|They kept their heads |
when all around were
losing theirs… Mark
Sargeant and Angela
Hartnett, the real stars
of Hell’s Kitchen
MS Quite bizarre really, but an absolute pleasure.
AH Definitely. It’s nice that people know what an onion is when you tell them to go and get one.
MS And how to peel it.
Caterer: Were you anxious when Gordon asked if you’d fancy being on the telly?
AH I didn’t want to do it in the first place. It could have opened us up to a lot of criticism. But the revelation was how much I enjoyed it. I take my hat off to ITV.
MS The fact that Gordon was getting me involved meant I pretty much knew he wouldn’t dive into anything that was wrong. The big scare about this was “Oh my God, it’s a reality show.” But this was so different. You weren’t just sitting around doing nothing waiting for someone to have sex. It’s about running a restaurant and that was exactly what we did. There was no set up. No farce. The production values were amazing. No expense spared. The kitchen and the food we were cooking – it was stunning.
Caterer: Were you worried about the guidebooks knowing you were out of your kitchens?
MS Well, you’ve got to take a holiday so it’s just the same as that. But we have a brilliant infrastructure of chefs around us, like Mark Askew and Marcus Wareing. While we were away our sous or head chefs respectively ran the kitchens, but we work as a big team and can draw on the other restaurants so that standards don’t slip.
Caterer: Is it true Gordon got half a million quid?
MS I have no idea. I don’t ask those questions. If I did I wouldn’t get the right answer.
Caterer: What were the biggest frustrations?
AH I actually enjoyed the service, it was just getting the prep out of them. To them it’s: “Why are we peeling a whole box of tomatoes? It’s the dullest job in the world.” And it is, it’s not fun. But we were trying to explain that the quicker you do it the quicker you get on a break. It was the mental energy – not the physical – that drained you.
MS There was a lot of moaning. Obviously they weren’t chefs and didn’t understand that 90% of running the kitchen is prep work. When it came down to service time they got really excited and dug in.
Caterer: So celebrities just want easy jobs?
MS They’re not used to our environment. If we burn ourselves, we just get on with it. But every two minutes they were out to see the nurse. Even if they just had a little burn they’d come back with a huge bandage on it. At one point there were about four of them and it looked like a roller disco with all these big bandages like sweat bands.
Caterer: Did you treat them in the same way as you treat any new recruits?
MS Definitely. Worse, even.
AH They might not have wanted to stay there until four in the afternoon, but if the work wasn’t done what did they want me to say? “Yeah, you go on a three-hour break and me and Sarge will just push it out”?
Caterer: Was it weird bossing them around because they were celebrities?
AH I found it more difficult at the beginning of the training. I was more intimidated then, but once it came to running the kitchen you were on autopilot.
MS And they were on our territory. If we’d been in the Houses of Parliament, or tried to do stand-up with Al Murray, there’s no way in the world that you could speak to them like that. But they were on our turf and that was their choice, so it was like: “Shut up and listen and do what we say, or you are not going to get anywhere.” We could have had a team of people getting everything ready and just had them walk in at service. But it really was the idea to get them to become proper cooks and run a kitchen. Obviously they needed a lot of guidance from us but the signature dishes were actually their own.
Caterer: Tell us about Edwina’s guinea fowl confit.
MS Oh God! It was a bit of a kick in the teeth. The dish she put forward on the first day was just shocking, so Gordon told me to help her out. I spent the whole morning with her showing her different ideas and at the tasting Gordon stressed to everyone that this was the last chance to say if they weren’t totally happy. She said she was. Then it came to getting six portions ready and she said she wasn’t going to do it, that the confit leg was too greasy. I felt like screaming. I’d spent all this time helping her out, and she didn’t even have the decency to turn around and say “sorry” or “thanks, but no thanks”.
Caterer: Who was the best cook?
AH Al Murray and the winner, Jen Ellison, because they could just do it and weren’t fazed on service. You could throw anything at them.
MS Jen had a real natural, clear head, a great memory and a bit of finesse about her. She could go on to any section and pretty much do it. She had common sense and that’s all it is: following directions and keeping a clear head when you are in the shit. And a little bit of talent. Al was a real driver and motivator, a team leader.
Caterer: And who was the worst?
MS James Dreyfus was pretty much useless when it came to cooking.
