Artichoke soup joke leaves celebrity chef with egg on his face

As the holder of six Michelin stars, Gordon Ramsay knows haute cuisine is a serious business but Britain's top chef was in hot water yesterday after he admitted breaking one of the industry's cardinal rules: never joke about the artichoke soup.

The chef found himself on the receiving end of a threat of legal action after he boasted that he had duped a group of vegetarians into eating meat at one of his restaurants. Asked in a newspaper interview what his most recent lie had been, he said it had been "to a table of vegetarians who had artichoke soup – I told them it was vegetable stock – it was chicken".

The pressure group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta)described Ramsay as a "vegetarian hater" and threatened to sue. Peta also called for him to be stripped of his accolades. Ramsay holds three stars for his flagship restaurant in central London and one each for his other outlets – Petrus, Ramsay at Claridge's and Amaryllis in Glasgow.

He insisted last night that the comments had been a joke in aid of Comic Relief. Representatives of the chef and entreprenuer said he apologised for a "throwaway remark". A spokeswoman said: "It was a joke in an interview Gordon gave for Comic Relief." She said he valued his vegetarian customers – presumably for their contribution to his company's balance sheet.

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