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Chefs' moral protest

 
A plush Bangkok restaurant said Wednesday it would go ahead with a controversial gourmet feast despite the withdrawal of its star French chefs who protested that no money was going to charity.

Lebua hotels and resorts intends to fly 50 of its top-spending guests to an elephant camp in one of Thailand's poorest regions on April 5 to show them how the other half lives, before returning to Bangkok for a 300,000-dollar meal.

But the Michelin-starred chefs who were meant to prepare the feast Jean-Michel Lorain, Michel Trama and Alain Soliveres balked when they heard no money would be donated to charity, and pulled out.

"I don't feel bad but I feel a little bit disappointed," said Deepak Ohri, managing director of Thai-owned luxury chain Lebua. "It's a new initiative and I thought that people would be broad-minded."

The organisers hope the visit to Surin province to see dwindling elephant numbers and the plight of their handlers will spark an altruistic streak in the assembled bankers, casino magnets and real estate moguls.

Ohri told AFP that he did not think the chefs understood the concept.

"Jean-Michel Lorain called us also and we told him we are doing exactly what Bill Gates has done, called creative capitalism... he said he didn't want to visit (the) poor area," Ohri said.

Lebua still did not plan to give a one-off donation to charity, he said, but instead would commit a percentage of its profits to impoverished areas each year for the next decade full details of which would be revealed soon.

The high-rollers salivating over the prospect of a sumptuous feast paid for by Lebua will however not be left disappointed.

Ohri said he had already lined up three European chefs with six Michelin stars between them to replace the French trio.

"We will not change just because a few people are saying this," he said.

Lebua made the headlines in February 2007 when it put on a lavish dinner with a one-million-baht (29,000-dollar) per head price tag.

After the feast, they donated 60,000 dollars to two charities, but announcing the new event last week Ohri had said that no similar pledge would be made this year.

This news shocked the French chefs, who said they thought that money would go to a good cause, and so withdrew for moral reasons.

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