later Heston entered the bar area, politely greeted me and then engaged in a casual conversation with bar staff about a football match from the previous evening. I began thinking -- "why aren't Eric and Heston on the phone dealing with the disserviced customers?" I detected no sense urgency in their demeanor. If 400 or more customers were truly effected by the closure, it seems to me all possible resources should have been marshaled to work the phones and soothe the inconvenienced faithful.
So, when did the transparency begin? No mention of the problem made the news during the 2-3 week period when customers were reporting illness. Transparency certainly did not begin on Monday when HB decided he would close the restaurant. Nor did it begin when booking staff were charged with the cumbersome task of informing customers of their canceled reservations. It seems to me "transparency" happened when it became expedient, probably sometime Friday night. I discovered the truth about the restaurant closure yesterday (Saturday), not from the appropriate source (the Fat Duck staff), but from reading the newspaper.
The media are not innocent in this debacle. In fact, I wonder if they are complicit. Have any "journalists" covering this story bothered to contact any of the people who fell ill or those whose reservations were canceled? Has anyone bothered to question the veracity of the statements made by the Fat Duck PR machine? It would appear the answer to both questions is a resounding "no"!
As a huge fan of Chef Blumenthal, I know what he and the Fat Duck staff are capable of. Eric and Isa are as good as they get. But, if Heston and his team are not careful, they run the risk of developing the kind of "gastroarrogant" reputation of the likes of Gordon Ramsay. I am not suggesting HB is vulgar like GR. I am suggesting he is risking his culinary integrity, like Ramsay, by dismissing honesty as a necessary ingredient in the recipe for success. I remain hopeful this episode will eventually be defined as an unfortunate and regrettable learning experience for Heston and his team. Right now Chef Blumenthal needs to set aside his ego and get all available staff (including Eric, Isa, Tony and - yes - Heston himself), and start working the phones.