Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

License to Ill (a hairball)

Thanks much to BDR, who sent this link.

Buford opens his piece with "Gordon Ramsay, the only chef in London honored with three stars by the Guide Michelin, is not a monster." His article appears to disprove this, or at least indicate that Ramsay, if not a monster, is psychotic.

Much of America knows of Ramsay via Hell's Kitchen, his Fox reality show. I have never seen this wondrous media document, but have read widely of the Legend Ramsay. Here is a man famed for his temper; indeed, the article leads us to believe many diners seek reservations at his restaurants hoping to witness an untrammeled display: "One day, a woman shouted from the chef's table, situated just in front of the pass, 'Gordon, tell your cooks to fuck off, and I'll leave a thousand-dollar tip!'" Ramsay demurred, but at night's end, found she had tipped with largesse. "Oh, how funny. I must have lost it and not realized it. At least the waiters were happy."

More temper: calling the cooks (all male) "cunts," reducing a sommelier (later fired for theft) nearly to tears, screaming at his cooks until they are too flustered to move, whereupon he shoves them aside and cooks the occasional dish himself.

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Much is made of New York's restaurant culture, the insane pressure to acheive stardom in an overpopulated field, to please fickle critics Adam Platt, Frank Bruni, and Ruth Reichl. Ramsay tells Buford he does television so he can "do New York...Basically I'm a prostitute. I prostitute myself so I can have a restaurant here. But I don't fully take off my knickers." No, and he hardly has the time to cook, either, what with his outposts--I counted thirteen on his website , documentaries, and television shows. His latest television venture? Another reality show, transplanted from Britain: Gordon will come to your failing restaurant, holler obscenities at you, and tell you how to turn things around.

Which begs the question of precisely what Ramsay truly wants to do. Jet around the world to various kitchens, abusing chefs? Attain fame via Fox reality shows? Become excessively wealthy?

There is no question the man can cook. If anything, let us give credit to his disinterest in what Buford calls "the gastro-pseudoscientific trend of the moment." Ramsay is fond of the foods all tony chefs adore: foie gras, truffles, lobsters. His cooking does not attack the diner with foams or, God help us, tobacco infusions. But, to Ramsay's dismay, New York has failed to fall adoringly at his feet. Receiving two starts from Bruni instead of three is taken like a cancer diagnosis.

Does the man want to cook, be famous, run an empire? What would please such a person? He seems far from the pleasures of chopping garlic, or even bossing around a few other guys chopping garlic. What a life.

Alas, it gets worse. Ramsay's charming temperment is enhanced by his paranoia. In 1998, feuding with his backers, he
became certain his mentor, Marco Pierre White, would be called in to replace him at the august Aubergine (that's eggplant to us dumb Yanks). But then, no! The Aubergine reservations book was stolen by a man on a motorbike. This, before the days computerized reservations, was devastation. Ramsay publicly blamed White. White denied involvement.

'"It was me," Ramsay said. 'I nicked it...Because I knew it would fuck him and that it would call off the dogs."'

Maybe he isn't psychotic, but paranoid schizophrenic?

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This story is appalling on a number of levels. That the public wecolmes such awful behavior, even courts it, says little for our species. And why are people willing to work for this guy? Are fame and culinary genius more important than quality of life? What does that kind of behavior do to people over time? Nothing good: one either falls into victimhood or, in self-defense, mimics the abuser.

Finally, this is restaurant cooking were talkng about. Recreational food, when you get down to it. And from my wussy left coast viewpoint, we would be well advised to remember that. Gordon Ramsay may behave like a trauma surgeon stanching a shooting victim's carotid, but he's not. He's a cook. And he's cooking for people who haven't been truly hungry for a very long time.

Five hairballs, truffled.

Citations from www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/04/070402fa_fact_buford. Author: Bill Buford

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