Trading F-words with Gordon Ramsay
Never one to mince his words, the chef talks Dubai – with ample helpings of colourful language
March 30, 2016
Interview: January 21, 2016. Bread Street Kitchen, Atlantis The Palm, Dubai
ESQUIRE: Morning, Gordon. What’s for breakfast?
Gordon Ramsay: Nothing! I’m actually not really a breakfast person. It goes back to the early days in the kitchen where you would be tasting dishes all night long, so the last thing I want to do in the morning is eat. Chefs generally tend to be grazers.
ESQ: Does the same apply to dinner too?
GR: If a chef says to you that he sits down and eats dinner before service, then it’s bulls***. And if they do, then I’d tell them that they are a fat f***! You shouldn’t indulge, because you need to keep your palate on edge, and keeping it on edge is all about small attention to detail and tweaking along the way.
ESQ: You’re not swayed by a Full English every now and then?
GR: Oh, most definitely. But only on a weekend. It’s what we grew up with! It is the one big treat that the kids get on the weekend — it’s good family time. Funnily enough, the Full English we do at Bread Street Kitchen is one of the most popular dishes we do. We launched it in the London branch — phenomenal sausages, incredible eggs, homemade baked beans, black pudding — and it’s something I wanted to bring to Dubai.
ESQ: Your London branch of Bread Street is based in the City and tends to have more of a business clientele, while Atlantis is more family orientated. How does that factor into your strategy?
GR: In any situation, location is crucial. The footfall here is beyond belief, but we are tucked away right at the end of The Avenues. That means that we have to be creative and exceptional to make sure if people come to Atlantis, then they choose to come to BSK.
ESQ: Creative, how so?
GR: Very few restaurants do five services a day — breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, cocktail, theatre and dinner — and because of that we can offer something for everyone. We have an amazing outdoor terrace and I’m currently putting the finishing touches on some themed evenings. We’ve launched Wellington Wednesdays and we are doing an amazing curry night on Mondays. It’s a butter chicken, but it is one that my mum taught me, and she learned it from our Indian landlord from my childhood growing up in Birmingham in the UK.
ESQ: There is a stigma with celebrity chefs in Dubai. The overall feeling is that they come over, slap their names on the door and then clear off. Are you going to be any different?
GR: That’s a fair question, but since Bread Street opened [October 2015], I’ve been over three times. A lot of people think that I am only in town when I’m doing the publicity circuit, but I actually come here regularly. I just don’t publicise it.
ESQ: Do you think you’ve learned from your experience with Verre [Ramsay’s previous Dubai restaurant]?
GR: I think when we opened in 2001, it was holy ground. There was nothing here. Back then, being on the Dubai Creek was an amazing position, and I would come one or two times a year, max. Now it’s so different. The travel dilemma has disappeared and it is so easy to get to Dubai. What is it, seven hours from London? It’s pretty easy. Bread Street Kitchen is a big operation, a unique beast, and it needs bedding in.
ESQ: How much of the year do you spend travelling?
GR: A lot. Between the restaurants, filming for TV, producing MasterChef, seeing the kids… it’s pretty constant.
ESQ: So when you’re on holiday, is it beach and book or do you get restless?
GR: We had an amazing 12 days in the Maldives recently. It was beautiful, but three days in, and I’m complete nightmare! I like to keep busy, so I will go for a two-tank scuba dive in the day, then do a night-dive before dinner and take the kids.
ESQ: You dive as a family?
GR: It’s funny. Last year I took them diving and we saw a huge shark. They absolutely crapped themselves and got the hell out the water! This year, they are in there, trying to stroke it! I never had opportunities like that when I was 14. I think experiencing things like that set them up for life. Jack’s 16 and told me that he wants to learn how to fly for his 18th birthday.
ESQ: Is there any pressure on your kids to become chefs?
GR: They don’t need to cook to keep me happy. It’s my job as dad to create opportunities so that they can find their passion. Forget about money, find what you really want to do with your life.
ESQ: With Bread Street, do you feel that there is constant pressure to keep coming up with new restaurant ideas?
GR: Yeah, certainly in business terms, considering how thriving the market is. Understanding what people want is essential. We have a team on the ground whose job it is to keep tabs on what’s good, whether it’s a tapas bar in Barcelona, or an amazing fish and chip shop in Yorkshire. We try to see what makes them special and factor it into our decision-making. It’s bloody lazy to copy. I hate it when people just downright copy. I hate it.
ESQ: Several of your protégés have gone on to have very successful careers. How do you feel about that?
GR: I am happy for them all: Angela Hartnett, Jason Atherton, Marcus Wareing, Mark Sargeant. The thing is, I can teach. I can teach bloody well. So few chefs have that level of generosity. I demand a lot, a f***ing hell of a lot, but I give a lot back.
ESQ: You’re quite active on social media. Do you enjoy it, or do you see it as a necessary evil?
GR: You know what, I actually quite like it. It’s spontaneous, you don’t really have to commit to it and I enjoy the interaction. Also,
I have never sworn on there, not once.
ESQ: A PG-rated Gordon Ramsay? Surely not! Tell me you’ve got a pseudonym account where you vent at people who give you s***?
GR: Haha, that would be ideal. Then I could go on there and speak my mind to some f***ing muppet who’s giving me s*** while they are sitting on their a***, hiding behind a computer! But honestly, I don’t get into spats. I’m more sarcastic and then I kill them with kindness, which kind of f***s them up.
ESQ: What’s the worst thing you’ve seen on there?
GR: Someone sent me a picture of my name that was tattooed on their a***! The first thing I said was, the least you could have done was spell it properly! Another person tattooed my face on their calf. When they tense, the face moves! That is messed up.
ESQ: With people Instagramming pictures of their food, do chefs have to constantly think of new ways to plate dishes so that they don’t become staid?
GR: The amount of customers who take pictures before they eat is insane. Videoing, lifting it, prodding it, and five minutes later they might even eat it! That first approach to the naked eye is crucial, so when you see pictures coming through on your social media, it does push you to be a little more creative and raise the bar a little bit higher.
ESQ: Are you a fan of molecular gastronomy?
GR: It was a great trend, because it experimented with food. The benchmark was [former elBulli head chef] Ferran Adrià, and now he is no longer there it is harder to gauge. The issue I have is that the cooking techniques are up for questioning, today more than ever before. If you waterbath beef at 22-degrees for 12 hours, it may taste fantastic, but if you don’t cook food at a high enough temperature, you risk not killing the bacteria. Things like that make me nervous of venturing into it. Can you imagine the headlines if I gave someone food poisoning? They’d hang me off Tower Bridge by my ballbag!
ESQ: What’s your go-to meal, if no one is watching?
GR: In-N-Out Burger. I destroy those things. I once ate two of them on the way back from San Diego after filming something for one of my shows.
ESQ: Speaking of which, in your show Hell’s Kitchen, you famously shut down the kitchen and kick everyone out. The restaurant next door must make a killing…
GR: Haha! They should pay me commission! Listen, when I shut service down, it’s because I’ve had a s*** day. I will not serve s*** food, I don’t give a f***. Then I have to deal with the producer and people complaining that we have cancelled dinner for 120 people that they booked six months in advance!
ESQ: What does the ‘F’ in The F-Word stand for?
GR: It has always stood for f***ing great food.
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Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen is at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai