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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Across The Pond And Beyond: Gordon Ramsay

How many of you enjoy cooking?

I can't say that I do. I'm probably the type of chef that could probably set ice ablaze in an effort to turn on a stove. I always joke that if I ever got a job in the kitchen of a fancy restaurant, Chinese takeaway place, or a fast-food joint, I would be the one responsible for starting a fire that turns the building into a heap of blackened soot.

In order to justify just how bad I am in the kitchen, I set a container of Jiffy Pop popcorn on fire and nearly torched the kitchen cupboards trying to get the fire out.

To say that I am hopeless in the field of cooking is an understatement.

That's not to say that I am a complete waste of space in the kitchen. As long as I follow directions on the package, I can use a microwave without much problems. And if a meal is already prepared and frozen, I can reheat it in a jiffy. As far as making things from scratch...well...admittedly, I suck.

Here's the thing. I would actually like to learn how to cook someday, if for no other reason being that I would like to eventually be able to prepare something else other than Cup-A-Soup, Swanson frozen dinners, and Lean Cuisine meals. In order to do this successfully though, I realize that I would need to have a teacher who would be patient, understanding, informative, and kind. Someone who could teach me how to cook, while making me feel as ease, and making me feel as if I knew what I was doing.

And at first glance, I'm not so sure if he would have been my first choice.



That's right. The subject for this week's installment of Across The Pond and Beyond Wednesday is world-renowned chef and restaurant owner Gordon Ramsay. Although he has been well known for his culinary talents, his cookbooks, his successful television projects, and quite a few restaurants all over the world, he's probably also known for something else.

His high standards and short fuse. And if you've ever watched any sort of reality television, you've seen some of this in action. From Hell's Kitchen...




...to Kitchen Nightmares...




...to Masterchef.


Now you see why I would be a little bit reluctant to take any sort of cooking lesson from him with a short temper and almost antagonistic manner of dealing with aspiring chefs. But, if there's one lesson that I have learned in my three decades of life on this planet, it's that one should never judge a book by its cover. Because if we were to dig deep inside the psyche of Gordon Ramsay, there's a lot more to him than meets the eye.

First things first, a little biographical info on this Scottish chef.


Gordon Ramsay was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland on the 8th of November, 1966. His family left Scotland for England when Gordon was five years old, and by the time he was ten years old, his family had settled in the community of Stratford-upon-Avon, England. While early details of his life are somewhat on the sketchy side, Ramsey had described his childhood as being 'hopelessly itinerant', and made references in his autobiography that his father was 'a hard-drinking womanizer' who filled his early childhood with memories of neglect and abuse. Kind of an unfortunate happening, I must admit. Probably one that may have shaped the kind of person he eventually became.

When Gordon Ramsay was young, he initially wanted to pursue a career in European football (otherwise known in North America as soccer). At the age of 12, he was chosen to play for Warwickshire in the under-14 league, and by 1984 had a trial with the Rangers (a football club that he supported in his youth). But after sustaining a couple of injuries, which included smashing the cartilage in his knee, and then a cruciate ligament during a squash game. He never fully recovered from this double injury, and this effectively put an end to any sort of career in football.

I can understand his disappointment in this. Not necessarily because I suffered a devastating injury during a sporting event, as I am a known fumblethumbs in any and all sports. But because I know what it's like to have to walk away from a dream. My dream was to actually go through school to become a journalist, anchorman, or anything to do with reporting the news. Unfortunately, I had to abandon that dream, as it grew too costly, and after a while, I found that it really wasn't the direction I wanted to go as far as career aspirations.

Of course, I wish I had figured that out before going into a nearly fifteen thousand dollar debt because of it, but at least one positive is that I found this out before staying all four years to get a degree that would not have been the best thing for me, and wasting upwards of a hundred thousand dollars on it.

But that was fine. It made me realize that becoming a journalist wasn't for me. So, instead, I had to find something else that I could excel in. That something else became my love of writing, and even now, I hope to have a career in it someday.

For Gordon, his attention shifted from football to cooking. After all, he refused to have the legacy of being just 'a football player with a gammy knee'. By the time he was 19 years old, he made the decision to pursue a career in the culinary arts. By the late 1980s, he had worked as a commis chef (basically an apprentice) at the Roxburgh House Hotel, and ran a 60-seat dining room at the Wickham Arms. Afterwards, he moved to London and began working at a series of restaurants before getting the chance to work with the tempermental chef Marco Pierre White, at Harvey's. He spent almost three years at the restaurant before resigning after becoming tired of the rages, bullying, and violence he endured there. It is even said that Marco Pierre White was so ruthless with Ramsay that he even made him cry!



Wow...isn't that an interesting piece of information there? Wonder if this impacted the way Ramsay himself would eventually run a kitchen?

At any rate, despite Ramsay leaving Harvey's, he maintained a working relationship with Marco Pierre White. And when Gordon Ramsay decided to switch his focus to preparing French cuisine, it was White who told Ramsay not to immediately go to Paris, which is what Ramsay wanted at first. Instead, he encouraged Ramsay to work for Albert Roux at La Gavroche in Mayfair to further his studies. Ramsay decided to follow White's advice, and after a year of working at La Gavroche, Roux invited Ramsay to work with him at Hotel Diva, which was a ski resort in the French Alps as his number two man.

Ramsay would stay in France for three years to perfect his craft, and after taking a year long sabbatical working as a personal chef on a yacht for a year, returned to London in 1993, where he was offered the position of head chef at La Tante Claire in Chelsea.

