John on Wine- Friends don’t let friends Vacu-Vin

By John Cesano

Updated:   04/04/2013 10:58:27 AM PDT

(NOTE: This piece was edited down for the paper from a longer piece that ran here in the blog years ago. -John)

One of my wine industry jobs was with the Wine Appreciation Guild, one of the industry’s largest publishers of wine books and a one-stop distributor of both wine books and accessories. My job was to sell wine books and wine accessories to winery tasting rooms, wine shops, and other specialty merchants in 42 California counties.

There was one item I refused to sell.

Vacu-Vin. There is no wine preservation system more ubiquitous. Gwyneth Paltrow told Oprah that it is a “must-have” in her kitchen. Every frau and pretentious wine poser in the country has one. Sales of the devices number in the tens of millions.

For the one or two of you who are unfamiliar with Vacu-Vin, here’s what the manufacturers say:

“The Wine Saver is a vacuum pump, which extracts the air from the opened bottle and re-seals it with a re-usable rubber stopper. Place the re-usable stopper in the bottle and extract the air from the bottle using the Wine Saver pump. A “click” sound tells you when you have reached the optimum vacuum level. The vacuum slows down the oxidation process which makes it possible to enjoy your wine again at a later date. The question “how often do I have to pump?” is a thing of the past. The unique and patented vacuum indicator will emit a “click” sound when the correct vacuum is reached.”

The Wine Appreciation Guild carried them, and everyone I worked with wanted them to sell in their stores.

I had a problem. To my mind, the Vacu-Vin doesn’t work:

“The “Vacu-Vin” device as submitted was evaluated to determine efficacy in reduction of oxidative spoilage in opened wines. Using the protocol described above, the “Vacu-Vin” device was found to have no measurable effect in reduction of oxidative spoilage.” -Gordon Burns, ETS Laboratories, 1204 Church Street, St. Helena, CA 94574

and:

“Vacu-vin” doesn’t work, It never has. Sensorily – to me anyway – the Vacu-vin was a shuck. You could track the deterioration in each sample. Indeed, just recorking the wine worked equally as well ­ or as badly.

The (Wall Street) Journal asked Professor David Roe of the Portland State University chemistry department to test the gizmo. At best he achieved a vacuum of somewhat less than 70 percent. In just 90 minutes, he reported, the vacuum pressure diminished by 15 percent.

I asked Professor Roe to repeat his test with a newly purchased (newer, ‘improved’, model) Vacu-Vin. The results? “The pump is more efficient, but no more effective,” he reports. “The vacuum is the same, around 70 to 75 percent. And the leak rate is the same: After two hours you lose 25 percent of the vacuum. Overnight ­ 12 hours ­ the vacuum is totally gone.” -Matt Kramer, “A Giant Sucking Sound And That’s All”

and:

“Unnecessary equipment: There’s no clear need for Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver and other wine-preservation systems, our tests suggest.

A lot of people turn to wine-preservation systems that seek to retard or stop oxidation, the chemical process that degrades wine. If you’re among those who swear by such systems, we have surprising news, based on our tests of four widely known brands: No system beat simply recorking the bottle and sticking it in the fridge.” – Wine Spectator.

and:

Getting the air out: The Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver, $10, uses rubber stoppers (two are provided) with a pump that sucks out air.

We tested three varietals with the systems on three different occasions for three different periods of time. For comparison, we also stoppered one bottle with its own cork. After all the bottles spent time in our wine cellar, expert wine consultants compared their contents in blind taste tests with freshly opened bottles. If our trained experts, with nearly 60 years in the business, couldn’t discern among wine storage systems, most consumers probably can’t, either. So just go ahead and cork it (you can turn the cork over if it’s easier to get in). But try not to wait more than a week or so to drink the wine, and sooner is better.” – Consumer Reports, December 2006

 

 

 

I would tell the buyers for the winery tasting rooms, the wine shops, and the kitchen stores that the Vacu-Vin doesn’t work ­ but it didn’t stop most of them, because you, the home customer, wanted to buy and use these things.

When I see a wine bar using a Vacu-Vin, I won’t drink any but the first glass from a bottle.

