You never really know what you’re going to get when you get Gordon Ramsay. You could get the famously foul-mouthed, rotten-disposition chef of long-running, superpopular Fox TV shows like ‘Hell’s Kitchen‘ and ‘Kitchen Nightmares‘ – a guy who kicked a customer out of one of his restaurants for wanting to put ketchup on an already “beautiful” red mullet dish; who has variously called the food cooked by his shows’ contestants “dog shit,” “gnat’s piss,” and “dehydrated camel’s turd”; who has himself been called a maker of “defamation porn,” “a really second-rate human being,” and “an arrogant, narcissist bully”; who at one point was party to 14 different lawsuits, several of them involving his father-in-law and former business partner, a man who was instrumental in the creation of Ramsay’s restaurant empire (27 establishments worldwide, 13 Michelin stars earned) and whom Ramsay then fired amid many dark accusations and allegations of shady loans and secret mistresses.
Or you could find yourself with the Ramsay making an appearance today, here at his stately Victorian home in south London with his mum, Helen, his wife, Tana, and his four kids floating around while a film crew shoots him in front of his gleaming two-and-a-half-ton Rorgue stove, making shepherd’s pie and veggies, one of his childhood favorites. “There’s something humbling,” he muses, “about getting a leek, braising it in white wine and butter, and finishing it with toasted hazelnuts.” His fuzzy-slipper-wearing, pleasantly round mum joins him, looking on as the knife in his hand flashes and chops. She chides him for always wanting to cook with her as a child but never wanting to help with the dishes. “I think I was allergic to soap,” he says. His mum smiles. “That was your excuse then, and it still is.”
Despite the bustling film people, it’s a perfectly cozy and tranquil scene, a rustic table in the dining room, a trampoline out back, lots of stainless steel and spotless white cabinetry, a large number of copper pots hanging from hooks, photographs of Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali on the walls. It couldn’t be any more domestic.
His mum is saying, “Oh, Gord is a good boy, a good lad, and very good to his family.”
His slender, somewhat severe wife is saying, “His work ethic is just so inspiring. And, no, he does not grind his teeth in his sleep. And, no, he does not talk in his sleep, either.”
His cheerful, bouncy daughter Tilly, 11, is saying, “What happens when you cross a snowman and a vampire? Frostbite!”
His soccer-playing, manly-handshaking son, Jack, 13, is saying, “If you go to dad’s Bread Street Kitchen, get chicken wings – spicy chicken wings, if you like spicy. You have to give me feedback, though. They are so good!”
Soon, Ramsay himself is talking about his upcoming show, ‘Junior MasterChef,’ which features kids going head to head in the kitchen and is being cast right now. “What fascinated me are the worried mums who say, ‘I won’t let him talk to my son.’ Well, I have four young, amazing kids, and I don’t swear in front of them. I would never say, ‘Right, get to fucking bed.'” He stops to think about this, crossing his arms over his big barrel chest. He’s famous for his use of the F-word. One could make the case that without the F-word, he wouldn’t be where he is today. Consequently, lots of people shudder to conceive of how often his poor, innocent children must have suffered the expletive – a fuck fuck here, a fuck fuck there, everywhere a fuck fuck.
“Actually,” he goes on, leaning forward, “I’ve never cursed in front of them. Never, ever.”
And so here he sits, in his basement office while the camera crew sets up another shot, this man who has never, not once, sworn in front of his kids. Then again, he could be misremembering. For the moment, though, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s entirely possible that how he is at work is totally different from how he is at home, although the all-or-nothing nature of it is a little weird.
A bit later, Ramsay starts chatting about what’s new in his ever-expanding universe. He’s got a fictional TV show called Inferno in the works, about two big-shot New York chefs, “egotistical nutters in the kitchen who battle it out.” He’s got three new restaurants in Las Vegas to keep tabs on, his many TV shows to film, the latest of which, ‘MasterChef,’ features a somewhat kinder, gentler Chef Ramsay, and an Ironman competition in Kona, Hawaii, to prepare for. There’s also the lawsuit filed against him by his father-in-law’s mistress; it charges him with a breach of privacy for hiring a private detective to take “intimate” pictures through her bedroom window, after which she says he sent a text message to her adult son that read, “Please tell [your mother] to close her curtains. . . . Shots are amazing. Happy to pass the whole fucking lot to the [‘News of the World’].” In other words, for Ramsay, at age 46, it’s pretty much a day like any other, and business as usual.
