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Ramsay Preps Food Off-Site


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From The Sun:

GORDON Ramsay is serving up ready-made meals costing as little as £1.92 at several of his fancy bistros, The Sun can reveal.

The foul-mouthed TV chef — whose shows include Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares — runs a backstreet kitchen which sends posh dishes including coq au vin to the eateries by Transit van.

Diners at Foxtrot Oscar in Chelsea, West London, pay £9.95 for £1.92 fishcake portions knocked up across town.

Is this really any different to the thousands of gastropubs across churning out Brake Bros frozen bilge at inflated prices?

This deception of the customer seems to be taken place at even 'high end' places - is it really so much to ask that a restuarant/pub cooks food from fresh? Especially with the prices being demanded.

Never has Ramsay's empire looked so cynical and corporate.

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C'mon.

Any multi-location catering operation that isn't consolidating some of its prep work across sites for economies of scale isn't thinking smart. If Ramsay's having his pies assembled by monkeys in a cheap industrial unit rather than having more expensive staff waste time doing it, he's being smart. The costly boys manning the ranges at the restaurants don't need to clock hours forming fishpatties.

This is a huge non-story.

What we should be asking is why a national newspaper with massive experience of bringing down celebs is bothering to cover something so unimportant so comprehensively - particularly when there are so many juicier Ramses stories buzzing around the rumoursphere

My bet is that it's part of a campaign of attrition with the big endgame still to come.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Bistro food margins run anywhere from 65-80% so the dish you get in your local bistro/gastro pub for £9.95 will most likely have cost no more than £2 to put together.

It appears that he has a production kitchen where dishes are probably "cooked from fresh" and then distributed to some of his informal dining places. Might make sense with the number of outlets he now has.

Is there a story here?

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Tim - I think that is absolute nonsense.

I think diners have every right to demand - an expect - that food is prepared freshly on the premises. That is hardly a radical concept - it should be the benchmark for any half decent eaterie.

If he wants to create souless, corporate cafeterias churning out pre-made food from a conveyor belt manufacturing system, then fine. But don't sell as anything more than that.

How, morally, is what he is doing different places like Wetherspoons? Food cooked in large central kitchens and reheated by people manning microwaves. If that is what Ramsay is after then fine.

But I think we as customers should absolutely expect pubs and restaurants to serve things from scratch. Especially with the money being charged. As I said before, it's hardly the most outlandish of expectations.

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I would imagine though a lot of it comes down to consistency - to ensure that the pies etc taste exactly the same across the group, carluccios/giraffe etc all those sorts of places all do do this sort of thing and we are talking about pubs not michelin starred restaurants here - i think this is turning into a witch hunt against Ramsay and find it all quite unnecessary, cynical and somewhat sinister to be honest, time to leave him alone and move on

Edited by nikkib (log)

"Experience is something you gain just after you needed it" ....A Wise man

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I like Ramsay, and I like his food and TV shows but this is bullcrap... He has made it his gospel to preach about seasonality, locally sourced, seasonal, freshly prepared food. He even went as far as saying that out of season ingredients should be banned from restaurant menus. In Kitchen Nightmares he takes on small restaurants and pubs and murders them if they have anything prepared outside of the kitchen.

And then he opens places where nothing is cooked in the premise, while people are paying good money for the food?

Say whatever you want, but if a place offers a pre-cooked/packaged potato mash, I don't give a crap whether it is bought from co-op or made by some cooks under Ramsay's "supervision". You still pay money for food not prepared in the premises, and it not fresh.

OK, granted, it is the Sun who published it and it could be a load of balls, but if this is true he should be ashamed....

Edited by RedRum (log)
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He has made it his gospel to preach about seasonality, locally sourced, seasonal, freshly prepared food. He even went as far as saying that out of season ingredients should be banned from restaurant menus.

Making a quality product a few miles down the road doesn't mean that it's not seasonal or locally sourced. I think his approach makes perfect business sense.

