Gordon Ramsay may be the most ubiquitous chef in the world right now. By the end of this year, he’ll have 33 restaurants throughout the world, and he currently hosts five hit television series [aired on FOX in the U.S.], two of them introduced in 2017—The F Word and Culinary Genius. He has numerous best-selling books to his name, a gig as the first-ever chef on MasterClass.com, and even a game, Restaurant Dash, that you can play on your mobile devices.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that Ramsay is simply an extremely colorful personality who just happens to know how to cook. This man is a real chef, the kind who earned—and has maintained for more than 15 years—three Michelin stars at his first go-it-alone venue: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, London. You don’t have to cross the pond to dine at a Ramsay restaurant, though. He already has five venues stateside—one in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and four in Las Vegas, Nevada—with two more set to open soon: his first restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland, opening in November, and his fifth in Las Vegas, opening late December.
AAA World recently spoke with the chef about his restaurant empire, his top-rated shows and his stable of sports cars. The complete interview is below, with answers edited slightly to make them more family friendly.
AAA World: Before you were a TV personality, you became a success as owner and chef at a restaurant with three Michelin stars—Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, which has maintained that Michelin rating since 2001. What made you decide to venture into television, too?
Gordon Ramsay: Before any television, what I disciplined myself with was mastering my craft. … What I clicked early on with is the fact that in order to establish longevity if I was going to enter television, then you needed to become a proper chef that not only can sustain that level of creativity, but you can’t become a sell-by-date, one-hit wonder, three years later no one’s heard of you, and that was fundamental.
I didn’t set out to become a TV chef; that wasn’t the gig. I’m a real chef. The television started when I was asked to participate in a program called Faking It, and it was taking a young guy who was a server in a burger stand up north in England … and training him for 30 days—one month, full on—and then putting him into a competition with a fine-dining brigade and him not being spotted or noted—that he was that good that everyone thought he was a real chef. Anyway, he went into the competition, and he won it, and that was the big surprise. That program went on to win many awards, and that’s how the TV side started.
But [back then] I was so naughty in a way to the crew and production: I said, ‘There’s no … way you’re taking out my kitchen. You want to film with me, you film between 3 o’clock in the afternoon and 5. I’m not missing service. Every plate that leaves my hotplate, I’ve got to see. And you can’t interfere, and make sure the cameras don’t knock over the plates.’ … I was a freakin’ nightmare.
AAAW: We all know that even the best reality shows have elements about them that are unrealistic. Do these shows really end up with the best chef still standing in the show’s finale?
Ramsay: That’s a good question. Obviously, there is a multi sort of platform of competitions. Hell’s Kitchen is professional chefs, so no disrespect to any 25- or 30-year-old chefs—I would have given my right arm for an opportunity like that—I think if they don’t get carried away with the TV aspect as opposed to the position that they inherit, then you’ve got the right person. If they think that once the cameras are off and the lights are down and the studio’s back to an empty hall full of crickets, then you’re missing the plot. So, that’s a very good question. I would say half are in it for the real position, and half get a little bit blindsided with the adulation and the fame, and they actually work TV as opposed to career.
AAAW: You tone down your famously acerbic attitude for your shows MasterChef Junior and The F Word, which leaves us wondering: who is the real Gordon Ramsay?
Ramsay: Here’s the thing. Being a dad, and having four kids of my own, all I wanted was a better upbringing for them than I had, and so I’ve worked to get where I am today to give them the firsthand experience of how to handle themselves in life. All I want them to do is find a passion.
So, this is not sounding fake: An actor can go into several different modes and politic roles, and it’s the exact same with a chef. In that professional environment, handling three-star Michelin staff, I am ruthless, and I am going to absolutely slice you in half the second time you make a mistake. But in an amateur world of MasterChef, where these guys are firefighters, secretaries, schoolteachers, I don’t have that fierce fist over everything they do. And [MasterChef] Junior, I’m a mentor. I’m the best soccer coach they’ve ever had. I say to them, the minute they walk into that arena, ‘Hey, no mum, no dad, no teacher. You’re going to love me; you’re going to hate me. You’re going to be inquisitive. But what I want to do is to see you on a canvas better than you’ve ever done before, and I want you to do things that you’ve never dreamt you could do, and then I want you to go off piece, and forget school and just get creative.’
So, I know how to take that jacket on and off in between those shows, and that’s really important for me. But it confuses people. They say, ‘Well, how come you’re so nice with kids?’ Well … I’m not going to tear a young 8-year-old upside down because they’ve completely screwed the soufflé. C’mon.
AAAW: How do you select a chef for one of your restaurants?
Ramsay: We never go and seat a head chef. We have 750 staff in 33 restaurants with 12 more in the pipeline over the next 18 months. … Restaurant Gordon Ramsay opened up first September 1998. Next year, we celebrate 21 years. In 21 years, I’ve had two head chefs. What I’m saying is, the young man who’s just taken over, Matt Abé, he took over 18 months ago; he’s been there for 8 years. So, it’s a seamless transition in a way that, if they give me that 3 to 4 to 5 years of determination, support and loyalty, then the sky’s the limit. We bring on within. It’s a sort of cottage industry that we create internally and then get them up the ladder. And that’s really important to me because I don’t want to see them in the same job two years later. Now, 5 years at the top, I’ll give them 2 years’ notice to start looking for the succession and plan their next move. Flipping burgers and plating Caesar salads, I can do that with a baseball cap and high-five every customer. But at a three-star Michelin, there’s a lot at stake, and that then takes a lot of careful planning.
