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Gordon Ramsay pulls out of Maze Prague

Celebrity chef ends Hilton partnership

Posted: February 19, 2009

By Claire Compton - Staff Writer | Comments (2) | Post comment

It's not you, Prague; it's Gordon Ramsay.

After little more than a year, the celebrity chef is ending his "business relationship" with Hilton Prague Old Town - in effect, closing the Maze restaurant and recalling executive chef Phil Carmichael.

The details remain murky. The Hilton says negotiations aren't finished, and Ramsay's PR will only confirm that Gordon Ramsay Holdings will continue to "offer support with regard to menu planning." Whether the restaurant will keep the name is also unconfirmed but unlikely, given the brand's other location in London. After Valentine's Day weekend, the hotel officially took back control of the entire food operation Feb. 16, said Hilton spokeswoman Alžběta Slavíková.

The move is being characterized as part of a bigger restructuring for Ramsay's company, which includes 25 restaurants. His top restaurant in London, Foxtrot Oscar, is closing two days per week, and two of his other London restaurants - Sloane Street and The Devonshire - are rumored to be for sale. According to British media reports, his company was loaned $14 million (309 million Kč) eight months ago by the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is now calling in the loan because of the financial crisis. But the timing of the Prague closure raises eyebrows, as the Michelin Guide announces the restaurants who have earned stars - the definitive rating akin to an Oscar in the hospitality business - March 18. Ramsay has a lifetime total of 14 stars, none of which was bestowed upon the Prague restaurant despite expectations of one last year. Instead, the Four Seasons Hotel's Allegro restaurant became the first restaurant in Central and Eastern Europe to earn the distinction in 2008. Given the hotel's track record, that distinction was a deserved one, said Pavel Hlinka, president of the Association of Hotels and Restaurants.

"The reputation of the Four Seasons was built for years. It doesn't guarantee after one or two years they'd receive a star only because the name was Maze," he said. "I think it could be also that [Ramsay] already knows he won't receive a star this year, and so that could be the reason he's leaving now."

Daniel Cahel, Michelin's press coordinator for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, said neither restaurant owners nor chefs are informed in advance of the awards.

"Of course not," said Cahel. "They receive the information at the same time as the media and the public."

While Maze remained Ramsay's for one last weekend, Carmichael was rumored to have already left Prague last week as he prepares to lead the kitchen at Maze Cape Town, slated to open ahead of schedule April 4. Carmichael's new and distant post is, as yet, unconfirmed, but Jason Atherton, who oversees the Maze brand under Ramsay and has worked closely with Carmichael, will help open the Cape Town location.

The rest of the kitchen's staff will keep their jobs in Prague, albeit under a different and perhaps more even-tempered employer.

Stars aside, fine dining establishments are all feeling the financial crisis as their core clientele, business people, are cutting back on lunch meetings and client dinners.

"I think the biggest problem was that he came at the wrong time," Hlinka said. "Business is going down; people are starting to save money. Fine dining is mostly used for important meetings, and companies are starting to cut costs, so there's been an immediate shortage of guests in these kinds of restaurants."

Claire Compton can be reached at

Tags: Maze, Gordon Ramsay, Michelin star, restaurant.

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