Essentially it is a cross between Ramsay?s Kitchen Nightmares and one of Jamie Oliver?s ?only I can save Britain? missions.
Blumenthal is, as the narrator points out, probably the most unlikely celebrity chef anyone would have thought of to fix Little Chef. He does have a very big BMW however, and the viewer is reminded of this in pretty much every other shot.
The big cheese at Little Chef is Chief Executive Ian Pegler; a man who seems mildly cretinous thanks to his insistent level of false perkiness. Added to this is his attempt to fake the possession of some charisma, which, unfortunately, begins to grate quite quickly (big cheese/grate… no?).
Then along comes Michael, the manager of the restaurant picked to pilot Heston?s new dishes. This is a man who has been with Little Chef for 25 years. Understandably this appears to have left some visible damage in both his physical appearance and mental condition. Joining the company as a dish washer, Michael is incredibly precious about Little Chef, and quite temperamental in his conversations with the Fat Duck head chefs.
The problem, which runs throughout the first episode, and no doubt through the rest of the series is that the Chief Exec wants Blumenthal to create a dramatic new menu which supplies a ?taste explosion?. The problem with this is that he also doesn't want to alienate the 11 million strong customer base who enjoy tasteless tripe. Something about having cake and eating it springs to mind.
That figure of 11 million does seem far-fetched – we don't know anyone who eats at the chain, and struggle to think of the sort of demographic which does. We can only imagine it is elderly drivers, people who used to shop at Safeway and insist they still do, generally simple people, and those with excessive hair growth on the back of their hands.
Nevertheless, some of the customers who were asked about the pilot menu did come across as vaguely articulate and made fair points about a motorway food outlet not being the right environment for outlandish food, or ?poncy? food as one eater put it. Though to them, poncy is probably eating food with clean cutlery.
A trait of Pegler which comes through very strongly is his inconsistency and hypocrisy, something Blumenthal is at pains to allude to throughout. In Heston?s defence, Pegler is VERY irritating, and manages to use the term ?blue sky thinking? no less than three times. He also hangs up on the experimental chef when pressed for details on his profit margins. Low grade food perchance?
It's going to be an entertaining series if this was anything to go by. And, man, that Olympic breakfast looked good.
[story by Keith Emmerson]