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Star-struck Australian chef finds the recipe for revival

MUCH has been written of late about ''the curse of the Michelin star''.

In November's Vanity Fair, British critic A. A. Gill launched a tirade against the prestigious restaurant guides.

He said Michelin guides had killed French cuisine and blamed the spread of the guides to the rest of Europe and the United States for creating a new breed of chefs who, in their quest for stars, had forgotten about the craft of cooking for pleasure and were cooking food ''complicated beyond appetite''.

Australian expat chef Skye Gyngell also got chins wagging in the food world when she left the Petersham Nurseries Cafe near London at the end of last year, blaming the restaurant's freshly acquired one-star status for raising the expectations of diners to an unbearable level. Before she left, she took the star off Petersham's website.

But another Australia chef, Greg Malouf, plans to see to it that the star makes a permanent comeback on Petersham's publicity material.

Malouf, a Melbourne-born chef who revolutionised Middle Eastern food in the city before taking over where Gyngell left off at Petersham, says he was exulted when he learnt last week that the restaurant had retained its star status in the 2013 Michelin Guide to Great Britain & Ireland.


''It's a wonderful recognition of the the kitchen and front of house staff at Petersham and a testament to the owners' belief,'' he said yesterday.

Malouf, who returned to Australia last week to appear at Sydney's Crave Food Festival and is now spending time reconnecting with family in Melbourne, acknowledged that Petersham had retained its Michelin star in ''unusual circumstances'' but he believes he has earned it. ''It was not as if I was walking into this wonderful Michelin heaven.''

He says he introduced change at Petersham slowly to win the trust of Gyngell's fans.

He has introduced a ''little Arabic tweak of goodness'' to Gyngell's Mediterranean-based menu, brought in new suppliers and gradually overhauled the kitchen staff. There are now five Australians, including Malouf, working in kitchen out of a total staff of seven.

Celebrities such as Mick Jagger and British Prime Minister David Cameron have dropped by, and local reviews have been favourable.

While Gyngell's time at Petersham undoubtedly elevated the restaurant, there were well-publicised mutterings that prices were too steep.

Malouf says mains are now closer to £20 ($A31), compared with £30 previously.

And what does Malouf make of A. A. Gill's assessment of the impact of the Michelin guide?

''All that negative press about Michelin, I don't subscribe to that,'' he said.

''The guide has a job to do, and I think it does an honest job. But as someone who has just received a star, I would say that, wouldn't I?''