But then up comes the matter of the reservations book. The story about it is well known. In 1998, when Ramsay was head chef at a London restaurant called Aubergine, some biker dude dashed inside the place and stole the reservations book, throwing the operation into chaos. Ramsay said he suspected fellow chef and one-time mentor Marco Pierre White, and he let it be known publicly. Only it wasn’t Pierre White who nabbed the book; it was Ramsay himself, who didn’t admit to the deception until 2007, when he said he did it because he feared Pierre White was after his job, and that the ploy worked like gangbusters, generating both public sympathy and much-needed publicity, and that it was a “stroke of genius,” which is one way of looking at it.
So, where is that grand bit of history now?
“Where’s the book?” he asks. “You’d like to see it? It’s under my bed, next to my wife’s toys – I’m joking! I’m joking! Hmm. I think it may be at the office. I’ll double-check. Or it could be in the safe. Or it may be in the loft. It’ll bring back memories. What happened, happened a decade ago, and it’ll give you a proper insight into the level of ferociousness and insecurity that this industry breeds. It’s a who’s-trying-to-fuck-you thing on a daily basis. I’m not good at looking back. I’m always going forward. I’ve never had the time to sit and contemplate. But I still think now of the excitement and the adrenaline and the amount of effort that went into that restaurant when we opened it. It was insane, the 18-, 19-hour days. I have to find where the book is. I’ll find it. I will get you the book.”
And so that’s how it’s left.
The most important thing to know about Ramsay is that his father, also named Gordon, was a piece of shit. He was an abusive, failed would-be rock & roll superstar singer-guitarist, a boozer, and a womanizer. He put his family up in rat holes, and sudden evictions were commonplace. If he earned money – as a welder, a swimming-pool manager, or a shopkeeper – he’d spend it on a new Stratocaster or Marshall amp while his wife stood before the local butcher, asking for free beef bones for a dog they didn’t own, so she could use them to make soup for Gordon and his three siblings. They started off in Scotland but wound up in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace and an English tourist town for many people, but just another version of hell for blond-banged, apple-faced Gordon. Above all else, the elder Ramsay distinguished himself by his cruelty. He’d slap Helen, forcing her to wear sunglasses to hide the bruises. She once had to be rushed to the emergency room for a cut on her face, 57 stitches needed. The kids got it, too. “It was bad, and they all suffered,” says Helen. “I wasn’t strong enough to stand up to him, because I was scared of him as well.” Gordon tried to stay out of his dad’s way; as he grew older, he tried to never do anything that might provoke him: He never smoked, never drank, never did drugs, didn’t have behavior problems at school, never got nabbed for penny-ante shoplifting, kept his head down. But then, maybe he’d drink the last Coke in the fridge, which his dad now wanted for his Bacardi but couldn’t have because of the goddamn kid, so he’d strip off his belt and begin slashing it across the backs of his son’s legs. “He’d hit Gordon with his belt or his hands or anything he could get hold of,” says Helen.
These days, if you ask Gordon whether his dad ever did anything nice for him,
he can think of only one thing. “He taught me how to swim,” he says, “and I think that’s important.” So, at least there was that. But it came at a price, because Gordon Sr., a true sadist, taught Gordon Jr. to swim by holding his head under water for minutes on end.
In his teenage years, Gordon developed into an outstanding soccer player, known on the field as Flash, after Flash Gordon, and was recruited to be an apprentice defender by the Glasgow Rangers, the great Scottish soccer team. His father was elated. Then a knee injury permanently sidelined him, after which he discovered his passion for cooking. His father was furious. “Cooking is for poofs!” he would say. “Only poofs cook!”
