Ramsay flirts with foodies here

Chef Gordon Ramsay in his new Bread Street Kitchen at Marina Bay Sands, a two-storey, 149-seat restaurant that serves Cool Britannia food.
Chef Gordon Ramsay in his new Bread Street Kitchen at Marina Bay Sands, a two-storey, 149-seat restaurant that serves Cool Britannia food.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The Scottish chef knows Singaporeans are not easy to please so his new restaurant gives a "flirtatious insight" into British cuisine

Towards the end of an hour-long interview, Scottish chef Gordon Ramsay lets slip something jaw-dropping and ridiculous at the same time.

The 48-year-old declares he is going to retire in two years' time, when he is 50. He plans to buy a fishing boat and sail around the waters of Singapore and open a chilli crab shack on board.

He says it with a straight face but he must surely be joking.

"I worked my a*** off to understand them... I wanted to tap into their heritage. They kicked my a***. I learnt a lot, like any good chef. You have to prove your worth. So I came, they stripped me naked, made me leave my stars at the airport, made me leave all my amazing Japanese knives. It is something about being vulnerable - it is an amazing position to be in. To get down and dirty and roll your sleeves up, like a magpie looking for silver things."

Chef Gordon Ramsay on the 2013 SingTel Hawker Heroes Challenge at Newton Food Centre. He had to replicate chicken rice, laksa and chilli crab against hawkers who have cooked these dishes for years. He won the chilli crab challenge

The chef and TV personality has 26 restaurants and counting, is thinking of opening a 40-seat, high-end restaurant in Singapore if all goes well. He is also eyeing Shanghai and Beijing because he says he loves both cities.

"Asia has always been my Sleeping Beauty and I want to have more of a presence here. We need to have a proper team and infrastructure, not just stick your name on the wall. Customers are too smart, too savvy," he adds.

There is also a lot of unfinished business elsewhere.

He runs the two-Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay au Trianon at The Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace in Versailles, France.

"I have done everything I have always wanted, but there is one little bit that's eating away at me. Like a wisdom tooth that I am not able to take out," he says. "I want the restaurant in Versailles to have three stars."

In October, he will open a new restaurant in Bordeaux, in the middle of wine country, and is gearing up for it.

"Gastronomy and haute cuisine - the French invented them. The French don't like a British chef cooking in their land," he tells Life! at his new restaurant, Bread Street Kitchen, at Marina Bay Sands. He is in Singapore for the opening.

"I have been told that the knives are out for me."

He takes two butter knives from the table setting and clangs them against each other. "I can feel the French critics sharpening their knives. They'll be waiting for me at the airport to dissect my testicles one by one and pin them up against the door," he says. "Trust me, I'll send you the articles."

He adds: "But I like that. I think that's what has made me the person that I am today."

The father of four oversees a restaurant empire that spans Asia, the Middle East, the United Kingdom and the United States, with seven Michelin stars.

He is also a TV personality, appearing on shows such as Hell's Kitchen, MasterChef, MasterChef Junior, Hotel Hell, Ultimate Cookery Course, Gordon's Great Escapes and Gordon Behind Bars, where he teaches inmates to cook and run a food business.

His TV persona, with the creative insults, the veins bulging out of his forehead, the endless yelling and screaming, is reserved for the small screen.

In real life, dressed in chef whites, he is business- like and thoughtful during the interview.

Asked how Bread Street Kitchen is going to please Singapore foodies, who have well-developed palates and who travel and eat widely, he says he has always been aware of that.

He has known it since his first visit in 1998. At the time, he was one of several guest chefs, including the Pourcel brothers and Alain Ducasse, who were headlining a food and wine event at Raffles Hotel. He had just won his second Michelin star.

"I've been having this love affair with Singapore since then," he says.

"I was 31, excited and after prepping all day long in the kitchen, I went down to a hawker's market. We had our chef's meeting at 3.30am, we were back and forth with the most amazing large shrimp and frogs. We were sat there until 5.30 or 6am.

"Culturally we had tapped into a hidden gem. When we got back into the kitchen three hours later, we found out some of the staff had parents who had stalls there."

He adds: "I have never underestimated the power of Singapore. It's like a tiny quarter of mid-town Manhattan, they get straight to the point. They know good food. This place may seem to have become a hub for tourism, but there are amazing palates who get it immediately."

So he says that Bread Street Kitchen, his two- storey, 149-seat restaurant, will serve Cool Britannia food - a "flirtatious insight" into the hallmarks of British cuisine. The compact menu includes pea soup, fish and chips, shepherd's pie, grilled Dingley Dell pork chop and other comfort food, with some modern twists.

Since he got here over the weekend, he has been tweaking the menu.

"We haven't gone crazy with the spices. The marinade for the fish and chips, in the UK, we season it with curry power. Here we don't need to."

With so many restaurants, how does he keep all the balls in the air? "I work smarter, not harder. There was a time when I was chasing my own tail. I didn't know it until I stopped," he says.

It was the 2008 financial crisis that was the turning point. He says: "That was the moment we navigated out of the recession. From then on, I've worked a bit smarter. I am more picky about entering into partnerships, I'm also selective about where we go. Cut your ties and move on."

The organisation has a fine dining and other divisions. There is an infrastructure with a food and beverage director and development chefs, among others.

"You see only Gordon Ramsay but behind Gordon Ramsay, you see three huge tiers of talent. The pressure's on them."

Despite all this, he has also kept his hand in the kitchen side of the business. He says that last week, he did a full service at his restaurant in Royal Hospital Road at the pass, and then another service at one of his other restaurants, Petrus.

Later this week, he will be in Milan to cook and it is back to London to attend his 13-year-old daughter Matilda's sports day on Friday, and then watch his son Jack, 15, one half of a twin with daughter Holly, play water polo on Saturday. He and his wife Tana also have another daughter, Megan, 16.

Over the years, he has been the target of criticism and some hostility. "The bigger your success, the harder people try to knock you down," he says.

He cites the example of Maze Grill, which opened in London at the site of Aubergine, which he headed from 1993 to 1998.

He says: "The Evening Standard loved it. A week later, (critic) AA Gill from the Sunday Times hated it. The place was full. They review my daughter's (Matilda) TV programme, said it was appalling.

"You are talking about my family, my daughter. It's nothing to do with him."

"You become accustomed to switching off, you become accustomed to thick skin. The core fundamentals, in terms of the quality, my customers, my staff, my family, know me better than everybody.

"You get found out quite early in the industry when you don't deliver the goods and they nail you to the cross. So I can take all that criticism. It just bounces off me."

He adds that theatre, television and movie critics are the same.

"But at the age of 48, I get judged by people who know less about food than I do. Which makes me laugh. In my next life, I'm coming back as a food critic incognito," he says.

"Ratatouille, I love that movie because it was a fascinating insight into how powerful critics think they are and they are nowhere near as powerful as customers. I've learnt that."

We take the conversation back to his so-called retirement plans. He says he does not want to be a "pain in the a***" when he retires. Hence, the crab shack on a boat plan.

How big is this boat then? "I'll let you know in six months' time," comes the rejoinder.

"If I retire in two years' time, I don't have to talk to journalists," he says. "Come on, joking."

hsueh@sph.com.sg

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Bread Street Kitchen, L1-81 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, tel: 6688 5665, open: 11.30am to 5.30pm (daily), 5.30pm to midnight (Thursday to Saturday), 5.30 to 10pm (Sunday to Wednesday).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2015, with the headline 'Ramsay flirts with foodies here'. Print Edition | Subscribe