TV’s omnipresent and foulmouthed chef gets mad at overcooked artichokes, lazy sommeliers, diners who are too shy to complain, overweight colleagues, drug addicts and anyone dumb enough to invite him to a dinner party
PLAYBOY: Don’t take this the wrong way, but are you really an asshole or do you just play one on TV?
RAMSAY: Listen, I’m a passionate guy, and sometimes that gets misconstrued. When something’s good in my opinion, there’s praise. When something’s shit, people get told. The pressure inside a professional kitchen is tremendous. It’s not rocket science, but you have to fucking keep up. I’m not saying there’s no clever editing going on. For a show like Hell’s Kitchen we shoot 110 hours to get 42 minutes. It’s not all going to be happy-go-lucky chef Gordon coming on to demonstrate how to dress a salad. I’m the happiest chef in the world when things are going right. But when it’s going tits up and my name’s on the door or I’m standing there conducting the kitchen on TV, there’s no way on Earth I’m sending out crap, and contestants shouldn’t either.
*PLAYBOY: *But is the best solution to call someone a “fucking donkey” for overcooking artichokes?
RAMSAY: You’re asking the wrong person. It’s an industry language, and it’s my language in the kitchen. If my wife overcooks artichokes or burns a pizza, do I turn around and call her a stupid bitch? Of course not. But when I’m standing there—whether it’s on MasterChef or Hell’s Kitchen—and a quarter-million-dollar prize is being offered, and you’ve got some jerk who can’t cook an artichoke and wants to call himself an executive chef at a four-star hotel somewhere, you can bet I’m going to take the piss out of him.
*PLAYBOY: *Has anyone actually hit you?
RAMSAY: There was a situation years back on an early season of Hell’s Kitchen in London. A lady had had too much to drink and was showing off and went to punch me. But no. I have a black belt in karate. I love boxing. I can look out for myself. Do I want to fight? No. Let’s finish cooking first. We’ll fight after. Do I really come across that angry?
*PLAYBOY: *Sometimes. Don’t you watch your shows?
RAMSAY: Never. I don’t want to get self-obsessed and start thinking about putting makeup on and watching the way I walk. “Oh, did I really say that?” Fuck it. It is what it is. I’d rather watch Deadliest Catch or go out for dinner.
*PLAYBOY: *What’s something a restaurant owner never wants a customer to know?
RAMSAY: That customers should complain more. You know, food is expensive nowadays, and these fucking sommeliers come along with their thousand-page wine list and practically throw it in your lap. They know customers will be intimidated and buy something overpriced. I say you should always put them on the spot: “Come back to me with a red wine at $30 or $40. Come back to me with a choice. Don’t give me an encyclopedia I have to bury my head in for 20 minutes while I’m trying to entertain guests. That’s your job.”
*PLAYBOY: *Aren’t you and Mario Batali supposedly in some kind of feud after he called your cooking outdated and you called him Fanta Pants?
RAMSAY: That’s cow shit. People fuel that crap because they want to see me go on Iron Chef against him.
*PLAYBOY: *Would you ever go on Iron Chef America?
RAMSAY: Would I go on? [pauses] Yeah, I think I would, to be honest. Definitely. Would I lose? Put it this way: Give me one ingredient or five ingredients, and give those same ingredients to 10 chefs from around the world. I fucking guarantee I will come up with the best dish across those ingredients, hands down. Everything I’ve ever learned from a culinary perspective has come from getting knocked down and fighting my way back. You brush yourself off and come right back swinging, right back with a better recipe or presentation. I’d win Iron Chef, guaranteed.
*PLAYBOY: *How do you not weigh 300 pounds?
RAMSAY: I like the Chinese ethic of eating four or five small bowls a day. I don’t think chefs should be fat. I was a fat chef once. I think it’s the most disgusting trait for any chef to walk into a dining room at 450 pounds and expect people to eat his or her food. My father died of a heart attack at the age of 53. I’ve never smoked in my life. I love keeping fit. I don’t like sitting around.
*PLAYBOY: *Clearly not. You have more than two dozen restaurants around the world, three TV shows here and three in the U.K., cookbooks, promotional tie-ins, four young kids. Do you ever worry you’re spreading yourself too thin?
RAMSAY: Oh, come on. Do you think Wolfgang Puck has spread himself too thin with Puck Express and a $400 million company? Fuck no. For a guy with 127 restaurants, he looks great and he’s cool as a cucumber. I can only hope to continue at that level at 62. But he does it the same way I do it and the same way Thomas Keller or Joël Robuchon or any other great chef does: You hire great people.
*PLAYBOY: *But your restaurant customers pay a lot of money to have a meal by Gordon Ramsay. Aren’t they entitled to a meal by Gordon Ramsay?
RAMSAY: I’ve been listening to that shit for the past 30 years. If you buy an Armani suit, you don’t ask if Giorgio stitched it himself. Did Hugo Boss personally make that T-shirt? When I bought my Ferrari 458, I didn’t ask Enzo to put the fucking wheels on so I can go 222 miles an hour. No way. Give me a fucking break.
