'Hell's Kitchen' Gordon Ramsay putting his 'money where my mouth is'
By Christopher Rocchio, 03/19/2008
Gordon Ramsay said he's putting his money where his mouth is by giving Hell Kitchen's fourth-season winner an executive chef position at The London West Hollywood, a new Los Angeles restaurant he's opening this summer.
"I get very frustrated when things go wrong, clearly, and putting my neck on the line and looking for a chef for my own restaurant was almost an investment -- from my point of view -- to put back into the longevity, really, to make sure that we continue searching for talent and propelling it," Ramsay told reporters during a Monday conference call.
"I want to put my money where my mouth is and prove to the industry that any winner of Hell's Kitchen is more than qualified and capable of standing alone in my kitchen, that's for sure."
Ramsay said the idea of having Hell's Kitchen's winner work at one of his restaurants was born out of a desire to show that he's not passing the buck when it comes to culinary up-and-comers who succeed on the Fox reality series.
"I cringe sometimes when everyone talks about a reality show with no integrity, so I thought about this idea of me looking for a chef," he said.
Ramsay added the decision was not part of some "promotional" ploy.
"I've never been any form of marketing tool in order to promote my restaurant. No matter how good the marketing is, if you can't deliver on the plate, you could have the best marketing, but the best marketing tool could be the worst effect for any restaurant," he said. "Sometimes I get a lot of criticism from the industry because it's not the real deal. Well, it is in the premier league. If you want to go to the top, then of course you have to weather the storm. It's not all plain sailing and it's not all about creating little pitchers out of watermelons."
In addition, Ramsay addressed criticism that some fourth-season cast members -- including a stay-at-home dad and electrician -- might not be qualified to work as an executive chef.
"That's, honestly, on the back of the experience of graduating through Hell's Kitchen and obviously the winner," he explained. "Having an amazing team of chefs to draw upon, and like I said, this year more than any other year the stakes are raised higher because of what I'm looking for. The position is not going to be the executive chef in terms of running it lock, stock and barrel. That can't happen. You can't put that kind of pressure on a previous winner. The winner will be an executive chef within the setup of my restaurant and will be responsible for the day-to-day running."
Despite opening eateries across Europe, Ramsay himself said he was the recipient of "tough love" when he made his U.S. restaurant debut with the November 2006 opening of Gordon Ramsay at The London in The London NYC Hotel.
"I have to say, opening up in New York taught me a lot about that level of attention to detail," he said. "London's a tough market, Paris is a tough market, but New York, well, that's extraordinary."
However Ramsay said he's going to take what he learned from the experience and apply it to The London West Hollywood.
"Everything I learned and didn't do in New York I would put into place here in The London West Hollywood," he said. "This is not a consultancy; this is my restaurant where the level of scrutiny is 10-times greater... It's my restaurant. That's why I'm convinced that working with the winner of Hell's Kitchen will enable me to make sure that person is catapulted and articulate and talented and -- more importantly -- establishes that level of longevity. That's the important part, making sure that this is a marathon we're running, it's not a 100-meter sprint, and New York has taught me that."
Dealing with the foul-mouthed British chef while competing on Hell's Kitchen isn't the only training the fourth-season winner will receive, according to Ramsay, who is also currently preparing to launch a restaurant in Paris.
"The chef's been trained for 10 years with me. He's young, he's Italian, he's a phenomenal cook at 29 years of age. The winner of Hell's Kitchen this year at The London West Hollywood will go under that tutorage as well," he explained.
"Of course they're not going to be running it. They can't in the short time that I've been connected to that person, but the guidance, the infrastructure, and that's why it gets really tedious sometimes when everyone judges me. It's not me. The team and I have been together since October 1993 -- whether it's Angela Hartnett or Marcus Wareing or Mark Sergeant -- they are phenomenal chefs. They're partners that will be together in making sure the London West Hollywood is a united front."
With all of his American experience, Ramsay is promising "fireworks" at The London West Hollywood -- "from the canapes right through to the desserts."
"More importantly, I've been here for three years now. I've been in New York for 15 months. Winning two stars in the Zagat, No. 1 Best Newcomer within 10 months of opening in New York has taught me a big lesson," he said. "Come out of the trap strong, explode from day one and more importantly, the ingredients there are phenomenal. It's not going to be sedated, heavy, rich French cuisine; it's going to be a light and American, California-style with a bit of a Japanese influence. Everything is healthy, fresh, but more importantly, if you think customers are impatient in New York, wait to you see how impatient they are here in L.A."
Since he's "invested heavily" in The London West Hollywood with a 10-year lease, Ramsay vowed to not "get sucked up in is the trend formation of restaurants."
"The style, the feel and the decor of the dining room is vibrant. It's very L.A., very cool fabrics, lots of silver, lots of nickel, brushed stainless steel and lots of cream fabric," he said. "It's going to be fast, it's going to be furious and more importantly, we have that level of intimacy, that level of fun without being long-winded. That's really important."