While Ramsay Sr. was around, the strife never ceased. Gordon left home at the age of 16, worked part-time as a dishwasher, spent a year in cooking school, became chef for a small-town restaurant in Oxfordshire, had an affair with the owner’s wife, was found out, and moved to London, where he came across a picture of Marco Pierre White – cigarette in his mouth; long, greasy hair; dark eyes, brooding, soulful – and said to himself, “There’s Jesus.” He called on Jesus at the fabulous Harvey’s, got a job with Jesus, and began working his way up the ranks in some of the finest restaurants in the world, where chefs were just as nasty to him as he would one day be to his own underlings. One night at Harvey’s, he dropped a piece of fish, so infuriating Pierre White that he said, “You know the best thing that’s happened to you, Ramsay? The shit that ran down your mother’s leg when you were born.”
Things like that bothered Ramsay, but not really. It’s how it is in many a top-flight professional kitchen. It signals passion for food, where the paradox of passion – if passion equals love, and passion equals pain, then love equals pain – ruled the day. He understood this, but eventually the abuse became too much, and he quit, only to suffer through it again with all subsequent chef-bosses, until, in 1993, he took command of the kitchen at the newly opened Aubergine, where he earned his first two Michelin stars. He started to give it as good as he once got it, and continued to do so at the first of his own restaurants, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, in London’s Chelsea district, which he opened in 1998 at age 31 and which, in short order, won him his third Michelin star, a sudden and unheard-of accumulation of the only currency that matters inside the heart of an ambitious chef. That same year, his growing reputation as a fang-baring shouter led to a BBC documentary series called ‘Boiling Point.’ Off camera, he talks softly about how important it is not to put your staff on edge with your criticisms, while on camera, he’s a hissing, barking, sweating, stress-riddled, spleen-venting freak show. To string a few of his choicer comments together: “Ya fat bastard, is yar brains in yar fucking ass? What’re we gonna do now then, fatso? Come on, you; let’s go, you; donkey, fucking wake up, dickhead; get with it, dickhead; I don’t give a fuck about that, dickhead; next time don’t even set the alarm clock, stay in your fucking piss; oh, come on, donkey; well done, gold star, asshole.” And this is to say nothing of how he’d lean in toward his employees, getting almost nose-to-nose, pushing them, grabbing them by the collar, grunting and growling. It was pretty vicious stuff, and today it makes even him queasy to watch.
But the public found it vastly entertaining and booked his restaurant solid for months into the future, which enabled him and his partner, father-in-law Chris Hutcheson, to open more restaurants and start earning more of those precious Michelin stars. Then came the cookbooks; the various TV series in England; ‘Kitchen Nightmares,’ ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ ‘MasterChef,’ and ‘Hotel Hell’ in the U.S.; the two autobiographies; the Gordon Ramsay chocolates; the Gordon Ramsay calendars; his brand extension into “quality home and lifestyle products,” and all the rest of it.
Last year, Ramsay won the top spot on Forbes’ list of highest-paid chefs, with earnings of $38 million. During the recession, his restaurants, like all top-tier restaurants, got hit hard. But last year, things began turning around. “Our 2012 profits are in excess of 5.5 million pounds, and that’s just in the U.K.,” he says, and he has drastically changed the way he runs his company. “Once I fired my father-in-law, in 2010,” he says, “I overhauled it, narrowed it, reined it in, got rid of dead weight. I’m doing licensing deals now, instead of exposing my own cash. Gross revenues from our three Vegas restaurants are $55 million. I want to consolidate and not make the mistake that my father-in-law made and just say yes to everything, thinking short-term.” It’s businessman spiel like that, however, that makes critics think he’s all about the money now and not so much about the food.
“Do I want to be in the kitchen with a pan and apron at 75?” he says. “No, I’m sorry. But as much as the money’s nice, that’s never been my main motivator.” And, so far, his Michelin stars would seem to prove him right; with 11 of them right now, he ranks third in total number, behind living legends Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon.
And his confidence in his cooking skills is as gigantic as ever. “I’ve got this mystery-box competition coming up in a week,” he says, “and no way do I want to know what the mystery ingredients are that I’m going to have to cook with. The others have an hour to cook, and I’m going to join halfway through. I know it’s slightly kamikaze, slightly mad, but I’ll get in the zone, forget the bullshit of cameras and lights, ignore everything around me and absolutely cook my ass off – and outdo what the contestants are doing in half the time.” This has always been a big source of pride for him, his willingness to publicly put himself on the line in the kitchen and face possible humiliation – and if you’re a big-time chef about to appear on one of his shows, you’d better do the same.
