Near the beginning of the interview while the topic
meandered around old footballing injuries, a lovely middle-aged lady sauntered
over from the London bar and snuck up to Gordon Ramsay from behind. Thinking
at first that she was a FOG (Friend of Gordon), I then noticed the slightest
hint of inebriation in her eyes and realized that she was a fan drifting over
to say hello to Manhattan’s newest star chef. Mr. Ramsay, whose face
tends to hide very little of his thoughts, smiled and shook her hand. She introduced
herself as a realtor (“I work at the biggest company, the biggest!” she
said proudly), and asked him how his apartment hunting was coming along. I
leaned forward in my chair, absolutely certain that I was about to witness
a humorous, Ramsay-ish brush-off. But...it didn’t happen! He smiled and
chatted her up politely for several minutes, exhibiting a flair for patience
far beyond what I would ever expect from someone who earns more money in 3
minutes than most folks do in a week. She apparently had emailed his office
with her real estate credentials, and although it’s unlikely that Ramsay
will earn her any commissions (“I’ve never sent an email in my
life,” he told her), she left our table happy, her face adorned with
a huge smile; another satisfied customer. So while we were on the subject...
Q: How is your apartment hunting going?
A: I’m looking toward the meatpacking district. It’s got character
and it’s got the authenticity of New York. I like something that’s
sort of steeped in history in terms of nostalgia, when you think of what was
going on there in the 1940s. I went to my first amazing restaurant near there,
I went to Bouley when he was there. It had these little archways and you went
through them and he had these little boxes of apples as you walked in the door.
I was 25 at the time and I was blown away by it.
Mr. Ramsay has just released a new book in which he talks about his life story, “Roasting
in Hell’s Kitchen,” whose narrative sounds very much like listening
to Ramsay talking, which makes it all the more enjoyable. There are incredible
stories of self-destructive behavior occurring all around him – his father’s
abuse and his brothers’ heroin addiction being two examples – along
with stories that make you wonder how he possibly made it through it all. But
his recounting of his escapades in London with Marco Pierre White, as well
as the time he spent in France, is by far the most entertaining.
Q: What were your most powerful experiences from your time working in France?
A: I started off with Guy Savoy and I had the most amazing time there. I’ve
never known a chef could bring the sea and the earth together in this amazing,
balanced way with an articulated lightness and control. Then there was Robuchon
and then I went to Ducasse for a season. I never like talking about that because
I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of a famous chef, but I worked with
Ducasse for one summer season. I had the most amazing time. I scrubbed his
kitchen so clean I nearly put a f---ing hole in the place. I had that much
respect for the man. I couldn’t speak a word of French, and I had 4200
franks a months to survive, 420 quid, which is bollocks. My accommodation was
4000 so I had 200 franks a month to last me. After working 6 days a week for
Guy Savoy, I took a job making cappuccinos and just basically cooking run of
the mill peasant food. But what I didn’t realize was that the owner of
this café was running a 3-star establishment from Monday to Saturday.
So when they started telling me, “God, I can’t believe the way
you move so quick, you’ve got a natural flare for food,” I would
say, “I’m studying, I’m going to a university here,” I
didn’t want to tell them I was working in another 2 or 3 Michelin star
restaurant. Then when I became bilingual and completely fluent I got a promotion
and more money, so I would not have to work on a Sunday after 7 months of being
in Paris, so I’d go and spend money around the market cooking for myself.
I’d go around the festivals and the amazing iconic places, and I would
go knocking on the doors for menus for a menu collection. I have over 3 1⁄2
thousand menus now, I just love reading through them. They’re all filed
A-Z in a filing drawer at home, it’s like a big pull out console at the
end of the bed. It’s always close to me, always.
Considering the abundance of interviews and media articles about Ramsay over
the past six or seven years, finding interview questions that were fresh and
original was going to be a challenge. Although there were a few occasions during
our one-hour interview when Mr. Ramsay stopped and said “... but that’s
all in the book,” referring to his newly-published memoir, his answers
were far from being routine or scripted.
Q: In your book you talk about the difficult relationship you had with your
father growing up. How do you think that experience changed who you are today?
