You hear Gordon Ramsay before you see him. Not profanity. It’s the oohs and ahhs uttered by the crowd – some hysterically waving behind the windows in a building across the street – that have gathered to catch a glimpse of the reality TV star.
What the British celebrity chef and restaurateur is like in real life is comparable to what you see on television.
The quick-witted talker can appear in different shades and threat levels, from being the benevolent fatherly host in MasterChef Junior, to the fiery-tempered culinary perfectionist in Hell’s Kitchen.
His self-introduction is not a one-liner: “I am a driven, passionate chef. I don’t suffer fools. I get straight to the point. I don’t like [expletive]. What you see is what you get. I love cooking. I cook from the heart. My job became a passion decades ago, so probably, I am one of the most hard-working chefs anywhere in the world today. Please to meet you. Now sit down and enjoy dinner.”
Ramsay flew over to inspect Bread Street Kitchen & Bar in Lan Kwai Fong. The restaurant, opened in 2014, is one of his 31 establishments spread around the world.
It had been 18 months since Ramsay last set foot in the restaurant. He started the Bread Street label in an attempt to branch into casual dining. When looking East for further conquest, the chef chose Central as his first foothold. Singapore and Dubai soon followed, and Ramsay will open a fifth in Sanya in October. He is also planning to open in Beijing and Shanghai.
The label was originally established in London in 2011. “The first Bread Street has five services in a day: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and cocktail. It spans 12,000 square feet. The one in Hong Kong is 3.5 times smaller,” Ramsay said.
“Hong Kong is really important for us. It’s a highly pressurized tiny foodie city – landlords demanding ridiculous rents, independent restaurants being pushed out due to soaring overheads. What keeps restaurants full is quality.”
To maintain high standards, Ramsay rotates his head chefs every two to three years. Gareth Packman, a “young, tenacious and hungry” lad from Manchester, was recently hand picked to helm the restaurant in Central. While Ramsay is not physically present, he runs a tight ship by hiring mystery diners.
One would expect working under Ramsay, who currently holds seven Michelin stars, to be a kitchen nightmare. He’s actually not. “The pressure for being a young chef today is completely different from it was five, 10 years ago,” he said. “It’s the amalgamation of being socially astute, having an innovative mind, and understanding the Asian influence of the modern European all-day eater.”
The 50-year-old, who overcame a harsh childhood, personifies what it means to be social savvy. He cooks for those with money, fame, power, or all three. Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela were his patrons.
“The beginning of my journey was about improving what I grew up with,” he recalled. “When you have that hunger and that determination, you can have nothing in life, and still control the way you want to go.”
Still, he connects with common people.
His Twitter account has 4.71 million followers. “I have four amazing children, who update me on how to be trendy,” he said. “Megan is at Oxford. Holly is doing A-Levels, studying French. Jack wants to go to the Marines. Mathilda just wants to annoy everybody. She is 15.”
Ramsay’s straight-talking is a social media hit. Recently, a woman requested a special dinner to convince her boyfriend to propose. “How the [expletive] do I do that?”, he said. “If he is not going to propose naturally, then you’ve got no chance, love. Move on. Don’t think my dinner is going to make him change his mind.”
Ramsay still has unfulfilled ambitions. He wants his two Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Pressoir d’Argent, to nab a third star.
And he wants to start enjoying life a little.
“I want to buy a Sunseeker and go fishing. Also, spend more time with my mum. She is 70. She likes coming to our house to spend the weekend. She cooks for the children what she cooked for me.”
Most importantly, he wants to regain control of his life. “I don’t rely on television to make me or my food famous. I know [expletive] well that what I put on a plate will be better than what you see on television. Judge me for what I put on the plate – not what you see on TV.”
The article first appeared in the Standard on April 21, 2017.