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A Taste for Success

To say Gordon Ramsay is a busy man would be putting it lightly. After all, the renowned chef has 40 restaurants in his culinary empire in desirable destinations around the globe from London to Las Vegas. You’ll also find him in France and China. Headed to Singapore or Dubai? You’ll be able to chow down on his palatable plates there as well. And later this summer, he’ll find a home in our area with Gordon Ramsay’s Fish & Chips when it opens its doors at ICON Park in August.

It will be the first location outside of Las Vegas for Ramsay’s fast-casual concept and his first location of any kind in the state of Florida. In a Facebook video announcement, Ramsay told diners to expect “the most exquisite fish and chips along with some of the most amazing drinks. … I promise you that you’re going to love it.”

Long before he ever learned about French cooking techniques or earned his first of many Michelin stars, Ramsay was attending college studying hotel management. It wasn’t until his dreams of becoming a professional soccer player were derailed that he began to gain a tremendous love for food and cooking.

Ramsay would go on to train in kitchens headed up by some of the most revered pioneers in the food world and in 1993, took on his first head chef job in London. By the time he was 31 he had opened his first wholly owned restaurant. Now he inspires the next generation with a mix of culinary know-how and a savvy business mind. To hear him talk about food is intoxicating. He has so much respect for his profession and believes in it so much, he forces you to feel his excitement.

And while food may be Ramsay’s true calling, there’s no denying he makes for some pretty good television as well. You’ll also find him mentoring home cooks on both MasterChef and Master-Chef Junior and leading professional chefs through a grueling competition on Hell’s Kitchen. Formerly, he traveled around the country rescuing flailing restaurants in Kitchen Nightmares and he also is the face of several other shows that air in the U.K. Those shows tend to portray a different, more affable side of Ramsay than the hotheaded, foul-mouthed reputation he seems to play up for Fox and the American audience.

 

With so much on his plate, so to speak, it’s true that Ramsay can’t be everywhere at once. But, it’s a grind that the 54-year-old seems to thrive on, even if it means sometimes going nearly a month before seeing his loved ones. “I love being busy,” he readily offers. “This is not a job, it’s a passion.”

During our engaging conversation, Ramsay talked about balancing his hectic schedule and his role in the glamorization of food. For a man who is seemingly always on the go, it was probably the closest he comes to slowing down for any given period of time outside of when he sleeps. However, we cannot confirm nor deny that he actually sat still during the interview.

ORLANDO FAMILY MAGAZINE: You’ve been all around the world; how has today’s fine dining customer changed over the years, and specifically in the United States?
GORDON RAMSAY: That’s a good question really. I think the whole exposure of fine dining has been turned on its head. It’s not [high-end] wine cellars and three-inch thick napkins anymore. It seems the cutting-edge fine dining scene is off the beaten track in isolated areas that have been forgotten about. The restaurants are contemporary without being over the top. The food is the highlight, not $6-7 million [designed spaces].

OFM: As a fan of all your shows, I’ve especially enjoyed the ones on BBC America such as The F Word and Great Escape. One memorable moment was watching you eat a beating snake’s heart in Vietnam. Is there anything you won’t try at least once?
GR: It should be an ambition for every chef’s palate to never be faced with an ingredient that you don’t know what to do with. We need to develop our palates like that. [When I was] living with a tribe in Cambodia eating tarantulas or hunting for amazing king crab on the tip of Norway … you can’t buy that type of experience. For me it was about staying away from the tourist attractions to find out what was happening culturally off the radar. That’s the most exciting thing for me because I can cultivate those ideas.

MASTER CHEF: Gordon Ramsay. CR: Matt Hoyle / FOX. Copyright: FOX.

OFM: You have former Hell’s Kitchen winners working in your kitchens. How have they evolved as cooks under your tutelage?
GR: That show is a platform for them. I had a break when I was their age after entering a competition called The National Chef of the Year. I keep it real. Fox runs the show and I run the restaurant. And you get the good and bad side of me, but I only want to make them better because I know that when the competition is over, they need to be a chef and have that gravitas. I have to get them in the best shape ever to enter that world.

OFM: Do you like the term celebrity chef?
GR: No, not really. I’m a chef that works on TV. I’m not a TV chef. Even before the shows, I can stand toe to toe with the best chefs of the world. There’s a divide between real chefs and celebrity chefs. I know I’m a real chef and I happen to be good at what I’m doing.