A: Gosh, I found out a lot about myself. The football helped propel me into
food; it was a perfect excuse in terms of mom and dad were going through a
divorce so I switched off on them. I found it character-building in a way that
I was totally insecure. I never had that relationship with my father so everything
I didn’t do with my dad, I make sure today I do with my son now, and
we’ve become best mates, so it skipped a generation. I’ll make
sure I never fall out with him. We can have misunderstandings and whenever
there’s an issue we’ll make sure we voice it rather than harbor
it, it’s dangerous. It’s the same in the kitchen. You start harboring
problems and complacency seeps in and before you know it you’ve got an
inconsistent restaurant. It doesn’t work.
It would be a mistake to think that Gordon Ramsay brought his world-class
cuisine to New York solely for the money. If you think that he is here to score
a few more Michelin points (preferably three), you would be partially correct – there
is no higher reward in his opinion. If you think he is here because of his
ego, to prove to himself that he can perform on one of the world’s top
stages, perhaps you are right again. But anyone who thinks that he is not taking
this challenge seriously enough, as a recent London Times interview implied,
couldn’t be farther from understanding what powers his internal engine.
Q: There was a recent interview in the London Times where the writer was
saying that he didn’t think you were taking the move to New York as
seriously as you should. What was your reaction to that?
A: I don’t underestimate the challenge in New York, but I’m not
as intimidated. I’ve been to hell and back to get where I am today at
the age of 40, and the challenges were extraordinary. When I learn and eat
out the way I do, constantly going into Jean-Georges and Daniel and Per Se
and Masa and the Modern - phenomenal chefs, phenomenal chefs - but I don’t
feel that I’m out of their league. They’ve been here as part of
the building infrastructure for years and I’m the new kid on the block,
someone to scrutinize twice as much so any little mistake becomes a big mistake.
I shouldn’t be making mistakes; however, I do. I’m genuine and
I don’t underestimate a challenge and I know that it’s a daunting
task, but I love that level of jeopardy. I’m at my best under pressure.
I can’t function unless I have it. If I’m taking it easy, I’m
not interested. I want the best of the best, and there’s a price to pay
for that, so no, the challenge is daunting but exciting. I’m still going
to sleep with one eye open, trust me.
There are few topics that bring out the boyish enthusiasm in Mr. Ramsay more
than speaking about members of his staff. His PR agent brought us a copy of
his new book, and he immediately began thumbing through the pages to show me
photos of Neil Ferguson, Gordon Ramsay at the London’s executive chef,
who has worked for Ramsay for 12 years. The photograph showed a young Neil
kneeling in front of Aubergine restaurant in a staff photo. Ramsay laughed
and said that Ferguson “looked angelic, like something out of a choir
or the London Philharmonic Orchestra, extraordinarily young and not a dimple
in sight. Here’s little angelic Neil, he’s barely lost his virginity
there for god sake. He looks like he’s just auditioned for Harry Potter.” While
I laughed at Ramsay’s jokes, I realized then and there that his son Jack
is not the only beneficiary of his desire to be the father he never had – he
also thinks of his staff as family.
Q: Why did you select Neil Ferguson to come to New York and run the restaurant
A: The guy is superb, he’s just become a dad and his responsibilities
have gone up tenfold. Shelly (his wife) is from Boston, she knows the score;
we spend more time together then we do with our families, so the bond is extraordinary
and I want that man to go on and have his own restaurant someday in Boston
or New York. So settling himself here for me and remaining a pillar of strength
has been a challenge. The man’s palate is extraordinary. His level of
discipline is amazing. He was destined to come here. He’s a man who has
had his personal life side-tracked for the last 10 years to get where he is
today. In terms of his agility, he’s like a ballerina in the kitchen,
he moves with such finesse, a powerful man, very powerful. I spotted that right
away. You know what, when you’re in a kitchen scenario and you’re
all over your job in a way that you’re a control freak, you can spot
in an hour who is going to last 5 years, who’s going to be with you for
3 months, and who is running back to mom during the first week with their washing
in their bag to get their ass pampered. Trust me, instantly. So a different
ball game this one, talented, talented man. I see what Laurent Gras did for
Ducasse in terms of how he ran the 3 star in Monaco and then hit New York as
an independent talent. I think that’s what the next stage for Neil is
going to be in 3 or 4 years time, he can stand alone and compete with the best.
