Gordon Ramsay Crosses Pond (Loudly)

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The whole gastroworld is waiting breathlessly--or so hypes the hype--for reviews of chef Gordon Ramsay's first U.S. restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at The London, which launched last Thursday night in New York. The restaurant, Ramsay's tenth, opened with small formal and casual dining rooms in the London NYC Hotel (formerly the Righa Royal) that, Ramsay notes pithily, must earn their keep, but good: "The till has to start working," Ramsay told the AP. "New York is an expensive place to survive." True enough. Ramsay, the star of Fox's Hell's Kitchen and of The F-Word on BBC America, but better-known in his native UK for his equal parts talent, wealth, controversy, fame, and bad language, is one of just three chefs there with a coveted three Michelin stars. Apparently, he wants them here too.

The lead-up to the New York opening has been accompanied by a fair amount of pissing contest rhetoric, although Ramsay seems to save more of it for the UK media. In a November 5 article in the Sunday Times he took aim at his New York competitors who already have their three stars (Thomas Keller's Per Se "has the kind of clinical atmosphere that you get when you decide to open in a shopping mall"); baited New York journalists ("I know I have to be in New York, but the quality is much higher in London"); and dissed his peers opening their own New York outposts (France's Joel Robuchon, London's Alan Yau). But in a New York Times interview with Michael Ruhlman two months earlier, he was strikingly humble: "I'm not trying to take New York by storm. I just want to sneak in there, keep my head down, batten down the hatches and cook."

However he contradicts himself, he sure seems spread thin. His current beef with Robuchon is that Robuchon allegedly puts his name on restaurants he has only minimal connection to, the Super Chef's besetting sin (which Robuchon denies), but I don't know how Ramsay is that different--the New York restaurant is only the first of many planned for the States. He may be better equipped than some to enforce far-reaching standards that keep him seeming ubiquitous, but it's still impossible to be everywhere at once. 

Personally, I'm getting more and more turned off in general by the Risk-like games of world domination chefs play these days, but in Ramsay's case my irritation stems less from his braggadocio (I also can't stand to watch him yell at people on Hell's Kitchen) than from his "Get Women Back in the Kitchen" campaign on the F-Word. The segments, in which he goes into homes of women who've invited him there to help them learn their way around a roast, were sparked by Ramsay's own research that showed that three out of four young English women can't cook. He launched the program with his customary restraint by telling the Radio Times in 2005 that British women "can't cook to save their lives." Ramsay, like lots of bullies, claimed to be misunderstood in the face of pissed-off rebuttals from Prue Leith and Clarissa Dickson Wright of Two Fat Ladies, but the unavoidable questions remain: Why not women and men?  Why "back"?  The same research showed that men are "far more likely to find cooking enjoyable, while women are more inclined to view dinnertime as a chore"--how far do you have to go to guess why that might be?

Ramsay is claiming no such agenda with his new U.S. restaurant. His stated goal is not to cure anyone of their tiny-kitchen-induced addiction to dining out; in fact, he claims to find non-cooking New Yorkers "fascinating." That, though, makes it sound like he's comfortable exploiting the "problem" to fill seats at the new place. We'll see how good a job he does.

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