He worked tirelessly to find success as a young chef. Now Gordon Ramsay is a global star, thanks to his hugely popular television shows. A great Ferrarista, he compares the perfection of his cooking to what he found when he visited Maranello for the first time, where he also ordered his next new car. We spent a hugely absorbing day with him
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Those who watched it will probably never forget Gordon Ramsay’s expletive fuelled television debut. Charismatic, certainly, and already well on his way to a prized three Michelin stars, Ramsay rode to tabloid infamy on the back of some colourfully expressed views and lively language. In an era constrained by uptight political correctness, Ramsay may have minced his own lamb, but never his words. It seems he may be up to his old tricks today. ‘F**k me,’ he says. ‘F**king outrageous!’ There’s the briefest of pauses while he catches his breath.‘Absolutely f**king unbelievable…’ Fortunately, this volley of “olde” Anglo Saxon isn’t aimed at an errant chef, or a slovenly kitchen. Instead, Ramsay has just climbed out of the passenger seat of Ferrari’s new F12berlinetta, following a few laps of Fiorano with test driver Raffaele de Simone at the wheel. The rasp of the V12 has curdled the air all around us, so you can hardly blame Ramsay for adding a blue tinge to it. ‘I think Ferrari has revolutionised things with the F12,’ he adds, having gathered his thoughts and gesturing to the car behind him, wailing engine noise now replaced by the gentle tinkle of contracting hot metal. Ramsay, it’s fair to say, is a man who wears his heart on his chef’s whites. One of the world’s bestknown cooks and restaurateurs, today he is in Maranello on what is no less than a pilgrimage.When he was awarded his third Michelin star in 2001, he finally treated himself to a new Ferrari, a 550 Maranello, and his relationship with the Prancing Horse has only intensified since then. He’s owned a 360 Modena, 430 Scuderia, 599 GTB Fiorano and many more. The latest acquisition is a 458 Spider, which arrived in London as he was flying to Bologna, bound for Maranello.As with so many Ferraristi, his devotion to the marque goes way beyond simple customer loyalty. Ramsay, a detail fanatic, brings a much deeper understanding to bear.
In fact it’s debatable which substance means more to him: Modena’s famous balsamic vinegar or the motor oil that courses through the area’s most famous exports. ‘It’s breathtaking,’ he says, sitting in an armchair in a room directly above Enzo Ferrari’s old office on the Fiorano circuit. ‘It’s quite eerie, in a way, the level of expertise that’s on display here. Especially from a chef’s point of view, being control freaks, being the figure at the helm, sitting in the front seat, driving the team at 1,000mph… I’ve been having anxiety attacks about coming here for 10, maybe 15 years. So, you can imagine how it feels.’ Ramsay is a remarkable 21st-century media hyphenate. Scottish by birth but raised in England, one of four children, he had a difficult upbringing, and seems to have been on a life-long quest for selfimprovement and perfection via his chosen medium: cooking. Having had a promising professional football career sabotaged by a dodgy knee, this setback sent him off instead on a worldwide culinary odyssey designed to hone his skills and armour-plate his personality. He worked with the likes of Marco Pierre White and Albert Roux in London, and trained in Paris with Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon. His first big success came with Aubergine in 1995, followed by the opening of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea in 1998. Fifteen years later, he is no longer just a chef but a bona fide worldwide brand; a million-selling author, with multiple Michelin stars, an ever-expanding restaurant empire and, thanks to his pull-no-punches persona, a highly paid global TV phenomenon into the bargain (his shows are syndicated to 125 countries.) Today, however, the superstar is willingly reduced to Ferrari fan-boy. From the moment the Lancia people-carrier decants him at the old entrance, flanked by the famous ochre two-storey buildings, he’s clearly in his element. We tour the production line, where we make halting progress, such is his popularity with the workforce. Two GTOs and other precious Ferrari jewels await in the Classiche building, including an archive containing the original technical drawings for every Ferrari, right back to the earliest 125 S model. ‘What an amazing artefact,’Ramsay says under his breath, as he cradles the manuscript gently in his hands as though it were an authentic Da Vinci drawing. He’s introduced to the Tailor-made programme, and is intrigued to hear about the special projects division while wandering through the design centre. The Corse Clienti F1 and XX cars are as awesome as ever. After which there’s a prolonged pit-stop at the Ferrari staff restaurant, probably the best work canteen in the world and certainly the most aerodynamic looking, where staff enjoy cucina emiliana like tortellini and tagliatelle al ragù. Photography with the Ferrari canteen’s thrilled chefs completed, we repair to the Chairman’s private dining room. Given that he is currently one of the judges on TV ratings behemoth Masterchef in the United States, one can only imagine what terror his presence is wreaking in the kitchen. Thankfully, lunch is genuinely excellent, though it’s worth pointing out that the off-duty Ramsay is substantially less splenetic than in broadcast spec.But his conversational style has the same energyefficient staccato rhythm. This is a man whosepassion is precisely mirrored in Maranello.
The Official Ferrari Magazine As strange as it is to ask this while sitting here, but… why Ferrari?
