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Becasse joins toll of food casualties

BECASSE chef-owner Justin North yesterday placed his stable of restaurants and food businesses into voluntary administration, signalling a sombre start for what many industry pundits predict will be Sydney's winter of restaurant discontent.

The celebrity chef and his wife, Georgia, were the star food signing at the revamped Westfield Sydney, where they opened Becasse, cooking school Quarter Twenty One, a burger shop and bakery. The group, which employs 180 people, has several other food businesses scattered across the city.

Mr North said all the businesses would remain open while he tried to "restructure the business" and negotiated to bring in a new partner.

''It has been very overwhelming the size the business has got to, with Georgia and me running it," he said.

Mr North wouldn't be drawn on which venues might stay or go but said "obviously, there will be changes". While all eyes will be on Westfield, where several restaurant operators have struggled, it is believed the future direction of North's other businesses elsewhere in the city, including Le Grande Cafe and Etch, will be the first under the microscope.

If there's a silver lining in the economic funk, the chef said it was the performance of the couple's mid-market offerings, such as burger eatery Charlie & Co, which operates at Westfield and the Sydney Opera House.

Suppliers predicted a tough winter for Sydney restaurants, with several big names behind in payments. Design and wage costs and an oversupply of restaurants have contributed to a number of recent closures, including Manly Pavilion, Cotton Duck, Smith's on Bayswater and Rambutan. TV chefs Manu Feildel and Miguel Maestre also closed Aperitif in Kings Cross.