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Star Chef Angela Hartnett Says British Food Culture Is ‘All About Money’

Speaking on Desert Island Discs, she claims Britain is not a “foodie nation”

Angela Hartnett

Angela Hartnett — the celebrated chef and owner of Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Murano, and Cafe Murano group — told the BBC that she believes Britain is still not a “foodie nation,” despite the apparent progress made in recent years, and the country’s obsession with restaurants and recipes.

Her working definition of what constitutes a “foodie nation” is bound up with economic prosperity and access. She compares Britain to European nations with a richer and more well-known food culture. “I don’t think we’re like the Italians or the Spanish, where everyone from the person who lives in one flat (to the) villa will go and buy a chicken and everyone can afford that chicken,” she said.

It is true that in this country, although the standard of food in restaurants — whose number are much greater — has improved, there remains something aspirational and comparatively privileged about how it is often experienced. As Hartnett observes: “Our food culture is about money. People who have money can afford good food in this country.” Britons, not always with a clear historical view of their own food history, growing accustomed to the embrace of imported concepts, have been inclined to venerate the high-end.

She added: “When you haven’t got any money (and) you’re living on a low income, to patronise and sit there and say, ‘You’ve got to have an organic chicken’ is wrong. We’ve lost home economics in a lot of schools. People aren’t taught to shop. People don’t have the time to shop and the time to cook.”

French chef Raymond Blanc agrees. Writing on Twitter this morning, he said: “It will take more than 5 years to create a food culture in UK. Most of our food still relies on an intensive system, heavy processing. We have reduced food to a mere commodity.”

Hartnett, who is half-Italian, is an alumnus of Gordon Ramsay. She first worked with him at Aubergine (the Chelsea restaurant that predated his eponymous three Michelin-starred site on Royal Hospital Road) in the late nineties. In 2002 she was put in charge of the (then Ramsay-run) Connaught hotel, in Mayfair — the first female chef to run its restaurant. In 2008, she opened her first solo restaurant, Murano, the Italian fine-dining restaurant which went on to win a Michelin star. She launched the Cafe Murano brand — a more casual restaurant concept — in 2013 and is a part-owner of the gastropub Merchant’s Tavern in Shoreditch.