Well I heard on BBC World news that Egon Ronay had died. Back in the late 1980’s my inspirational boss Brian took our company Cellnet into a sponsorship deal with the Hotel and Restaurant Guides that bore his name. Mobile phones in those days cost over £2000 and were almost exclusively used by business people, who were key users of the better hotels and eateries, so an association with the most notable reference guide was great brand association for our fledgling company and an invaluable gift to our relatively small number of customers (around 10,000 when we signed the deal).
By then the Guides were published by the AA – old Egon had sold out to them long before we got involved but they still carried his name, so the impression was that he still wrote and produced them. He didn’t but he remained involved by being a real pain in the neck, constantly moaning about the awfulness of having a commercial brand associated with his master work and yet forever on the phone wanting this or that VIP privilege phone package or special favour. As I was the guy who largely ran the project once Brian had left Cellent (and I loved dealing with the Editor and Chief Inspector who actually wrote most of the guides features and recommendations – in fact I met more top chefs than I care to remember and learned more about great food and wine from lunches out with them both. Ah great times) it was always me who had to deal with the regular Ronay requests. He always called the MD or our Director but their secretaries were briefed to refer his pesterings to me. In the 8 years or so that we were involved with the guide I reckon I must have dealt with at least 100 calls from Egon. He was not involved with the Guides, except emotionally, and he was never any help to us in reality but rather than tell him just to go away, the company felt an obligation to respond politely and helpfully if it could be done without any cost. That last bit was my challenge.
The guy did more than anybody to change the face of eating out in this country and whilst I’m saddened a little to hear about his passing, and shouldn’t speak ill of the those who can no longer defend themselves, I can only remember him as a first class whinger whose calls drove me up the wall. Of all the emigre Hungarians I’ve known, he was the most trying. But without his work I wouldn’t have experienced all those marvellous food/wine moments so I should be more gracious I guess. I’m trying but he’ll always be friggin Egon to me.