Shortly after that, with an offer by his former mentor, Marco Pierre White, Ramsay became the head chef of a restaurant named the Rossmore (renamed Aubergine). This move proved to be successful for Ramsay, and he was awarded his first Michelin star just fourteen months after he took over (he would eventually earn thirteen more Michelin stars over the next fifteen years). By 1997, he had wanted to branch out on his own, and the next year saw Ramsay opening up his very first restaurant in Chelsea (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay) with the help of his father-in-law. That restaurant would earn Ramsay his third Michelin star in 2001 (the first time a Scotsman had ever achieved that feat).



By 2011, Gordon Ramsay had owned at least two dozen restaurants worldwide. Of these 24 restaurants, 21 remain open and successful. By 2012, another three restaurants will be added to his growing empire.

His success isn't just limited to just restaurants though. He happens to be the author of twenty-one books, and has quite a few television projects on the go, beginning with a 1998 British documentary entitled 'Boiling Point'. Among the list of television programs that Ramsay has had a hand in presenting;

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (UK) (2004-)
Hell's Kitchen (UK) (2004)
Hell's Kitchen (US) (2005-)
The F Word (UK) (2005-)
Kitchen Nightmares (US) (2007-)
Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live (UK) (2008-)
Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live (US) (2009)
Gordon's Great Escape (2010)
MasterChef (US) (2010-)
Ramsay's Best Restaurant (UK) (2010)
Christmas With Gordon (UK) (2010)

Not bad for a man who had to switch career goals at an early age, eh?



Of course, his road to success hasn't been an easy one. It's hard to ignore the fact that he can come across as a venting, arrogant, cursing fool most of the time. Certainly, his attitude has come into question numerous times in his twenty-five year career. It's hard to ignore some of the actions he has done over the last few years that have somewhat tainted his reputation and his professional life. Among some of the more talked about incidents;

  • Ejected food critic A.A. Gill and Dynasty star Joan Collins from his restaurant after Ramsay claimed that Gill personally insulted Ramsay.
  • Has had numerous run-ins with kitchen staff that have gotten nasty. In one such incident, a pastry chef actually called the police on Ramsay.
  • Was once voted 'Most Terrifying Celebrity' in a 2005 Radio Times poll.
  • Has often been criticized for his extensive use of profanity on each of his television programs. While Ramsay had admitted that he didn't know just how much he swore on television until he saw himself on Boiling Point, he said that while he didn't have a problem with it, his mother was appalled.
  • Has reduced contestants to tears on Hell's Kitchen, and seems to enjoy pushing their buttons...especially in this scene from season six of the American version.


  • Got into a feud with Australian journalist Tracy Grimshaw in 2009. The two traded insults on camera, and the very next day during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, he delighted in calling Grimshaw a 'pig', questioned her sexuality, and said other things that really shouldn't be repeated here. Grimshaw responded by calling Ramsay a narcissistic bully who accused him of mistreating his wife, Tana. Ramsay eventually did apologize for the incident, calling it a 'joke'.
  • Admitted to lying to vegetarian and vegan diners to conceal the use of chicken stock in his soups.

That's not really a great list of traits.

As someone who has a strong anti-bullying stance, it may make some of you wonder why I even decided to profile Gordon Ramsay in this blog in the first place.

For one, I do think that a lot of his actions are somewhat on the exaggerated side. I am not saying that the above events did not happen. They were well documented in the media and press, and even Ramsay has admitted that they happened. But he also has a strong work ethic when it comes to cooking and restaurants and other food related instances. I've noticed that on the episodes of Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares that I've seen that Ramsay isn't completely out of control with his emotions. He knows when to get tough, and knows when to get strong. And maybe it's just my observation, but I've noticed that Ramsay only seems to really lose his temper when people try to talk back to him, or disrespect him, or do something incredibly dangerous in the kitchen.

Mind you, I think he probably does go about it the wrong way at times, but I do think he means well.

And, that brings me to the second reason as to why I wanted to focus my attention on Gordon Ramsay. And yes, I will be tiptoeing around the nature vs. nurture debate as well, but this is important.

I believe that as far as humans go, the nurture side tends to have more of an edge than the nature side. That's not to say that I don't entirely believe that our environment shapes who we are...I do. I could actually get into a perfect example in how it pertains to my life, but it doesn't quite fit with this topic, so I'll put the kibosh on it for now.

I think for the most part, our emotional intelligence is taught to us, rather than us being born with it. In order to learn how to control our emotions, and how to handle ourselves in a positive manner, we have to be shown how to do it by example of those who are around us. I realize that there are exceptions to this rule, but in general, it's what I believe.

So, looking back on the incidents surrounding Gordon Ramsay as well as how he grew up, I can see how he might have ended up the way he did. When you consider that he grew up in a household with an abusive father, then went on to work for a mentor who reportedly reduced him to tears...that's a lot for anyone to handle. And maybe that's why Gordon sometimes acts with arrogance and anger towards others. It could be a defense mechanism that he has used to avoid getting hurt again, or to simply tune out the negativity to focus on more positive matters. As we've seen, this has come back to slap him in the face sometimes, but again, it's hard to say. I'm certainly not defending what Ramsay did or said to some of those people, as he really did cross the line in a number of cases. But let's just say that maybe I can sympathize with his childhood a lot more than many people could because in a lot of ways, our upbringings were quite similar.

Though mine wasn't nowhere near as brutal.

I guess the life lesson learned here is that sometimes people are jerks, and sometimes they can appear to be scary. But, I guess you really have to look deep inside them because maybe there's an explanation behind it.

After all...nobody has a perfect upbringing. And those who tell you that they do are either a Brady Bunch kid or lying to your face.


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