“I guarantee you that with the right amount of effort and a basic requirement that you’re not an idiot, you can get somewhere – anyone can”
Gordon Ramsay’s approach is utterly compelling
Richard Aldhous finds out why he’s so successful
Read about the great philosophers or listen to astute thinkers of the modern era and most will tell you that arrogance is a shield to conceal a lack of knowledge or some deep-seated insecurity. That makes understanding Gordon Ramsay something of a conundrum.
Even this chef and restaurateur’s greatest admirers recognise a sense of haughtiness in the makeup of someone who has persistently hunted down the next challenge.
Whether it’s arrogance or simply belief and control, the most decorated chefs are where they are because of their ability to perform, manage and excel in one of the most stressful work environments imaginable.
“I’m the same as anyone else,” declares Gordon Ramsay, adding: “I’m the product of discipline, bloody-mindedness, passion, being organised, being clear in my goal and perhaps even a little selfishness.
“You know success won’t simply fall into your lap. You have to work hard for it. But I guarantee you that with the right amount of effort and a basic requirement that you’re not an idiot, you can get somewhere – anyone can,” he continues.
Of course, the Gordon Ramsay we encounter away from the pressured atmosphere of the restaurant is very different to that bullish, bulldozing, bombastic character that stomps, swears and curses his way through various globally distributed television series and concepts.
Without suggesting – even for a moment – that Ramsay is softening in his middle years, he appears to be reflective, grateful for what he has, loving and funny. That said, he is still unapologetically brash.
Addressing his love of an expletive, he says: “My advice on this has always been the same – if you don’t like it, turn over. You have to appreciate the pressures of the kitchen and that environment.”
“While you wouldn’t want to keep turning up for meals where the staff were ripping shreds off each other, there still needs to be high pressure in the kitchen. And only when you’ve seen that situation do you really appreciate what we go through,” he asserts.
And the celebrity chef adds a dash of spice: “It’s pure unadulterated stress in the kitchen, and someone being offended by an expletive is really the least of my worries!”
Through all his crudeness, Gordon Ramsay’s eponymous empire is a meticulously curated globally renowned brand. Much of that is down to its founder’s measured pursuit of what he is good at – never allowing the lure of expansion to divert him into areas outside his comfort zone.
He’s always acted quickly when challenges approach, and never was critical action more required than in spring this year when the coronavirus pandemic struck.
As expected, some sections of the press leapt on the fact that he had temporarily laid off an estimated 500 members of staff.
But the blanket shutdown of the hospitality sector affected almost all his global portfolio. He runs 34 restaurants and bars, 16 of which are in London; and this situation has created the greatest commercial challenge he’s faced in two decades of being in business.
“We have to imagine these as new openings,” he explains. “Forget the salt and pepper – it’s about hand sanitizers. Forget the long-winded descriptions, forget table sides. Instead, it’s temperature checks – all these things are going to come into play,” Gordon adds.
Ramsay believes that the restaurant business won’t return to any semblance of normality until Christmas – and even then, it won’t be functioning at full capacity until spring next year. Yet, his ability to recover taps into that same sentiment that led him to greatness in the first place.
“We are going to come back stronger – that’s how we survive,” he affirms.
The celebrated chef displays a passion, determination and almost childlike giddiness that will always keep him at the top. For all his impassioned speeches, rants and dressing downs in the kitchens of his reality shows, when it comes to gauging his own survival prospects, he’s assured in his poise.
“I’ve always had confidence in myself when it comes to work, largely because I have achieved everything I’ve set out to accomplish. I can’t afford to worry,” Gordon reveals.
He elaborates: “When my wife Tana and I sold our first home to raise the money for my breakthrough restaurant, it was a nervy time. We were back in rented accommodation in London with no guarantee whatsoever that things would work out the way we hoped.”
“But that fear was the absolute driver in terms of pushing forward, and ensuring that every last ounce of effort was invested in the brand and business,” he states.
And he enthuses: “As you get older and become wealthier, you have more to fall back on. But it still amounts to the same thing whether it’s a big or small investment – you don’t want to fail.”
“And that fear of failure combined with the motivation for ‘the next thing’ is what galvanises me more than anything else. I love the feeling!” he sums up.
While you wouldn’t want to keep turning up for meals where the staff were ripping shreds off each other, there still needs to be high pressure in the kitchen