*PLAYBOY: *You like Ferraris?
RAMSAY: I love Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis. I love the precision and the speed. But you can get into trouble. I was in my brand-new Maserati GranTurismo the other day and turned down the wrong side of the road. I thought I was back in England. The LAPD is suddenly on my ass with flashing lights. I get out of the car, and the cop goes crazy, pulling his gun out. “Get back in the car!” It’s half past midnight, and I’ve got no ID on me. He’s going bananas thinking I stole the fucking Maserati. A bunch of girls from a pizza place come outside and start going, “Hey, chef Ramsay, we love you!” The cop’s like, “Who are you?” I say, “Chef Ramsay,” and I have my life back again.
*PLAYBOY: *It sounds as though it was a little tougher getting out of trouble in Costa Rica this year.
RAMSAY: Yeah, that was a little bit hairy. I was doing a documentary on the illegal shark fin trade. Shark fin tastes like nothing, but it’s a sign of wealth and power in Asia to have it in your soup. It’s a billion-dollar industry built on pure arrogance. The fishmongers have these armed guards patrolling fortress-like towers, so we tried to get in but ran into a guard. Our cameraman fell over, they poured petrol all over my hair and neck and tried to set us on fire. One stupid chef with a documentary crew was never going to stop these assholes from decimating this population of fish, but I thought, Why the hell not try? It’s like drugs or anything else. If you don’t take a stand, who will?
*PLAYBOY: *Anthony Bourdain has written about rampant drug use among chefs. What’s your experience with drugs?
RAMSAY: I’ve never touched a drug in my life. Watching my father drink himself into a stupor and become an alcoholic and watching my brother turn into a heroin addict, I always ran from it. I lost a chef to cocaine once. We had another chef from Kitchen Nightmares last year who jumped off a bridge. How you handle pressure in life is different from person to person. It’s so unfair to generalize or criticize. Do chefs need cocaine to handle the pressure? Far from it. It’s not rock and roll. It’s cooking, for fuck’s sake.
*PLAYBOY: *By the way, do your friends panic when you come over for a dinner party?
RAMSAY: I hate dinner parties. Hate them. I really try not to go—mostly because I can’t sit there and pretend everything’s delicious when it’s not. The food is so often shit. It’s just too hard to be diplomatic.
PLAYBOY:What’s one simple thing everyone can do to cook better?
RAMSAY: Use a blindfold. I teach my chefs in an unorthodox manner. My chefs rarely sit down and eat what they’ve just cooked, so I like to blindfold them. It’s amazing. It creates this level of intimacy with the food. All the senses start to rev up and you begin to salivate and get excited. There’s a level of temptation, of expectation. Do it for a month when you sit down to a meal, and your mouth, your tongue, your senses will be so much more connected to flavor. The palate opens itself to pleasure.
*PLAYBOY: *You make it sound so erotic.
RAMSAY: Cooking is a lot like sex, actually. If you want to maximize it, you have to be selfish. You have to be the biggest selfish bastard ever to wear a chef’s jacket. I’m selfish for great flavors and for perfection of the experience, and I think that’s what makes me a great fucking chef. There’s also something quite sexy about confidence, and that’s such a big fucking part of being a chef. Confidence but also subtlety, control, awareness, heat, execution, visual impact, hunger, satisfaction. Absolutely, cooking is like sex. Fuck yeah.
*PLAYBOY: *What is it with you and the word fuck?
RAMSAY: It’s a beautiful word. When you tell someone to fuck off, it really is “Get out or disappear.” Straight to the point. And don’t kid yourself. Everybody uses it. The queen swears, for God’s sake. People have to stop being prudish.
*PLAYBOY: *Your hair—shouldn’t it be more age appropriate?
RAMSAY: I’m going gray, so using a little color has been my one concession to vanity. Then again, I look at Rod Stewart at fucking 66 years of age playing like there’s no tomorrow and producing babies, and he still plays with his hair. Why shouldn’t I? I don’t think I’m pampered, but I do take care of myself and how I look. Am I plucking my eyebrows? No. Am I having a manicure? No. Do I sit in the fucking sun bed? No. My hair is where I draw the line.
*PLAYBOY: *You nearly became a professional soccer player. How would your life have been different?
RAMSAY: That was a long time ago, when I was 17. I loved it and was good at it. But even if I had gone all the way, I’d be long gone by now, retired and on the shelf. I suppose I might be a player-coach nowadays. I’m a great teacher, and I enjoy teaching. But I’m glad I got injured and ended up turning to cooking. It was an accident but the happiest one of my life.
*PLAYBOY: *Would it bother you to be remembered as TV’s screaming chef?
RAMSAY: I don’t think about that stuff, to be honest. I’m the same guy I’ve always been and always will be. I’m no different than I was 10 years ago. I have the same values. Of course, I have to do voice-overs now, but I’m fortunate that everything I do revolves around what I love most, and that’s food. If I’m remembered as someone who got to do what he loved and did it as well as anyone on the planet, then fucking hell, I’ll take that.