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Fish, chips and passion: A few fast hours in the Las Vegas life of Gordon Ramsay

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Snacktime with Gordon: Guy Savoy gets a rare visit from his protege.
Photo: Jon Estrada

“I’m going to get behind the line now where I’m more comfortable. I’m actually quite shy,” Gordon Ramsay says, and of course everybody laughs, because that’s just ridiculous. This is a chef who went on TV and has now reached Oprah-like levels of media moguldom. You know him from his many restaurants and shows and books and products but also from headlines like Vanity Fair’s “How Gordon Ramsay Built His Fame into a Billion Dollar Brand,” or Forbes’ “The Chef That Ate the World: How Gordon Ramsay Earned $60 Million Last Year.”

This isn’t just some guy frying up fish and chips. This is Gordon f*cking Ramsay.

Who then gets behind the line … to fry up some fish and chips. “It’s still a bit early in the morning, so don’t kick my nuts in too much,” he says to some VIP types as he gets into position.

His fourth restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip is his most casual yet, and even though it won’t open for another hour on this November Saturday, there’s a crowd stretching down the Linq Promenade, because everybody knows he’s here. After he finishes schmoozing and posing for pictures with the people in here, he’ll schmooze and pose for pictures with the people out there, and then we’ll get to chat.

Later, I’ll finally get to taste his new food. The chips are fine, but the fish is lovely, hand-cut cod filets that stay flaky and moist while the batter gets crunchy, not just crispy. The curry-mango sauce beats the hell out of standard tartar, and you can get fried shrimp or sausages, too. Also, the peach-ginger lemonade is sublime.

*****

Is it more fun to come to Las Vegas to do fish and chips than it has been to spend time at your more upscale restaurants? Well, yes. Steak [at Paris Las Vegas] was our first foray, and that was incredible. BURGR [at Planet Hollywood] and Pub & Grill [at Caesars Palace] opened up within eight weeks of each other, so we were really up against it there. I was sleeping here seven nights a week and flying back to LA to tape every other day and coming back. So Fish & Chips is a humble departure, and yeah, a bit of fun. We’ve elevated it, made it a little more sexy, made it a little more Cool Britannia and jazzed it up. My mom said to me a few weeks ago, “You’ve got no idea how proud I am that you’ve got your first fish and chips shop in Vegas,” and I’m thinking, sh*t, Mom, of all the restaurants from a three-star Michelin flagship to an amazing brasserie kitchen to Le Bordeaux [in France] last year, you tell me you’re proud because of a f*cking fish and chips shop? And then [she said] she was going to phone for reservations. Trust me, Mom, you cannot book there. There’s no phone. So she’ll come, and we’re going to see Rod Stewart [at the Colosseum] and get fish and chips and walk down the Strip. She’s 70. To get that seal of approval made it so much more worth it.

Ramsay recently opened his first fish and chips shop at the Linq Promenade.

Ramsay recently opened his first fish and chips shop at the Linq Promenade.

You have fish and chips at your other restaurants here, but they’re fancier versions. Is there a different connection with this place and this food? From Blackpool to Skegness to every sh*thole in the country across the crappiest beaches with the sh*ttiest weather in the middle of August or July, you were the happiest young guy at the age of 10 walking down a promenade over the beach across the pier with a bag of fish and chips to go. Those memories are so relevant still, so I suppose I’ve come full circle.

Has your opinion of Las Vegas changed since you opened your first restaurant here in 2012? I think it never got the respect it deserved back in the ’90s, because it wasn’t seen then as a [restaurant] destination or some food capital. I flew my team over this week and told them to have dinner at Bazaar Meat; it’s just extraordinary, really beautiful. It’s as good here as anywhere now, New York, Paris, London—and that’s without all the glamour and magic that comes with Vegas. Chefs are coming here because there are no boundaries, no restrictions ... you have a passport to create. The scene is hot here.

You’ve achieved so much, and yet you’re still described as “the fiery chef” or something silly like that. Does that stuff get old? Listen, it’s passion. If you were to mic up an NBA star and listen to them in the heat of action on the court, it’s no different. I’m never proud of the way I curse, but it’s an industry language. I don’t walk down the street telling my daughter to f*ck off and go to school. I’m just going to blame Fox for not bleeping me more.

If there’s one thing I learned based on my training and the guys I was lucky enough to work with, it’s that if I f*cked up, tell me, and I’ll never make that mistake again. So I’m going to tell them straight. And once you film 274 hours with 64 cameras, of course the editors are going to put the best bits in there.

What do you recall from your first experiences with TV, and how has it changed the way you work in the food business? I was f*cking raw. I was like a devil with nine dicks. I had no idea what the f*ck I was doing, but I was also a man on a mission. I had a documentary crew follow me at the age of 32 [for the Boiling Point miniseries] that turned any light-hearted cooking show on its ass. But it was my attitude—I didn’t give a f*ck, and I was absolutely ruthless. Today, as I’ve matured, I’ve become a little more understanding. But I’m just as demanding, because I have to be. It’s a very selfish game, and then you have to be unselfish to teach [as a chef], so you wear two bizarre hats. You’re the most selfish, obsessed perfectionist that won’t tolerate any inconvenience, and then you have to be the most open, the most generous and the most unselfish in passing the message across.

