He might be known for his tyrannical outbursts and aggressive global expansion, but in person Gordon Ramsay is a warmer, gentler and more effusive presence, writes ANTHONY HUCKSTEP
Gordon Ramsay’s softer side.
Gordon “effing” Ramsay. The chef’s dropped more F-bombs on TV than a character in The Wolf Of Wall Street. His trademark furrowed brow and verbal dressing downs could strip paint.
Meeting him for the first time feels like you’re stepping into a lion’s den wearing Lady Gaga’s meat dress, but television has a funny way of portraying only part of one’s persona.
Just as I arrive in the UK to interview him comes sad news that his wife, Tana, has had a miscarriage at five months’ pregnant. The discussion of such matters is off limits but Ramsay, as he seems to do, says what he’s thinking.
“You’ve just got to be there. You have to stay strong, strong for everyone in the family, and try and take the positives.”
It’s clear that beneath the global domination plans and furious outbursts, Ramsay is very much a family man. A wolf protecting his pack, perhaps spawned from a disjointed upbringing and a yearning to ensure his kids don’t go through the same.
His father was an alcoholic, his mother a cook and nurse. The instability of his dad meant they moved a lot and Ramsay went to no less than 17 different schools. It’s not surprising he constantly references the importance of home life.
It’s mid-morning when Ramsay hobbles in on crutches (following surgery on a ruptured achilles tendon) to his Union Street Cafe in Southwark, London. The eatery reflects the new ethos of the Gordon Ramsay Group since it rebooted in 2011. It’s a smart, casual restaurant in a regenerated warehouse using produce sourced from local borough markets and given a Mediterranean kiss.
“Everyone is fed up with the stigma attached to the formalities of dining,” he says. “I was asked the other day whether I’m fine with people taking photos of their food in my restaurants. Of course they can – who are we to say don’t take f***ing pictures!”
In person, Ramsay is genuine and open, but has no time for BS. Sure, there’s an ego and drive beyond comprehension. During a marathon last year in Hawaii, where he competed alongside son Jack, Ramsay collapsed and woke up in the medical tent.
“I bloody swallowed too much seawater didn’t I, f***ing hell.” He’s Mr 150 per cent, and some. One of only four chefs in the UK to maintain three Michelin stars (he’s been awarded 16 over the years), while his Restaurant Gordon Ramsay is London’s longest-running to hold the award. He has an OBE, 27 books, five TV shows, 31 restaurants, wife Tana and four children, Megan, Matilda and twins Jack and Holly, and divides his time between South London and LA.
“My life is planned 15 months in front,” he says. “Three weeks of intensity, four days in lockdown with my family to recharge, then repeat.”
In the modern world there are two types of celebrity chef: TV chefs and chefs of influence in the haute cuisine world. Ramsay straddles both spheres.
“The haute world would never dream of doing TV and hates the chefs that do,” he says. “And when you are like me, with one foot in each camp, you’re hated by both. Disloyal to haute cuisine and prostituting yourself on TV.” Ramsay is no fool; he understands that his brand of entertainment is marketing gold for the restaurants.
“We have 4000 seats to fill globally every day. TV helps,” he says.
“The truth is, I am genuinely f***ed off on these programs because they’re a bunch of f***ing muppets,” he adds. “I’m there to wake them up and make them realise what’s at stake. Sometimes the restaurant shouldn’t be functioning and there’s this muppet with their name above the door saying they’re the best restaurant in the neighbourhood. And they’re boiling f***ing burgers! People think we set that sh*t up on these shows, but we don’t!” He punctuates that with a laugh. “In my restaurants, I get caught with a cracked tile or an ingredient that’s been out of the fridge for five minutes longer than it should and it’s major f***ing news.”
Ramsay seems to always be making headlines and long-lived feuds with Jamie Oliver and Marco Pierre White never abate.
“It’s just boys and their egos. It’s no different to footballers or boxers. If Jamie Oliver walked in for lunch we’d shake hands and have a laugh. Marco made me the man I am today – I have no doubt about that. But I feel he threw the towel in too early just when I had the chance to knock him out. I’d always dreamt of us both having three Michelin stars at the same time and going toe to toe.”
As we finish up, I ask when he will be back in Australia.
“Masterchef is dying for me to do something. Maybe we’ll open a restaurant – something casual,” he says. “I think we’ll be down there spring or summer 2017. There’s an amazing ironman in Sydney that I’m interested in doing. There’s a three-week window in my schedule then too, so we’ll see you there!”
Put it in your diary.
“I am genuinely f***ed off on these programs because they’re a bunch of f***ing muppets”