OFM: On your shows, when things go wrong you don’t pull any punches. For some people, they think you are just this maniacal chef who screams and curses a lot. Is that the biggest misconception about you?
GR: It rubs me the wrong way. There’s no B.S. with me, I made that clear since day one. With me you’re going to get the real deal. I am one of the few chefs that have the [guts] to be real in front of millions. It’s a passion and I made that clear since day one. I am not a two-face who will smile for the camera. It’s a hard industry to make it in and the higher I make it, the harder it is.

OFM: Are you amazed at the young cooks on MasterChef Junior and how poised they can be—almost more so than some adults?
GR: I’ve got four kids of my own and all I want is the solution, not problems. [The show] gives them the proper platform for when things hit the fan later on in life. We have time to mentor them and work with them. Give it your best shot and I want to help you make your food even better by dropping in a few ideas, and they are so receptive.

OFM: Your daughter Matilda had her own cooking show as well; that had to make you proud.
GR: It’s pretty amazing, and not because her dad is Gordon Ramsay, that’s B.S. She is a good cook. Out of all the four kids—they all cook—she is naturally good. My job as a father is to teach my son how to respect girls and teach my kids how to go through life with a passion. You can be a vet, a carpenter, whatever you want, just find the passion. I will support you and do whatever I can. Just don’t expect to become a chef because I am a chef. My kids know the only help they are going to get from me is maybe help with an apartment.

OFM: You had the chance to consult on the Bradley Cooper film Burnt. Had you done anything like that before and what was the experience like?
GR: No. Everyone thinks acting is easy and it’s not. The most important thing I admired about the cast is they were so determined to get it right. Bradley said, “I don’t just want you to teach me how to cook, I want to learn how to plate. How can I plate to make it look right?” He was in at 7 a.m., out at midnight, and he’d call me wherever I was and say, “Wow this is incredible.” Look at how far food has gone. If you said to me 10 years ago food was going to be on the big screen, I would say never. We struggled to get it on primetime television. I put my head down and kept it real, and there’s a big difference from [my shows] and the Food Network or PBS shows. The networks are flooded with food and that is great for American TV.

OFM: You do a lot of work with the Make-a-Wish Foundation and I know along with your wife Tana, you have your own foundation. Can you tell me what giving back means to you?

HELL’S KITCHEN: Chef Ramsay (C) yells at members of both teams during dinner service on HELL’S KITCHEN airing Monday, July 17 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
© 2006 FOX
Cr: Greg Gayne/FOX

GR: We’re blessed with all healthy kids, and they know they are lucky. When I see letters upon letters from kids who are bedridden with cancer or leukemia, and the only thing that helped [them] through it was Hell’s Kitchen and they ask can they meet me and get inside our world, behind the scenes, that’s really important for me. That’s put a different perspective on my children’s faces because they understand how privileged they are. We are all in a position to help others. Make-A-Wish is quite mind-blowing when I see the delight on [the children’s] faces and what it does for them. It breaks my heart when I get letters from their parents saying sadly their son and daughter hasn’t made it and that visiting Hell’s Kitchen was the highlight of their life.

OFM: You’ve inspired a legion of people from home cooks to chefs in your own kitchens. You have 40 restaurants and seven Michelin stars. What do you want your culinary legacy to be?
GR: I’m still building it. Food is a journey, it’s an incredible exciting path when you are faced with ingredients that you touch raw and spend hours prepping them and give individuals two-three minutes of extreme pleasure. Having those lasting impressions, that’s pretty unique.

OFM: Between running a culinary empire and juggling a hectic TV and appearance schedule, how often do you get to spend an evening at home with the family?
GR: My first restaurant I never opened on the weekend, I am pretty disciplined in that regard. I don’t want to be over helpful; I am not trying to make up for time I’m not spending with them. If you overdo it, they’ll bolt. I strike that balance so it’s special time, not boring time. They have to see the sacrifice to get somewhere in life. We never go longer than three weeks without seeing each other. The job works around me, I don’t work around it.

OFM: Do you see yourself slowing down anytime soon?
GR: Peter, please! Someone has to give Bobby Flay a run for the money. What would I do if I didn’t have anything to do all day?