Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gordon Ramsay almost flambéed in the big fish fight

Something Fishy
Gordon Ramsay almost goes up in flames
'Chefs are part of the problem. We're responsible for making people want certain fish,' said Gordon Ramsay, who has teamed up with Heston Blumenthal and Jamie Oliver in
"Big Fish Fight" series

On one of the coldest nights of December, three of Britain’s most successful chefs have spent several hours lying face up in a giant sardine tin for a Channel 4 publicity shot.

So when Live arrives and asks them to do another shoot – this time wearing freshly deceased fish as neckties – there are some nervous looks among their agents. Jamie Oliver agrees, so long as the tie is sustainable. He’s not joking. A fresh mackerel is procured.

Gordon Ramsay grumbles that we’re making him late for his ‘day job’ at the recently reopened Savoy hotel. But during the shoot he tells a story that has the entire room hanging on his every word. His contribution to Channel 4’s Big Fish Fight series saw him investigating the illegal trade in shark fins, which led to a confrontation with heavily armed Costa Rican gangsters…

‘It’s a multibillion-dollar industry, completely unregulated,’ he’s saying.

‘We traced some of the biggest culprits to Costa Rica. The day before we got there, a Taiwanese crew landed a haul of hammerhead sharks – police searched the boat and found bails of cocaine. These gangs operate from places that are like forts, with barbed-wire perimeters and gun towers.

'At one, I managed to shake off the people who were keeping us away, ran up some stairs to a rooftop and looked down to see thousands and thousands of fins, drying on rooftops for as far as the eye could see. When I got back downstairs, they tipped a barrel of petrol over me.’ Intending to set you alight?

‘Yes. Then these cars with blacked-out windows suddenly appeared from nowhere, trying to block us in. We dived into the car and peeled off. Later in the trip I got hold of a guy called Enrique who manages 350 boats and is the third-largest supplier of shark fins globally. We talked our way onto one of his fishing boats.

'In a quiet moment I dived from the boat to swim with marlin. I swam under the keel and saw this sack tied to it. I opened it and it was full of shark fins, huge ones from 20-year-olds. How they do it is quite upsetting. They shock them with an electric prod, but the shark’s still moving while they cut it up and throw it back dying into the water. No wonder they wanted to hide the evidence. The minute I threw this bag on deck, everyone started screaming and shouting.

'We're fighting greed and overindulgence,' said Gordon

'Back at the wharf, there were people pointing rifles at us to stop us filming. A van pulled up and these seedy characters made us stand against a wall. The police came and advised us to leave the country. They said, “If you set one foot in there, they’ll shoot you.”’

There’s something of a stunned silence. It seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a television series about fish, someone suggests. Ramsay just smiles.