Do you think there is a drug problem in the industry?
There is a problem in every industry. It’s no worse in ours than say fashion, music, TV or finance. The severity of the problem is usually linked to people’s happiness rather than their job title. The idea that chefs or anyone can be on drugs like cocaine in a work environment without someone spotting is laughable. It’s not a subtle thing to notice when you work with someone all day in that capacity- and if you’re ignoring it then that’s a management problem, not a staff one.
How have you and the industry in general addressed this?
Today’s chefs’ idea of long hours is incomparable with my experience eight years ago and pay is better, so yes, it is slowly changing. The fundamental point to making chefs happy in work isn’t pay or hours though, it’s about respect and giving them growth within the business. This is something we need to get our heads around as an industry, otherwise chefs quit early or turn to drugs and alcohol when they stay.
"The industry is still far behind the curve in equality,
support and professionalism with staff"
What more could the industry be doing?
We need to start looking at chefs like individuals rather than consumables. We need to look at chefs that have children and give them time to look after their kids. We need to look at chefs with disabilities and social issues as well as problems with drugs and alcohol. The industry is still far behind the curve in equality, support and professionalism with staff. Its attitude to women stinks still, which is crazy in this day and age. If people feel looked after and respected they are less likely to have a substance abuse problem and if they do already they are more likely to turn to us for help when they do.
How do you ensure your staff are happy and work in a healthy environment?
We empower them to run their own business and are growing them with our business. They do their own rota, we don’t force hours on people, we give them fair targets, we pay fair wages and make work as interesting as possible. Things like butchery and sourcing great ingredients help as they get passionate about it and it makes them proud of their own work - my chefs have their own dishes on the menu and do their own events. We make sure we have a diverse workforce and take a zero tolerance policy against bullying within it. We have our failures yes but we have a lot of employees that have been with us since the start and that’s rare.
As a very high profile chef, is it not good for Ramsay to be addressing this issue?
It’s great that issues about drugs are raised but I don’t see why it has to be a chef at all - and if it does, it should be one that still works day to day in their kitchen and is less condescending to other chefs. Someone like Tom Kerridge would be a thousand times more appropriate. He is someone that the industry respects and has given up drinking alcohol publicly, which is for me a much bigger industry problem than cocaine. He’s an inspiration and great ambassador for our generation, which is a better delivery method for these issues.
"The industry took a big hit with the tipping debate,
immigration issues and now we’re all
'on drugs’, according to Gordon"
Are Ramsay’s quotes damaging for the industry?
They don’t help, do they? He made his career on painting a bad light on kitchen attitudes. Swearing at celebrities in the kitchen, restaurant owners or his own staff, he’s become a caricature for all we’re trying to get away from. Am I perfect? No. But I am trying to be a better leader. The industry took a big hit with the tipping debate, immigration issues and now we’re all ‘on drugs’, according to Gordon. There is a chef crisis going on as it is. We don’t need this negative focus and especially if it’s largely bullshit.
"The idea that chefs or anyone can
be on a drug like cocaine in a work environment
without someone spotting is laughable"
What should chefs be doing instead?
They should be promoting positivity in the industry and championing equality and diversity rather than telling people how shit they are. Talking out against bullying and sexism in the workplace is important too. I’m not immune to the odd rant, as people well know - but the bulk of what I post is about the industry and my staff and I always try to bring it back to them.
Do you put any emphasis on mental health in the kitchen?
Massively. It’s something I’ve been through myself. I’ve spent time in therapy for various issues. Nobody should be scared to admit they’re struggling and I hope we try to be as supportive as we can with these issues. That not being a saint, that’s just what it means to be an employer. That is our job.