“I mean, I once asked Cat Cora from the Food Network to appear on ‘MasterChef,’ which sometimes pits amateur chefs against pros. They were to prepare a Cat Cora dish, and obviously she was never going to lose, but she and her agents insisted that, even if her dish wasn’t the best, she win. ‘Damage limitation: She needs to know she’s going to win.’ I said, ‘Look, there’s no fucking way I’m ever going to allow that. No way. Over my dead body.’ I was so pissed off.” (A representative for Cat Cora says the incident never happened: “Cat has competed for 12 seasons on ‘Iron Chef’ against the best in the world and clearly isn’t afraid of competition. Simple as that.”)
Ramsay’s father died in 1998 at the age of 53, of alcoholism. Seven years earlier, he’d abandoned his family for a just-as-wretched life with a new family elsewhere. One of the last times Gordon saw his father, he invited him to dine at Aubergine. “He didn’t really understand the menu, and he asked for a glass of red wine, which he topped off with 7-Up or Sprite. He said it made it taste better. I didn’t know what to say. But I could see my French sommelier’s toes curling. And I was so embarrassed that I made up an excuse that I had to go to a meeting.” Several years later, his mom remarried, happily. His older sister Diane became a housewife with three kids; younger sister Yvonne, a nurse; and younger brother Ronnie, a heroin addict, which he has mostly remained ever since. Gordon says he has tried to help Ronnie and even put him through rehab several times, but as thanks, his brother only stole from him and threatened his life and the lives of his family. Where Ronnie is now, Gordon isn’t sure. He thinks he’s living on the streets of London, a beggar, and as long as he’s using, he wants nothing more to do with him.
Ronnie and Gordon, though, as a blood-bonded pair, are interesting to think about, how one went straight down, the other straight up, and what they might have in common, including some fondness for all-or-nothing extremes and the obviously bottomless rages against their father that still must exist inside, channeled outward in such different directions – which in Gordon’s case also probably includes all those eruptive-looking sags and folds on his face, that deeply corrugated forehead, those crisscrossing creases and dents. He’s tried to deal with them. Several years ago he had the largest crevice on his chin (the one that he once woke up to find daughter Tilly trying to shove coins into) cosmetically plastered over. He looks better now, but, of course, the cosmetician’s magic can only do so much.
These days, he spends a good bit of his time outside the kitchen in pursuit of action and thrills. He races Ferraris, has bought 12 of them, and is waiting glassy-eyed on delivery of a $300,000 F12 Berlinetta, the fastest production Ferrari ever: zero to 62 mph in 3.1 seconds. He once hung out of a Black Hawk helicopter shooting at wild hawks with the Marines. He’s planning on trekking in the Brazilian jungle soon, “to cut myself off and be remote, just myself in the situation [of the natives], and do everything.” While filming an investigative documentary about the shark-fin trade in Costa Rica, he was doused with gasoline by angry locals, who threatened to set him on fire. “I was scared for about the first 20 seconds, but I’d started running, which made the petrol evaporate quicker,” he says, “and then I was more concerned about the cameraman and crew.” He’s a dedicated marathoner, has finished 12 of them in London, is about to run his second in Los Angeles, and has competed in five ultramarathons in South Africa. He’s got that Ironman competition in Hawaii coming up, and he’s training hard. “This morning, my training session was at 4:30 am,” he says. “And then I’ll do it again after work. I make the time for it. I don’t want to just scrimp over the finish line in, like, 15 hours. I want to do it properly.” He takes no medications, as in, “No! Never! Shit, no!” He’s never been to a therapist or psychologist, as in, “No! Never! Never been in therapy, never needed therapy. No!” He scoffs at the drug tests he has to take as part of his contract with Fox. “A gorgeous 25-year-old student nurse from South Africa or Australia will say, ‘From a single hair follicle we can trace back 17 months, 18.’ I say, ‘Sweetie, do I look like I’m on coke?’ She says, ‘Yes. You do.’ I say, ‘Sweet, the only coke I take is fucking Zero, Diet or Zero.'” He works out in a home gym, has granitic legs and visible veins running down his biceps. He likes wearing tight T-shirts that show off his physique, and he’s wearing one today. He had his chef’s jacket especially made, with a waist that tapers nicely. And he looks magnificent in it. But unlike the custom jackets other chefs wear, his doesn’t have his name emblazoned on it. Why should it? Everyone knows who he is. He’s Gordon Ramsay, the biggest, richest, most well-known chef in the world, a rock star of the kitchen, his knife his Stratocaster, his pots and pans his Marshall amps. He’s everything his father wanted to be but wasn’t. “His father was a failure in life,” says his mother. “Because of that, I think Gordon has something inside of him saying, ‘I ain’t going to be a failure. No matter what. I am not going to be a failure.'” In that regard, almost everything he does involves some kind of competition, with a winner and a loser, and so far, so good; but the race isn’t over, and there are many folks – former friends and colleagues, other chefs, complete strangers – standing on the sidelines, rooting for him to return to recent family tradition, to fuck it all up and fail.