Here’s the deal: when you open wine and let it breathe, you are letting tannins dissipate, alcohol flush burn off, and fruit come forward. You’ll find that the hot, harsh, and closed Cabernet at opening becomes a smooth delicious beverage with blackberry and currant notes with a little time. Oxygen is wine’s friend initially.

While I am prepping food for dinner, I usually open a bottle, or more than one bottle if cooking for friends, pour a little of each in a separate wine glass, so I can repeatedly swirl and sniff each. I am looking for the wine to open and become perfect. At that point, I recork the bottle so I can just open, pour, and seal all the way through the meal. I know the last glass will be as good as the first. If not perfect, every glass is pretty darn good.

If I opened the wine, let it breathe, and then ignored it, the fruit would follow the tannins, and perfect would become sad. Oxygen, so important to a wine at opening, becomes wine’s enemy afterward. Leaving a wine open ruins wine over time.

Pumping the air out of a bottle of wine with a Vacu-Vin strips the wine of some aroma and bouquet. Each time it is used it can harm the wine. To me, a couple of seconds is like hours of damage. Kramer described the loss of delicate notes in his piece for spectator.

The Vacu-Vin doesn’t even create a complete vacuum. As tested, fully 25-30 percent of the air, and oxygen, remains inside the bottle ­ before the Vacu-Vin fails and all of the air, and oxygen returns. To me, the worst think about the Vacu-Vin is that consumers are fooled into a false sense of preservation security and don’t seek another, effective, method to save the aroma, bouquet, and flavors of a bottle of wine in between glasses.

Matt Kramer and the Wall Street Journal engaged a University science department professor who measured the Vacu-Vin’s fail using drills and tubes and meters, all very high tech. Similar high tech methods were used by Gordon Burns of ETS Laboratories and the testers at Consumer Reports.

At work, in the tasting room, I use 100 percent pure Argon, an inert gas that is heavier than oxygen, from a large tank. Shooting a little into a bottle, then recorking it, allows the Argon to settle and provide a protective blanket between wine and oxygen. Smaller home versions are available, with Private Preserve, a nitrogen/argon mix, the most easily found. More expensive, but also more efficacious, WineSave is 100 percent pure food grade Argon in a can available at WineSave.com

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John Cesano does not get a kickback from private preserve or winesave, but wishes he did.
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John On Wine blog bonus -

I polished a popular piece posted previously here, and it was published in the printed paper, perhaps a partial week ago.  (Note: sorry for the alliteration, once started, that last sentence wrote itself).

I also visited Matheson Tri-Gas, a commercial supplier and asked about the cost of an Argon tank for the serious hedonist, the folks who care about preserving quality of wine glass to glass, and those foodies who want to prevent cooking oil from becoming rancid and vinegars from becoming musty.

A small tank (it isn’t really small, but it is smaller than a commercial tank) runs about $100. The regulator runs another $100. The hose, nozzle, and other fittings runs a third $100. Initial cost: $300. from that point on, tank can be filled or refilled with Argon for about $30 and a small (big really) tank would last practically forever used at home.

I received the following comment submission on November 20, 2011 from Robert Bilenchi:

Misinformation, misifrmation, misinformation,…Matt Kramer of the wine spectator and consumer Reports are out and out wrong. The 70-75%air removal, reported by Kramer is a gross error. I have determined a method for evaluating the effective vacuum produce by a well oiled vacu-vin pump. In my tests I determined that the effective air removal to be: 89.9%, 90.5%, 91.5, and 92.1% on a completely empty bottle, a 75% empty, a 50% empty and a 25% empty bottle respectively. I am now in the process of determining how much minimum pumping is necessary to achieve these levels and finally through a panel wine tasting study how much time is necessary to detect a taste difference in wines that have been opened and “Vacu-Vin ed” at various levels of wine removal. The Consumer reports test determined that tasters could not discern difference in the taste of a wine opened for one week without the use of Vacu-Vin and a freshly opened bottle and did not mention the time intervals of storage for the various wine storage methods. The conclusions reached could not be ascertained by the reader because of the lack of the experimental data ie. the time intervals used.
I plan on further testing the Vacu-Vin pump for duration of vacuum and amount of pumping to achieve vacuum and taste evaluations my time. I plan are to publish the results in the American Wine Society Journal.

