The rise of guest chefs

Diana Henry

Once upon a time the biggest changes in a restaurant menu involved swapping out one seasonal fruit for another. But now menus - and even the chefs - can differ from day to day. When the latter happens, diners can experience the cuisine of another region or country without ever leaving town, reports Diana Henry as she explores the growing trend of guests chefs in restaurants.

Henry discusses the phenomenon through a few different examples. The first is James Lowe's eat London restaurant, Lyle's. Lowe brings in chefs from around the world for his "Guest Series", including Elena Reygadas from Mexico, Parisan chef Bertrand Grebaut and Jeremy Charles from Newfoundland. These chefs may not be household names, although they are all highly regarded in the food world. Using celebrity chefs isn't the goal for Lowe, but rather broadening his - and his diners' - horizons. "When I opened Lyle's I didn't have much time to travel, and exposure to other cooking is what feeds a chef. Now I can be inspired by other chefs and so can my customers," he says. 

Another example can be found in London's Carousel, although the concept is a bit different. Created over a year ago by family members who had run several successful popup restaurants, Carousel has a static staff but no permanent chefs, instead relying on guest chefs for stay for weeks at a time. "We wanted a permanent place - no more pop-ups", says co-owner Ed Templeton, "and we wanted to give people a flavour of what chefs were doing in other countries, without having to get on a plane." 

Henry also discusses the guest chef concept in areas outside of London, noting that the trend is "also ushering in a new kind of place to eat - much less traditional, more surprising, definitely 'fluid'". Perhaps the most amazing thing about this effort is that it isn't aimed solely at expensive, fine dining establishments. Many of the offerings fall into the mid-range of restaurant prices, making it an affordable way for food lovers to explore new cuisines without getting on a plane. It's a refreshing development, says Henry "After decades of shouty, sweary, competitive cheffery there's a breath of fresh air blowing through some of the most interesting kitchens."

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