Later on, he stands at the bottom of the stairs in his house and calls for his children, who have been studying and getting ready for bed. They bound down to him like puppy dogs. He gives a kiss to each and sends them on their way. They seem like great kids. They seem like happy kids. Ramsay watches them go, smiling. One of his general policies is to never work on weekends, reserving that time for home life. “I think everyone should work their asses off five days a week,” he says, “but I am religious about not working weekends. I’m not even remotely interested in going in to shake hands with some Japanese god who wants to pay a fortune to say hello. Please. Not interested.”
He might also hang out with pals like Simon Cowell and David Beckham, who he’s opening a restaurant with, or play soccer with Jack in the backyard. At one point today, he and Tana huddle together on a couch, looking at a newspaper. The headline is about Jack and Beckham’s son Brooklyn trying out for the Chelsea Football Club’s junior team, an elite feeder squad to the English Premier League. “I’d wanted it kept discreet,” Ramsay says, worriedly. “He’s a great soccer player, but you want him to find his own two feet and be on cloud nine because of what he did and not because of some adverse push.” Then he rattles the newspaper and returns to his powwow with Tana.
Outside, he slides into the front passenger seat of his chauffeur-driven Audi and settles back for the 30-minute ride to Bread Street Kitchen, one of his newer and more casual eateries. Along the way, he tries to explain why so many chefs seem to have it in for him. “Look,” he says. “I’ve achieved everything I’ve ever wanted to achieve in cooking. You can’t win more than three Michelin stars, and there’s three stars in New York, three stars in Paris, three stars in London. And now I’ve got a second career in TV. And I’ve set up my own production company. I think all that pisses them off.” And he really does seem to think that’s all there is to it, a simple case of jealousy, as though his behavior going all the way back to the purloined Aubergine reservations book has nothing to do with it. And, oh, about the reservations book. If he’s found it, it might be good to get him to look at it over dinner, bring back all those memories of the early days and all the craziness since, maybe lead him to look at himself and his actions from a different perspective and to judge himself accordingly.
Bread Street Kitchen is cavernous, two floors high, full of windows and glass, a wall-to-wall wine cellar built above the long exposed run of the kitchen, full of light and brittle with the sound of knives meeting forks. When Ramsay strolls in, just as you’d expect, everyone hops to, looking alert and stiff. The maître d’, who has an amusingly thick, mile-high curl of jet-black cowlick on his head, shows him to a tucked-away table, diners everywhere whispering about him as he goes. Napkin in lap, he orders wine, leaving the selection to the sommelier. “Something nice and crisp,” he says. “It’s been a long day. White. And a red for the main course. Surprise us, as always.” He then spends the next hour and a half putting on wide-open display a mind that has got to be one of nature’s more overworked and exhausted miracles, churning constantly, often illuminatingly, always colorfully.
On wife Tana, who stayed with him after quickly denied allegations of an affair surfaced: “She’s a nut crusher. If I ever fucked up, she’d have my balls in a vise and turn them into a fucking crêpe suzette thinner than the frilliest knickers Paris Hilton’s ever worn. She’d turn my ballbag into a doily.”
On money: “I never boast about money,” he says in one breath, deftly adding in the next, “but people know that you get $300,000 for an hour’s work on television, a $1 million advance every time you publish a book, and from $300,000 to $500,000 for an appearance or an ad.”
