Interview: Gordon Ramsay - Flash Gordon

He's a bit of a show-off, is chef Gordon Ramsay. He rubbishes a waiter, rips off the truffle man, and takes the pip out of Bramley apples. And all for my benefit. What an act. Or is it?
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The Independent Culture
It's 3pm at Gordon Ramsay's eponymous, marble-tiled, discreetly chi-chi Chelsea restaurant. Lunch is just coming to an end. Fine china coffee-cups tinkle. The daintiest of little marzipanny things are being popped into expensively lipsticked mouths. Jean-Claude, the maitre d', takes my coat. Jean-Claude is quite handsome, in a French, middle-of-the- road, crooner sort of way. Gordon later says: "All the women who come in want to shag him, but he's always too frightened, AREN'T YOU JEAN-CLAUDE!?" Gordon comes out from the kitchen, in his chef's whites. Gordon is not dainty. Gordon is seriously BIG.

A seriously big head, like a bulked-out Patrick Swayze's, with strange, ventriloquist dummy lines running down his chin. ("A woman once asked me if I'd been though a windscreen. I said: `Have you seen how lopsided your left tit is?"') Seriously big hands. Seriously big forearms. Even a seriously big you-know-what, he insists. "An ex-girlfriend described it as like a baby's arm holding an orange," he boasts happily. Gordon, I say, that is rather more information than I need, actually. "It's true, though!" Well, I continue, at least it wasn't described as a baby's arm holding a Bramley. That would be too much. "Don't TALK to me about those Bramley PEOPLE!" he shouts. "They were here yesterday, outside the restaurant, protesting! They had manure on their wellies. They left shit outside MY restaurant. They had placards saying `Bramleys, the best cookers'. How STUPID can you get? I had to pull down the blinds. I had to call the police. TWICE!"

Gordon - the 32-year-old former footballer and the only Scottish chef to have won two Michelin stars - can currently be seen on telly, in Boiling Point, a Channel 4, fly-on the-wall job that goes out Thursday nights. The series is quite compelling, in much the same way massive tarantulas in zoos are compelling - horrible, terrifying, yet you find you can't look away. Gordon is seen losing his temper quite excessively. Gordon is seen being not especially encouraging to his staff ("Are your brains in your fucking arse, fatso?"). Gordon is seen taking the Bramley Apple Campaign for something of a ride. Paid pounds 3,500 to provide a half-hour cookery demonstration in front of foodies at The Bluebird restaurant in London, he was seen swapping the Bramleys for Granny Smiths, saying he couldn't remember the last time he'd used a Bramley, and calling the campaign's chairman a "plonker".

Gordon, what have Bramleys ever done to you? "They've just got no finesse. They're a rough-cut apple. It's not something you could put in your daughter's packed lunch, because she'd be going to the toilet for two weeks afterwards." OK, but for the rather fine fee of what works out to be pounds 116.66 per minute, you could have pretended to like them, surely? "No. I couldn't lie." Feeling as you do, why didn't you just turn the job down? "First, my restaurant had just opened, and I was a bit hard-up for cash. Secondly, there is this guy called John Torode, who's one of those celebrity plastic chefs on GMTV, and he took over The Bluebird, but it got too hot for him, so he left. I knew if I went to do a demonstration in his kitchen - while he was still there, which he was then - he'd be really pissed off, so that's why I did it." With Gordon, the ego is allowed to conquer pretty much everything else. I suppose this might even be quite spectacular, in its way.

We move to a vacated table in the restaurant window. "So I can see if THOSE BLOODY BRAMLEY PEOPLE are coming back!" He's not going to refund their money, no. But he might give it to charity. "They don't need it. They all arrived in LAND ROVERS!" Jean-Claude brings us coffee, and exquisite little chocolates, and these mini, passion-fruit filled Cornetto things. Gordon is a superb cook, by all accounts. He is, he says, currently working on "a new ravioli, and I want to do crayfish lobster with a foie gras sauce". Certainly, he is now the most talked-about chef in the country. The TV series. The Bramley business. Throwing out AA Gill and Joan Collins. A writ from his previous establishment, Aubergine, for walking out. He seems to be in the papers almost daily.

He wonders if I think he is getting to be too much of a "celebrity". He doesn't want to be "a celebrity chef", he says, because "I'm a real cook". Although, this said, the Radio 4 Today programme had upset him earlier by not turning up at the right time to interview him. He is thinking of doing the BBC series Trouble at the Top. He has recently done OK! with his wife, Tana, and their 10-month-old daughter, Megan. He wishes, he says, he'd lost his virginity to Tana: "I lost it when I was 14, to a friend of my sister's, who was 18. I'm not the only man to have done service to bacon, but it is why I loathe bacon sandwiches and haven't eaten one since. She was a pig. Tana's 100,000 times prettier. I wish I'd lost my cherry to Tana. But you're so desperate to lose it, it isn't until afterwards you think `Fuck me, she was ugly'." He's showing off, yes, but not in an especially clever way.

