Friday, August 20, 2010

Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsy sees his Rump

Fiery talk and overpriced food did not cut the mustard here in South Africa

An excerpt from Hilary Biller's interview

I ask Ramsay why he pursued a South African venture when in the same year he was forced to close Maze in Prague? The question rankles the celebrity. His face reddens and his voice raises by a couple of octaves. I begin to feel uncomfortable. Shades of Hell's Kitchen flash through my mind.

"Because of the global recession, we have canned many partnerships but we're not closed," he barks. "There is so much fodder and factually incorrect statements out there. It's lazy journalism," he says, looking deeply into my eyes.

I dare to ask if he is not perhaps taking on too much? "Are you asking or telling me," he blurts angrily. "Asking," I say politely, trying to ease the tension. But his tirade continues unabated and then he tells me that he has a fortune in the bank made through hard graft. So what? But I dare not utter a word. And then follows a rant about how he had laid all the foundations for his business, telling me how he planned ahead.

"Six months ahead of you," he points at me "and the customer," he says. "I don't pick Muppets to run my restaurants. I'm a control freak and need to know where we are (in our business). I'm not a television chef," he snaps.

In my desire to ease the tension, I pick on one of his favourite subjects - marathon running. It's obviously the way he eases his tension and his personality changes as he describes his five Comrades Marathons.

"Three up and two down runs," he says proudly, going on to tell me that his brother-in-law lives in Joburg. This leads him on to another favourite bug bear: fat chefs. "I don't think chefs should be fat," he says, casting his beady eyes over my well-cushioned frame. "It's the best job in the world to have when you are good at it, but the shittiest job when you are not very good at it. It's a tough game; one helluva exciting one."

A year later and Gordon Ramsay Holdings shows that his newer restaurants have a combined loss of £4.3-million.

Ramsay, never far from controversy, sparked an outcry on his last visit to Maze in May this year. Billed as the ultimate chance to dine with Ramsay (and clearly to boost a fledgling restaurant), the organisers of the Cape Town Good Food & Wine Show sold tickets at R1500 for the event, which sold out in hours. Failing to live up to the prescribed expectations, diners snatched a glimpse of the celebrity when he opened the evening and shared an explanation of the menu. They never saw him again.

Wine shortages and lacklustre food failed to impress - or to plaster over the disappointment of people who really had come for Ramsay. The organisers fuelled the fire with their explanation that the celebrity was "tired" and had gone to bed.

And fanning the flames of fury, the media coverage the following day of Ramsay's night out on the town and a midnight frolic at a Cape Town night-club did little to comfort the fans who felt cheated. Many demanded their money back.

Gordon Ramsay had done it again. Two months later his Maze at One&Only has abruptly closed