We’ve come a long way since the BSE scandal of the 1990s and the ban on British beef. In fact, the British culinary landscape has changed beyond recognition since the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001, with its spectral images of millions of slaughtered livestock. These, along with other more minor contaminations of the food supply, such as the recent horse meat debacle, have raised permanent questions in consumers’ minds about provenance and health, and the agriculture behind what lands on our plates. As for London, in 2005 it may have been a bustling metropolis with great ethnic cuisine, but it was far from being recognised as a major player on the international restaurant scene. Now even American chefs admit it rivals and perhaps outpaces New York. In the last 15 years Britain has not only claimed its place on the international culinary scene, it has raised the bar when it comes to artisanal and small-scale methods of production.
So what has changed? Some of this is due to a general shift in consumption patterns in the Western world: the BBC and Waitrose both report an increase in healthier eating patterns and a growing concern for the “story” behind the food. Another important factor is rise of the celebrity chef: Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal, collectively, have probably done more to raise Britain’s food self-esteem in the last decade than any other figures. In 2005, Blumenthal’s flagship The Fat Duck topped the famously discerning World’s Best 50 Restaurants list, an honour usually conferred to perennial favourite el Bulli. Other surprising factors have also come into play: warmer temperatures have opened up the chalky soils of Kent to wine cultivation and local vineyards are finally being taken seriously, especially when it comes to fizz.