On wife Tana, who stayed with him after quickly denied allegations of an affair surfaced: "She's a nut crusher. If I ever fucked up, she'd have my balls in a vise and turn them into a fucking crêpe suzette thinner than the frilliest knickers Paris Hilton's ever worn. She'd turn my ballbag into a doily."
On money: "I never boast about money," he says in one breath, deftly adding in the next, "but people know that you get $300,000 for an hour's work on television, a $1 million advance every time you publish a book, and from $300,000 to $500,000 for an appearance or an ad."
On mushrooms, a one-time signature flavoring: "The mushroom thing was a phase – I'm more into brain foods now – but I can still look at a box of raw ingredients and put together the best fucking dish you'll ever eat. That's why I laugh when they say, 'Let's see if he's a real chef. Let's get him up against Bobby Flay on 'Iron Chef.'' I'm like, 'Fucking do me a favor...come on. I've forgotten more than he's known!'"
On Frank Bruni, who gave Ramsay's first restaurant in the U.S., Gordon Ramsay at the London N.Y.C., a lukewarm two-star review in the New York Times: "Frank Bruni fucked me sideways, but the fascinating thing about that, I knew he had the hots for my French maître d'. But I mean, what's Frank Bruni doing now? Tweeting about the government? I piss myself. I wish him the very best."
He can be just so happily and irredeemably nasty. It's sometimes like he can't say anything without also shoehorning in some out-of-nowhere sideways dig. It's sort of a tic with him, transparent and clumsy, but not without its share of entertainment value, though that's probably true only insofar as you're not the one getting a knife in the back.
The waitress comes up. Ramsay orders french fries and mac-and-cheese for the table, a crab salad and a sole dish for himself, teriyaki chicken wings and a T-bone steak for his dining companion, and then, all of a sudden, he turns his full attention to the most sordid and eye-popping of recent events, the firing of his father-in-law. The telling of the tale is pure Ramsay. Once he starts, he can't stop, his face turning florid and sweaty. A few times, he tries to slow himself down, to gnaw on a french fry or take a sip of wine, shake himself loose, but then some lingering irritant gets hold of him and off he goes, back into the darkness of what happened.
The basic facts are these: He and Chris Hutcheson had been partners in Gordon Ramsay Holdings since shortly after Ramsay married Tana in 1996.
OK, but first let's hear how he wooed Tana. "I took her for a long motorcycle ride, then out to lunch, and then I said, 'Can I cook for you tonight?' She was my mate's girlfriend" – he claims she was his mate's ex-girlfriend, though many reports suggest they were still together – "and she was gorgeous, and I knew I could cook better than him. I put together the most amazing langoustine salad, and I made this amazing fragrant lemongrass mayonnaise to put over the prawns, these beautiful, thick, number one langoustines, which were poached in bouillon and served over a nice fresh green-bean salad with slightly toasted hazelnuts, and it was fucking amazing. And it worked massively. By the time we got halfway through the appetizer, her clothes were off, we didn't even get to the main course. What a night."
Anyway, in his business dealings, Ramsay wore the apron, his father-in-law the suit. They were best friends, too, played squash together, ran marathons together. We are, Ramsay once said, "two wings of the same plane." In 2010, however, Ramsay began to wonder about certain loans Hutcheson was taking from the company. They seemed excessive. So he hired a private detective to look into it, and, much to his shock, he says he learned that Hutcheson was using the funds to finance a longstanding secret double life, complete with mistress and two children by her. Ramsay felt he had no choice but to fire him. Shortly thereafter, Ramsay claims, Hutcheson began hacking into Ramsay's email account and selling what he found to the press. At one point, he gave an interview in which he really let the sour grapes fly, calling Ramsay "schizophrenic ...a Svengali...a monster." Lawsuits were filed – Hutcheson denies any financial impropriety – and Hutcheson banished daughter Tana for siding with her husband and not him. "You are the biggest disappointment in my life," he wrote her in a text, according to Ramsay. "Don't dare respond." She didn't, but her husband did, in an open letter to his mother-in-law, who was standing firm with her two-timing husband, that he sent to the press. "I know how hard this must be for you, Greta...." he concluded, "but you're punishing your daughter and our four children, for all the wrong reasons. It's so sad." And so back and forth it went, until it was finally settled last year, leaving only the mistress's breach-of-privacy lawsuit ongoing.
