TV chefs help turkey twizzler firm to gain a more tasteful reputation

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The catering giant which foisted the nutritional disaster of turkey twizzlers down schoolchildren's throats has embarked on a different course by signing up some of the country's best chefs for a push into the world of fine-dining.

Compass group, which caters to thousands of schools, hospitals and workplaces, has taken on Gordon Ramsay's former protégé Jason Atherton to cook gourmet meals for boardrooms and other executive functions and give masterclasses to clients.

His signing follows the recruitment earlier this year of fellow Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens, who runs his own two establishments in Chelsea, to open two Compass restaurants at Somerset House in London.

Last year Compass Group opened Roux at Parliament Square, a chandeliered dining room in Westminster frequented by MPs and peers, with Michel Roux Jnr, who runs one of London's most traditional gourmet destinations, Le Gavroche in Mayfair.

The spikey-haired TV chef Gary Rhodes has worked for Compass for seven years, lending his name to three restaurants: Rhodes 24 in the City and Rhodes W1 Fine Dining and Rhodes Brasserie at the Cumberland Hotel near Marble Arch – in return for a consultancy fee.

For the chefs, the tie-ups represent an opportunity to promote their names and earn an income without having to risk their own money in new ventures. For the caterers, they can dramatically increase interest in job vacancies and improve the performance of in-house chefs – as well as winning or retaining contracts with investment banks and private equity houses whose directors enjoy rubbing shoulders with famous names.

Compass hopes the arrangements may also enhance its reputation. Five years ago the group was heavily criticised by another celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, for serving low-grade turkey pieces to children in his television series Jamie's Schools Dinners. Compass, which turned over £13bn last year, responded by banning turkey twizzlers, lowering salt and fat and introducing limited calorie count information.

Albert Roux, the member of the Roux dining dynasty who stayed on after his business Roux Associates was taken over by Compass in 1993, has helped Compass's fine-dining arm, Restaurant Associates (RA), to recruit some of the chefs, including Rhodes, whose first branded venue, Rhodes 24, opened in 2003. Since then Compass has expanded its work with Rhodes, as well as recruiting Roux Jnr and Atherton.

Aikens was taken on by Compass to run Tom's Terrace and now Tom's Kitchen at Somerset House, where he serves dishes such as confit lamb with balsamic onions and mash and sea bass meunière markedly different to the £3 shepherd's pies and vegetable lasagnes Compass supplies to work canteens.

Following his unamicable split from the Gordon Ramsay Group in April, where he had overseen the global roll-out of the Maze concept, Atherton may eventually open a restaurant with Compass after opening his own place in London in January, Pollen Street Social Jason Atherton.

Sue Thompson, Restaurant Associates business development manager, said: "He's going to open his own restaurant before he opens anything with us, but he's looking at opportunities."

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