On January 19, 2012, I received this follow up:

Dr. Roe needs to get re-educated perhaps another Phd might help. He is seriously in error; and yes while I’m at it why did you remove my previous note? I still get 90% lasting vacuum and I still will perform a panel taste test and still plan on publishing the results in the Journal of the Am. Wine Society.
I thought you were against censorship.

All this in response to a piece I wrote back in 2009.

The piece is so old that not all the links even work anymore. I wrote it, and having said what I wanted to say, years later felt pretty well done with it. The comments back and forth are more than twice as long as what at over 1,800 words is a longish post already.

Looking back, I would edit the hell out of what I wrote, but I’m done with it. I have had many thousands of readers find their way to my wine blog because of this one old post, but I’m done with it. Google searches from “Does Vacu-vin work?” to “Scrotal Vacuum Pump” [Note: I am prayerful that my post was many pages from the front of that particular search’s yielded results] bring new readers to my blog every single day, but I’m done with the Vacu-vin post.

Hey, did you just accuse me of censorship, Robert?

I chose to join the multitude of sites that went black in protest of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy act, and followed up with a little ribbon on my site opposing censorship.

Damn it, now I had to respond to Robert.

I sent Robert this email note the same day, January 19:

Dr. Roe needs to get re-educated perhaps another Phd might help. He is seriously in error; and yes while I’m at it why did you remove my previous note? I still get 90% lasting vacuum and I still will perform a panel taste test and still plan on publishing the results in the Journal of the Am. Wine Society.

I thought you were against censorship.

Robert,

I did not remove your previous note, it was never allowed to post.

It wasn’t a matter of censorship, it was a matter of editorial choice.

I enjoy, welcome, dialogue.

Instead of reasoned response, you assert both Matt Kramer and Consumer Reports are “out and out wrong” You cry out [SIC]

Misinformation, misifrmation, misinformation,

then denigrate Dr. Roe now.

I didn’t like the tone of your comments, more combative than helpful, and offering nothing new to the comment stream.

You merely offered anecdotal, unverified data to counter the verified laboratory results conducted in different places and different times yielding similar results: vacu-vin vacuum fail.

Send me a link to your article when it is published and I will post the link and as much of the article as fair use permits.

I am really not interested in a back and forth over this long ago written piece, but if you bring me something newsworthy I will report it.

I hope that provides you the motivation to produce the most well researched and persuasive article on the subject for the American Wine Society Journal as you promised in November and again now.

Thanks,

John Cesano

And in response I found this note in my mailbox later that day:

John,

I stand by my statements.  The methodology by which the the effectiveness of the Vacu-Vin was tested was never described.  I am extremely confident in my methodology in assessing the vacuum producing ability of the Vacu-Vin pump.  My method is both accurate and clever and will be revealed my report when made.  It doesn’t require the use of a vacuum gauge but it does require accurate measuring methodology and proper usage of the Vacu-Vin pump and stopper, something that the experimenters never talk about, maybe because they don’t know.  My comments may sound combative but not any more so than “Friends don’t let friends Vacu-Vin”  and “A giant sucking sound and that’s all”.  My wine tasting group is in the process picking a taste evaluation date which should be in late March or early April.  To be quite honest the results of the taste test is another matter, as it is quite possible that the group may find that the taste results indicate that the device is not an effective preservative.  I am fully confident however that the reported 70% vacuum effectiveness is totally wrong.  My actual results are 91% +/- 1.1% depending on how empty the bottle is of liquid.  Don’t believe anyone just because he/she has a Phd.  They are wrong occasionally, that is why scientific theories change from time to time.

Bob

I thought about Bob’s (we’re almost buddies now, having moved from Robert to Bob) reply overnight, then sent this note to him on January 20, 2012:

Bob,

If you don’t mind, if you would like me to, I would like to take your two comments and this thoughtful email response and string them together into a new standalone update post.

I’m pretty much over my past post, but your passion is undeniable.

My experience was that the vacu-vin was not effective in preserving wine flavors – even just one or two days. Then one article after another was written, or a new test found that the device did not measure up,  or tasters found no difference to wine preservation compared to just jamming the old cork back in – some even cited a negative effect to aromas and flavors when used as directed. More than a few years later, I wrote my piece. It is so old that links are broken yet I get at least 50 visitors to it every day.

