Cover story:

Celebrity chef Manu Feildel blames bad re­views for the 2014 clo­sure of his restau­rant, Le Grande Cirque. Now, as the cri­tiqued be­comes the critic, Manu vows to use his power for good. SHAN­NON HAR­LEY re­ports

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS - Read Manu Re­views to­day at de­li­cious.com.au/eatout

Now that Manu Feildel is be­com­ing a restau­rant critic, the MKR star vows to use his power for good.

Af­ter he was fa­mously de­stroyed by a restau­rant critic in 2014, it’s hard to be­lieve that Manu Feildel would ever want to re­join the restau­rant game, but the fourth-gen­er­a­tion French chef is bit­ing back, and this time he’ll be dish­ing up the stars, not the food.

Feildel has been judg­ing hope­ful home cooks through­out his suc­cess­ful nine-se­ries ten­ure as co-host of the Seven Net­work’s My Kitchen Rules, but this year marks a new chal­lenge for the re­cently mar­ried fa­ther-of-two as he joins the de­li­cious.com.au panel of ex­pert restau­rant re­view­ers.

“Tra­di­tional crit­ics are so neg­a­tive, I want to change the way we cri­tique a restau­rant,” Feildel tells me over the phone in a French ac­cent as thick as Brit­tany butter. He’s in New Zealand film­ing the new se­ries of MKR NZ with co-host Pete Evans.

“I want to be an hon­est critic with a pro­fes­sional out­look, I’ll tell the truth about the restau­rant,with­out un­nec­es­sar­ily slam­ming the chef. I want the chefs to know I’m on their side – I un­der­stand the sac­ri­fices and hard­ships of their life­style be­cause I’ve been there – and I’m also on the reader’s side be­cause I’ll be bru­tally hon­est, I just won’t be a d*ck­head about it.” Feildel,who was “deeply hurt” by

The Aus­tralian critic John Leth­lean’s 2014 re­view of his now-closed Melbourne restau­rant,Le Grand Cirque,says that in his monthly re­views, pub­lished on de­li­cious.com.au as part of the ex­pan­sion of the web­site’s new Eat Out sec­tion, he will never crit­i­cise a chef per­son­ally, but will fo­cus on the food in front of him and the ser­vice he re­ceives.

“I was an­gry, an­gry, an­gry af­ter I read [Leth­lean’s] re­view and then,when my business part­ner turned around and said we have to close the restau­rant, I was gob­s­macked,” ex­plains Feildel with a sud­den so­bri­ety that’s in stark con­trast to his pre­vail­ing gre­gar­i­ous tone. Leth­lean’s re­view for The Week­end

Aus­tralian mauled Feildel’s then newly opened South Yarra restau­rant, giv­ing it one star, call­ing it “très or­di­naire”, de­scrib­ing the food as “patchy – at best, solid; at worst, a dis­grace”, and ac­cus­ing the chef of open­ing Le Grande Cirque to lever­age his celebrity sta­tus.

“I cried for days like a baby, I went through a de­pres­sion for five months… It was a hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble time of my life,” says Feildel.

When asked if he would change any­thing about that re­view, Leth­lean, whose ca­reer as a na­tional restau­rant critic spans 22 years, re­mains staunch.

“That’s the role of the critic,to re­mind read­ers where the bench­marks lie. If some­thing is be­low par, it’s your job to tell peo­ple, re­gard­less of per­son­al­i­ties.We’re the con­duit be­tween the public and the in­dus­try. Our only re­spon­si­bil­ity to the chef and restau­rant is to be fair and ac­cu­rate, but as a critic we must hon­our that bond be­tween au­thor and reader.”

The power of crit­ics and the widereach­ing ef­fects of their words shouldn’t be un­der­es­ti­mated. In this in­stance, one scathing re­view and a smat­ter­ing of un­favourable ones – The Her­ald Sun’s Dan Stock wrote: “The whole pack­age is lack­ing a cer­tain joie de vivre… I didn’t leave want­ing to rush back” – led to the clo­sure of a business just four months old.

“John Leth­lean put the nail in the cof­fin for us.We were a new restau­rant and maybe his visit wasn’t per­fect.The ser­vice was green and my food was per­haps more ca­sual than what he was look­ing for, but I was crit­i­cised per­son­ally by him,” says Feildel.

The French chef claims that Le Grande Cirque was turn­ing over around $90,000 a week for the first three months of op­er­a­tion,which sud­denly dropped to $3,000.“The restau­rant be­came a ghost town very quickly, and that’s when my business part­ner told me we have to close.That was two weeks af­ter the re­view…That’s when I re­alised how pow­er­ful the critic could be.”

How will Feildel avoid burn­ing his chef bud­dies in his new role with

de­li­cious.? He says the purpose of crit­ics should be to help restau­rants im­prove – “give them a hand if they need it” – to en­hance the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence for the diner, not to “close restau­rants”.

“I’ll cri­tique,with­out be­ing an a**hole – it is pos­si­ble,” says Feildel, re­mem­ber­ing when Ge­orge Calom­baris opened his chain of Melbourne sou­vlaki joints, Jimmy Grants. “He asked us boys to check it out and give our feed­back. When I went, it was ter­ri­ble, and I called him straight away. I said ‘Mate, the sou­vlaki is dry and there’s no sauce’, and he thanked me for be­ing so hon­est.”

Leth­lean, mean­while, is adamant a chef can­not a critic be.“We’re not part of the in­dus­try and how could we ever do our job prop­erly if we were?”

Feildel says hon­esty will be his driv­ing prin­ci­ple. In an era where any­one with an In­sta­gram ac­count can be a self-pro­claimed critic, the chef says that his 25 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in the kitchen brings a fresh per­spec­tive.

“There are things that work and there are things that don’t work and some­times chefs take it too far,” Feildel ad­mits. “I’d like to bring it back to reality when I need to. I don’t care if you are my friend: white choco­late and goat’s cheese don’t go to­gether, and I won’t be afraid to write that!” he says.

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