Am I a TV chef ? Am I f**k. I’m a real chef. Gordon Ramsay talks to Savour contributor – and editor of The Staff Canteen – Cara Houchen
I think we all have a preconception of how Gordon will be in person. He has a reputation which precedes him and his TV persona is what he is known for, but this is just a small part of who he is.
He is passionate about his restaurant staff and still humble in terms of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay’s achievements. He’s the first Scottish chef to achieve three Michelin stars and he and his team have maintained that accolade since 2001.
“Without your team, you’re nothing,” explained Gordon when I met him and his chef de cuisine, Matt Abé, at his eponymous restaurant. It’s been 20 years in the making and he says it is built on a team ‘dedicated to absolute perfection’.
“It’s not an overnight success,” he continued. “Keeping that team together and inspiring them to push even further – that’s the key.”
Nurturing his chefs’ talent is something Gordon is very passionate about. He believes ‘clipping their wings’ is detrimental. He said: “You can’t suffocate talent, it’s the worst thing you can do. Matt has the most amazing palate and if I was to blindfold him and put 25 ingredients on a spoon he’d identify every one. He’s a refined diamond … he was a rough diamond 10 years ago!”
And he should know, having worked for some of the best chefs in the world who do not begrudge him his success. He is happy to carry that on and help his chefs to do the same.
“This industry is a bitch to work in. You have to sacrifice your social life and relationships until you get to a certain level.
“So, you have to be less possessive with your chefs. A lot of chefs hold on to them because they don’t want them to take their ideas. I have been the most unselfish f*****g chef anywhere on the planet. If they are as successful as me: brilliant, job done, because there’s a little bit of me alongside them.
“Just like Marco [Pierre White], Guy Savoy and Pierre Koffmann did with me.” He describes Koffmann as ‘Pierre the bear’ and a chef who has an ‘amazing grandad following now’, but that wasn’t always the case. Gordon opened Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in 1998 as his first solo venture. The location previously housed Pierre’s Michelin starred restaurant La Tante Claire, where Gordon was head chef.
“He was a f****r in here, let me tell you,” said Gordon. “He busted my arse but I never complained about it because I loved what he taught me.
“And in terms of Marco, if you thought I was tough to work for, you should have stood alongside him!” He added: “When I walk into this kitchen now and all the young girls and young guys are excited to see me, and I’m excited to see them, I think ‘s**t, if you’d have been here 25 years ago’.
“I was standing outside, opening scallops and it was p*****g down with rain. The French boys were in the kitchen laughing their heads off and what did Koffmann do? He threw me a big f*****g smelly duffle coat. But I opened them, 180 of the f*****s.
“I had to prove my worth. I wanted to show you can be taught, you can develop a palate and you don’t have to be French to be a f*****g great chef.”
Out of the kitchen, Gordon’s TV career catapulted him into the limelight and he says, “Am I a TV chef ? Am I f**k. I’m a real chef and there are a lot of real chefs on television – this is not Ready, Steady, T**t or f*****g Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook. This is the real deal.”
He added: “We are in 129 countries with viewing figures in excess of 275 million every summer. I haven’t got just one restaurant to fill any more so I work very closely with that media presence to help fill them all.
“I get a hard time for doing TV. People question how I can do TV and do everything else but it’s because I’m f*****g organised and I work f*****g hard.
“All that crap I take about, ‘He should be in his kitchen’ and ‘He should be there 16 hours a day’, that is all bulls**t – judge what is on the plate not the face. My team goes to hell and back to achieve that level of quality on a daily basis and I’m behind that team.
“When I went to pick up my last Ferrari, I didn’t ask if it was Enzo who stitched the f*****g wheel.” Gordon appears to have achieved everything a chef could hope for – is it possible for someone so successful to still have goals?
After thinking for a minute, he said: “I want to keep this restaurant stable, keep producing amazing talent and keep pushing the boundaries. In five years, we want to still be at the top.”
Matt is the chef to do it. He has certainly delivered on Gordon’s expectation so far, retaining three stars and continuing to push the restaurant forward while also looking after his team. What does Gordon believe are the necessary attributes to make a great head chef ?
“Vision, creativity and then you need to present yourself. It’s more than cooking today. Matt needs to come out of the kitchen and into the dining room and talk to table one, he needs to talk to our regulars at table five. He needs to conduct a meeting with 45 staff in three minutes, sell that special, and go away on his days off to see new things to bring back to the fold and entice his brigade.
“Those chefs are rare breeds and I love watching how they handle mistakes. There’s nothing worse than, ‘I told you so’ it’s ‘What’s the solution?’. All I want from Matt is the solution and after he has solved four or five problems these solutions become fluid.”
He believes that managing him that way brings out the best qualities in Matt. “That’s my role. Do I want to be behind the stove in my sixties and my seventies? Do I f**k.”
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