Fischers loses its Michelin star

 

 

 

 

FISCHERS of Baslow Hall has lost its Michelin Star after 25 consecutive years. It’s the second time this decade that a North Derbyshire restaurant has tumbled from the guide.

Four years ago, in 2015, Tessa Bramley’s Old Vicarage at Ridgeway lost hers, an award held continuously since 1998.

Some may point to the departure of Baslow’s head chef Rupert Rowley earlier this year following changes at the country house, owned by Max (above right) and Susan Fischer, after almost 17 years at the helm but the Guide is as taciturn about its reasons for exclusion as it is about inclusion.

There was a bit of a fanfare locally about Fischers’ quarter century of glory so it is all the more bitter the star was lost this year.

I can claim to be the person who first told Max he had earned a star, quite out of the blue. One autumn day in 1994 I was at my desk at the Sheffield Star when I opened a Press release from Michelin to read of the award. These were the days, long gone, when the Guide never bothered to tell the recipients in advance.

Naturally I rang Max for a quote and to my surprise found he didn’t know. To my further surprise he also said, during the conversation, that “I suppose we shall get all those people coming wanting steak and strawberries,” referring  to some (but not all) types of Guide groupies and box tickers.

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How Michelin announced the losses of stars

I gently managed to persuade him to let me do a big interview later, pointing out that Baslow Hall was not your steak and strawberries kind of place. I haven’t got that interview to hand but recall asking him his favourite dish. It was something his mother used to make.

A few years later Max rang me with an idea. He was looking to groom a future replacement, ideally a local lad, who eventually would take a share in the business, enabling him to take a back seat. Could I put something in? Max had been long in the business, previously in Bakewell, some readers will remember.

One person who read that article was the father of Rupert Rowley (pictured below), who was then cooking away. He had a cv to die for, having worked for Raymond Blanc, John Burton Race and Gordon Ramsay. He sent the cutting to his son.

The upshot was that Rupert joined as sous in 2002 and was made head chef the following year.

Much later the couple and Rupert bought a pub in the village and turned it into a restaurant, Rowleys. Rupert, now studying international hospitality management and working as a development chef, no longer has a stake in it. Nor is his name still on the pub sign; it has reverted to the previous name, the Prince of Wales.

The Old Vicarage was to join the Michelin stellar elite four years later, giving us two in the area. Ironically, now Baslow loses its star four years later.

Sadly, when I put down my fork and spoon eating for The Star some five years or so ago I also handed in my expense account, so have not eaten at either place recently so cannot comment on the merits of the Guide’s decision.

But there are fewer people who go around with a copy of Michelin than there are, say, the Good Food Guide or Hardens. let along the AA Guide and I fancy holding a star has more publicity value than anything.

Still, it is the ultimate accolade yet fatal to take it too seriously like French chef Bernard Loiseau who thought, wrongly, that he had lost one of his three stars at Le Cote d’Or in Burgundy. He shot himself. And yes I have eaten there, too, but that is another story . . .

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The magic of Michelin

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The new Michelin Guide 2017 awards were announced with a big fanfare in London, delighting some restaurants and chefs, sending others into misery. You could, if you wanted, watch the ceremony streamed live on the internet.

How things have changed. When I started reviewing, back in the 1980s, Michelin didn’t even bother to inform restaurants first but sent out the results via an embargoed Press release to journalists – giving them enough time to interview and photograph the starry chefs.

So it was in 1994 that I opened my Press release to find that Max Fischer had won a star for the first time at Baslow Hall. I rang to congratulate him and get a quote and was surprised this was the first he’d heard of it. And his reaction wasn’t quite what I imagined. “I suppose we shall get all these people coming wanting steak and strawberries,” he sighed.

I popped over for an interview after patiently explaining that the Sheffield Star, regional newspaper that it might be, certainly wouldn’t give people the idea that Baslow Hall was a steak and strawberries type of place.

Max then might have been the exception then because most chefs would die to get into the famed guide. Sometimes literally. I have eaten, wonderfully, at Bernard Loiseau’s restaurant in Saulieu, Burgundy. Sadly he shot himself in 2003 when he thought he might lose one of his three stars. He didn’t. His widow Dominique continues the business.

There is Michelin magic as far as the hospitality business is concerned. It is an accurate guide as to where to find good food. But it is good food of a certain type. And as some restaurants have found, the pressures of keeping up the standards don’t necessarily lead to success. Some have gone bust.

In Sheffield a few years ago Marcus Lane, then owner of Rafters and the holder of a Bib Gourmand, the award just below a star, asked not to be considered in following years because he thought it added undue pressure.

There will be plenty of headlines over the next few days about Michelin winners and losers but not that many people will buy a copy of the guide itself. Have you got one? The amount of detail it gives about any one place is small. Its value is the publicity and cachet it bestows. Much more user-friendly are publications like the Good Food Guide and Harden’s.

I long ago lost patience with the AA guide when I realised it was handing out rosettes to places not worthy of mention. One leading chef confided it had rung up to get details of the menu over the past year because one of its very few inspectors would not be visiting. Needless to say, this particular restaurant was included. I am sure things are very different now.

At one time this was entitled Egon Ronay’s AA Guide (the Hungarian food critic had previously had run his own guide) but when I pointed out in an article that his main involvement had been to provide his name and write the foreword this provoked a furious letter from the great man himself. I was carpeted for my impudence by a stupid Star executive but stood my ground.

But back to Michelin. Not much luck for places around here but congratulations  to Max and head chef Rupert Rowley for retaining the star once again this year. I don’t think there will be any need to let them know.