Gordon Ramsay [pause] Why Ferrari? If you saw one on the motorway when you were five or six, you never forgot it. It was a spectacle, like magic. So you have that in your mind, and you get on with your career, and you focus and you keep pushing.
My dream was to win three Michelin stars and to own a Ferrari. Driving mine is that unique special time. It’s not eight hours a day. It’s 60 or 90 minutes a week. An absolute release of pure perfection. From starting up, to holding the steering wheel, the cornering, the noise it makes… It’s the quality you get in a Ferrari. The connection. The sheer perfection. I can relate to the car because it’s like
every corner of my kitchen that I’ve gone through, from top to bottom.
TOFM You’re unbelievably passionate about what you do. Can you relate to what you see here?
GR God, yeah. You sense that drive for perfection the moment you walk in, the attention to detail. The processes. Microscopic attention to detail, in fact. Lots of similarities.
TOFM You must be under an immense amount of pressure to keep on delivering.
GR When you’re at three [Michelin] stars, the only way is down. The year we won our first star we had more complaints than ever before. Because everyone was dissecting everything 10 times more. It’s like winning the Champions League or the Constructors Title in Formula One… Every year, you’re scrutinised with greater intensity. I model Royal Hospital Road [Restaurant Gordon Ramsay] on a fool-proof level of perfection: 10 tables, 38 seats, 38 lunch, 38 dinner, Monday-to-Friday. So I can see the synergy between that and what happens at Ferrari, walking around the factory. It’s repeatability, but also you instil that consistency across everything. From taking a reservation to pouring a glass of wine to saying goodbye to a guest, every little detail is critical. Which is why there aren’t 250 restaurants with three Michelin stars. Four in England, barely a handful in Italy.
TOFM How the hell do you do it?
GR Teaching is the hardest thing. To instil that level of confidence in a chef. Getting that consistency from palate to palate. I’m a realist, though. I don’t teach my guys how to cook first, I teach them how to taste first. If they don’t know how to taste, and can’t tell the difference between the textures, they won’t be able to cook and they shouldn’t be doing it.
Their palate would be absolutely shot.
TOFM You must have incredible discipline.
GR I won’t stop until I’ve got something 100 per cent right. I had six months travelling Europe and to the Caribbean; I always wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Broadens your shoulders. Increases your awareness. Learn, learn, learn. It was absolute focus. I cooked in a little brasserie in Paris, when I could barely afford a Métro ticket. All I wanted was to become fluent in French; the more fluent I was, the more I could steal from them in terms of knowledge.
You’re like a magpie taking all these glittery bits from the kitchen, and you store them. But what you can’t do is copy, because that’s just lazy. That’s one thing I admire about Ferrari. They consistently do their own thing, push boundaries. Look at the FF… All-wheel drive. Very clever.
TOFM What’s your take on the so-called “molecular gastronomy” phenomenon?
GR I like the sense of discovery. I always say to people, “go and have fun, but don’t go to eat.” It’s theatrical. You’ve got to be a legend to really pull it off. Heston [Blumenthal]. Ferran [Adria]. René [Redzepi] in Noma. Amazing. Amazing. It’s the ones who don’t orchestrate it properly that are the danger zone. But I’m a classicist. I need to focus on the flavour, find the balance in what I cook. I don’t have the time or desire to reposition in that way. But hey, go and have fun…
TOFM You’re a big personality, and hugely successful. This inevitably generates criticism from some quarters. How do you cope with that?
GR You develop a thick skin. I’ve been dragged through the hedge backwards. But what do you do? Crumble? It makes you a stronger person. Someone said to me, the amount of shit you’ve taken in the press, you’re going to be one wise old man. [pause] I put it into context. The success in the US. The foundations I have. The unity of my family. The team I have around me. I’ve learned to stop taking it personally. Having the failure we’ve had [Ramsay parted company very publicly with
his CEO and father-in-law Chris Hutcheson] has only enhanced the success. You can’t have it all your own way. I’ve made some big mistakes. But f**k me, have I learned. And you don’t make that mistake again. So, it’s a fascinating time.
TOFM Have you learned to let some things go? I guess you have to, or you’d drive yourself mad.
GR Ah, that takes time. I didn’t find that so easy five or 10 years ago. But you grow up. I keep my foot in the real world. And also, I deserve a certain amount of shit. I give it out, so it was always going to come it. [pause] And I would never hire anyone who smoked. Their palate would be absolutely shot.
TOFM Are you a hard man to live with?
GR No. Relatively easy. Switch off. Little quality time, but it’s high quality. I shut the door and I can turn off. Instantly. Like turning off a light. The Masterchef in Maranello. In many ways, it’s a perfect fit. Sitting alongside de Simone in a 458 Italia, Ramsay has mastered the proper racing line round Fiorano within two laps. He clearly has impressive natural ability and determination, good foundations for lasting success. But beyond that, what connects Gordon Ramsay and Ferrari isn’t just an aptitude for what they do, it’s their insatiable appetite for hard work in pursuit of perfection. ‘People seem to think that when you become successful you don’t need the kitchen any more, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without it,’ Ramsay says. ‘Running the hot plate. Gettino behind the stove.’
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine issue 18, September 2012