"First my father let me down, and then my father-in-law let me down," Ramsay says, still smoldering. "In a sense, I've had two shit dads. I mean, Tana's mother would be on the phone with Chris, and he was saying to her, 'Oh, my God, the snow in France is ridiculous, and I won't be back for a few days,' while literally at the same time the detective was on the other line saying to me, 'Right, he just landed at Heathrow, and he's being picked up by a blonde, who's driving his car.' And then to cast Tana and the grandchildren off like he did. I mean, what would it take for me to do that to my daughter? What kind of man would I be? What kind of evil fuck would you be, to shit on your family to that extent and bring in this new family that had been hidden for 20 years? What kind of man would I be? Anyway," he says, lifting his wine glass. "Cheers."
For a long while, the last of his words hangs in the air, drifting. Now is obviously the right time for the Aubergine reservations book to be hauled out and looked over, and the question asked: What kind of man would do what Ramsay did, abscond with the book, blame it on somebody else, besmirch that man's reputation, let it stand that way for nine filthy, stinking years while he clawed his way to the top of his profession, then spill his guts, call the caper "genius," and not even offer up the slightest hint of an apology? But, as it happens, Ramsay hasn't brought the book. Of course he hasn't. He probably hasn't even looked for it. He knows better. To bring it would be to invite looking inside and maybe even soul-searching, God forbid. As he said, "I'm always going forward. I've never had the time to sit and contemplate" – nor, quite clearly, the inclination, nor, most likely, even the ability. Ask him if he's got an introspective side, and he'll pause for a very long time, then say, "An introspective side? Which means what, please? Oh, I see. Looking within yourself, almost like a sort of internal X-ray. Uhm, fewwt, shah, I don't really, I don't think so. I'm scared of standing still. I shit myself. I need to move." So, no book tonight, though he does want to clear one thing up: "I didn't blame the missing reservations book on somebody else. It was suggested."
A stupefied silence follows. Could he really have just said that? Could he really expect to get away with it, just because he said it was so? "Well, OK, I blamed the guy who was about to screw me and get my job" – which the guy in question, Pierre White, has steadfastly denied all these years – "and so if it took an ounce of pressure off of that, it was worth it." He slaps himself back in his seat, happy with his explanation, while all you can do is look at him, mouth agape, slightly envious of how unruffled he is by any of this, how cheerfully certain he is that what he did was right.
Ramsay wipes his mouth with his napkin. Right around then, the cowlicked maître d' stops at the table. "Gentlemen?"
"May I have the bill, please?" Ramsay says.
Cowlick blinks. "Certainly." He backs up and turns away, kind of bowing, if not scraping.
Suddenly, Ramsay calls him back with a hiss loud enough to draw looks. "Hey, come on," he says to Cowlick. "Very polite of you to go get it, but I was only joking."
Quick as you please, Cowlick says, "I was only joking as well."
Ramsay emits a woofing laugh. "Yeah, right. I love it, hilarious!" And then once the guy is gone, he says, "I think he shat himself when I said it. 'Ah, shit, Gordon just asked for the bill. Doesn't he own this place?' Yeah, that was fucking good."
A few customers have overheard the exchange and are eyeballing Ramsay. Ramsay takes notice and then says the most amazing thing: "Why do they stare? I feel I need to put up a sign, 'Do not feed the bear.' It makes me feel bad." He seems genuinely mystified and hurt, and in the softness of the moment something about Ramsay and all judgments against him begin to clear themselves up. In a way, he really does see himself as an unfairly maligned innocent whose actions throughout his career have been totally on the up-and-up, no apologies needed. And why should he not? In everything he does that is connected to the kitchen, he is a bear. He was whelped by bears in a bear's world, he was taught all of life's lessons by bears, he was once a small bear, he's now the biggest bear, and, raised in the wretched clanging heat of a stove-metal forest, he has never known anything but bearlike behavior, raw and vicious, the shit running down his mother's leg. But it hurts and probably does make him feel bad when people think how he is inside the den is how he is outside, at home, say, with his wife and kids. Earlier in the evening, he'd been called "scary." Now, remembering that, he says, "Fucking hell. I can't believe you said I was scary. That's terrible." But that's the outside man speaking to another outside man, where everything is judged, not the bear to another bear, where love equals pain and judgment is irrelevant to the greater goal of the best food possible and more and more of those precious little Michelin stars.