This weekend was going to be just like any other weekend. A trip to the supermarket, a visit to the beach with the family maybe. Then I got a call which turned my Friday on its head and suddenly it was about to be one of the most memorable weekends of my life. It would be the one where I got to conduct an exclusive interview with Gordon Ramsay.
The British celebrity chef, restaurateur and TV personality has been a long-time idol of mine. With his fiery temper and a string of Michelin stars, his name is synonymous with British popular culture, and bringing fine dining to a mainstream audience. In Doha for one day only, to promote his popular restaurants, Opal and Gordon Ramsay at the St Regis Doha, he made some time to sit down with Follow Your Sunshine to answer some of my pressing questions.
So what is he really like as a person, is he as intimidating as he comes across on TV, and just how many times did a profanity escape his lips? Read on to find out!
As a Brit who loves fine dining and has a secret addiction to reality TV, I have followed your career with interest. But I’d like to know what YOU consider to be the highlight of your career to date?
Oh god, that’s a really good question. So on Saturday, Matilda, my youngest daughter, has got her first book signing, so from a dad’s point of view just having them not only well-grounded but just incredibly passionate is a highlight…there’s such an emphasis on exams today; GCSE’s and A-Levels and A stars and there’s just too much pressure. Everybody, myself included, peaks at different times so the scrutiny these kids are under, I call it the ‘Wandsworth bubble’ because it frustrates the hell out of me because it’s all about grades and schools becoming the top 5 or top 10 so they can charge more every year, it’s so wrong for a youngster.
They all got taught to cook from a young age and they all had responsibilities of looking after turkeys, sheep and pigs so I think the highlight from a dad’s point of view is having them being respectful with no waste and great table manners!
From a professional point of view, next month sees twenty years since Restaurant Gordon Ramsay opened in Chelsea. Same maître d’ and two head chefs in twenty years and London’s longest-standing three Michelin Star. So, everyone sees the TV and the boisterous side but behind all that there’s a very dedicated full-on, self-confessed perfectionist.
I had to convince Tana <his wife> twenty years ago to sell her house in Clapham to get the deposit to buy that restaurant.
That must have been a tough argument!
It was a very tough argument! I think everyone, not just ladies but guys, are house-proud and you get to a certain position in life, you think “Wow, we are newly-engaged and have been married”, you want to buy your first house and that all happened brilliantly and then I asked her to sell it to open up my own independent restaurant and so it was a big gamble.
It’s great that she had that faith in you to do that!
Without a doubt. Also, it’s the understanding really. The backing and the understanding. People ask why I get so upset when things go wrong: it’s because I’ve risked everything to get there. It’s like anything; sports, food, law, medicine – at the top end of their professions, the stakes are high. If I was flipping burgers and dressing Caesar salads then I’d have a baseball cap on and not be fighting everybody!
So, you’ve got two great restaurants here in Doha, both at the St. Regis: Opal by Gordon Ramsay and Gordon Ramsay where we’re sitting now. Could you tell me a bit about your vision for these restaurants? What’s the concept behind them and what direction do you want to take them in?
It’s a very fickle market in that everyone’s excited by the World Cup, but it’s years away so you have to look within. The hard time that Doha’s fallen on recently has made everything a bit more localised, which is nice. It helps remove the stigma and the pomposity that comes with 5 star hotels. I love the expat scene in terms of what they stand for. I think we’re dining it down in terms of fine dining, it’s becoming a little bit more open-dining as opposed to fine and Opal is a great little bistro that is serving British classics with a great twist.
I like the theme nights. In the UK it sounds a dreadful word ‘theme’ but over here when you’re in such a small community you want to look forward to that sort of excitement. It happens in Dubai, it happens in Abu Dhabi and it certainly happens here in Doha. So you need those locals on side and that’s crucial to the business. There’s 250 people coming for dinner tonight!
Why did you choose the St Regis to partner with when you started your venture in Qatar?
That’s a good question. So, we had a working relationship on The Pearl with Mr Alfardan. Looking at the plans early on when we first came out, we got excited. The only reason we said yes to the original Maze restaurant <which opened on The Pearl before closing down> was because this hotel was being built. So, it was almost like a chicken and egg but the alcohol licence got removed which wasn’t the smartest choice in business.
