In his expletive-strewn trajectory towards culinary fame and uncertain fortune, Gordon Ramsay has alienated countless individuals, from sous chefs to rock stars, with his trademark cocktail of food and fury. But until now the chef's antics have not attracted the ire of those of prime ministerial rank.
An attempt by the famously profane Briton to drum up business in Australia backfired spectacularly after he mocked a television interviewer by likening her to a doctored picture of a woman with multiple breasts and a pig's face, and in return found himself described yesterday as a "new form of low life" by the country's Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
Condemnation by a world leader was the latest twist in an extraordinary row between Ramsay, 42, and the broadcaster Tracy Grimshaw after the chef appeared on her prime-time news programme, A Current Affair, on Friday in a largely uneventful interview about his ambitions Down Under.
Ramsay opened hostilities the next evening when he told an audience of 3,000 at a cookery demonstration in Melbourne that Grimshaw needed "to see Simon Cowell's Botox doctor" and presented the photograph of a naked "pig woman" on a giant screen before declaring "that's Tracy Grimshaw".
Ramsay, who is also in Australia to inspect the construction of his restaurant in Melbourne's Crown Casino, denied claims that he had also called Grimshaw a lesbian.
But after 48 hours of dignified silence, Grimshaw, whose employer, the Nine Network, has had a ratings hit with Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and Hell's Kitchen, issued a devastating critique of the chef's attack, describing Ramsay as a self-obsessed bully.
In a spectacular reversal of the knuckle-dragging Antipodean and the dignified, slightly-puzzled Pom stereotypes that normally dog Anglo-Australian relations, the journalist calmly described Ramsay's assault, saying it had been hurtful to her and anyone who loved her.
"Truly I wonder how many people would laugh if they were effectively described as an old, ugly pig. How is that funny exactly? It is not even witty."
Grimshaw said she had considered maintaining her silence but decided she could not let his claims go unanswered. "We all know bullies thrive when nobody takes them on. I'm not going to sit meekly and let some arrogant narcissist bully me."
She said she had agreed to a requirement from Ramsay's publicists that she not mention allegations that he had had a long-running affair but he had not returned the compliment by making "very clear and uninformed insinuations" about her private life.
"Obviously Gordon thinks that any woman who doesn't find him attractive must be gay. For the record, I don't and I'm not," she said.
The riposte prompted a high-level closing of Australian ranks against Ramsay. Prime Minister Rudd said: "I think I could describe his remarks as reflecting a new form of low life. That's off and offensive. Good on Tracy Grimshaw for coming out and giving him a left uppercut."
Ramsay, who holds 14 Michelin stars, and his publicity advisers initially tried to laugh off the row with Grimshaw, saying it was a tongue-in-cheek spat between "good friends".
But Ramsay last night clearly decided that a carefully-worded climb down was in order.
A spokeswoman said the chef had made his remarks in front a "large and boisterous" audience: "His intention was to make a joke and indeed he did raise a big laugh at the time. However, with hindsight he realises that his comments were inappropriate and offensive to Tracy Grimshaw, and he has unreservedly apologised both to her and anybody else who may have been upset."