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Gordon, you're not a moron - so get back in the kitchen

Published 13 June 2004
News Review
570th article

Celebrity-free zone: Gordon Ramsay and Michael Winner at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's (Georgina Hristova)

When I entered the world of top-class restaurants, around 1940, cooks worked in the kitchen. I don't remember them as chefs. I'm certain they never spoke. If they did nobody took a blind bit of notice. As for them being so-called celebrities, this was inconceivable.

Since then we've tumbled downhill. We are now deluged with photographic images in the press and on television of these ridiculous people wearing white aprons. And they are giving opinions. It's beyond belief.

When I was young the word "celebrity" meant something. You were a celebrity if your considerable achievements were known throughout the world.

My friend Marlon Brando was, and still is, a celebrity. Ditto Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe and Noel Coward. People who worked on television were either actors or announcers. No one would have dared to call the actor (I forget his name!) who played Dick Barton, in one of the most famous radio series ever, a celebrity.

Now every nonentity on the planet is a celebrity. We'll soon have celebrity plumbers and celebrity traffic wardens. In order to sort out this plethora of grotesques, they are compartmentalised into degrees of celebrity. A-list, B list, down, presumably, to Z-list and beyond. The word celebrity no longer has any meaning. It denotes neither achievement nor real fame.

I'm drawn to these thoughts while ruminating about my friend the admirable Gordon Ramsay. An extremely nice person with a beautiful and charming wife. Gordon has wandered, I think unwisely, from his real metier as a chef par excellence to become a television buffoon. There are only three three Michelin-starred chefs in this country. I consider Gordon top of the group.

There are thousands of professional smilers, inane autocue-reading insignificants and other motley morons filling hour upon hour of television time. Their pathetic mini-activities are recorded with reverence. Details, which should be of no interest whatsoever to sane people, fill pages of newsprint.

Is Gordon now so infatuated with being a celebrity that he's forgetting the talent which rightly gained him respect? That he could knock up a dinner which was stupendously memorable. When I first met Gordon 10 years ago at Aubergine, he cooked. Regularly. The meal I enjoyed there with my friends Michael Caine and Roger Moore was close to historic.

Gordon was hungry for a Michelin star. I prophesied he'd get one next time the guide came out. He did. I've been to his personal Chelsea restaurant, Gordon Ramsay, a couple of times. Other than nasty bread and the worst cup of mint tea ever produced, it was prodigiously wonderful. But when I went Gordon was in the kitchen. I wonder how often that happens now?

Gordon runs eight restaurants, a new one comes on stream later this year - and he's consultant to a restaurant in Dubai. If I go to a three-Michelin-starred restaurant called Gordon Ramsay, I like to think the boss himself is slaving away over a hot stove. If he's somewhere else - and of course this applies to any major chef - should we have to pay the same for our meal?

Food alone at such places is around £100. You seldom get out for under £250 a head. I would equate this to the art world. If I buy a Canaletto actually painted by the master I can pay millions.

If it's a Canaletto school painting, executed by his highly trained workers, it looks good but the price is a fraction of the real thing.

How often do people have a meal at a famous chef's restaurant where the chef has made any direct contribution? Are we now in the extraordinary position where Michelin stars are handed out not to an individual chef, for his meticulous and brilliant work, but to an organisation where nameless minions are trying to remember what they were told to do?

I should have discussed this with my friend Jean-Luc Naret, super-boss of the Michelin guides, when we chatted the other day on the telephone. I'm glad Jean-Luc got that job. He's perfect for it.

As general manager he opened the rebuilt Sandy Lane with great style. His one Christmas running the place was the best ever. Helped by the fact there were only 50 invited guests and 300 staff.

I'm further greatly amused by the combination of Gordon Ramsay and Claridge's.

I've dined at Claridge's for decades. It's always been the most understated, dignified, discreet establishment.

I wonder how the new owners enjoy being represented by the most foul-mouthed, flamboyant individual ever to emerge from the catering industry?

Not that I object to the f-word. I've been known to utter it myself. But never, under any circumstances, in public.

Winner's letters

A dozen "huitres grandes" at Chez Francois in Sete were probably the best I'd tasted and resulted in my first use of "historic". My memsahib asked, "What did you say?" I explained it was as used by Michael Winner. Her response was "Not that awful man!" My "Calm down, dear, it's only a commercial" Resulted in a silent journey to Montpellier. Formidable.
Nigel Smith, Leicestershire

Today Marks & Spencer is getting beyond its sell-by date, is bloated, pompous and ignored by the fashionable. Yes, D Rimmer was right last week. The now discarded St Michael name is highly appropriate for our Mr Winner.
Mike Simpson, Northumberland

Last week at Gordon Ramsay's Boxwood Cafe the starters were nice but not exceptional. My special lamb main course was tough, greasy and oversalted. In view of Gordon's recent lambasting of the chef at a restaurant in Silsden I was surprised to see our chips were a soggy, congealed pile. The desserts were divine. I didn't complain at the time because I was embarrassed by the constant whining from four people at the adjacent table. But I won't be returning to the Boxwood Cafe.
Jonny Hobman, Leeds

After spending the night walking round central London in our bras for charity we went to the Boxwood Cafe for lunch. Gordon Ramsay greeted us. He was charming and amusing and treated our group of five to a glass of champagne!
Margaret Parker, Preston

I read people dining at the Wolseley take the butter dishes as souvenirs. It's a pity they didn't take the naff plastic canteen-type covers over the food transported from the kitchen. But then the customers probably have better taste than the Wolseley's owners.
Penny Goodman, Stanmore

My son, aged 16, has a temporary job at our local village Italian restaurant as a washer up. I was aghast when he told me the tips provided by diners during an evening were trousered by the management and waiters were given £5 each from the tips pot on top of their wages. The waiters could only keep a tip if it was given directly to them. Anything left on the plate was for the management. Can you enlighten us on this scandalous practice?
Syd Lloyd, Cheshire

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk