Up Close and Personal with Gordon Ramsay
You were one of the best chefs on Dubai’s scene years ago and then closed concepts such as Verre. What has made you decide to come back?
I had spent 10 years forging a reputation and in 2010 we had to restructure due to the recession. It was a massive learning curve and we used that time to focus, rebuild and make ourselves recession-proof to build something rock solid. We took time out to reposition and recharge, find that talent and nurture it. We’re on that roll now.
Now that Dubai has established itself as a gastronomic destination, do you think that Masterchef will ever do anything here?
I love it here and I’ve got some great ideas for challenges in Dubai. It’s gotten serious and it’s a global heavyweight now, with every Michelin-star chef. From nothing it’s now able to be compared to London – that’s incredible. When I first came to Dubai 15 years ago, they were putting gold leaf on tuna and stuffing raspberries with chives and horrendous stuff. It’s amazing to see how it has evolved.
What’s your though process for creating new recipes?
It’s probably when I’m out of the kitchen because it’s a frantic pace to deal with, and I think that can damage your creativity. I took up triathlons three years ago and having that discipline and quality time to myself with no interference, allows me to think more clearly and adapt the fundamentals of a recipe to make it special and different to everybody else.
Which three ingredients do you think are the most versatile essentials you have in your kitchen?
Chickpeas or lentils because of sustainability and protein, vanilla pods which can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes and I think sweet potatoes, for the same reason.
Have you ever found a particular cuisine challenging to cook?
Vegetarian food. I wasn’t uncertain about it but I just didn’t understand it fully, until I went to Kerala and spent time in an Ashram. Being in India taught me about the integral flavours required to the standard of what I was doing with fish and meat in modern European cuisine. When I returned to the UK, I went to this amazing Indian vegetarian restaurant in Leeds to test my dishes with them and they were brilliant. Being able to match them gave me a huge sense of security and allowed me evolve on that part of my food. That’s when I knew I’d done my homework.
You have such huge hands! Does that make delicate work fiddly?
I’ve got disciplined fingers. Albert Roux taught me how to cook and Marco taught me how to express my visual creativity and put food on a plate. It took me five years to write my 3-Michelin star book in Chelsea on food and presentation but it’s something now that is set in stone. I look at it 15 years later and it’s still just as exquisite and that’s down to a level of discipline and it’s also about the eye. It’s about knowing when to stop and say, right, that’s it.
I talk to Gary Rhodes a lot and he holds you in such high regard and really admires your work ethic…
One of the true, real chefs – and there is a difference between real chefs and TV chefs – is Gary Rhodes. He was amazing at a place called the Castle Hotel in Taunton and when my mum was working in social services I used to save up my money and go down and have lunch at his restaurant. He didn’t know I was coming and he didn’t have any idea who I was but for me he was a great source of inspiration.
How did you begin your career as a chef?
To be honest it was to get away from the hurt. Watching mum and dad divorce and then being upset with the release from the Glasgow Rangers [in reference to previous footballing career]. I got myself into a foundation course in catering and management. The idea was to spend two years in London and then disappear. I was very lucky to get a place in Marco [Pierre White’s] kitchen and it was then that I realised I wanted to be a chef and not a manager.
What advice would you give to an aspiring chef wanting to follow in your footsteps?
There’s no shortcut to becoming a good chef. In order to be the best you have to train with the best – it’s not something that can be self-taught. I didn’t get into this business because I wanted to earn money and drive a f***ing Ferrari. If your knowledge is tucked away and you have that level of discipline and focus for the craft, everything you deserve will come to you.
INFO: Lunch: 12.30pm- 4pm, 6pm-10.30pm Sat-Wed, until 11.30pm Thu-Fri, 12.30pm-4pm Fri (brunch), The Avenues, Atlantis The Palm, 04 426 2626, www.atlantisthepalm.com/restaurants