Maybe as you assert, all the tests results are un error; perhaps a vacuum is achieved, maybe even maintained, but in the absence of beneficial effect, does that ultimately matter?

I am not advocating covering up valid scientific measured data, should your 91% +/1 1.1% vacuum be reproducible and more importantly maintained.

But if your tasting group has a similarly unsatisfying experience with the vacu-vin’s efficacy as a preservation tool that I, Kramer, and Consumer Reports (and the NYT, UC Davis, etc.) have experienced, then your data is more than likely to be misused to try to suggest a correlation between partial vacuum created and wine flavor preservation where no such correlation exists.

It is possible your time and efforts might be better spent determining in a measurable way the most successful wine flavor preservation tool rather than collecting data that has questionable, possible meaningless value? It is just a thought.

Anyway, if you want, I’ll feature your pieces in a new follow up post, a counterpoint piece to my original.

Let me know.

John Cesano

Bob said yes:

John,

This is good.  I can’t however consider abandoning this pursuit on the Vacu-Vin for other methods until these tests are complete.  Can you see someone seeing a report from me on another device asking “well did you ever consider the effectiveness of the Vacu-Vin” to which my reply would be “well yes but just as I was approaching the concluding phase of the study, someone said I might be wasting my time so I gave up on it.”

If you wish, I can describe my method for preparing the pump and stopper and determining the amount of vacuum achieved which should be readily repeatable by anyone with an accurate scale and the patience to perform the procedure.  So yes you can go ahead with the post.

Bob

Thus, a new post was born.

I would love to invite Bob to add to this post through comments, which I will approve, and the post can grow and take mostly any shape Bob wishes. He can offer his methodology or tasting panel results, or copy us in on his submission to the Journal.

As for me, while I remain incredibly skeptical as to the efficacy of the vacu-vin, at this point I really don’t care if you use them and think they are the best device in the work of wine preservation.

I believe that a partial vacuum is not a vacuum and some remaining air means some remaining oxygen which means oxidation still occurs when you use the vacu-vin. I believe sucking air from a bottle mechanically strips wine of volatile esters and phenols, decreasing the olfactory experience and possibly the gustatory as well.

So, for me, whether there is 30% or 9% of the oxygen present in the bottle after pumping, and whether that percentage increases to nearly 100% due to leaky valves or not, doesn’t really matter as it has failed in numerous blind tastings to do any better than merely jamming the old cork back in – and has fared worse in some tastings.

But out of fairness, or because I was moved by Bob’s passion, or because I got Bob to mostly write this post for me, I have fought my censorious inclinations and offer this post up to you.

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Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, thanks for subscribing, thanks for following me on facebook and twitter. To all of you who find your way here, just thanks.

John

One of my wine industry jobs was with the Wine Appreciation Guild, one of the industry’s largest publishers of wine books and a one stop distributor of both wine books and accessories. My job was to sell wine books and wine accessories to wineries for their tasting rooms, to wine shops, and to other specialty merchants in 42 California counties.

http://www.wineappreciation.com

There are many people here on the interwebs that know about wine, and I’ll carve my own niche by writing from the heart about wine as a means to an end, a beverage to be enjoyed with family and friends, as opposed to the end itself. I am not the guy to read if you are looking for a review of the nearly unattainable, released in three bottle maximum allotment to people on THE LIST only, cult Napa Cab or Russian River Valley Pinot. I love wine, know wine, can share my knowledge; but I am a regular guy.

In addition to telling you about a wine in context, who I shared it with, the food we ate with it, I can also tell you about a good wine book or wine gadget. Go with what you know, I wrote recently, and I will. Out of the thousands of wine writers inhabiting the web, I have unique knowledge. Hopefully, my writing will find an audience thirsty for what I am pouring.

Vacu-Vin. There is no wine preservation system more ubiquitous. Gwyneth Paltrow told Oprah that it is a “must-have” in her kitchen. Every frau and pretentious wine poser in the country has one. Sales of the devices number in the tens of millions.

