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FOOL'S EYE VIEW
Getting Value for Money

By Jane Mack (TMFJane)
June 14, 2002

It's not often one has the opportunity to ask a former footballer-turned-three-star Michelin chef like Gordon Ramsay a question, but when you're sitting in his kitchen at Claridge's, there's a possibility that he might spare you a minute or two. And last night he did.

Let me explain. A few months I wrote an article pondering on what 'value for money' really meant within the context of one our favourite Foolish phrases: that of Living Below Your Means.

I had just gone and booked the Chef's Table at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's as a Christmas present for my husband and was feeling guilty about my lack of Foolishness. The Chef's Table is an exclusive table for six in the kitchen so you get to see some of London's top chefs in action. But it's at a price. And what a price! The six of us who went anticipated a bill of around £900 and we were pretty much spot on although the tip obviously took us well over £1,000. Anyway, at the time, some Fools on our Living Below Your Means Board said I should stop feeling guilty, go for it and report back on what it was like. So here I am.

So, was it worth it? And did we feel we got value for money?

The answer is yes. It was a one-off experience and something we had saved up for and looked forward to for six months, and we really felt we had seen what it's like to live at the seriously posh end of town. We had an absolutely superb eight-course meal served by the most delicious waiter who was exclusively ours for the entire evening. As someone who has served the likes of Madonna, Stephen Spielberg and Mick Jagger, he gave us no sign that he thought us any the less special. And the French accent was just to die for.

When it came to wine, we frugally decided to skip the 1961 Chateau Petrûs at £12,500 a bottle and trusted our wine waiter to come up with the appropriate accompaniments for the various courses after giving him a budget of between £40 and £60 a bottle to work with. He was so good that my husband has decided he likes white wine after all having been given the opportunity to taste the good stuff.

Watching the chefs at work was fascinating too although I was a bit taken aback to note that they lick their fingers and serving spoons as they plate up the food. One of our party is a Fellow of the World Master Chefs Society and he said it was quite usual to check for temperature and taste in this way although he doesn't personally use his fingers. It's one of those little secrets that most diners don't know about and to be honest, I didn't really mind although I suppose some might.

The cherry on the cake, of course, was the unexpected appearance of Gordon Ramsay who rarely works in the kitchen himself as he has other restaurants to see to. We certainly didn't expect him to give us the time of day, not least because he's almost as notorious for his bad temper as he is for his food – something fully documented in the television series, Boiling Point. But, no, our waiter whizzed off to find him to see if he could spare us a minute or two. He could and did – we were at the Chef's Table, after all.

So, did we ask him how he had perfected the Velouté of Lettuce with a drizzle of olive oil and chives? Or how on earth he managed to make the Mosaic of Foie Gras with mango coulis look, well, so much like a mosaic? For some reason, when he turned up everyone looked askance at me so he got: "What are you going to be doing at 12.30 this Saturday lunchtime?"

Sorry about that, folks. We'd had two bottles of champagne and four bottles of wine by then and my taste buds were still tingling magnificently from the wondrous Red Mullet on a Bed of Saffron Risotto. So I'm afraid I lost the plot. All I could think about was the fact that he used to be a footballer and still loves it with a passion. In fact, he was once asked if he would swap what he had achieved as a cook if he could have been as successful as a footballer. The answer was: "Definitely".

Anyway, he said he was going to be eating a great big burnt Danish bacon sarnie while watching the match with his feet up in his office. And, no, he wasn't going to make a television available for his staff because he'd tried that once before when he worked at La Gavroche and no-one did any work. And, yes, even though he was a Scotsman, he'd be supporting England and he reckoned we were in with a chance of winning.

Let's hope so.

More:   Living Below Your Means | Recipes/Cooking