The enormous responsibility that accompanies the opening of a high-profile
restaurant in one of New York’s top hotels can be overwhelming, not only
for the owners but for the staff. When that opening occurs in a foreign country,
and staff members are flown in and expected to start a life in that new location,
you can add culture shock to the restaurant’s list of challenges to overcome.
You’ve brought a large crew with you from London. Has it been difficult
for you, and for them, to adjust to life here in New York?
A: Pick 85 New Yorkers up and put them in the middle of London. It’s
going to be the same transition for them as it is for us, so you’ve got
to understand the culture. We haven’t just arrived 2 months ago, Neil
got here a year ago, spent time in California, spent time at Per Se, Daniel,
and Jean-Georges, so he’s part of the community. So we haven’t
sort of stuck out there like an appendix and tried to make out that we’re
arrogant, self-believing, insolent individuals and that we’re going to
come here and change the world. This is an exciting city to be in but I don’t
see it as any more difficult or any less easy than London or Paris. The last
five years we’ve been cooking for Americans so all this adaptation that
everyone thinks we have to configure our menus to New York is total bullocks.
I’ve been here waiting with bated breath for the last 5 years to hit
New York and the response and the support mechanisms from our customers that
have been traveling from New York to London has been phenomenal. So my ear’s
been very close to the wall and I miss nothing, from Daniel Boulud’s
latest special, to Rachel Ray’s f---ing olive oil. Trust me, I know about
There are probably enough colorful stories about Ramsay to fill several books
alone, but the one where he threw London restaurant critic A.A. Gill out of
his restaurant is one of my personal favorites. An article in which Gill referred
to Ramsay as having had a shotgun wedding irked him so much that three years
later, he politely asked him and his guest, actress Joan Collins, to leave
his restaurant. “That wasn’t for publicity, arrogance, or any of
that crap,” he explained to me, “it was just to stand strong for
what you believe.”
Q: Okay, let’s talk about your favorite topic, restaurant critics.
Are you the worst critic of your own restaurants?
A: Yes, and I have been for 10 years. Unfortunately in Britain we have celebrity
food critics. They’re far more interested in talking about their girlfriend’s
bikini line as opposed to the interior of the dining room and that shit goes
over my head now. I’m not even interested to get the review. What are
the qualifications today for restaurant critics? Don’t tell me there’s
going to be a BA Honor’s Degree now in restaurant critic management?
I don’t want to get into a slugging match with restaurant critics. At
the end of the day they do their job, and there’s one bigger critic on
top of them and that’s myself, critical of everything I do. Do we praise
ourselves? Of course we do, we’ve got to pat the dog and stroke the dog
at the same time so it’s a love/hate relationship and we’re such
delicate flowers that we hate being criticized. When it’s constructive,
you’ve got to take it on the chin. When it’s not constructive and
it’s personal, then that stinks. But whether it’s A.A. Gill or
Frank Bruni, their criticism is crucial as long as it’s not personal.
When the product’s good, the food is immaculate, the décor is
wonderful, the service is unique, it’s going to be here for a long time.
When the food’s shit and service is inconsistent, it’s going to
last 3 weeks and no more, so criticism is crucial. I never close my door to
it but there is a time in your life where you get slightly frustrated about
being judged on food from individuals who know less about it than you do. That’s
the nature of the beast. You just put up with it. I’m resilient, I’ve
got skin thicker than a f---ing rhinoceros, I swear to god. I’ve got
skin that’s thicker than Joan Rivers. Depending on which one she bought
As Mr. Ramsay would agree, the longevity of this very expensive (he put millions
of dollars of his own money into this project) entry into the U.S. market essentially
comes down to one thing; what’s on the plate.
Ramsay on the telly
1998 - Boiling Point; A Channel Four documentary (UK)
2000 - Beyond Boiling Point; The sequel to Boiling Point (UK)
2004 - Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares; visits failing restaurants and
tries to turn them around (UK)
2004 - Hell’s Kitchen; Ramsay trains British celebrities to be chefs
2005 - Hell’s Kitchen on Fox; Ramsay trains young chefs (US)
2005 - The F-Word; various stories; more personal, with family and friends
Current and future
Hell’s Kitchen (US)–through 2007
Channel Four (UK)-various shows through 2011
The Simpsons (US)–Ramsay teaches Homer how to cook (2007)
Q: Let’s talk about your menu and the products you have found here.
