Calorie counting “will cable tie the hands of chefs” -Anthony Gray

Leading restaurateur critical of calorie counting
“It will cable tie the hands of chefs” says Anthony Gray

Anthony and Chef Joe at Hooked

Award winning Sligo restaurateur, cook and ex-RAI President Anthony Gray is highly critical of Minister for Health Simon Harris’s proposed legislation to display calorie counts on menus by the end of the year. “Counting calories will just destroy what we are trying to achieve in Ireland as a world class culinary destination. It will cable tie the hands of chefs in our industry all over Ireland”, says Anthony Gray who is also creative director at his two award winning restaurants in Sligo Town; Eala Bhán and Hooked. 

The outspoken restaurateur fears for the cumulative effect of recent industry changes. “I'm not one for bad news”, he said, “but this is going to a tough year for the hospitality and tourism sector. We have already seen closures following the increase in VAT, and the reality of Brexit and sterling fluctuations is taking hold on border counties with tourism numbers dropping”. He fears his north western location will impact negatively, citing Central Bank Governor Philip Lane who said last week that the agri-food sector would be disproportionately affected with a corresponding outsized impact on rural regions, especially near the border. 

“Bearing all of this in mind, it is outrageous that the government now decide to add to the load on the hospitality industry, forcing the idea of calories on our menus. This is being done with no industry consultation whatsoever and seemingly with no consideration being taken as to the additional cost this will add to every restaurant – both financially and in time”.

He also has serious concerns about the impact of calorie count requirements on the spontaneity of specials on menus, fearing it will result in less fresh and seasonal produce being used. “How can restaurants like my own, who respond to seasonal availability of fresh ingredients, continue to change their menu regularly and feature special dishes with once off elements like freshly caught seafood? How can chefs be spontaneous and continue in the art of cooking? It’s like telling an artist only to use certain paint colours – it’s like cooking by numbers”, he explains.

Gray has long been a supporter of education, particularly for the young and says this is the only way forward and will be much more effective than putting calorie counts on menus. “Research shows that poor nutrition and bad diet along with lack of exercise leads to the multitude of chronic diseases which we are now developing in Ireland”, he stressed, “This is down to poor nutrition and diet choices, not from counting calories, but from bad decisions made in the home and by the young with people purchasing cheap processed foods which do them no good”. 

He turns the spotlight back on the government, saying, “Maybe if the government offered good nutritious foods in our hospitals instead of going for the cheapest, people would actually become healthier quicker and help the failing HSE. Perhaps if they removed vending machines from our schools and stopped fast food outlets opening up near them it might do something to tackle the obesity crisis which is engulfing the youth of our nation”.

Anthony Gray has been a long-time campaigner for compulsory Home Economics up to Junior Cert level and continues to call for this, along with what he calls “good old-fashioned common sense”. In the meantime, he pledges to continue serving the freshest, locally sourced produce in Hooked and Eala Bhán, hoping that perhaps someone in power will take note and take action before it is too late.

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