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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Chef from hell cooks up heavenly cuisine

USA Today

America's fine-dining aficionados are savoring the work of young London chef Gordon Ramsay these days. And so, perhaps, should the World Wrestling Federation.

In addition to being described by critics as the most talented chef of his generation, Ramsay, 34, also commands a "cooking-as-combat" school of kitchen management that has British tabloids a-twitter.

"Colorful" doesn't begin to describe the beefy former pro soccer player, whose self-named restaurant has just become the only one in London to hold the top three-star rating from the prestigious Michelin guide. But if you let the relentlessly profane Ramsay supply an adjective, it may well be unprintable.

"It's a dogfight. A dogfight," Ramsay says of his profession.

His 50-seat restaurant, where the average dinner tab runs $125 per person, is one of London's toughest reservations. About 65 percent of those customers are Americans who have followed the glowing reviews in the international food press and have bought thousands of copies of his cookbook, "Chef for All Seasons" (Ten Speed Press, $35).

Ramsay seduces them with fresh seasonal ingredients, mostly from his native Scotland, rendered with a deft, light hand. Among his signatures: tortellini of lobster and prawns poached in lobster bisque.

"To me, the sign of any talented cook is to make something special out of something simple," he says. "And that's not easy."

Little in Ramsay's life seems to have been easy after he washed out of his soccer career at age 19. He spent the next several years scraping by, while learning the restaurant business and classic French cooking techniques under such taskmasters as Joel Robuchon, Marco Pierre White and Guy Savoy. At 26, he opened his first restaurant, Aubergine, and it soon became one of London's most revered.

But a parallel reputation emerged as well: He led his staff in a street brawl against workers from a neighboring restaurant. He booted a critic and the critic's date — actress Joan Collins — out of his restaurant over something the man had written. He belittled in public a product he had been paid to endorse. He screamed, yelled and berated those he worked for and with. At the height of Aubergine's popularity, he and his staff walked out in a contract dispute with his investors and never returned.

Ramsay admits to the essential elements of the stories, but shrugs off their significance. "I want to be judged by what I put on my plate, not how I talk to my staff," he says. "To me, I've silenced my critics."