On mushrooms, a one-time signature flavoring: “The mushroom thing was a phase – I’m more into brain foods now – but I can still look at a box of raw ingredients and put together the best fucking dish you’ll ever eat. That’s why I laugh when they say, ‘Let’s see if he’s a real chef. Let’s get him up against Bobby Flay on ‘Iron Chef.” I’m like, ‘Fucking do me a favor…come on. I’ve forgotten more than he’s known!'”
On Frank Bruni, who gave Ramsay’s first restaurant in the U.S., Gordon Ramsay at the London N.Y.C., a lukewarm two-star review in the New York Times: “Frank Bruni fucked me sideways, but the fascinating thing about that, I knew he had the hots for my French maître d’. But I mean, what’s Frank Bruni doing now? Tweeting about the government? I piss myself. I wish him the very best.”
He can be just so happily and irredeemably nasty. It’s sometimes like he can’t say anything without also shoehorning in some out-of-nowhere sideways dig. It’s sort of a tic with him, transparent and clumsy, but not without its share of entertainment value, though that’s probably true only insofar as you’re not the one getting a knife in the back.
The waitress comes up. Ramsay orders french fries and mac-and-cheese for the table, a crab salad and a sole dish for himself, teriyaki chicken wings and a T-bone steak for his dining companion, and then, all of a sudden, he turns his full attention to the most sordid and eye-popping of recent events, the firing of his father-in-law. The telling of the tale is pure Ramsay. Once he starts, he can’t stop, his face turning florid and sweaty. A few times, he tries to slow himself down, to gnaw on a french fry or take a sip of wine, shake himself loose, but then some lingering irritant gets hold of him and off he goes, back into the darkness of what happened.
The basic facts are these: He and Chris Hutcheson had been partners in Gordon Ramsay Holdings since shortly after Ramsay married Tana in 1996.
OK, but first let’s hear how he wooed Tana. “I took her for a long motorcycle ride, then out to lunch, and then I said, ‘Can I cook for you tonight?’ She was my mate’s girlfriend” – he claims she was his mate’s ex-girlfriend, though many reports suggest they were still together – “and she was gorgeous, and I knew I could cook better than him. I put together the most amazing langoustine salad, and I made this amazing fragrant lemongrass mayonnaise to put over the prawns, these beautiful, thick, number one langoustines, which were poached in bouillon and served over a nice fresh green-bean salad with slightly toasted hazelnuts, and it was fucking amazing. And it worked massively. By the time we got halfway through the appetizer, her clothes were off, we didn’t even get to the main course. What a night.”
Anyway, in his business dealings, Ramsay wore the apron, his father-in-law the suit. They were best friends, too, played squash together, ran marathons together. We are, Ramsay once said, “two wings of the same plane.” In 2010, however, Ramsay began to wonder about certain loans Hutcheson was taking from the company. They seemed excessive. So he hired a private detective to look into it, and, much to his shock, he says he learned that Hutcheson was using the funds to finance a longstanding secret double life, complete with mistress and two children by her. Ramsay felt he had no choice but to fire him. Shortly thereafter, Ramsay claims, Hutcheson began hacking into Ramsay’s email account and selling what he found to the press. At one point, he gave an interview in which he really let the sour grapes fly, calling Ramsay “schizophrenic …a Svengali…a monster.” Lawsuits were filed – Hutcheson denies any financial impropriety – and Hutcheson banished daughter Tana for siding with her husband and not him. “You are the biggest disappointment in my life,” he wrote her in a text, according to Ramsay. “Don’t dare respond.” She didn’t, but her husband did, in an open letter to his mother-in-law, who was standing firm with her two-timing husband, that he sent to the press. “I know how hard this must be for you, Greta….” he concluded, “but you’re punishing your daughter and our four children, for all the wrong reasons. It’s so sad.” And so back and forth it went, until it was finally settled last year, leaving only the mistress’s breach-of-privacy lawsuit ongoing.