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Tim - I think that is absolute nonsense.

I think diners have every right to demand - an expect - that food is prepared freshly on the premises. That is hardly a radical concept - it should be the benchmark for any half decent eaterie.

If he wants to create souless, corporate cafeterias churning out pre-made food from a conveyor belt manufacturing system, then fine. But don't sell as anything more than that.

How, morally, is what he is doing different places like Wetherspoons? Food cooked in large central kitchens and reheated by people manning microwaves. If that is what Ramsay is after then fine.

But I think we as customers should absolutely expect pubs and restaurants to serve things from scratch. Especially with the money being charged. As I said before, it's hardly the most outlandish of expectations.

Ramsay's brand relationship with the gastropubs is fairly nuanced. There's very little Ramsay branding so it's possible to keep prices down and expectations accordingly controlled, yet they obviously never miss the opportunity to leverage the Ramsay name wherever possible.

This is sharp but in no way illegal misrepresentation

I would argue that anyone going into a gastropub and paying gastropub prices will get gastropub food. Anyone expecting any of the Ramsay magic under those conditions is party to a delusion.

The way the brand is being run at the moment people are being drawn in by the Ramsay name but accusations like these are, understandably met with the entirely logical assertion that Gordon doesn't cook there, doesn't say he does, and has no real input other than menu consultancy - that's the same relationship Egon Ronay used to have with British Rail catering.

How, morally, is what he is doing different places like Wetherspoons?

Well it's not, is it? Pretty obviously. But then I don't remember anyone ever saying it was supposed to be.

Food cooked in large central kitchens and reheated by people manning microwaves. If that is what Ramsay is after then fine.

I don't think that's fair. In a single site professional kitchen, items like pies, fishcakes, individual stews etc will be batch made, once or twice per week, stored chilled and appropriately heated before serving. I've worked in restaurants so small that the chef did this; then in larger ones where the job was passed to someone further down the line and finally in some so big that a single cook would be assigned to nothing but pre-assembling a couple of dishes. If I ran three restaurants in the same town, serving the similar menus, why on earth would I not have this kind of work done in one place and transported. It makes total sense and implies precisely no compromise in quality (arguably, it makes quality control easier while keeping prices affordable).

I would be really surprised if any of these dishes were microwaved. All require browning, gratineeing or some other finish which is quickly and easily achieved by a good line cook - that's if he's not stuck in the basement prepping fishcakes.

I think it's fair to say I carry no torch for Big Sweary but this is just an ill-informed accusation that doesn't stand up. If anyone out there can get a photo of a Ramsoid taking delivery of premade pizza from a Brakes truck I'll bite, but what looks like a badly comped shot of a stock control tag is just evidence of, well, good stock control and the fact he's got some bloke in a van moving pre-prepped food between his kitchens is simply evidence of an efficiently run business.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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I have absolutely no problem with the mark-ups being made. Restaurants across the country are striving for that, and it is a clear indication that his restaurants are hitting a good GP. Good on him.

But come on now. Do you really want pubs in this country to start following the Wetherspoon's model? Homogenised, generic food served in supposedly 'individual' locations across a broad area. Don't we want individuality, difference and variation? Don't we want the chance to go to different pubs where we know there will be a genuine variation in choice?

However little these places are branded is irrelevant - they still bear his name. And how seriously should we take him in his plethora of shows urging kitchens and chefs to cook fresh, seasonal food, from scratch, every day. Is this not rank hypocracy?

In a single site professional kitchen, items like pies, fishcakes, individual stews etc will be batch made, once or twice per week, stored chilled and appropriately heated before serving. I've worked in restaurants so small that the chef did this; then in larger ones where the job was passed to someone further down the line and finally in some so big that a single cook would be assigned to nothing but pre-assembling a couple of dishes.

