Head of the House
He’s one of the world’s most widely recognised chefs and the owner of 26 restaurants on four continents. Melissa Twigg meets the famously foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsay to talk about his latest Asian venture
raffic has ground to a halt and I’m late for my interview with Gordon Ramsay. Having spent the morning watching clips from Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen, I’m worried the famously fiery British chef is going to call me a “f--king donkey”, “a f--king disgrace” or just a plain old “idiot sandwich.” I finally make it to London House, his new Hong Kong restaurant, but instead of getting the torrent of abuse I probably deserve, I find a smiling, affable and very charming Ramsay, happily chatting to his staff while eating one of his legendary sausage rolls. “Ah, Tatler,” he says, with a twinkle in his eye. “I should have known you’d be late. You’re far too posh to own an alarm clock.”
Being shouted at by Ramsay is a privilege most young chefs would gladly put their hand in a vat of hot oil for. Not only is he one of the most famous television chefs in the world, he’s the proud owner of 26 restaurants spread around the globe from Las Vegas to Singapore that possess seven Michelin stars among them. Pretty impressive for a man born on the wrong side of the tracks in Glasgow and who eschewed the kitchen for the football pitch until the age of 19. An injury in 1985, when he was training with the Glasgow Rangers squad, forced him to rethink his future. “Nobody, and I mean nobody, expected me to become a chef,” he says. “My mum sort of understood but I could never have told my dad, so I went off to make it on my own.” And make it he did—13 years later Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea opened to rave reviews and earned three Michelin stars.
Hundreds of column inches have been dedicated to dissecting Ramsay’s colossal success. Yes, he’s a talented chef, but that’s not usually enough to make the £40 million Ramsay is reported to be worth. I think it has more to do with his charisma, his charm and that sexy-ugly thing he’s got going on that makes women go weak at the knees. And, of course, he’s brilliant at insulting people, somehow striking the perfect balance between scorn, warmth, volume, advice and humour. Many of Ramsay’s insults have gone viral—“my gran could do better. And she’s dead,” “This omelette looks like a bison’s penis”, or “I wouldn’t trust you running a bath let alone a restaurant”—but on this sunny Saturday in Hong Kong, he’s on his best behaviour.
Ramsay is in town to promote his new pub-like venture in East Tsim Sha Tsui, London House, a branch of his hugely popular Battersea-based original. It’s his fourth restaurant in Asia (he already has Bread Street Kitchen in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai) and Ramsay has had to adjust his British pub-fare menu for the local palate. “The first thing I learned was not to underestimate the sophistication of Asian diners. All my dishes have had to be tweaked out here. You up the ante on the seasoning, make everything more intense, switch black pepper for cayenne pepper—just generally make everything more in-depth in terms of flavour. The opposite of what I have to do for my American customers,” he says with a wink.
Although Ramsay is yet to open a restaurant that serves predominately Asian cuisine, he does incorporate our local flavours into his cooking back home too. “I really admire the food in this part of the world. At my flagship in London [Restaurant Gordon Ramsay] we serve a few Japanese appetisers, and that came about after I went to Kyoto and was totally blown away by the meals I had. The same with Vietnam and Malaysia— the restaurants and the street food are incredible, and I think all the best Western chefs can learn so much from them. But am I going to open a dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong? Of course not. I’m not a complete f--king idiot.”
Ramsay’s liberal use of the f-word is arguably the most memorable aspect of his television career, which began in the UK in 1998 with the fly-on-the-wall documentary