AH I disagree. I think he could make what he wanted to make. He made the souffl‚s because he liked the souffl‚s and he made the risotto because he could do it. If you put him on garnishes he sunk. What was that name he was calling you, Sarge?
MS James is on another planet… it was “Frodo Baggins”.
AH I’m telling everyone that when Sarge rings up to just call him Frodo. But for me Edwina was probably the worst because she just couldn’t cook.
MS And Amanda Barrie.
Caterer: And the others?
MS Matt Goss was hilarious because he was just so emotional. God, I thought I wore my heart on my sleeve. But I can speak for Angela, it was a massive emotional experience for both of us.
Caterer: Did it surprise you that Dwain Chambers couldn’t hack it?
MS Well he’s a sprinter isn’t he? He’s not into long distances.
Caterer: Have any of them been to the Connaught or Claridge’s since?
MS They are probably all still f****** asleep.
Caterer: Angela, you haven’t cooked with Gordon for a long time. What was that like?
AH Apart from a few special dinners I haven’t cooked with Gordon properly in a kitchen since the days of… God… Aubergine. But it was fun. So many times when Gordon was bollocking people I was in hysterics because I hadn’t heard him do it for such a long time. I had to go round the back because my shoulders were shaking, especially the way he kept going on at Jean-Philippe.
Caterer: Yes, poor old Jean-Philippe…
MS What do you mean “poor old Jean-Philippe”? He asked for it all.
Caterer: It seems everyone has been on the end of a Gordon bollocking
AH I think one time he said to me: “Can you just do those starters?” And I knew they weren’t away, and he said: “Actually, I’ll come and do that. You come and run the pass.” And I was like “Oh really big man, getting your knickers in a twist? Please don’t start with me, sunshine.” You know when he’s in that mode you just have to go with the flow. It’s quite funny.
Caterer: How is it he can reduce people to tears but gain their loyalty in the end?
MS It’s because that’s not all he does all day long. That’s an instance that happens, either frequently or rarely, depending on who you are and what you are doing. But it’s not just because he’s decided to pick on you. Half the time people are reduced to tears because they know he’s right. If you weren’t learning and there wasn’t a flip side to it then no one would be interested. The bad side is bad but the good side is fantastic.
Caterer: Did you ever mind the cameras rolling?
AH No, not really, apart from in the training when parts were so disorganised. I thought: “If they show this, we are all going to be looking very incompetent”. But after a while we were so in the cack that you stopped noticing it.
MS At the wrap party cameramen were coming up and saying “I’ve been watching you for 12 hours a day every day for the past 15 days” and you have never seen this guy before because they are behind this bank of mirrors. But they know your every move. They know you have a mole on the bottom of your earlobe. They know you better than your mum does. It’s really weird.
Caterer: Do you think after this there is a place for intensive training with young students instead of spreading it out over two years?
AH I don’t think you can do that. I think two weeks to do that is just too much. I think you can make catering colleges better by having more work-related courses, designed for certain types of restaurant or specific cuisines. But to throw young people in like that would just kill them.
Caterer: Catering students seemed to enjoy the show, but some in the industry have been critical about the effect it will have on recruitment
AH I think when people come to the industry you have to tell them how hard it is. There’s no point covering it in cotton wool and saying you are going to work eight hours a day, and you are always going to get a two-hour break, and you get paid this much when you are not. It’s pointless because you will lose them in a week.
Caterer: What about the industry’s reaction?
AH We proved that you can train people up to cook. I am sure there are some people who said we were wasting our time, but there were others who would think: “What a laugh and I would love to do it.” We knew we were going to get loads of critics and critical chefs coming in. But then you get wonderful people like Michel Roux and Gary Rhodes.
MS They were really complimentary. They knew the score, they knew what we were up to and what we were up against. They understood.
Caterer: Would you do it again?
AH If the restaurants are strong and we are in the same position as this year, then yes.
MS I think the whole buzz going around was that ITV definitely want to do another one, and that it wouldn’t work unless you got the same team again. So as long as it’s not too soon and the restaurants are strong I wouldn’t have any problems.
Caterer: Is there anyone that you would like to kick into shape next time?
AH God, no. Would you want to put anyone through that horror? Not people you like, anyway. n
Angela Hartnett is chef-patron of the Connaught, London, and Mark Sargeant is head chef of Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, London.