Secretarial: Love him or hate him

I Work For...; CARLA PASTORINO IS PA TO THE CHEF GORDON RAMSAY
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The Independent Culture
When I arrived in England 11 years ago I was shocked by the English cuisine, particularly the spaghetti sauce, which tended to be a combination of cream, water and tinned tomatoes.

As a result I wasn't particularly interested in the restaurant world in England. But five years ago a friend of mine told me that Gordon Ramsay, a chef fairly new on the scene, had just opened a new restaurant called Aubergine, serving modern French food, and needed someone to help with the accounts - so I went to see him.

I was immediately struck by Gordon's personality. You either love him or hate him, but you can't fail to consider him. Not only is he full of beans and very amusing, but he's also got great drive. His gift for motivating others gives you an extra degree of strength you didn't think you had. For example, being Italian, I consider that I have a handicap because I am working in a language that is not my own, but Gordon had enough faith in me to make me his PA.

The attitude to cuisine over here is rather different. Italians have a respect for food because it is part of family history: therefore, we enjoy it because it is eaten during a family occasion. In France food also lies at the centre of a gathering, but to the English it is considered to be something glamorous. I am constantly amazed by the British concern about a restaurant's location, and being seen at the right place.

It's also been fascinating to see the growing interest in Gordon as a personality, particularly since in Italy we don't tend to attach fame to chefs. Gordon and I laugh together about the celebrity circus.

Of course his success has always been there as raw material. But over the years I've known him he has become so much more sure of himself and his talents. Having been a professional football player he moved from something highly physical to something completely creative. But both sport and catering require great self-discipline and the drive to succeed. I love to watch him cooking, and to see someone so big move around so lightly. When the kitchen brigade, all 13 of them, are in full swing they operate like clockwork, knowing exactly how to move within such a small space. There is a lot of ritual both in the kitchen and in the restaurant - it is so like a performance, that I keep expecting a curtain to go up.

After his television series, Boiling Point, he got the reputation of being a monster, which in turn made his staff look like a bunch of masochists. In fact the people who work for him share a respect and love for him in the same way that they love what they do, and Gordon is tremendously proud of all of them.

He invites them to football matches and to new restaurants and generally looks after them; if one of the boys is ill, for example, he will send them off to his doctor, and in a crisis he is the first person to stay calm, to stay composed and is able to find a solution.

When he opened his new restaurant three weeks ago the gas still hadn't been connected just hours before the cooking was to begin. I called Gordon to explain the situation and he simply moved the cooking to his other restaurant and brought it over when the meals were ready.

I keep Gordon's diary and organise special events, but, unlike many bosses, he doesn't use me as a shield from the unpleasant parts of his job. His office is in a separate building from the restaurant, which is a good thing as I need peace and quiet - particularly when I am doing the accounts. But I am in constant contact with him; we speak at least 10 times a day and I usually visit the restaurant on my way home at night to take him the correspondence and to have a chat. I am well-known in the kitchen for nicking the petits fours as I have a very sweet tooth.

Although we don't discuss food as such, Gordon - or "Chef", as I call him - will always ask my opinion when he changes the menu, to see how the descriptions sound.

He is a real craftsman; he likes to assemble ingredients and see the perfection of a new dish. People ask me whether he still cooks, which is a silly question. He is both chef and supervisor and knows everything about his restaurant; it's as if he has 20 eyes and 30 ears.

Although he will banter with the boys in the kitchen he's a great gentleman when it comes to women - I like that in a man. He works only five days a week to have the weekend with his wife and to have time to play with his 18-month-old daughter. He's a great family man, which is just as well because his wife is expecting twins in January. He is also extremely fair with his customers, many of whom travel great distances to eat at his restaurant, and are deeply loyal to him. He got a lot of letters of support after he asked AA Gill to leave his restaurant.

Gordon towers over me - he's 6ft 1in tall and I am just 5ft, tiny even in high heels.

I work 10 hours a day; I have to. Yes, I get stressed out, but we Italians are good at getting things out of our systems quickly and Gordon is the first one to iron out the creases. He's the first one I will go to with a personal problem, and sometimes he gives me advice - but not often, as I am older than he is. I feel he is a great friend, but he's also my boss.

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