Chefs have revealed it’s not unusual for them to have to buy emergency ingredients from supermarkets. The revelation comes after a Bristol restaurant chef was dismissed for serving a £1.15 Asda Camembert, still in its original packaging, to a customer paying £13 for the baked dish.
Last week Emma Daniels took to Trip Advisor to complain about the sharing platter from Severn Shed restaurant in Bristol. After eating the dish, which consisted of baked Camembert, chutney and bread, she discovered the cheese was packaged inside an Asda box.
After her review was widely-reported by the media, the restaurant’s manager Ashley Kirwan revealed the member of staff in charge of the kitchen is “no longer in the business”. HuffPost UK spoke to chefs about their reaction to #camembertgate and they say the debacle shows that, as consumers, we have a lot to learn about how the restaurant business works and where our food comes from.
Joe Curtis, founder of catering company A La Mesa, in London, admits that he has at times had to source emergency ingredients from a supermarket. “When needs must,” he says. “It could be anything - we make our own ice cream, but if an accident happens and somebody drops it then you have to go and buy a replacement.
“I think something that’s quite common, which hopefully people won’t be too shocked by, is that if you do run out of cabbage or Suffolk carrots then you’d go and buy more to add to the dish.” But he warns against doing the same for key ingredients: “It’s a different story if you say you’re getting wild Cornish sea bass from the North Sea, and you send someone to the supermarket to get the Turkish or Greek sea bass which was caught and filleted three weeks ago.”
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Curtis says he writes his own menus and doesn’t use the word ‘provenance’ lightly. “If I write that my pork belly is from Gloucester, then I’d check with our suppliers, if not the farm, that it definitely is,” he explains. “We just put a cheese board on yesterday, which are all English cheeses from La Fromagerie and we’ve got all the paperwork and the blurb from suppliers proving it.”
Andrei Lussmann, managing director of Lussmanns restaurant group, says food served in his restaurants is sourced through either producers or wholesalers, although that’s not to say staff haven’t had to dash to the supermarket for vegetables in the past.
Meanwhile Adam Church, head chef at The Griffins Head in Northampton, says he sources most of his ingredients (meat, fruit, vegetables, chutney and cheeses) from local producers. However, the chef has previously worked at eateries that have gone to supermarkets for emergency milk, butter, bread or flour, although never main ingredients.
Fred Berkmiller, Chef Patron of L’escargot Blanc and L’escargot Bleu in Edinburgh, says that while he’s never had to source emergency ingredients from a supermarket, he’s not surprised that it happens and adds that “most products for sale from supermarkets would be cheaper than buying from wholesalers, so I am in no way surprised that chefs or restaurant owners would do shopping there”.
Discussing the chef who served an Asda Camembert, Curtis says honesty is the best policy. “If you run out of the cheese that you sourced from a worthy supplier, you can’t just nip down to Asda,” he explains. “Generally speaking if something like that runs out, it runs out. Restaurants are morally obliged to say it’s gone.”
While the actions are not ones they would have followed, the chefs do empathise. Curtis adds: “It’s getting harder and harder to make restaurants survive.”