You never really know what you're going to get when you get Gordon Ramsay. You could get the famously foul-mouthed, rotten-disposition chef of long-running, superpopular Fox TV shows like 'Hell's Kitchen' and 'Kitchen Nightmares' – a guy who kicked a customer out of one of his restaurants for wanting to put ketchup on an already "beautiful" red mullet dish; who has variously called the food cooked by his shows' contestants "dog shit," "gnat's piss," and "dehydrated camel's turd"; who has himself been called a maker of "defamation porn," "a really second-rate human being," and "an arrogant, narcissist bully"; who at one point was party to 14 different lawsuits, several of them involving his father-in-law and former business partner, a man who was instrumental in the creation of Ramsay's restaurant empire (27 establishments worldwide, 13 Michelin stars earned) and whom Ramsay then fired amid many dark accusations and allegations of shady loans and secret mistresses.
Or you could find yourself with the Ramsay making an appearance today, here at his stately Victorian home in south London with his mum, Helen, his wife, Tana, and his four kids floating around while a film crew shoots him in front of his gleaming two-and-a-half-ton Rorgue stove, making shepherd's pie and veggies, one of his childhood favorites. "There's something humbling," he muses, "about getting a leek, braising it in white wine and butter, and finishing it with toasted hazelnuts." His fuzzy-slipper-wearing, pleasantly round mum joins him, looking on as the knife in his hand flashes and chops. She chides him for always wanting to cook with her as a child but never wanting to help with the dishes. "I think I was allergic to soap," he says. His mum smiles. "That was your excuse then, and it still is."
Despite the bustling film people, it's a perfectly cozy and tranquil scene, a rustic table in the dining room, a trampoline out back, lots of stainless steel and spotless white cabinetry, a large number of copper pots hanging from hooks, photographs of Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali on the walls. It couldn't be any more domestic.
His mum is saying, "Oh, Gord is a good boy, a good lad, and very good to his family."
His slender, somewhat severe wife is saying, "His work ethic is just so inspiring. And, no, he does not grind his teeth in his sleep. And, no, he does not talk in his sleep, either."
His cheerful, bouncy daughter Tilly, 11, is saying, "What happens when you cross a snowman and a vampire? Frostbite!"
His soccer-playing, manly-handshaking son, Jack, 13, is saying, "If you go to dad's Bread Street Kitchen, get chicken wings – spicy chicken wings, if you like spicy. You have to give me feedback, though. They are so good!"
Soon, Ramsay himself is talking about his upcoming show, 'Junior MasterChef,' which features kids going head to head in the kitchen and is being cast right now. "What fascinated me are the worried mums who say, 'I won't let him talk to my son.' Well, I have four young, amazing kids, and I don't swear in front of them. I would never say, 'Right, get to fucking bed.'" He stops to think about this, crossing his arms over his big barrel chest. He's famous for his use of the F-word. One could make the case that without the F-word, he wouldn't be where he is today. Consequently, lots of people shudder to conceive of how often his poor, innocent children must have suffered the expletive – a fuck fuck here, a fuck fuck there, everywhere a fuck fuck.
"Actually," he goes on, leaning forward, "I've never cursed in front of them. Never, ever."
And so here he sits, in his basement office while the camera crew sets up another shot, this man who has never, not once, sworn in front of his kids. Then again, he could be misremembering. For the moment, though, let's give him the benefit of the doubt. It's entirely possible that how he is at work is totally different from how he is at home, although the all-or-nothing nature of it is a little weird.
A bit later, Ramsay starts chatting about what's new in his ever-expanding universe. He's got a fictional TV show called Inferno in the works, about two big-shot New York chefs, "egotistical nutters in the kitchen who battle it out." He's got three new restaurants in Las Vegas to keep tabs on, his many TV shows to film, the latest of which, 'MasterChef,' features a somewhat kinder, gentler Chef Ramsay, and an Ironman competition in Kona, Hawaii, to prepare for. There's also the lawsuit filed against him by his father-in-law's mistress; it charges him with a breach of privacy for hiring a private detective to take "intimate" pictures through her bedroom window, after which she says he sent a text message to her adult son that read, "Please tell [your mother] to close her curtains. . . . Shots are amazing. Happy to pass the whole fucking lot to the ['News of the World']." In other words, for Ramsay, at age 46, it's pretty much a day like any other, and business as usual.
But then up comes the matter of the reservations book. The story about it is well known. In 1998, when Ramsay was head chef at a London restaurant called Aubergine, some biker dude dashed inside the place and stole the reservations book, throwing the operation into chaos. Ramsay said he suspected fellow chef and one-time mentor Marco Pierre White, and he let it be known publicly. Only it wasn't Pierre White who nabbed the book; it was Ramsay himself, who didn't admit to the deception until 2007, when he said he did it because he feared Pierre White was after his job, and that the ploy worked like gangbusters, generating both public sympathy and much-needed publicity, and that it was a "stroke of genius," which is one way of looking at it.
So, where is that grand bit of history now?
"Where's the book?" he asks. "You'd like to see it? It's under my bed, next to my wife's toys – I'm joking! I'm joking! Hmm. I think it may be at the office. I'll double-check. Or it could be in the safe. Or it may be in the loft. It'll bring back memories. What happened, happened a decade ago, and it'll give you a proper insight into the level of ferociousness and insecurity that this industry breeds. It's a who's-trying-to-fuck-you thing on a daily basis. I'm not good at looking back. I'm always going forward. I've never had the time to sit and contemplate. But I still think now of the excitement and the adrenaline and the amount of effort that went into that restaurant when we opened it. It was insane, the 18-, 19-hour days. I have to find where the book is. I'll find it. I will get you the book."
And so that's how it's left.