A: Well, first of all, in terms of produce here, it’s extraordinary.
Colorado lamb, the most amazing striped bass, and beautiful red mullet. The
menu’s seasonal and it’s changing every 10 to 12 weeks. We’ll
use the lunch menu to introduce our new a la carte dishes, so the lunch menus
are the best bargain in America today, $40 for 3 courses, that’s 20 quid,
20 pounds! You can’t get 4 rounds of sandwiches at Subway for that or
4 café lattés. It’s modern European with an American influence
of produce. We’ve just done the new beef dish, we’re going to be
poaching the beef tea and clarifying the consommé in Earl Grey, so it’s
cleansing. It’s got the root of a celery puree, it’s got poached
beef and then this amazing consommé, winter consommé served with
shavings of root vegetables, clarified and flavored with Earl Grey tea so it’s
got that balance of lightness. We have braised halibut larded with smoked salmon.
We’ve seasoned the inside of the fish, which is something incredibly
difficult to do. This fish is very bland inside so we’ve enlivened it
with smoked salmon, and that’s served with the most amazing grated horseradish
volute, so it’s a Noilly Prat Vermouth volute made with scallops, corals
and skirts and finished with a freshly grated teaspoon of horseradish. So yeah,
I don’t want formalities here, I want happiness, flexibility, and something
that has that balance. It’s very difficult to pull off that balance -
Having a top-notch, 3-star dining experience often comes down to seeking out
the best purveyors and making sure that you’re getting the best product
possible. Mr. Ramsay’s front man, Neil Ferguson, has been here since
the beginning of the year seeking out these critical relationships.
Q: Was finding the proper purveyors a challenge for you?
A: We know Le Bernardin gets the best fish in town; 20 years down the line
I’ll be getting the best fish in town. There’s a pro rata in terms
of hierarchy. I respect that hierarchy and if I was Eric and I wasn’t
getting the best fish when I’ve got the most successful fish restaurant
in the whole of America, of course I’d kick a stink, so we play second
fiddle to that, but that’s no big news. That’s just no different
than what it would be like if Eric was opening up in Wheelers or Scots in London,
then he’d have to play second fiddle to everybody else. So I want to
sneak in, keep my mouth shut, do my work, and let my food do the talking. So
far that’s been f---ing hard work.
Just before we were expected in the kitchen for the grand tour, Ramsay informed
me rather dramatically that “the man” had just called his restaurant
to request a table for dinner. He said that the restaurant was fully booked
but they had found him a place. “The man,” I repeated. “The
man,” he deadpanned back. He was waiting for me to guess who “the
man” was, but after a short silence he allowed me to give up and told
me that “the man” was Alain Ducasse. It makes sense that Ducasse
is the chef that Ramsay looks up to the most these days. He has the most Michelin
stars of any chef in the world, a title that Ramsay is certainly capable of
achieving some day. But I soon found out that he wanted to talk about Mr. Ducasse
for another reason.
Q: You must be excited that Alain Ducasse is coming here tonight, when was
the last time you saw Mr. Ducasse or spoke with him?
A: I bumped into him recently in London, the time before that was in Tokyo.
I’ve got one thing over him that he hasn’t got, a G5; it’s
the latest Learjet. Several people have asked me in the last couple weeks, “Your
schedule must be mad,” I said not really, when I take off from my backyard.
We go down the A-3 so we always book an early slot, so we have access to the
most amazing G5 with 12 seats and it’s extraordinary. I can be on my
phone and take off at the same time. It’s lovely. Check in is completely
different. The worse thing you can ever do is fly in a private jet, because
it just screws you up next time you go to an airport and you’re standing
in that queue for 2 hours. So yeah, no Heathrow, no Gatwick, no Stansted, no
Luton, time is of the essence. That’s the most important thing I’ve
got right now; time. It’s critical.
Most parents know the difference between irrationally heavy-handed discipline,
and having the occasional yell at a child who misbehaves; good parents dish
out the discipline with love. Ramsay has occasionally been accused – mostly
by people who don’t know him well – of being verbally abusive to
his staff. In his book he describes several experiences when Marco Pierre White
and Joel Robuchon threw vessels containing steaming-hot food at their heads.