That's fine. The kitchen is still preparing it. Stews et al are dishes that benefit from a few days 'resting'. But don't the head chefs at these places want to inject a bit of their own individuality? Don't they want to make a name for themselves? Or are they merely content to churn out pre-made food which they evidently have little or no responsibility for? Where is the pride in that?

This model of running restaurants genuinely worries me. We all talk about clone towns, and how Tesco etc are destroying the individual identities of high streets. Is this not exactly the same? A one-size-fits-all solution for restaurants which may give people a sense of comfort in conformity, but will irrepairably destroy the variation and individual style many of us crave in restaurants?

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i hear where you're coming from hearno but think you'd be shocked at how much stuff is pre-bought in and sold at pretty decent prices, and more irritatingly how punters don't seem to care. it all boils down to price at the end of the day (and this was the case before the recession)

i was particularly annoyed to see a brakes brothers van parked outside the pub down the road from mine every morning when we slaved away doing everything from scratch. yet this was a 1 rosette pub, GFG etc listed and most punters can't tell the difference. it's not right but unfortunately it is life, amd it's not a road we travelled down.

another mate of mine also had a pub that he got out of, and when i asked him if he'd do it again he said possibly - but i'd just get everything from brakes and forget about hiring decent chefs. Cuts wastage and staff costs, and despite all this hoo ha about 300% mark-ups most places are on extremely tight margins it's very hard to make a lot of money out them and brakes et al are pushing on an open door in many instances.

you don't win friends with salad

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I know all about that Gary - I worked in a similar pub. Everything was fantastic at first, with great produce locally sourced cooked in a fresh, vibrant an interesting way which was different to all its nearby rivals.

But that soon changed, slowly at first but as soon as the ball was set in motion the was no going back. The Brakes truck and cash-and-carry lorry soon started turning up and the food changed - a combination of the chefs laziness and the desire to hit the huge margins.

It depends what you want. The pub in question started making bigger margins, but locals and people noticed the difference. What was a cracking reputation soon diminshed, and the place essentially turned into a microwave-lead carvery restaurant that parped out low quality food at affordable prices. Some people liked that, others not.

If even Ramsay, a vocal and much publicised supporter of the British restaurant, wants to operate this way, what chance is there for anybody else?

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... But don't the head chefs at these places want to inject a bit of their own individuality? Don't they want to make a name for themselves? Or are they merely content to churn out pre-made food which they evidently have little or no responsibility for? Where is the pride in that?

I think that's the nut of the problem right there. I've got a great local, with a chef I love, turning out great food. I go all the time and support what he's doing because it's good for him and good for me.

By the sound of your comments, you're choosing a Ramsay gastropub because you believe that Ramsay should be out the back there, injecting a bit of his individuality.

But the economics make that impossible. If you want a personal injection from Big Gordo, you've got to stump up for RHR. If you want a touch of Scrotum Chops' magic at diffusion prices you go to the gastropubs where the chefs will never be let off the lead because the customers demand Gordon's personal menu.

You could easily say that, if he's not bashing pots himself he shouldn't have his name over the door - an argument I have a lot of sympathy with - but then you would have no point of differentiation from a thousand other competent gastropubs all over London.

Gordon's trying to have his cake and eat it... but then so is anyone who's sucker enough to go to his gastropubs thinking they'll be any different.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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By the sound of your comments, you're choosing a Ramsay gastropub because you believe that Ramsay should be out the back there, injecting a bit of his individuality.

I don't at all. Maze may bear the Ramsay branding, but it's defiantly Jason Atherton's restaurant. He has won the awards and developed the reputation. That's what I expect in these gastropubs.

But the economics make that impossible. If you want a personal injection from Big Gordo, you've got to stump up for RHR. If you want a touch of Scrotum Chops' magic at diffusion prices you go to the gastropubs where the chefs will never be let off the lead because the customers demand Gordon's personal menu.

