Hotel GB opens it doors on Monday evening and any members of the public who feel like being waited upon by a bunch of celebrities should head down, safe in knowledge that they’ll be doing their bit for charity while they enjoy the facilities.
Mary Portas will be front of house, Gok Wan will be running the bar, Katie Piper is overseeing the spa, Hilary Devey is looking after the shop and How Clean Is Your House‘s Kim Woodburn will be cleaning the rooms.
But they won’t be doing ALL the work themselves because Channel 4 have recruited a group of unemployed youngsters to help our celebrities out and hopefully secure a job in the process.
This morning we caught up with Hotel GB’s head chef Gordon Ramsay to talk about the project..
HOTEL GB starts on Monday 1st October at 9pm on Channel 4
How does it feel to be working in such a small kitchen?
All good food comes out of a small kitchen. All those years ago when I got that great chance to work for Marco White, my kitchen was a shoebox. I couldn’t quite believe it. But some of the best food I’ve seen in my life came out of that small space. The biggest problem with this kitchen is that it’s open and everyone can see what we’re doing!
You’ll have to keep a lid on things?
I can’t keep a lid on things. That’s impossible. But having that distance of 12 inches between the kitchen and the dining room is actually a dream. It means we don’t have food hanging around the hot plate. It also means we’re very close to our maître d Phil Spencer. I’m not sure he’ll be so happy about that.
Why did you want to take part in this project?
I’m not saying I had a disadvantaged youth, but I dreamed of being a footballer and that was taken away from me because of an injury. I thought I could regain that fitness and get back, I couldn’t. I didn’t sit on my arse and start getting bitter. Things at home were going pear-shaped with my parents. I was going to become a victim of their turmoil. So I got off my arse and did something about it. I pretty much ran away from home, because I wasn’t prepared to sit around with that negativity and let myself be doomed for the rest of my life. I think coming over that sort of adversity younger, it puts you in a better position going forward.
What do you think the main problems are with youth unemployment?
The misconception today is that it’s about getting money with a job. It’s not, it’s about becoming less insecure and being given a chance to learn something. And when you find that something you are good at, it’s about working hard and going for it. It’s always important to maintain that vulnerability though – that’s what makes you who you are. I went to Paris when I was young, got my arse kicked around Paris, and I came back a man. I think that put me in a position to tolerate, accept and be determined.
I think it’s a little too easy for the unemployed today. I don’t think it’s as tough as it could be. I look at what we just introduced in my work. We’ve brought in a modern apprenticeship where people are physically working in the kitchen rather than just writing about food. We have an amazing health service here, we have an amazing set-up in this country. But I think it’s too easy for the unemployed right now. Irrespective of going out for a job, people are still getting paid.
I have a member of my family who hasn’t worked for years. His response is, ‘Why should I go out for 50 hours a week, when all I’m getting is another £50 more than I get off the social?’ And then I think about the success I’ve had in the US and I think about how much people over the pond look up to this country in terms of their work ethic, manners and what it means to be British, it’s embarrassing that we’ve got two and a half million unemployed. I find that hard to accept.
Do you think restaurants and hotels should be doing more to help?
I think if you look at the different levels of restaurants from the chains to the gastropubs to the 5 star hotels and you look at the influx of Eastern Europeans in recent years, you have to wonder why we have this void. Why are we so stupidly in this position, where you look at the amount of unemployed Brits who could be working in the service industry in this country? It’s because the Poles are happy to come in, work twice as hard and for less money.
And in doing so they get their foot on the ladder. They become talented. Everyone used to say it about the plumbers. I know a very successful multi-million pound company in London, made up entirely of Bosnian plumbers. They had to start it somewhere. It’s the same in cooking. We have chefs coming into this country who are incredibly talented from all over Europe. They have sneaked in and taken the wind out of our sails. They have created a vacuum and a huge void of unemployment.
What would your advice be to young people who aspire for a career like yours?
I would say, get one solid year in a restaurant in a good dining room. Then travel. Learn a language. Try something different. And then go back and start at the bottom again. Develop some character. Be vulnerable. Going into an insecure world a couple of times before you’re 30 makes you a lot stronger. 18 to 30 is your sponge period. That’s the same period in any profession. After that, that’s when you take off. You have to take what you’ve learned, be a magpie, steal the glittery bits you’ve seen elsewhere, and improve it and mould it into something you want to make.
Are you going to be working the people on this show as hard as you do in the restaurant?
I’m going to be realistic. We had a disaster last week, it was horrific. And then we soft-started on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday, there was a horrible fracas that broke out in the private dining room. Things went really tits up and Hotel GB turned into Hotel GBH. I’m going to work twice as hard as my trainees. I’m going to set the example. I’m not scared of work. I’m one of them. I’ve been in their shoes.”
What are your businesses offering to help young people?
I think the modern day apprentice should come back. That’s what we’re doing right now at my work. People should spend more time working, less time writing. I’m backing this idea because I believe in it.
I backed the prisons scheme last year, because I think one of this country’s biggest missed opportunities is the 90,000 inmates we have, a cheap workforce with no productivity. That scenario isn’t helping anyone.
Likewise with youth unemployment today. We have a chance to turn things around and get them working in the hospitality industry. It’s not glamorous – cut that bullshit. But in terms of being ambitious and climbing the ladder and doing something, something pretty unique is available within hospitality.
Do you think this country is miles behind the rest of the world then when it comes to hospitality?
I think this country has something to shout about from the rooftops. If you take something like our food, British food is now something that is admired and it stands out not only in America but also in Paris. I was in Lille working recently and there was a British restaurant that was fully booked that even I couldn’t get into. I stuck my head around the door, expecting to see it full of British tourists. It was full of French! How f**king good is that? Long may it continue!