This, of course, has little to do with fatherly love, and their aim was true
enough to cause Ramsay terrible mental and physical pain. But while Ramsay
admits he is tough and expects perfection, his troops remain fiercely loyal
to him. Over the past ten years he has retained 85% of his staff - a remarkable
statistic. As we stepped into the kitchen, he began his frenzied routine of
chastising one person, then joking with another. One cook had two Rorgue burners
blasting away without pans on them, and Ramsay picked up on this immediately; “What’s
that for? Wasting heat in f---ing winter? Well you can start paying the gas
bills.” As a female waitress walked by he complimented her, then told
a nearby male waiter than he would look great in tights. He then told a runner
to move quicker or the desserts he was delivering would melt on the tray. These
exchanges all took about 20 seconds. As he dashed along the floor, I never
detected anything remotely like fear or anxiety from his staff – even
if they were a tad stressed, it was not apparent. What I saw were young men
and women who were working hard and who seemed to worship their flamboyant
Q: Some people were saying that you may have trouble here with union employees
if you yelled a bit much at them, were you worried about that?
A: When young cooks come in and they say ‘I don’t like the way
you talk to me,’ - it hasn’t happened here but we’ve only
been open for 2 1⁄2 weeks - then if you don’t like that way, go
work for another big chef, go to Daniel or Jean-Georges or Guy Savoy and cook
with their reputation in your hands and screw up. If you think you’re
not going to take the bollocking for screwing up, you want to get mamsy pamsy
at 24, how delicate an angel are you going to be at 34 when you’ve got
to take constructive criticism, talk to the bank to get money, listen to criticism
in terms of restaurant critics, and evolve as a chef?
Q: You’re going to be sending your chef from The Connaught, Angela
Hartnett, to a new restaurant opening in Florida this coming year, is she
looking forward to that?
A: Amazing. I’ve never seen a woman with such massive pair of bollocks;
she plays Kerplunk with them, they are f---ing huge! If you think Josh (Emett)
and I are bad, you should listen to Angela when she rips into a guy - he runs
back home looking for his mum. She was a graduate from the university, studied
mid-term history, graduated and then started cooking at the age of 20. Amazing
lady. She’ll give Mario Batali a run for his money, trust me.
The only way to describe the kitchen is... enormous. It seems to stretch on
forever, and from the chefs table you can see every station, every employee,
and every facet of the kitchen. Whether the stations are servicing the main
dining room, the London Bar, or hotel room service, the action is all there
in front of you.
Q:You must be proud of this kitchen, what were some of your goals when you
A: The kitchen is extraordinary. I haven’t set up some Mickey Mouse piss-pot
tin-can alley kitchen, it’s extraordinary and it’s an open plan,
it’s all in view, I’m a control freak and so I know what’s
coming out of there. The biggest problem in terms of fine dining is that everyone
worries about the fragmented state of the desserts because the desserts always
come from a different area. So we’ve done something different here, where
we’ve got the center island for the dessert. These are the first Rorgue
stoves in America. It’s a f---ing Bentley, it’s understated, it’s
not flash, it hasn’t got all these fancy knobs and it doesn’t fall
apart after 6 months. It’s solid, brushed stainless steel and all black
panel and the heat that comes out of it is extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary.
It’s got an extended bench for plating as well. Now, step around to the
pastry, we’ve got pastry here for fine dining and then we’ve got
London bar and main style restaurant going so everything’s open. Now
on the upper end there is one hotplate here, one hotplate there, and one hotplate
over there, so there are 2 L shapes coming at a symmetrical 90 degrees so everything
is done through here. Pastry’s always been treated like a deli, always
treated like the appendix. The whole thing is open, it’s like Wembley
Q: How do you manage serving both restaurants and room service all from the
A: There is no conflict of interest. There is not “fine dining against
the London bar,” we’re united, so the whole thing is a heart beat
and we’re all interconnected. Every time you see a set up in a hotel
the fine dining is normally the snub factor and they don’t want to associate
themselves, so we’re all together. Within 3 months, in January, we’re
all changing sections so we can all equate that level of quality around. It’s
not second division here and elite there, we’re all elite and we all
think along those same lines. There’s a standardized room menu, and then
we have a deluxe sort of casual dining and fine dining as well, but that has
to be done with a little more patience, which I think Jean-Georges has very
cleverly managed to do. I’ve done my homework. Can I take this f---ing
makeup off now?
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