From left, Megan Jane Ramsay, Tana Ramsay, chef Gordon Ramsay and Matilda Elizabeth Ramsay arrive at Caesars Palace during the resort's 50th anniversary gala Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, in Las Vegas.

From left, Megan Jane Ramsay, Tana Ramsay, chef Gordon Ramsay and Matilda Elizabeth Ramsay arrive at Caesars Palace during the resort's 50th anniversary gala Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, in Las Vegas.

This industry has a downside to it that is not pleasant. Every other year you read about a chef committing suicide or having a heart attack or stroke, and that’s not what I want for my guys and girls. I didn’t get out early; I have one foot in there and one foot out. If anything, it’s more conducting, putting it all together in a way that I’m still learning. It’s like that inspiring table at Bazaar Meat, just absolute refined cooking, the best food in Vegas since I’ve been here, and what do I do? Fly the team in. Scrutinize that, watch it and understand what they’re doing, because it’s incredible stuff.

Are there ways TV has made you a better chef and businessman that you didn’t anticipate? It’s taught me a lot about how to manage different situations. There have been times [like in Kitchen Nightmares, in which Ramsay tried to turn around failing restaurants] when I felt like I was a f*cking marriage counselor, and the problem wasn’t the restaurant or the food; it was the actual partnership. But you’ve got to get all that insight from experiencing it firsthand; there’s only so much you can know until you really start digging deep. ... But it did teach me a lot and also made me understand America so much more, the diversity.

You executive-produce all your shows, and last spring you launched a new, studio joint venture to develop and produce even more. What other directions do you want to take? We’ve been in talks with 21st Century Fox for a scripted, food-related show here in Vegas, and we’re also looking at some really exciting animated stuff for educational purposes. We’ve gone big in that demo and been asked to develop more stuff for kids, and that’s something I want to get behind in a proper way.

Has working on Matilda and the Ramsay Bunch, which follows your daughter and family and their cooking adventures, helped to move you in this direction? I only started reflecting on that last week when I sat down to chat with a director and realized I’ve been scared to go back, to think back to that moment [as a young cook] in Paris in that sh*tty little studio 20 meters square, stinking of damp, begging Guy Savoy for the empty truffle boxes to perfume my room to make it smell less sh*tty. It brought a lump in my throat. The kids’ stuff, the studio, it’s all about finding excitement and a way to get inspired, and watching my [children] grow and pick up on some of those same instincts is a big part of that.

We just had a big dessert challenge on MasterChef Junior where we made them cook without sugar. They had agave and molasses and they were baking doughnuts and seasoning with matcha green tea and finishing them with citrus creme fraiche and making caramelized pumpkin pie with no sugar. It was incredible, and it should be f*cking fundamental—8-year-olds cooking with no sugar. That should be taught in schools across the country. This is so much more important than just what we’re doing on MasterChef Junior. But I never want it to get boring or [turn into] a political thing, so I’m just going to drive it from behind to make them understand how important it is to get them on the right track.

*****

After all the selfies at Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips, we walk across Las Vegas Boulevard to Caesars Palace. Okay, I’m walking. Ramsay’s in a car—he can’t exactly sashay down the Strip without getting mobbed. Turns out Guy Savoy is in town, a rare occasion when Ramsay and his mentor are in Las Vegas at the same time. No begging for truffle boxes today.

Chef Gordon Ramsay appears on the red carpet before the Vegas Uncork'd Grand Tasting Friday, April 29, 2016, at Caesars Palace.

Chef Gordon Ramsay appears on the red carpet before the Vegas Uncork'd Grand Tasting Friday, April 29, 2016, at Caesars Palace.

Savoy and Ramsay are two of the brightest stars in the Caesars Entertainment restaurant family. Last year, Savoy opened a second venue, Guy Savoy Brioche, a quick-serve pastry and coffee counter. Rumor has it Ramsay might take over space for another restaurant here soon.

When we enter Savoy’s kitchen, we’re greeted with wine and paté and oysters and soup. Not just any soup, though. “My first role in Paris at the original Restaurant Guy Savoy was making brioche and this exact same soup,” Ramsay says. “Artichokes, truffles, a little bit of truffle butter.”

He’s eaten here three times, same as me. “It’s the best restaurant in Vegas.” He takes some time alone with his mentor, sitting at the glass-encased chef’s table in the kitchen, sipping Champagne and speaking quietly in French, laughing. Savoy had visited his fish and chips spot the night before and says he loved it. Earlier, Savoy joked about how he didn’t expect the student to get three stars before the teacher. “I never would have gotten it without him,” Ramsay says. “He’s like my father.”

Before I leave this world-class kitchen after eating and drinking with two world-famous chefs, Savoy sums it up for me. “We don’t work for the money or the fame. We work for the pleasure and the fun. The passion.”

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Brock Radke has been writing about Las Vegas for more than 15 years. He currently covers entertainment, music, nightlife, food ...

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