Ferran Adria and Heston Blumenthal to lecture at new gastronomic university in Spain - For more hospitality stories, see what the weekend papers say

by Angela Frewin, Monday 18th January 2010 10:20

Three-Michelin-starred chefs Ferran Adria (of Spain’s El Bulli restaurant) and the UK’s Heston Blumenthal will both be lecturing at the world’s first gastronomic university,, which opens in Spain in September 2011. Student chefs at the Basque Culinary Centre, which will resemble a stack of plates and include a lab to research the chemistry of taste, will be encouraged to master the science of ‘molecular gastronomy’ championed by Adria and Blumenthal. The university will be the first to offer a four-year undergraduate degree in the culinary arts in both Spanish and English, along with a one-year master’s degree and shorter courses for enthusiasts. San Sebastian boasts nine restaurants with a total of 16 Michelin stars and many local chefs have promised to participate in the tuition. Authorities in the northern Basque country are hoping the university will establish the area as the new “mecca of the world haute cuisine”. – 17 January, Read the full article in the Sunday Telegraph >>
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MWB seeks £21m for two Scottish hotels
Marylebone Warwick Balfour (MWB), owner of the Hotel du Vin and Malmaison chains of boutique hotels, has put two of its Scottish hotels on the market for a total £21m. It is seeking more than £6m for the St Andrews Golf hotel, which it bought for £5.8m two years ago, because it says it cannot justify spending £6m converting it into a Hotel du Vin at current hotel values. MWB also wants to sell the Edinburgh Malmaison – the first hotel to open under the brand in 1994 - because its position in Leith is not ideal for business travelers. Robert Cook, head of MWB’s hotel business, said the group was looking at two potential replacements in the city. In a trading update, MWB said hotel occupancy had been flat last year at 79.3% and that room rate had fallen by 10%. Although performance had started to improve towards the end of the year as the corporate market began to recover, Cook said he expected conditions to remain challenging this year. – 15 January, Read the full article in The Times


Carl Leaver tipped as successor to Whitbread chief executive
Carl Leaver has been tipped as a likely successor for Whitbread’s chief executive, Alan Parker, who is expected to announce his retirement this summer. Leaver, who recently quit his role as head of Marks & Spencer’s international division, has served as chief executive of the De Vere hotel group and, before that, spent three years as managing director of Whitbread’s budget Travel Inn chain, now called Premier Inn. Parker, 63, who was awarded an MBE in 2008, headed Crest Hotels and then Holiday Inns’ EMEA division before joining Whitbread in 1992 to run its fledgling hotel business. Since then he has presided over a large-scale slimdown at Whitbread, selling off such business as Marriott Hotels, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday’s and David Lloyd Leisure to leave the company focused on budget hotels, the Costa coffee chain and pub-restaurants. Other contenders for his role include Whitbread’s finance director Chris Rogers and Patrick Dempsy, current head of its hotel and restaurant division and a former head of Forte Hotels UK.  – 16 January, Read the full article in the Sunday Times >>


Company managing insolvent hotels triples profits
The management arm of Crerar Hotels, which manages properties that have become insolvent, has nearly tripled its profits in the year to March 2008 to £1.8m, up from £675,000 in the previous year. Although turnover at Crerar Management dropped to £6.9m, the group benefited from cost-efficiency programmes and the sale of three managed hotels. It said that most of its managed hotels - including 19 operated under the Swallow brand – were now operating profitably and that it intended to work with more advisers, banks and administrators to acquire hotel management contracts. Meanwhile, Crerar Hotels is in talks to buy two new hotels which would increase its tally to 12. The hotels are owned by a separate company, the North British Trust Group, but run by Crerar Management. Crerar Hotels also hopes to start building an 80-bedroom hotel in St Andrews later this month.– 17 January, Read the full article in the Sunday Times >>


MPs intervene in M&B boardroom brawl

A cross-party group of MPs led by the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vince Cable have intervened in the boardroom brawl between pub operator Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) and its biggest shareholders, the ‘Sandy Lane’ set of Barbados millionaires. Although the Takeover Panel last week found no evidence that the shareholders were working together to win control of M&B without making a formal bid, Cable  has written to the Financial Services Authority to voice his concerns over the verdict. He suggest, it is understood, that there is material evidence of a concert party but that the panel’s standard of proof is impossibly high and may be allowing bad practice to take place.  Cable and Tory MP Nigel Evans will be backing an EDM that will be tabled this week by John Grogan, Labour chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, which is expected to attract a lot of signatories. It will express concern that the rebel investors appear to be acting against the interests of  M&B’s 60,000 smaller shareholders as well as its larger investors, and that this is causing uncertainty among M&B’s 40,000 staff. – 17 January 2010, Read the full article in the Independent on Sunday and the Observer >>


Starbucks to reveal best quarterly results in two years

International coffee chain Starbucks is set to announce its best quarterly figures in two years this month in London, when analysts expect to hear that first-quarter net income has hit $217m (£133m). This compares to $64.3m for the same period last year and $150m for the previous quarter, and is attributed to new formulas rolled out in the US, and the launch of Via, the group’s first instant coffee. Analysts believe that the company needs to look overseas for growth, as it is under threat from non-traditional outlets such as McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts in the USA where its market share is just 10% despite two-thirds of its 16,000 stores being sited there. This is because Americans favour filter coffees rather than more exotic European varieties, explained Jeffrey Young, managing director of Allegra Strategies. Young said that the UK – Starbuck’s biggest market outside the USA – was key to its success. – 16 January, Read the full article in the Sunday Telegraph >>


Scotland outperforms UK in attracting North American tourists

Scotland attracted more North American visitors than the rest of the UK last summer, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, which partly attributes the increase to the Homecoming Scotland campaign encouraging visits from ex-pats and descendants. Although fewer European holidaymakers lowered the total number of overnight stays from tourists by 2% in the third quarter of 2009 (to 953,000 from 955,000), the number of North American visitors to Scotland grew by 25%. Across the UK, trips from North America climbed by 6%, while trips from other non-European countries grew by 1%. – 17 January, Read the full article in The Times >>


Hotels and pubs in Spain horrified by planned smoking ban

Recession-hit pubs, restaurants and hotels in Spain are reeling at plans to fast-track the country’s ban on smoking in public places to their sectors by June. Spain’s Caterers’ Federation estimated it would slash business by 10% in smaller bars and a Granada bar owner, whose takings have slumped by 35% and 15% in the past two years thanks to the recession, believes the new law “is going to destroy us completely”. A straw poll by the Independent on Sunday found nine out of 10 pub and bar landlords opposed the ban, and hoteliers thought it would be bad for their business. Tourism is a key part of the Spanish economy and, with smoking on the rise domestically, studies suggest the ban will be greater than in other European countries.  Bar owners are also angry that the government has promised no compensation for the heavy costs they have incurred from being forced to build special non-smoking areas since 2006. – 17 January, Read the full article in the Independent on Sunday >>


Kraft to increase Cadbury offer to £10.5b

US food giant Kraft Foods is expected to increase its hostile bid for British chocolate-maker Cadbury to £10.5b early this week, improving its offer from 771p to at least 820p per share. However, a group of 14 hedge-fund managers with a stake in Cadbury have told Kraft’s chief executive Irene Rosenfeld that they would not consider an offer below 850p per share. Kraft has until Tuesday to table its revised bid and needs to secure acceptances from at least 50% of Cadbury shareholders by 2 February. – 17 January, Read the full article in the Sunday Times >>


By Angela Frewin


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