For the one or two of you who are unfamiliar with Vacu-Vin, here’s what the manufacturers say

http://www.vacuvin.com/Vacuum_Wine_Saver_286_270_267.html

“The Wine Saver is a vacuum pump, which extracts the air from the opened bottle and re-seals it with a re-usable rubber stopper. Place the re-usable stopper in the bottle and extract the air from the bottle using the Wine Saver pump. A “click” sound tells you when you have reached the optimum vacuum level. The vacuum slows down the oxidation process which makes it possible to enjoy your wine again at a later date. The question “how often do I have to pump?” is a thing of the past. The unique and patented vacuum indicator will emit a “click” sound when the correct vacuum is reached.”


The Wine Appreciation Guild carried them, and everyone I worked with wanted them to sell in their stores.


I had a problem. The Vacu-Vin doesn’t work:

http://www.winelife.com/pdf/lab-report-26292-vacu-vin-test.pdf

“The “Vacu-Vin” device as submitted was evaluated to determine efficacy in reduction of oxidative spoilage in opened wines. Using the protocol described above, the “Vacu-Vin” device was found to have no measurable effect in reduction of oxidative spoilage.”

-Gordon Burns, ETS Laboratories, 1204 Church Street, St. Helena, CA 94574


http://www.winespectator.com/magazine/show/id/6257

Vacu-vin doesn’t work, It never has.

Sensorily, to me anyway, the Vacu-vin was a shuck. You could track the deterioration in each sample. Indeed, just recorking the wine worked equally as well – or as badly.

The [Wall Street] Journal asked Professor David Roe of the Portland State University chemistry department to test the gizmo…At best he achieved a vacuum of somewhat less than 70 percent…In just 90 minutes, he reported, the vacuum pressure diminished by 15 percent.

I asked Professor Roe to repeat his test with a newly purchased (newer, ‘improved’, model) Vacu-Vin. The results? “The pump is more efficient, but no more effective,” he reports. “The vacuum is the same, around 70 to 75 percent. And the leak rate is the same: After two hours you lose 25 percent of the vacuum. Overnight – 12 hours – the vacuum is totally gone.”

-Matt Kramer, “A Giant Sucking Sound…And That’s All”


http://www.consumerreports.org December 2006

What to do with leftover wine? Just put a cork in it

UNNECESSARY EQUIPMENT There’s no clear need for Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver and other wine-preservation systems, our tests suggest.

A lot of people turn to wine-preservation systems that seek to retard or stop oxidation, the chemical process that degrades wine. If you’re among those who swear by such systems, we have surprising news, based on our tests of four widely known brands: No system beat simply recorking the bottle and sticking it in the fridge.

Getting the air out…The Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver, $10, uses rubber stoppers (two are provided) with a pump that sucks out air.

We tested three varietals with the systems on three different occasions for three different periods of time. For comparison, we also stoppered one bottle with its own cork. After all the bottles spent time in our wine cellar, expert wine consultants compared their contents in blind taste tests with freshly opened bottles.

If our trained experts, with nearly 60 years in the business, couldn’t discern among wine storage systems, most consumers probably can’t, either. So just go ahead and cork it (you can turn the cork over if it’s easier to get in). But try not to wait more than a week or so to drink the wine, and sooner is better.


I would tell the buyers for the winery tasting rooms, the wine shops, and the kitchen stores that the Vacu-Vin doesn’t work – but it didn’t stop most of them, because you, the home customer, wanted to buy and use these things.

You don’t see good restaurants using Vacu-Vins to preserve their wines poured by the glass. You don’t see good wineries using Vacu-Vins in between the wine tastes they poor in their tasting rooms. NY Times wine guru Eric Asimov doesn’t pump air out of wine bottles, he doesn’t believe it does much of anything.

http://thepour.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/05/25/when-age-is-measured-in-days/

When I see a wine bar using a Vacu-Vin, I won’t drink any but the first glass from a bottle.

Here’s the deal: when you open a wine and let it breathe, you are letting tannins dissipate, alcohol flush burn off, and fruit come forward. You’ll find that the hot, harsh, and closed Cabernet at opening becomes a smooth delicious beverage with blackberry and currant notes with a little time. Oxygen is wine’s friend initially.

