insight - Gordon Ramsay

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Occupation - Cook

Gordon Ramsay admits it openly: 2009 was the celebrity chef’s very own kitchen nightmare; but he has emerged stronger, smarter, and – he claims – more humble.

As the world reeled from a history-making global economic meltdown, Gordon Ramsay, arguably the world’s most recognised chef, faced his own personal financial crisis.

“Do I look like a man who is down and beaten?” Ramsay asks surrounded by waiters cleaning wine glasses, and his extended entourage preparing Maze Doha for its grand opening in March this year.

“The downside is that on the back of my success, I’ve had my issues and my problems.

“This whole recession, no-one saw it coming,” Ramsay told Oryx, “whether you are Gordon Ramsay or the Royal Bank of Scotland. We’re a family business, self-funded, all of a sudden you come under scrutiny because you’re a big name in the industry and they like to see you beaten down.”

In the early days of the 2008-09 recession, facing a cash flow issue, Ramsay pumped his own money into his empire of restaurants in London, Paris, New York, and LA, as well as a string of ‘gastro pubs’ in the UK, to keep them afloat amid the crumbling financial landscape.

“I put a cash injection of £5.8 million (US$8.9m) into my cash flow personally to stabilise it; little did I know my bank was haemorrhaging with a loss of £5 billion (US$7.7 bn),” he said. “But, it’s a drop in the ocean. That’s the difference between being a chef and an entrepreneur. I’m a huge risk-taker, but it doesn’t stop me from doing what I enjoy doing, and that is cooking.”

Cult of celebrity

Ramsay, a former professional footballer, still emerged a contender, and 2010 sees the opening of a Doha branch of his ‘Mezze Style’ Maze at The Pearl Qatar, a manmade island hosting high-end apartments, villas, boutiques, and now restaurants.

“I’m only human and I make mistakes but, gee, do I learn from them and, more importantly, I didn’t choose the easy options,” he says. “I’ve had the rough and smooth in my life.”

But, he believes, just like the financial world will be learning the lessons of the 2009 crash for years to come, so a great ‘reckoning’ occurred in the culinary world with many celebrity chefs knocked back to reality. He believes the cult surrounding chefs created an “arrogance” that ultimately hurt the customer.

“For me, for the first time in ten years, experiencing that downturn and the honesty was refreshing,” Ramsay says. “Chefs were getting far too arrogant and they were dictating to the customer. That isn’t how it should be. It should be the other way around.”

Ramsay, for many the prototype of personality cult of chefs and gastronomy, believes many so-called celebrity chefs were forced to re-assess their businesses and what they gave their customers. “This is a breath of fresh air. It’s a humbling of ingredients. Before, everything was laced with foie gras and truffles. The minute there is a recession, the dollar goes weak and people stop eating out.

Restaurants were popping up in people’s homes.

“Celebrity chefs! I hate that! It’s a misconception,” he says. “Believe me, 99% of the celebrity chefs I know don’t even have restaurants. There is a big difference between a real chef and a celebrity chef. I happen to be a real chef who works on TV. I don’t want to travel around Australia showing you how to do the best Cornish pasties. I have no desire to do that.”

Adventures in Food

It seems 2010 is proving to be a better year for Ramsay, with Maze Doha opening and another outpost in Melbourne, Australia. Ramsay says ‘green fields’ cities like Doha and Abu Dhabi are luring high-end chefs and restaurateurs like himself.

Ramsay, a culinary adventurer, was one of the first to recognise the potential of Dubai, opening his Verre at the Hilton Dubai Creek ten years ago. He sees Doha as a natural progression, and his company has also had approaches to open ventures in Oman and Abu Dhabi.

“I quite like being the first to put a stake in the ground here (in Doha),” Ramsay reveals. “Trust me – in 18 months you will see every top chef in the world here. From Nobu to Ducasse, it’s going to be the place to be.

“We’ve got a unique opportunity to become the new St Tropez of the Gulf.”

According to Ramsay, the Maze concept, of sharing small plates of food, has gained popularity and acceptance as it offers diners a unique experience.

“These are not one-bite wonders but small plates. It’s fine dining with amazing flavours,” he says. “Maze is something we have been able to stay ahead of the times with, a de-formalisation of fine dining, without that stuffiness, and that long-winded menu. We want to have a little bit of fun.” Ramsay is looking to further expand in Doha with the opening of another restaurant in the new St Regis Hotel set for opening in 2011. With just ten tables and maximum of 40 diners per night, it will be fine dining at its height.

After the travails of 2008-09 and the launch of the US version of the UK and Australian hit TV series Masterchef, does Ramsay think he is stretching himself thin again?

“Seriously? Do I look skint?” he says. “I don’t want to sound flash. I work harder than any other chef in the world. I still push myself; the passion has always been in the flavour, rather than in the dollar.”

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