When über-chef Heston Blumenthal III was asked to wave his magic wooden spoon over the roadside diner Little Chef, I raised my eyes to the gods. ‘What a gift for the production company,’ I thought. ‘Brilliant fly-on-the-wall telly at the expense of a tired old brand; we’ll be chuckling all the way to bed.’
How wrong can an old git be? “Big Chef takes on Little Chef” has turned out to be a publicity coup. Middle class angst about the sort of food that Little Chef offer is in no way representative of what most people want. The reality is that there are a great many out there who want Little Chef’s menu to remain conservative and a great many more who just need reminding that the Little Chef exists.
Little Chef’s Ian Pegler demonstrated that he has a real understanding of his investment; this is a man who has an authentic passion for the chain. He clung on, as did his staff, to the traditions of the diner and fought tooth and nail against the vision of the TV show.
Despite Heston’s attempts at bringing his own brand values to spruce up those of Little Chef, the reality was clear – Little Chef’s fare has an audience who like the food and don’t want some media kitchen-luvvy fiddling with their comfort nosh. The programme became nothing more than a prime time TV advert for the stoic brand values of Little Chef.
The flailing Blumenthal looked on like some bemused foreign football coach forced to watch his Galácticos knocked out of the FA cup by a bunch of amateurs from the Middle Hellenic league. It was something of a PR reality check for the “wunderkind”, but more importantly, for the swish TV execs who didn’t get what they expected.
Channel 4’s rhetorical hyberbole gave its true intentions away – can a chef with a reputation for innovation transform the fortunes of the much-loved British institution? Well no, because Little Chef didn’t actually want to be turned around in the first place. All Ian Pegler wanted was to get as much publicity as possible – and Channel 4 walked straight into a case of “Little Chef shafts Big Chef”; David and Goliath played out with frying pans.
I am now off to my local Little Chef to sample the Olympic breakfast. Looks like it could kill me, but I will at least be able to slide into Hades on a slope paved with delicious bacon fat.