While I am prepping food for dinner, I usually open a bottle, or more than one bottle if cooking for friends, pour a little of each in a separate wine glass, so I can repeatedly swirl and sniff each. I am looking for the wine to open and become perfect. At that point, I recork the bottle so I can just open, pour, and seal all the way through the meal. I know the last glass will be as good as the first. Every glass perfect.

If I opened the wine, let it breathe, and then ignored it, the fruit would follow the tannins, and perfect would become sad. Oxygen, so important to a wine at opening, becomes wine’s enemy afterward. Leaving a wine open ruins wine over time.

Pumping the air out of a bottle of wine with a Vacu-Vin strips the wine of aroma and bouquet. Each time it is used it ruins the wine. To me, a couple of seconds is like hours of damage.

The Vacu-Vin doesn’t even create a complete vacuum. As tested, fully 25-30% of the air, and oxygen, remains inside the bottle – before the Vacu-Vin fails and all of the air, and oxygen, returns. To me, the worst think about the Vacu-Vin is that consumers are fooled into a false sense of preservation security and don’t seek another, effective, method to save the aroma, bouquet, and flavors of a bottle of wine in between glasses.

Matt Kramer and the Wall Street Journal engaged a University science department professor who measured the Vacu-Vin’s fail using drills and tubes and meters, all very high tech. Similar high tech methods were used by Gordon Burns of ETS Laboratories and the testers at Consumer Reports.

Look, I know that if you are into wine, you have one of these gadgets at home. Want to see it fail before your own eyes? Fill an empty wine bottle half way with mini marshmallows, use the Vacu-Vin as directed, sucking some of the air out of the bottle, creating a partial vacuum at best. As you pump, the marshmallows will swell until they fill the available space inside the bottle. You will see that, as the Vacu-Vin seal leaks and fresh air goes back into the bottle, the marshmallows shrink. You can watch the level of the marshmallows fall from bottle fill to half bottle as the Vacu-Vin fail is total.

While at the Wine Appreciation Guild, the owner Elliot Mackey, knowing my feelings about the Vacu-Vin, put me in a surprise direct face-to-face meeting with one of the company’s representatives. I felt a bit awkward, but presented him with much of the evidence I have laid out here for you. The representative assured me that he had heard these charges before and had a “wealth of anecdotal evidence” to counter it.

Just because a non critical taster, perhaps an actress appearing on Oprah, thinks that her Vacu-Vin is doing something beneficial, and allows that incorrect assumption to color expectations at tasting her old wine, self deluding herself that the wine is well preserved – just because there are tens of millions of people who got suckered, don’t know it, and think this junk works – well, so what? A wealth of anecdotal evidence does not counter evidence of Vacu-Vin’s complete lack of efficacy, nor does it counter Vacu-Vin’s fail in blind tastings performed by sommeliers and other wine professionals.

I am a believer in never presenting a problem without a possible solution. I’ve created a problem by telling the truth as I see it. There are tens of millions of people ruining their wine, thinking they are saving their wine’s quality. I know I won’t reach quite that number of readers, but for the few who do find their way to my blog, I’ll tell you how I keep wines delicious in between glasses.


I recork the bottles. Believing it matters, I use a decoratively topped, denser than normal, non-porous Corker instead of the old porous cork. If I am going to keep the wine for more than a couple of days, I pair a blast of Private Preserve (nitrogen/argon/inert gasses in a can) and the Corker and have experienced solid longer term storage.


http://thecorker.com

http://www.privatepreserve.com

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Oil and Vinegar preservation:

For the foodies out there who have made it this far through a wine entry, I use the Private Preserve/Corker combo on my specialty oils and vinegars for the kitchen and have eliminated the oil goes rancid and vinegar goes musty equivalent of wine goes yucky.


Oh, and if you have pour spouts in your oil and vinegar, or wine, you are just letting it breathe and go bad. So unless you are Gordon Ramsey and go through multiple bottles of oil/vinegar/wine in the kitchen each night, throw away the spouts, they are as ridiculously bad as a Vacu-Vin.

Just saying’.

DISCLOSURE: I have sold Corkers in art and craft shows, I do not now. I am very experienced with their efficacy. I worked for the Wine Appreciation Guild over seven years ago, I do not now. I have not worked with Gordon Ramsey, but am willing to accept a free meal from him.

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