Gordon's trying to have his cake and eat it... but then so is anyone who's sucker enough to go to his gastropubs thinking they'll be any different.

As above - Ramsay shows he can do it in other places, with Atherton and Hartnett as two prime examples. Why not at the gastropubs? I can walk into RHR and Maze and legitimately expect two totally different meals.

Having a culinary empire is de rigeur these days, and it would be futile to rally against it. But Ramsay himself demonstrates that you can let chefs exercise their own creativity with the confines of being part of a group. Why not here?

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i think you've answered your own questions!

the 'massive margins' aren't massive at the net level, if you make 10% of your turnover in a pub you've done well, that's a lot of hours for the money.

so for ramsay to make an acceptable return he's got to go down that commercial catering route, not that i'm defending it, but it's as tim says if you want chef individuality then you pay for it, maze, murano etc are not cheap restaurants in their own right and can afford to be individual, a ramsay pub has a different raison d'etre, it reminds me of the muppet at little chef wanting heston magic but heston rightly retorts come to the fat duck and for £175 a head you can have it.

you don't win friends with salad

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But how can a chef as lauded as Ramsay chase the cheap dollar? How can he justify churning out pre-made food given the money and profile he derives from spouting - very, very loudly - the exact opposite?

Perhaps it's because I guessed the guy had more pride. And I don't agree with the insinuation that going down the 'cheap' route is the only way to create a successful business model for gastropubs. That's patently not the case. People are willing to pay for quality and indivduality, and I think it's a little patronising to suggest people simply think with their wallet.

I think the claim that you cannot get individuality at pubs, that somehow it is the preserve of just high end restaurants, is also wide of the mark. I find that attitude worrying.

it reminds me of the muppet at little chef wanting heston magic but heston rightly retorts come to the fat duck and for £175 a head you can have it.

That completely misses the point - a Little Chef is not an expensive gastropub in London. That you even drew the comparison between that and Ramsay effectively proves my point.

And, to be honest, anyone who expects Blumenthal magic at the side of an A road is a fucking muppet.

Edited by Hearno (log)
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Isn't the problem with this debate is that we are lumping all gastro-pubs into a single bucket. I too love my local, it has a good chef, uses local products etc. But to me the Ramsay pub experience is different, in effect I would be buying the brand promise of Ramsay i.e. good quality, well cooked, consistent food.

Ramsay using a high tech central kitchen, to service his own restaurants, strikes me as a good idea especially as his restaurants are all in London (it would be different if it was a unrelated third party).

My guess is this debate would have taken a different direction if it had been based on a positive press release from GRH extolling the virtues and benefits of this system. We may all then have rushed off to try the product and assess whether it did indeed deliver, and whether the central kitchen resulted in better outcomes on the plate than 99% of pubs that serve food.

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Hmmm... Interesting.

To anyone in the trade/in the know I think what Ramsay's doing is understandable and not particularly shocking or suprising (subject to my latter point below), but Ramsay's problem is one of perception.

He's played the media game to perfection and fair do's to him for that - it's built him an empire - but it's your classic double-edged sword. People have bought into the Ramsay ideal of passionate chefs slaving over every dish from scratch and if Joe Public (foolishly) believes they'd get the full Ramsay experience from a diffusion gastropub then when they find out that's not the truth then rightly or wrongly they'll feel let down.

The other issue here is to do with demonising the centralised kitchen concept. Firstly it's a very different thing to prepare your own food to your own specification and standards in your own kitchen, centralised or not, than it is to buy pre-packed Brakes Bros style ready-meals from a third-party supplier.

Secondly a centralised kitchen is in many ways no better or worse than a non-centralised kitchen in that the food produced can be great or shite, depending on the skills and ambitions of the chefs running it and the quality of the produce used. Just because certain elements of the pub's menus are prepared off-site it doesn't necessarily follow that they are made by crap chefs with no seasonal or local ingredients.