Is it all a performance? A strange kind of theatre? A strange kind of theatre of cruelty, even? Why does he behave as he does? Why is he always losing his temper so? "I'm not. I'M NOT! I've got a very controlled temper. When I get really upset, it's bang, straight to the point, solve the problem, then on to the next thing. People ask me why I get so upset if artichokes are overcooked. Well, I don't pay staff pounds 400 a week to overcook artichokes. I can't bear it. I can't witness it. Everything that comes out of my kitchen has to be perfect." Look, Gordon, we're not talking paediatric brain surgery here. We're talking nice nosh for well-heeled folk. Don't you ever stand back, and see it for what it is? "Not enough, I suppose. But my goal is to win three Michelin stars, which will mean I am one of the best chefs. Once I've achieved and maintained what I've set out to do, then I'll take a good, hard, proper look at the overall picture." The other diners have gone now. A sort of kitchen boy wanders passed. He is very slightly plump. "You," shouts Gordon. "Only salad for you today, OK? You're out here tonight and I don't want you to make the portions looks small!"

What hurts you, Gordon? "Well, about a month ago, I found out that two of my commis and a senior were stealing from me. OK, it was only bread and brioche, but they stole. I was hurt by that. I went round to their flat, there and then, to inspect it, and also found bits of silver and crockery. I thought about sacking them, but then decided that wasn't fair. So, instead, I made them work four Saturdays on the trot, cleaning the marble tiles with nailbrushes." How did they react, when you turned up at their door? "They panicked. But that's because one of the waiters had all these wank mags. Yann, come over here." Yann, the young French waiter who was famously scolded and humiliated in the first episode of Boiling Point for wearing a blue plaster on his finger - "you're smart, you're immaculate, and a fucking blue plaster!" - comes over.

"Yann, how many dirty magazines did I find in your flat?"

"None, really, Chef," says Yann, whose blush rapidly shoots up his neck while I, too, cringe with embarrassment.

"How many? Twenty?"

"Zere were a few, Chef!"

"And Yann?"

"Yes."

"You've got a bogey hanging out your nose."

"Yes, Chef. Sank you, Chef."

Gordon, I ask, is there anything you wouldn't say to anybody? Can you ever go too far? "Well," he replies, "when I do bollock staff, I never refer to their personal lives."

There is, I know, a kind of consensual cruelty going on here. When he left Aubergine, many of the staff left with him. Perhaps this is just what goes on in the world's top kitchens. Gordon himself trained in the great kitchens of France - under Guy Savoy and then Joel Robouchon - where "I was called arsehole 10 times a day. But you stay there, and stick it out, because it's good for you." He once, he says, mucked up a langoustine ravioli for Robouchon, who then threw the lot, still steaming hot, over Ramsay's head. This is how you learn, he insists. "Yann will never wear a blue plaster again," he adds. I taste one of his little passion fruity Cornetto thingies. I guess it should explode in many pings of pure pleasure in my mouth. But, somehow, it doesn't.

Famously, Gordon Ramsay's first dream was to become a footballer. As a child growing up first in Scotland, then in England, this was all he thought about. He did get to make it to Glasgow Rangers but after only two first-team appearances his contract was not renewed. He cried on the day he was told, he says, but then decided if he couldn't be the greatest footballer, he would be the greatest chef. (Prior to being talent-spotted by Rangers, he'd been at a catering college). I don't doubt Gordon Ramsay is driven by his desire to not fail again. But, still, reasons are not always sufficient excuses.

It's 5pm now, and we've moved into the kitchen to do the photographs. At this point, a dapper little Italian truffle salesman cold-calls. He is tightly clutching two paper bags, one containing white truffles (pounds 170 a kilo) and the other black ones (pounds 140). Gordon has a good fumble amongst the white ones. He passes them around his staff, to be smelt, or so I imagine. He has a good smell himself, of course.

"Pwoar! These smell terrible. And look at the mud on them. I'm not paying for mud, Spick. Typical fucking Spick, trying to sell me rubbish. Here, you have a smell." He passes one over to me. I don't know a great deal about truffles, frankly. They're not something I've encountered much down the Little Chef, so I just feebly whimper: "They smell kind of truffley, I guess."

"They're mouldy," insists Gordon. "And who ever heard of white truffles at this time of year? We'll be laughed at. We don't buy shit, Spick."

A rather shocked "Spick" - who has been wearing a rictus of a smile throughout - eventually slips out the back door, taking his paper bags with him. Gordon then empties his pockets. His kitchen staff then empty their pockets. White truffles spill out.

"Have you just nicked those?" I gasp.

"We pass them around, Spick gets confused... he's been robbed and doesn't know it!"

"But that's terrible," I cry.

"It's pumpkin soup with summer white truffles on the menu tomorrow, boys!," he cries.

Gordon, would you call yourself a nice man?

"Yes. I bloody would!"

What if the salesman complains?

"I'll give him a nice dinner."

He apparently says to the photographer, later: "Only joking, I'll make it up to Spick..." But I don't know. Stealing, after all, is such a hurtful thing.

Is Gordon Ramsay barking? Perhaps. But, then again, maybe he just isn't clever enough to know when not to be stupid. Maybe this is the biggest thing about Gordon Ramsay. And it's quite spectacular in its way, too, I suppose.

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