British chef Gordon Ramsay — a man who makes Simon Cowell seem as demure and nurturing as, well, Paula Abdul — went from culinary boy wonder to TV celebrity last year by reducing contestants to tears on the UK’s reality smash Hell’s Kitchen, in which would-be chefs competed to run a restaurant. Now the former pro soccer player is starring in Fox’s American version of the show. Bracing ourselves, we tracked down Ramsay — who is often called “abusive” and “foul-mouthed,” and has lately been seen on Fox promos comparing one cowering cook’s penne to dog shit — this week at his acclaimed, eponymous London restaurant at Claridge’s Hotel.
RADAR: What have you eaten so far today?
GORDON RAMSAY: Oh, God. Several ravioli, about eight bowls of ice cream — we have the most amazing basil sorbet — and a carpaccio of tuna. Plus I tried tonight’s specials: a cannelloni of crab and a chocolate fondant with a caramel center. Chefs are the world’s worst eaters, you know. We don’t get a chance to sit and eat, so we graze all day long. Like horses.
I thought grazers were supposed to be fat.
Every time I see a fat chef it makes me run to the gym. My wife still enjoys me getting out of bed in the morning and looking at my meat and two veg.
Classy food metaphor. Tell me, why did you decide to do a TV show in the first place?
For me it wasn’t about doing a show. It’s the first time people will really see this kind of rawness. No disrespect to The Restaurant on NBC, but this is not scripted or cued. It’s real drama.
You mention The Restaurant. Almost as soon as that show aired, the stock of its star, Rocco DiSpirito, began to plummet. People started to doubt his skills. Are you worried that might happen to you?
Worried over what? No disrespect to Rocco, but I actually run successful restaurants.
Your infamously volatile behavior: Is that a conscious management style or just plain kitchen rage?
Let’s not confuse the word volatile with being aggressive and passionate. When you put your reputation in the hands of others in the kitchen, you are the one who will take flak when it doesn’t go right. I’m not running a fucking hot dog stand.
But, really, what’s with all the swearing?
You can’t have a kitchen where you just turn to someone and say, “Please, would you be so kind as to pass me the striped sea bass and the scallops whenever you’ve got two minutes.” Or, “Run along, finish your cigarette, then come back and dress the salad.” What a load of bollocks.
Who’s currently the world’s best chef?
Fortunately for American customers, it’s Per Se’s Thomas Keller. He’s been number one for the last three years. [Keller’s] French Laundry in Napa Valley is another big success. If I am where he is at the age of 50, I’ll be one happy cook.
Are there any particular foods you dislike?
Brussels sprouts. And okra, that disgusting vegetable.
Do you have a nemesis?
Vegetarians. I want to convert them. I hate when people tell me they’ve been vegetarians since they were three years old. Are they making informed decisions at three? Bollocks!
Anything else you want to get off your chest?
I hate customers who pick up the salt and pepper and start seasoning their food before tasting it. That is the biggest insult to any chef in the world. It’s so arrogant.
Has any critic ever inspired murderous feelings in you?
Definitely. A.A. Gill, from the Sunday Times here in London. He wrote about my restaurant, and the headline was something like “The Failed Footballer Who Had a Shotgun Wedding.” What does that have to do with food? Constructive criticism is crucial, but now we have celebrity food critics who are more interested in writing about their girlfriends’ bikini lines than the restaurant. Keep it to the food. Stay away from [writing about] me, ’cause when they start poking me, boy do I bite back. When Gill came in six months later with Joan Collins I threw him out of the restaurant.
Have you communicated with Gill since then?
What the fuck would I want to talk to him for? The weird thing about it now is that American customers will call and say, “We want to book table 3 — the table that Joan Collins never got to sit at!”
What were you like in high school?
Very tenacious and too busy playing soccer to cook.
Did you ever get thrown out of a game for language?
No. At the age of 15 I hadn’t yet mastered the art of “fuck off.”
How many fistfights have you had in your life?
God, I’ve lost count to be honest. All I’ll say is don’t question my integrity between seven and 11 o’clock at night. If you want to fight, come back and meet me at half past 11 and I’ll go outside and have a proper fight. But don’t play with my bollocks in the middle of service.
What would you be if you weren’t a chef?
Probably a quarterback for the Miami Dolphins.