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Gordon Ramsay and the semiotics of the full English breakfast.

 It was bound to happen, sooner or later.

A public which has spent a long time having to think and argue about serious things was just gagging for something trivial to get in a froth about. Sure, football's back, but is that trivial enough?

Enter one-time chef turned full-time media personality Gordon Ramsay, and his iteration of that classic dish, the Full English Breakfast, the dish of which Somerset Maugham famously said "If a man wishes to eat well in England he should eat breakfast three times a day."

Here he is announcing the Savoy Grill's breakfast

It's hard to think of a dish more deeply embedded in the national psyches of the nations which make up the British Isles. I should like, at this point, to acknowledge that Full Irish, Scottish and Welsh breakfasts are all things of pure beauty, I mean no disregard by referring to a full English in this blog (though Ramsay, as a Scot, should have known he was playing with fire). Roast Beef maybe, Fish and Chips probably. But, much as everyone has a strong opinion on how a tea should be brewed, so everyone has a pretty clear idea of what a proper Full English is.

Spoiler alert. It's not what Ramsay tweeted.

Gordon, innocently enough, tweeted a short video of the Savoy Grill's breakfast, with a knife being dragged through the egg yolk so it oozed appealingly. To say that the internet did not react well would be an understatement akin to saying that Matt Hancock's made something of a Horlicks of Track and Trace. Most of the reaction, predictably enough, focused on the size of the breakfast (somewhat scant, for those whose idea of a Full English is a bin-lid of scran which leaves you unable to move afterwards. For the record, this is pretty much my idea of one, so I have some sympathy with this argument). A significant amount carped about the price, a reaction with which I have absolutely zero fucking empathy. It's the Savoy Grill, guys, not the cafe in the indoor market. You've got highly trained chefs and career waiters, all of whom are worth being paid a decent wage. You've also, in all likelihood, got the best produce money can buy. This will be reflected in the price. Personally, I wouldn't pay it, but if you don't mind dropping twenty quid on breakfast, go for your life.

Because we have some funny ideas about food in this country. The Full Lancashire I used to serve at Source was a bloody good breakfast. I had to charge a tenner for it, I was using decent gear, it took time to cook. It was certainly more abundant than Ramsay's offering. I reckon it offered good value for money. But still, some people would balk, because you can get a shit breakfast for buttons (we had a Wetherspoons opposite). The replies had some nice looking fry-ups in them, but they also had some hideous congealed horrors consisting of raw tomatoes, congealed eggs and plastic sausages, with the tweeter proudly claiming that it "only cost £3.50"

There's a reason for that, pal.

Now, I'm not here to make the case for food being a rip-off, I've built a career on offering decent gear at a reasonable price, and it's worked out okay so far, if I charge nineteen quid for something, you can be confident that the ingredients cost me north of a fiver. Restaurants that work with decent ingredients need to work off a GP of between 60-70% to survive, and ensure that everyone gets paid a reasonable wage. In layman's terms you take your raw ingredients cost and times it by three and a bit. That difference pays wages, utilities, rent, rates, insurance, VAT, Corporation Tax, staff's pensions, National Insurance, PAYE and all those moments when a dishwasher / combi oven / beer cooler explodes in your face and suddenly you've got to find ten grand. So I've little sympathy with people complaining about the price. If you want to pay a fiver, go to Spoons, if you're happy with that, good luck to you. This isn't elitism, it's a simple statement of fact.

But the outraged nature of the replies revealed a form of inverted snobbery which I often think of as "stay in your lane-ism". Ramsay's crime was to attempt the breakfast in the first place. This, the responses seemed to say, is not your sort of food. This is our food, and now you want to take it away from us. Savoy breakfasts should be Kedgeree, they should be Lamb's Kidneys, they should be Eggs Florentine. Not a fry-up. Viewed through this prism, the howls of outrage at his breakfast were as much an expression of class hatred as they were critiques of the food.

I have slightly more sympathy with this, I can get my head round the concept of cultural appropriation as regards working class food. Lord know am I ever fed up to the back teeth of posh pubs trying to charge thirty quid for fish and chips. I don't care if that batter's made of Dame Judi Dench's tears and the fish was hand-reared by Bono, that's just silly.

(For the record, and in the interests of total clarity, I charge thirteen quid: the haddock is massive, fresh in daily, the batter is made with beer, the tartare time-consumingly done from scratch. Some of the bigger fillets I don't quite make GP on, some of the smaller ones I make a little over)

But whilst I can see that point, I still don't fully agree with it. Fine dining is all about taking a dish as far as you can, it's about doing things that the diner couldn't do at home, it's about having access to ingredients that others don't. In this regard, Ramsay's breakfast was distressingly prosaic, it just was what it was. I've got no objection to him doing a breakfast, but if you're going to charge twenty quid, do something interesting with it.

For my own part, as I've already said, my main objection was that there wasn't enough of it. I want to finish a Full English and immediately regret my life choices. Also, one sausage? What's all that about?My secondary objection was the lack of black pudding, an unforgivable sin of omission on a proper breakfast. I also completely fail to see the point of the garnish. As a chef, you generally like to see a bit of green on the plate, but in this instance it's entirely superfluous. He could have seasoned the mushroom and tomato with a bit of parsley, that would make sense, some greenery dropped in the middle of the plate is pointless.

However, there was one complaint, repeated many times in the replies, that I simply couldn't get behind. The lack of a hash brown. It is important that I make my position crystal clear on this. Hash browns are an awful American import, they have no place in a breakfast, the carb element of which should be toast and maybe some fried bread if you're feeling dangerous. Rosti, if you must, refried potatoes, also okay, but the weird, scabby hockey puck that is a hash brown? Get out of here, if that's your complaint.

(Whilst we're on the subject, chips are acceptable if it's an all-day breakfast, but not before 12)

So, what have we learned? Well, mostly that there is no subject so trivial that we won't seize upon it as an excuse to froth with rage on the internet, and also that Gordon Ramsay's got some funny ideas about breakfast. Also a disturbingly large amount of people think that hash browns constitute food. Not sure how far that gets us, but that's killed an hour, and at least I wasn't thinking about sodding Brexit, so a win, all in all, I feel.


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