The St. Regis is a great name globally, like the Savoy or Claridge’s. I also think it’s been good for staff. I saw what my team did in Dubai and how open-minded they came back after spending two years in this country and what it does to a young chef’s mind. They develop a multi-cultural understanding, become fluent in another language, and also understand how other cultures work. It’s really important. Doha delivered the exact same insights, making these chefs so well-rounded.
Thank you. Something a bit more lighthearted now: what’s your go-to party anecdote from you career that’s always guaranteed to get a laugh around the table?
We had a maître d’ who was our maître d’ at Claridge’s when it first opened and he asked me to go over to table seven where a young couple had just got engaged. I told him to send over two nice glasses of Pink champagne and said I’d be over in a minute. The champagne went to the table and I went over to them. I remember her name was Sarah and his name was Simon. I congratulated them both and said I was so excited for them. They just stared at me. He hadn’t asked her yet! So I completely f**ked that up!
No, it wasn’t brilliant! I then arranged for them to stay at the penthouse that I’d paid for so they could have a night to remember. She then said “yes” later luckily.
Thank goodness for that!
Yeah, I couldn’t believe he told me to go over and say “congratulations” and he hadn’t even f**king asked her!
I bet that’s their dinner party anecdote as well now!
I don’t know. The room was packed! It was just that moment where you’re like “So good to see you. Congratulations! You lucky man!”, and then he’s looking at me thinking “Sh*t”, and I’m like, “What the f**k is wrong with him?!” Yeah, he hadn’t asked her. Not good! <lots of laughter>
I would love to know what you cook for your family at home. On a weekend, what’s a simple thing you whip up in the kitchen?
That’s another good question! So, with four kids – Jack, Holly, Megan and Matilda – they all cook. When you’re involved with food on a daily basis, that’s the last thing you want to do.
We opened an amazing restaurant at Heathrow Terminal 5 called Plane Food. We’ve just completely transformed it, so honestly, for me, what did I have last night before I boarded the plane? Butter chicken, the number one selling dish, followed by mac and cheese. We have an amazing Indian chef there.
Although last year, we had a situation where I had the worst mac and cheese and it was one of those audition episodes from MasterChef. A lady had made a mac and cheese and there was silence and my fellow judges said, “Gordon you try it first because you grew up on mac and cheese and it’s a staple”. So, I tasted this thing, beautiful caramelisation on top, bubbling and just gooey and unctuous and everything. I went in with my spoon and I was like, “Shit, this is sweet!”. I asked her what the secret ingredient was and she said it was her breast milk!
And she didn’t warn you beforehand?!
Of course she f**king didn’t! I don’t think when judging MasterChef you should be putting your palette through that!
It’s very good for you though!
Yes it was as a baby but not as a 45-year-old guy! Those days have gone! Also, you shouldn’t be wasting breast milk in mac and cheese! Surprisingly, she didn’t get into the main competition!
One very last question: did you realise that you follow me on twitter?
I do now! Follow Your Sunshine, right?!
We finished the conversation with Gordon turning the interview back on me by asking me what the naughtiest thing I’ve ever done was, with a wry smile. I wracked my brains, and eventually told him about the time that I used to bunk off school with my friends to go to the cinema, and got changed out of our uniforms behind cars in the car park, which he seemed to find amusing!
As I packed up my things and said goodbye, I was struck by how differently he came across from his onscreen personality. Warm and funny, welcoming and relaxed, he seemed worlds away from the formidable chef with the fiery temper that I’d seen on episodes of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen. Yes, he has a potty mouth and yes, he is open and expressive, but I respect that kind of candor. Like he said, he’s had a lot to lose and that’s ignited a few passions in him in the past. With a lot to lose, also comes a lot to win, and from all that he said, Gordon Ramsay is definitely on a winning streak right now.
You can visit Gordon Ramsay’s popular restaurants, Opal and Gordon Ramsay at the St Regis Doha.
A huge thanks to the St Regis for this amazing opportunity.