“Give a man a fish; you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to make a fish pie; you’ll feed him for life?”
The 26th of June saw the first episode of Gordon Ramsay’s latest culinary venture, Gordon Behind Bars, which sees the man himself give six months of his time to start a successful Bad Boys Brigade food business in Victorian build HMP Brixton in South London. The prison holds category B prisoners who have committed a range of offences from drug dealing, theft and violent crime. To keep an offender in prison for a year costs the UK taxpayer an estimated £38,000 and Gordon Ramsay believes that it is time for these people to start giving something back. His aim: (as said by him) is to get prisoners cooking food on the inside, to sell on the outside.
The first exercise was picking the 12 men for the programme, asking a group of prisoners interested in the scheme to make scrambled eggs. The results weren’t positive – summed up perfectly by one prisoner’s verdict on his cooking: “It’s f*****g filth, isn’t it?” The second task was baking and decorating cupcakes to sell in the prison. The inmates got very creative in adoring the cakes with trimmings and Gordon remarked “The ruthless criminals can’t resist a bit of glitter.” Soon enough the cracks start to show and the men begin to squabble between each other so Gordon gets them to cook a meal for the other prisoners. Gordon’s Bad Boy Bakery is finally born and ends up pitching an easy-to-manufacture lemon treacle slice to several major coffee shop chains.
You cannot fault Gordon’s enthusiasm for the task he has set himself. The question is, will the public buy and eat anything made by prison inmates? And would such a business be financially viable in the long-term.
Carrying out the tasks needed to make the Bad Boy Bakery a success is far from easy due to being in a prison; doors are bolted, it is not a pleasant place to be, the regimes are rigid and knives are locked in cabinets. Being two men down and facing red tape from the prison system isn’t making Gordon’s intentions any smoother, there are constant arguments, challenges with prison staff and the inmates have troubled pasts and some have mental health issues that have thrown their lives into turmoil.
Seeing Gordon out of his comfort zone, vulnerable and having to rain in his trademark ranting and raving is very different, because the consequences of his usual actions could result in a serious attack or riot. The prison atmosphere is volatile and went into lockdown for two hours while guards searched for a missing potato peeler, such an item would be a deadly weapon in the hands of an inmate. After the production team re-checked their inventory it was discovered that they had merely miscounted the utensils.
Many would judge this programme as a massive shiny PR outing. But according to Gordon there are genuine motives behind his concept, Ronnie; Gordon’s younger brother is a lifelong heroin addict who has been in and out of prison since he was 24 years old. When working as a private English teacher in Bali, Indonesia he was caught in possession of 100 milligrams of heroin, he served 10 months for this offence. It is believed (allegedly) that Gordon has sadly now washed his hands of his brother; who was seen homeless and selling the Big Issue some time ago. His own experiences with Ronnie and his family’s frustration with his brother’s drug use could well have inspired him to pursue this project.
One thing is very certain. seeing what actually goes on in prison definitely gives you enough lemon treacle slices for thought.
The fourth episode will air on Channel 4, Tuesday the 17th July at 9PM
If you’ve missed the first three episodes of Gordon Behind Bars you can catch up at Channel 4oD