AAAW: With restaurants around the globe, how do you maintain quality control over them all?
Ramsay: It’s no different to how Giorgio Armani puts suits in Milan, New York and Paris. You go and buy a suit, and no one asks, ‘Was it Giorgio who stitched the pockets on?’ And so, I’ve managed to assert a level of perfection that can be crafted from an amazing team. Now, I make mistakes; I don’t get it right every time, but what we work for and strive for, that is absolute, utter perfection, so you can identify that passion, flavor, profile, contrast and that magical moment.
Here’s an example, five years ago, everyone said, ‘You’re opening a burger restaurant? In Vegas? You’ll be closed in three months. You—being a Brit—having the Americans having a burger. Are you kidding me? Have you lost the plot?’ So I said, ‘No. We spent 17 months in the banqueting suite of Caesars Palace developing the patty, flavoring with wood chips, and then basting these burgers with Devonshire butter.’ And then, when we launched, not only was there a line outside the door, but 2,000 people a day turning up outside [Gordon Ramsay Burger at] Planet Hollywood. It was an overnight success, which then, I was petrified. So what did I do? I camped inside Planet Hollywood, and I’m there with a cap on—no one knew who I was—and I’m right behind the line, pushing these burgers like a line cook because I’m obsessed with getting it right, because I opened up to such an amazing launch. Now, I knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t quite understand it would be that good. So, I’m not saying I’m King … because I can have an amazing burger restaurant in one of the most competitive cities in the world; I just know what I’m doing.
AAAW: You have two new restaurants opening soon in the U.S. Gordon Ramsay Steak’s soft opening in November at the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, and Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen has a soft opening in December at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. What defines these new restaurants?
Ramsay: Baltimore, first off, this is a neighborhood steakhouse that is a very smart, sophisticated part of that casino in a way that it depends on such loyalty. It hasn’t got the razzamatazz of Vegas, and it’s very high-end, sophisticated audience that wants a great night in a great steakhouse. I pride myself on using high-quality, amazing beef, and that’s the hallmark of that steakhouse, but more importantly, employing locals, recognized faces, so customers feel naturally at ease, recognizing regular staff—that’s really important to me.
AAAW: And the Vegas place?
Ramsay: …This thing is on The Strip. It’s 14,000 square foot, and it’s going to be the biggest focus on Las Vegas Boulevard. We have a logo that’s going to be lit in flames with ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ seen by 30,000 [hotel] bedrooms every night. … It’s going to be an amazing restaurant that almost feels like a set from Hollywood. … You’ll be walking through the entrance as if you’re on the show and have chefs cooking out of the Red Kitchen and the Blue Kitchen. … [There’s] a great level of excitement [diners] can go and have in this restaurant, and, yeah, it’s going to be unique.
AAAW: You also have a degree in hotel management, which you make use of on your show Hotel Hell. What do you find are the biggest mistakes that struggling hotels make?
Ramsay: Everyone’s got this romantic idea of opening a boutique hotel and being close to the shore or in the countryside. Running a hotel is a multi-stranded business, from an amazing room to an amazing bath, restaurants, wedding facilities. It’s five times harder than running a restaurant. But, just a dressing gown, you know, opening up a robe and putting on a robe—the minute you feel uncomfortable in a robe, knowing that there’s been 50 people wearing that prior to you getting there. A pillow that’s not fluffy and light and stunningly done … you don’t want to put your head on that pillow. I get so upset when I see how owners of these hotels underestimate the power of the customer and the importance of a great bed, an amazing pillow and a robe. That for me speaks volumes of any hotel. The first thing I look at is the bathrobe. If the bathrobe is nice, fluffy, doesn’t look like it’s been washed 2,000 times, I want to get into it.
And then the other issue is, unfortunately—whether it’s a restaurant or a hotel—you don’t need qualifications to go and buy one. And these people fall in love with the romantic idea ‘I’m a hotelier. I’ve got my hotel.’ They don’t understand what it takes to run it.
AAAW: You’re a big car lover. When and how did your interest in cars begin?
Ramsay: As a boy, I dreamt of that incredible horse—that black horse on the Ferrari. So, I don’t drive the [cars] on the street. I collect them. I have an amazing collection because it’s been a dream come true. But I go to the racetrack, and I let it out. The cars get delivered to the race track, and I go around 35 to 40 times, and I have an absolute 2½-hour blast traveling 200 miles an hour, driving with the absolute best machine in the world, an incredible supercar capable of 230 miles an hour, naught to 60 in 2½ seconds. It’s an amazing release.
AAAW: What’s in your collection?
Ramsay: I’ve just got the exciting news that we’ve been the recipient of a new American [Ford] GT40. That was incredible. A Porsche, a GT2. I invested heavily last year in the brand-new 2019 Aston Martin Red Bull—they’re only making 50 of these. I have a beautiful LaFerrari, and then I also have the convertible version of the LaFerrari Aperta, which, would you believe, Ferrari asked for it back to be put in their museum to celebrate Ferrari’s 70th birthday, so I’ve loaned Ferrari my freakin’ car. … And then there are some cars in the process that we’re investing in that are coming out in three years’ time, supercars, and also an amazing McLaren, and then, a Ferrari tdf, a Tour de France. When I go home, I go up to my garage. I take my sleeping bag, I lie down by the side of my cars, and I fall in love with these things, in a way that I just lay there for a couple of hours and think, ‘I’m the luckiest boy in the world.’
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of AAA World.