GORDON Ramsay was forced to defend his reputation yesterday after it emerged that he uses ready-meals prepared off-site at one of his restaurants.
A spokeswoman for the celebrity chef – who has previously said it is a crime not to use fresh food in cookery – issued a statement after it was discovered that pre-prepared food was being bought in, heated up and sold with mark-ups of up to 586 per cent at one of Ramsay's high-profile restaurants and three of his gastropubs in the capital.
Foxtrot Oscar in Chelsea, west London, uses a kitchen facility in Wandsworth, south London, to prepare components of dishes which are then cooked and sold at the restaurant, the chef's spokeswoman said.
"Gordon Ramsay Holdings operate a kitchen facility in Wandsworth called GR Logistics " she said.
"Here Gordon Ramsay chefs prepare components of dishes devised and produced to the highest Gordon Ramsay standards. These are supplied to those kitchens with limited cooking space such as Foxtrot Oscar and Gordon Ramsay's highly-acclaimed pubs, including the Narrow.
"These are sealed and transported daily in refrigerated vans and all menu dishes are then cooked in the individual kitchens."
She went on: "This is only for the supply of Foxtrot Oscar and the three pubs and allows each establishment to control the consistency and the quality of the food served. GR Logistics also supply a number of other restaurants outside the group with prepared components."
But in an interview promoting The F Word on Channel 4 in 2007, Ramsay insisted that fresh produce was key to good food: "Using fresh ingredients is the only way to guarantee a great taste and I can't understand how people can ignore fresh food.
"That's where all the flavour is, all the goodness, and it's a crime not to use it."
It has been reported, however, that fishcake portions bought in for 1.92 were being sold for 11.25 at one of Ramsay's pubs, while sausage rolls costing 75p went for 3.50.
Head chef Darran Ridley, of GR Logistics, told the Sun newspaper that they provided "the majority of the food for Foxtrot Oscar" and added: "We do coq au vin at 2.60 a portion, leg or thigh, in a bag with a sauce. All you have to do is pop it into a pan of boiling water and reheat it."
The three gastropubs supplied are the Narrow in Limehouse, east London; the Warrington in Maida Vale, north London; and the Devonshire in Chiswick, west London.
Chef John Quigley, owner of Glasgow's Red Onion, said that he felt that Ramsay was in danger of damaging his name.
"There's nothing wrong with buying quality, but it's not very good for training purposes of the kitchen. It sounds to me like he's not investing in the people.
"It's question of going one way or another: you either invest in the talent, you train them and spend money doing that, getting them to a high standard and retaining their talents for a long time, or you employ (unskilled workers] and give them hair nets; just buy it in and they can reheat it."
Mr Quigley said that he thought Ramsay was trying to balance consistency with economies of scale across the restaurants, but said that there was a danger of straying into the territory of chain restaurants.
"This type of behaviour is fine if you're a chain," he said. "Then you have central production, who provide you with the marinade and the chicken and it's the same wherever you go. But that's a bit boring and predictable and I'm not sure that's the way I'd want to go. Every restaurant should have its own character that makes it unique.
"I think this will damage Ramsay's name, as I think people will interpret it wrongly, that he is buying in food and not preparing it on premises."
Helen Hokin, food editor for Food and Travel Magazine, said that she was unsurprised at the revelation.
"I think what we're learning now is that there is an ever-increasing discrepancy between what Gordon Ramsay says and what Gordon Ramsay does. I think he's going to lose the trust of his adoring public.
"He's reached the point where he's a brand and he has to offer consistency across his outlets; eventually you're going to have to make some compromises to ensure what people get when they go to a Ramsay restaurant."
Ms Hokin added that she believed that Ramsay's main problem was that he was now spending more time "promoting himself than focusing on the food that made him famous in the first place".