He may have the manners of a baboon, a face memorably described as ‘like a dried up river bed’, and his food is fairly predictable, but I do think poor old Gordon Ramsay didn’t quite deserve this week’s criticism concerning the outsourcing of some of the dishes served in his London empire.
We were told, in classic mock-shocked tabloidese, that dishes in places like Foxtrot Oscar were not cooked on the premises but in a central kitchen ‘in a run down part of South London’ (a tautology, surely). Worse than that, Gordon was palming off his loyal clientele at his ‘fancy bistros’ with boil-in-the-bag food and ‘ready meals’.
And it was all delivered IN A VAN!
Cue a variety of not-in-the-slightest-bit predictable headlines cleverly playing with/simply reproducing the names of his TV shows.
The truth, of course, is that one man’s boil-in-the-bag is another man’s ‘sous vide’ – a completely accepted, highly regarded haute cuisine technique for vacuum packing dishes and then slowly cooking them in water at a regulated, low temperature. It’s used in the best restaurants around the world – assuming you agree that places with multiple Michelin stars count. Ferran Adrià uses it, as does Alain Ducasse and Heston Blumenthal (himself the subject of a ridiculous newspaper furore last month, when diners at the Fat Duck got sick from a virus over which Blumenthal had absolutely no control).
Pork cheeks and belly, tougher bits of beef and, best of all, ribs all turn out superbly flavoured, juicy and fantastically tender if you cook them this way. As importantly, you are guaranteed consistent results.
The system was invented in the mid-70s by a Frenchman, Georges Pralus, who first used it to stop foie gras shrinking when cooking, and it has slowly gained acceptance among knowledgeable chefs. (You can still brown the meat to get that great Maillard crust, either before of after cooking, by the way.)
Thomas Keller – probably the best chef in America; one of the best in the world; and a man who has done more than any other to elevate American cuisine to its current position of some eminence – has recently published a stunning and characteristically thorough examination of sous vide cooking.
Of course, any chink in Ramsay’s armour is going to be pounced on by the media, and we can all gain a moment's pleasure during the day imagining his furious, impotent reaction to the coverage, but sous vide cooking is the wrong chink to be aiming for, as far as I am concerned.
Seems to me that far greater crime is the way Ramsay has helped create a stereotype chefs as a fearful blend of sadistic panto villain and frothing psychopath – about as far from the likes of Keller, Ducasse and Blumenthal as is possible.