His name has long been synonymous with abuse, asterisks and four-letter words, but Gordon Ramsay has had a dramatic change of heart on swearing. In a move that will have diners choking on their oven-roasted Bresse pigeon, he plans to ban foul language in all his restaurants, whether in the kitchens or the dining areas.
All over his considerable gastronomic empire, from his flagship eaterie in Chelsea to his controversial Gordon Ramsay New York, to his newest venture in Paris, opened to huge fanfares last week, and his Plane Food place in the bedevilled Terminal Five, the ban will come into operation on 1 May.
Assistant chefs and waiters will face disciplinary one-on-one "exercise" sessions with Ramsay, and diners will be fined £5 (or $11 or €7), for any outbreak of effing, blinding or c-word in public. Four years ago, Ramsay installed closed-circuit TV in all his UK restaurants to improve waiter service, and it has even been suggested that he has had sensitive microphones installed in his tables, to pick up sotto voce cursing. The reason for this dramatic turnaround is not hard to find. It follows the crushing news that Ramsay's application to open a new establishment in Sydney – his first in Australia – has been turned down by the city authorities, on grounds of "decency".
"We are not prudes, God knows," said Senator Drew Stockman, 61, "and we have no problem with vigorous language, where appropriate. But we feel that allowing this sweary fellow to bring his bilious obscenities to Sydney's Harbourfront is a step in the wrong direction. Australia is changing. The old stereotypes have been supplanted by a new sophistication and dignity. And frankly, Gordon Ramsay has no part of it. The only Ramsay we want around here is the street in Neighbours."
This is not the first time Ramsay has fallen foul of Australian fastidiousness. Only 10 days ago, a motion was introduced in the federal Parliament, calling for a review of the broadcasting code of conduct, after an episode of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, in which the chef swore more than 80 times, was broadcast on Channel 9. "There is no justification for the use of such language in the public arena, particularly by our free-to-air broadcasters," said Corey Bernardi, 58, a Liberal senator.
Ramsay, understandably, did not take the news with stoic resignation. "He was hopping mad for an hour or so," said a spokesman. "He called the Senate and the federal government ... certain names. He pointed out, quite rightly, that the whole thrust of Australia's new tourism initiative is based on swearing, what with that 'Where the bloody hell are you?' routine.
"But I think Gordon has been forced to take stock of his reputation for verbal violence. Is it right that he should be associated in the public mind with rude words as much as with sublime cooking? All that's going to change. There's a new, mature, more approachable Gordon Ramsay inside him that the world hasn't yet seen, and it's one that won't go around turning the air blue all the time."
Ramsay cut his teeth in the late 1980s, working with the famously irascible Marco Pierre White at Harvey's in south London, until he tired of "the rages and the bullying and violence". His first sighting by the British TV audience was in a fly-on-the-wall documentary called Boiling Point, in which his startlingly colourful language made him an overnight celebrity. Since then, he has capitalised on his potty mouth, giving his TV series the ambiguous title of The F-Word (the other word being Food.) Even his last book was confusingly titled *** Chef. Did it mean "Three [Michelin star] Chef"? Or did the asterisks indicate a rude three-letter word? Is there one?
Ramsay fans are finding it hard to believe the former footballer's trademark four-letter rants will cease. "Gordon just won't be Gordon without the repertoire of fucks," said his former Channel 4 producer, Dominic Easby. "He'll be in danger of losing his unique selling proposition. I sincerely hope he'll reconsider this disastrous re-branding."
Others are dismayed. "I've never heard such rampant hypocrisy," said Anthony Harper-Smith, who recently took over as head chef at Le Lapin Enorme in Kensington. "For years and years, he's sworn at everyone like a Folkstone docker, and now he's going to charge people for saying 'bastard' in his restaurants? I can't believe anyone will fall for this."
Last night Ramsay was not available for comment, obscene or otherwise.