“First my father let me down, and then my father-in-law let me down,” Ramsay says, still smoldering. “In a sense, I’ve had two shit dads. I mean, Tana’s mother would be on the phone with Chris, and he was saying to her, ‘Oh, my God, the snow in France is ridiculous, and I won’t be back for a few days,’ while literally at the same time the detective was on the other line saying to me, ‘Right, he just landed at Heathrow, and he’s being picked up by a blonde, who’s driving his car.’ And then to cast Tana and the grandchildren off like he did. I mean, what would it take for me to do that to my daughter? What kind of man would I be? What kind of evil fuck would you be, to shit on your family to that extent and bring in this new family that had been hidden for 20 years? What kind of man would I be? Anyway,” he says, lifting his wine glass. “Cheers.”
For a long while, the last of his words hangs in the air, drifting. Now is obviously the right time for the Aubergine reservations book to be hauled out and looked over, and the question asked: What kind of man would do what Ramsay did, abscond with the book, blame it on somebody else, besmirch that man’s reputation, let it stand that way for nine filthy, stinking years while he clawed his way to the top of his profession, then spill his guts, call the caper “genius,” and not even offer up the slightest hint of an apology? But, as it happens, Ramsay hasn’t brought the book. Of course he hasn’t. He probably hasn’t even looked for it. He knows better. To bring it would be to invite looking inside and maybe even soul-searching, God forbid. As he said, “I’m always going forward. I’ve never had the time to sit and contemplate” – nor, quite clearly, the inclination, nor, most likely, even the ability. Ask him if he’s got an introspective side, and he’ll pause for a very long time, then say, “An introspective side? Which means what, please? Oh, I see. Looking within yourself, almost like a sort of internal X-ray. Uhm, fewwt, shah, I don’t really, I don’t think so. I’m scared of standing still. I shit myself. I need to move.” So, no book tonight, though he does want to clear one thing up: “I didn’t blame the missing reservations book on somebody else. It was suggested.”
A stupefied silence follows. Could he really have just said that? Could he really expect to get away with it, just because he said it was so? “Well, OK, I blamed the guy who was about to screw me and get my job” – which the guy in question, Pierre White, has steadfastly denied all these years – “and so if it took an ounce of pressure off of that, it was worth it.” He slaps himself back in his seat, happy with his explanation, while all you can do is look at him, mouth agape, slightly envious of how unruffled he is by any of this, how cheerfully certain he is that what he did was right.
Ramsay wipes his mouth with his napkin. Right around then, the cowlicked maître d’ stops at the table. “Gentlemen?”
“May I have the bill, please?” Ramsay says.
Cowlick blinks. “Certainly.” He backs up and turns away, kind of bowing, if not scraping.
Suddenly, Ramsay calls him back with a hiss loud enough to draw looks. “Hey, come on,” he says to Cowlick. “Very polite of you to go get it, but I was only joking.”
Quick as you please, Cowlick says, “I was only joking as well.”
Ramsay emits a woofing laugh. “Yeah, right. I love it, hilarious!” And then once the guy is gone, he says, “I think he shat himself when I said it. ‘Ah, shit, Gordon just asked for the bill. Doesn’t he own this place?’ Yeah, that was fucking good.”
A few customers have overheard the exchange and are eyeballing Ramsay. Ramsay takes notice and then says the most amazing thing: “Why do they stare? I feel I need to put up a sign, ‘Do not feed the bear.’ It makes me feel bad.” He seems genuinely mystified and hurt, and in the softness of the moment something about Ramsay and all judgments against him begin to clear themselves up. In a way, he really does see himself as an unfairly maligned innocent whose actions throughout his career have been totally on the up-and-up, no apologies needed. And why should he not? In everything he does that is connected to the kitchen, he is a bear. He was whelped by bears in a bear’s world, he was taught all of life’s lessons by bears, he was once a small bear, he’s now the biggest bear, and, raised in the wretched clanging heat of a stove-metal forest, he has never known anything but bearlike behavior, raw and vicious, the shit running down his mother’s leg. But it hurts and probably does make him feel bad when people think how he is inside the den is how he is outside, at home, say, with his wife and kids. Earlier in the evening, he’d been called “scary.” Now, remembering that, he says, “Fucking hell. I can’t believe you said I was scary. That’s terrible.” But that’s the outside man speaking to another outside man, where everything is judged, not the bear to another bear, where love equals pain and judgment is irrelevant to the greater goal of the best food possible and more and more of those precious little Michelin stars.