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Cool response to kitchen hell

Simon Midgley talks to catering tutors about the antics of top chef Gordon Ramsay

Fiery chef Gordon Ramsay's foul language and aggressive behaviour in ITV's Hell's Kitchen is not representative of professional chefs' behaviour, according to heads of hospitality programmes in leading catering colleges.

Some chefs-turned-educationists expressed concern about the reality-TV series, which followed 10 celebrities learning to become chefs under Ramsay's guidance in a London restaurant.

Adrian Pratt, programme area manager for the school of food, hospitality, leisure and tourism at New College Nottingham, said that there was too much bad language in the programme.

"Yes, the kitchen can be fraught at times," he said. "But if you are going to tell someone off, you take them into an office and discuss it with them.

It would certainly not be done publicly because that is what I call ritual humiliation.

"I have the greatest respect for his culinary ability and business sense, but if you carried on like that in most hospitality operations you would be out of a job pretty quick. You would be at a tribunal every week.

"There are some temperamental head chefs in Nottingham, but they certainly don't walk round the kitchen effing and doubting people's parentage because the general manager would be down on them like a ton of bricks and labour turnover would be 400 per cent.

"Some parents might find his behaviour offensive. If my son said he would like to be a chef, I would say 'Hang on, do you want to go into an industry with this sort of behaviour going on?' It is almost tarring every chef with the same brush, which is unfair because it is not like that really."

Professor David Foskett, associate dean at the London school of tourism, hospitality and leisure, Thames Valley university, who has worked as a chef at the Dorchester and The Savoy, said that he knew some busy kitchens but none where this kind of behaviour took place.

"People ask me 'Is it really like that?' And I have to say, 'No, quite frankly, if the majority of places were run like that, you would not have people working in those conditions. Who would put up with that?'

"To run a successful kitchen you don't have to demonstrate those traits.

The whole point of education is to say which are the best ways to motivate people, and there are many ways of doing it.''

Ivan Webster, manager of the ... la carte restaurant in the Chef's Academy at Newcastle college, said: "It is just not real life. It could have quite a bad effect if everyone thinks that is what being a chef is like and that to get to the top you have to be like that."

In Gordon Ramsay's defence, Webster said he was the UK's top chef. However, he added: "There is the Ramsay stereotype - 'I am nasty, I shout and swear'. It is bad for the industry in that I think that Ramsay has succumbed to TV power, to his own ego. And that is why they wanted him, because they knew he would do it. It would not have worked if it was Gary Rhodes." Not everyone agreed that the programme was unrealistic, however.

According to Tessa Claridge, Carshalton college's catering curriculum team leader, the programme tells it as it is. "I have come from five-star hotels," she said, "and I thought that was very much how I was used when I left college."

She had just been interviewing 30 would-be chefs and two-thirds of them had seen the programme.

They asked if it was realistic. She said there was not so much swearing but that chefs are put under pressure. "Excellent," they replied. "Chefs are team players," she said. "They love the adrenalin, especially at the top end of the market."

Bill Farnsworth, director of catering and baking studies at Birmingham college of food, tourism and creative studies, said that Gordon Ramsay had been very supportive of his college's work. Only last week some of the college's students had been helping him serve a meal at the Motor Show in Birmingham.

There were not many opportunities in the UK, he said, for students to work with chefs who had been awarded three Michelin stars. "I don't think he would do something that would adversely affect the industry or the recruitment of the industry," he said. "I think he is too passionate about it to do that."

John Derbyshire, Bury college's curriculum manager for catering, hairdressing and beauty therapy, added a note of realism. "This is just a TV programme," he said. "It is not real in that respect. Most chefs today keep their cool. It is up to the catering colleges to dispel the myth."

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