As long as Ramsay is clever in choosing which dishes or products lend themselves to being pre-made on a centralised basis then the punter shouldn't notice any decrease in quality from the final dishes. Really this is just an extension of the vital chef's skill of judging what can be made in bulk at the start of every day (or indeed by a night team) and what needs to be done on the fly during service.

Do any egulleteers really think that the demi-glace or risotto in their favourite fine-dining restaurant was made from scratch starting from the moment their order hit the kitchen? No. Was it mass-made or half-cooked ahead of time? Yup. Would you notice whether that initial prep/cooking was done in a centralised off-site kitchen or in the on-site kitchen? Nope.

I do think this is the tabloids whipping a storm out of nothing, but equally it's hard to have sympathy for Gordon being a target for the media when he is happy to milk them to the nth degree whenever his business requires it.

Cheers

Thom

It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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Some good points there. There are certainly some foods that are better suited to being prepared off site, that will not suffer as a consequence.

But where does it stop? Would it not be travesty if more and more stuff was made offsite and heated up on the night?

I guess it is about striking a balance, but such logic pails in the face of profit making. Because if this goes on and on, chefs at the pubs could one day become redundant. All they would need is someone with the most basic knowledge who can finish off a dish almost entirely cooked elsewhere.

And that would be tragic.

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For me, the problem is that the monster of the GR pr machine seems to have swollowed up the man himself. A great cooking talent, no one can argue but his reputation to my mind cannot be streched any further, with out some form of backlash. I can't really see how he can get away with saying one thing on the telly etc, then commercially doing something else and expecting everybody to say, good on er Gordo.. As Herno states, total hypocrasy. If he lives by the sword, then I suppose he'll find himself getting cut a few times. Maybe he should launch his own band aid line. 'Plasters by Gordon'! :biggrin:

I don't think its going to stop the world turning knowing that GR has his pub food prepared off site, maybe just highlights a few more cracks along the way.

I went to the Limehouse once, total shite. If you want the Gr experience stick with his high end operations.

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But where does it stop?

I would say the answer to that is in previous posts. Foods that lend themselves to prior preparation are fine, but lots of foods don't so you need a chef in the kitchen to do the final prep and grill. A good food pub will understand this. However there are lots of pubs don't have "real" chefs, but you know which ones they are and no doubt you avoid them.

In effect the boundaries of this approach establish themselves - good pubs with good food have lots of customers and make good money. Push past the boundary and the food quality declines, as do the profits.

Edited by PhilD (log)
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But how can a chef as lauded as Ramsay chase the cheap dollar? How can he justify churning out pre-made food given the money and profile he derives from spouting - very, very loudly - the exact opposite?

He is more involved with places that carry his name than MPW is, yet no one goes after him in the same way.

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But how can a chef as lauded as Ramsay chase the cheap dollar? How can he justify churning out pre-made food given the money and profile he derives from spouting - very, very loudly - the exact opposite?

He is more involved with places that carry his name than MPW is, yet no one goes after him in the same way.

I like Ramsay. That's why it worries me that he is compromising all that made him a success in pursuit of a cheap buck. But then I suppose if he is being so blatant in his behavior, then perhaps we can assume that he no longer wants to be known as a chef, but an Oliver Peyton-style restaurateur. His generic high end restaurants across the globe - so reviled by Jay Rayner in his book - are evidence that branding and money are all which drive him these days.

MPW has long since gone down this road. His dalliances with Dettori sadly prove this.

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Hearno, I think you've got it the wrong way round. I do not not like the modern idea of the 'personality' chef, I would simply like properly cooked food, and god knows that's rare enough in our deluded nation.

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C'mon.

Any multi-location catering operation that isn't consolidating some of its prep work across sites for economies of scale isn't thinking smart.

fine, but that has got nothing to do with Ramsay he doesn't run a multi-location catering operation.

each of those venues promotes itself as a unique destination.

A meal without wine is... well, erm, what is that like?

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