Gordon Ramsay and humility may be strangers but the brusque cook has been acquainting himself with modesty as he takes on arguably his toughest challenge yet: cracking America.

On Friday New York's leading food writers will visit a former Japanese hotel in Manhattan to check out the first of three Ramsay restaurants in the US and what the former footballer hopes will be the beginning of a global fine-dining empire.

The restaurant, the London NYC, will open a few days later, on 16 November.

With seven Michelin stars at his nine London restaurants, a flourishing television career and a flurry of commercial endorsements, Ramsay has limited room to expand in Britain.

In the US, the 39-year-old has established a bridgehead with two series of his reality television show Hell's Kitchen. But opening London NYC in the former Rihga Royal Hotel on West 54th Street could seriously damage Ramsay's considerable wealth and reputation. New York has a fiercely competitive restaurant scene, with even more high-profile and acclaimed chefs in Joel Robuchon and Thomas Keller.

Ramsay, the richest chef in the UK with a fortune estimated at £67m, has invested heavily in his Big Apple venture. His commercial partner, Blackstone Real Estate Group, has put in most of the £40m to renovate the former 500-suite hotel. Ramsay and his business partner, Chris Hutcheson, have contributed some £3m, their biggest investment in a single premises.

Ramsay has installed a trusted lieutenant, Neil Ferguson from the Connaught, as head chef. But he will also personally oversee the operation from the US and from London, where has installed a CCTV system so he can watch the kitchens from the basement of his eponymous restaurant in Chelsea.

At present Ramsay has franchised restaurants in Dubai and Tokyo, and he is looking at opening in Dublin and Prague. But the US operations, from which he is projecting revenue of $1bn in the first 10 years, will be his first real foreign adventure.

With all this at stake, Ramsay, who celebrates his 40th birthday on Wednesday, is keenly aware of keeping New Yorkers on side by paying them due respect.

"I'm not trying to take New York by storm," he told The New York Times in a recent interview. "I just want to sneak in there, keep my head down, batten down the hatches and cook."

Modelled by the interior designer David Collins, the London NYC will have a 45-seat restaurant and a 95-seat bar, the London Bar.

Ramsay intends to work there for 10-day stretches with only three-day breaks in London until January.

He may even be polite to the staff. Aware that American unions may not tolerate his caustic approach, he told his American interviewer: "I've already been warned. The moment I touch down at the airport I get put in my straitjacket and I go straight to the management skills manual to learn how to ask a kitchen porter to wash out a copper pan for me."

Joe Warwick, editor of Restaurant magazine, said that Ramsay's US expansion was "a gamble". "He's got a TV show over there which is doing well but New York is full of chefs who have bigger TV shows and their own restaurants," he said. "I'm sure he's capable of pulling it off but there are those who think the fine-dining market in New York is saturated."

If Ramsay does make a go of New York, he knows his ultimate goal: Paris. As a trainee chef in his early twenties, he received such abuse there he felt like "a tortured child".

Comments