As an interviewee, British chef Gordon Ramsay was courteous, polite and didn’t say the f-word once.
He said it seven times.
Why is he in f****** Hong Kong, then?
First, he’s checking in at (and up on) his Bread Street Kitchen & Bar in Lan Kwai Fong. It’s doing a considerably brisker trade on Tuesday lunchtime than its British counterpart has done on my past few visits. (Ramsay: ‘It’s a great area and it’s a buzzy little restaurant.’)
Second: location hunting. He’s interested in a ‘hip burger’ joint in Hong Kong, he says – stay tuned.
Third: to eat. As we slide into one of the sleek corner banquettes underneath marble tables, he rattles off his eating schedule. Cantonese restaurant Lung King Heen in the Four Seasons last night, Italian restaurant Spiga in Central tonight. Wyndham Street’s Bombay Dreams is his ‘favourite curry house’ (he ‘f****** loves’ the butter chicken). Then some street food, and – I assume – breakfast at Café Gray Deluxe (he checked into The Upper House).
‘I go anywhere in the world and I don’t get any bills,’ Ramsay crows. ‘I get extra courses, and I leave, like a piece of s***. It’s extraordinary. And all I want to do is pay for my f****** dinner.’
He notices me totting up the rude words. ‘It’s weird that you’re counting, and you’re from Essex. Essex girls don’t care; they don’t count.’ It’s somehow come up in conversation that I’m from Essex, in the UK, and for some reason Essex girls, like our spiritual sisters from Jersey Shore in the US, get a bad rap. We’re the kind, he says, who leave restaurants with ‘food in their handbags’. (Memo to Bread Street Kitchen: I ate the food I ordered.)
The f-word is Ramsay’s trademark (even the name of one of his TV shows). But it’s the good stuff he puts into other people’s mouths, rather than the bad stuff that comes out of his, that matters.
The TV shows, controversies and court cases also make it easy to forget what a stir Ramsay created in the London fine dining scene in the 1990s, first with Aubergine and then with his own three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Chelsea. He’s joined the globalised stars of the restaurant business – the Ducasses, the Robuchons, the Nobus – with a more democratic portfolio that includes gastropubs, hotel restaurants and even eateries in airport terminals.
His Union Street Café opened on my old street in London in 2013 and, for the record, its meaty rigatoni was worth every artery-stiffening calorie.
Ramsay has racked up the airmiles, even if just for the purpose of barking a dozen f***s at journalists in different countries across the world.
So the conversation turns to travel.
As a child he got used to mixing with people from all over the world. He was born in the Scottish town of Johnstone, and grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. Family holidays were in a faded south coast resort town (‘f****** Bognor Regis’).
‘The most memorable trip was to Loch Lomond [in Scotland] and going camping in the summer and being bitten to hell by midges. Literally eating the most incredible salmon in a one pot wonder for breakfast. You didn’t complain about f****** hotels or beds; you just got on with it.’
Presumably this set him up for filming Gordon’s Great Escape in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia (a quick YouTube search brings up videos including him eating a duck foetus and going hunting for tarantulas).
‘The outback in Cambodia was quite extraordinary. No telephones, no satellites, no contact, just 30 days living with a family that was raising crocodiles.’
To eat, I ask weakly? Oh no: ‘They shop for food twice a day, seven days a week, and everything is super fresh. They buy whatever’s available, so it’s amazing.’
His favourite foodie destinations span northern Spain’s Basque region (Ramsay trained in nearby Bordeaux: ‘it’s like a second home’), Vegas (‘the standard is incredible, from the most amazing steakhouse to a proper grill to great Japanese food’) and Cornwall, just a two-hour chopper ride from his London home. Over the past decade, Britain’s sunniest county has welcomed a wave of beachfront restaurants from London’s big-name chefs, including Rick Stein, Paul Ainsworth and Jamie Oliver. Is another Ramsay outpost on the cards?
The answer, predictably, is NSFW.
‘I just want to go and have a f****** break. I’m going to get a helicopter and a boat and f****** enjoy it. I’m going to do the opposite of what everyone’s expecting me to do.’
That’s six f***s and one s*** you’ve read so far. Ramsay’s brash persona (which I’m sure is all it is, frustratingly) might go down well in the UK and the US, but in Hong Kong I wonder if it’s unappreciated.
Ramsay’s unfazed. ‘I respect them endlessly. I just want to be judged for what I put on a plate. F*** the persona. Because at the end of the day, that’s what brings customers back.’
There’s one final dig at Hong Kong’s line-up of celebrity-backed restaurants. ‘At least I turn up to my openings. I’m not saying anything; I’m just saying that to you – you’re a journalist and a smart girl.’
Just not one who stuffs food in her handbag.
Find Gordon Ramsay’s show The F Word in TV on the interactive menu under the lifestyle genre.