Is Ramsay “bag” to rights this time?
The Sun and the Daily Mail worked themselves into a right lather last week over the revelation that Gordon Ramsay has apparently been serving food in his restaurants that wasn’t freshly made on the premises, but instead was prepared in a kitchen some distance away, brought to the restaurant, and heated up for service:
On the face of it, this looks like rank hypocrisy by Ramsay, and neither newspaper has held back from making that accusation. The Sun even went so far as to wheel out a past participant in Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares to make it for them, as well as calling in Lindsey Bareham from their News International stablemate The Times. The Mail set its sights a little higher, calling on the head of Harden’s Restaurant Guides, Richard Harden, and Jamie Oliver to add comment.
So is the accusation justified?
Well, for starters let’s look at the people who’ve been asked to comment.
Anyone who watched the Israel Pons/D-Place episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares will be able to judge for themselves how valid his accusations of hypocrisy are. But given that Ramsay’s sourcing food prepared within his own business group, it’s not exactly the same as sourcing your stuff from a third party where you have no quality control, is it?
Bareham is commenting on a story run by a paper published by the same company that publishes the paper she works for. Besides which, it makes her look all the more discerning if she says, “Actually, I thought it tasted a bit boil-in-the-bag”.
Harden, of course, is in the business of publicising his own guides, and has had his run-ins with Ramsay in the past. Ramsay and his publicists have accused Harden and his publicists of stirring up media froth to try to generate interest in their guides. They may well feel that he’s stirring again.
Oliver (who as a leading restaurateur himself is perhaps best placed to comment) is quoted as saying that he was a bit shocked, but also that “if it was something used really well then it’s justified to bring certain things in”.
There’s been a lot of blog comment too. Jay Rayner at The Observer makes a reasonable point that “all Ramsay’s operation does is legitimise shoddier operations further downmarket”, but spoils it all in the final paragraph with some pseudo-accountancy babble and figures which defy mathematics. (Perhaps he’s trying to jump on the Mail/Sun “restaurants are a ripoff” bandwagon?)
Lennie Nash at Chef Sandwich argues that all restaurants prepare food in advance – and points out that Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck restaurant at Bray near Windsor, with three Michelin stars and rated the second-best restaurant in the world by food professionals, has food brought in from a prep kitchen 100m away. In his view:
Of course, none of this outrage is about the horrors of ‘boil-in-the-bag’ cooking at all. It’s about the growing witch-hunt against Ramsay, and the ‘build them up then knock them down’ shadenfreude [sic] so enjoyed by the British press.
All rather ugly, really.
On the other hand, the Ramsay defence – “This isn’t boil-in-the-bag, this is sous vide” – sounds a bit hollow too. (“No, it’s not smaller portions, it’s cuisine nouvelle“…) But that’s for culinary experts to comment on.