A few weeks ago, I started watching the old uncensored versions of Kitchen Nightmares. This led me to finally watch the short BBC series, Boiling Point. The Boiling Point mini-series followed Chef Gordon Ramsay in his quest to be the youngest chef to be awarded three Michelin Stars. And finally, I then became interested in some Gordon Ramsay cookbooks. I knew he had written a few (lol), but they were more mainstream, home-cook fare. Though, while writing this, I did find that he wrote a book about The Aubergine (the restaurant he left before opening Restaurant Gordon Ramsay), but we don’t have it in the collection. Coincidentally, he has a new effort devoted to his first (and best) location, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay; “Restaurant Gordon Ramsay: A Story of Excellence.” (Typical Gordon Ramsay modesty.)
Starting with “Gordon Ramsay’s Family Fare:” This is truly a love/hate situation, for me. What I love about this book is the concept. The idea is to offer three-course meals (appetizer, entree and dessert) for 4-6 servings. Great idea, good number of servings and most of the meals seem reasonable, though there is a definite reliance on animal-based proteins. (I don’t believe Ramsay has ever been very vegetarian-friendly.) I like that he offers a prep timeline for each meal. Though, one bit made me chuckle: on page 102 he writes “A few days ahead… Order the saddle of lamb from the butcher and the fish (red mullet) from the fish supplier.” I won’t spoil it for you, but do a quick search for some prices, 4-6 servings, on those items. What do I hate about it? Ugh, honestly, so much. The page composition is possibly the worst I have ever seen. It’s taking all my restraint not to let loose a string of expletives worthy of the author when I think of the color combinations on these pages. The reliance on animal-based protein just feels dated. The pictures, while conceptually good, are not always in focus and the colors are too often bland. To end on a good note, the inclusion of a section called: “Five Ways With…” (cabbage, potato, onions, greens, carrots) is really helpful to introduce some variations on the staple ingredients. This feels like it was created by Gordon Ramsay, the celebrity chef and businessman.
On the other end of the visual spectrum, “Gordon Ramsay’s Home Cooking” is a beautiful book. The pictures are perfect, the type is much easier to read (though I would have liked it to be a larger font, when trying to use a book in the kitchen you really want to be able to glance quickly at the recipe). Overall, just a better book, in my opinion. Great bits of information interspersed within short essays that range from motivational “you don’t have to do everything all at once like a professional kitchen” to “ the benefits and reasons for buying fresh.” One bit caught my eye, and if you’re a fan of Kitchen Nightmares, this may trigger a laugh, on page 53: “ Don’t be put off if you see that fish has been previously frozen. It may well be “fresher” than the fresh fish.” Anyway, the recipes in this book just feel more accessible, more attainable by the type of home cook that can’t devote 3-4 hours each evening for dinner. Of course, there are weekend meals in the book, but it is not weighted down with such costly and time-consuming meals. The more I paged through this book and read the recipes (especially the small paragraph of introduction to each selection), the more I fell in love with this book. What put it over the top for me was the section that he chose to highlight kitchen basics. It is a great chapter with motivational and inspiring text. The basic skills he chose; poaching eggs, souffles, roux, omelettes, mayonnaise, chicken stock, vinaigrette, hollandaise sauce and custard. The author explains why he chose each skill and how it can be applied to a variety of purposes. Seriously great book and it feels like it was written by Gordon Ramsay, the teacher.
Now, on to the main course; “Restaurant Gordon Ramsay: A Story of Excellence.”
First, a bit of a backstory: When I was cooking, and the menu was in the overhaul stage or we were tasked with ideas for specials, most of these suggestions would come from dishes you’ve tried and wanted to modify. Sometimes, you would see something online and want to make it “professional.” Lastly, and especially before the internet became ubiquitous, cooks would read cookbooks. (Full disclosure: I absolutely worked in the internet era, but I have always preferred books for my research.) In my opinion, there was one book my first chef and I would repeatedly go back to, not even for ideas applicable to our kitchen, but just for inspiration. Top-level kitchens attain a level beyond providing sustenance, they create art; from the flavors to the colors to even the smells. (A sous chef and I used to joke that we made ephemeral art. Our challenge with each dish was to strive for perfection so the guests could have more enjoyment when they ultimately destroyed our hard work. I felt a slight kinship with Banksy when that work of his was being eaten by the shredder.) One book held our attention, more than any other: “The French Laundry Cookbook.” In our opinion, it was the pinnacle of cookbooks at the time. The photos were incredible, highlighting every facet of the dish and letting it shine. The techniques and ingredients are unfathomable by mere mortals. (Though, there was a blogger who dedicated themself to making every dish in the book.) TFLC pulled no punches, it laid everything out for you. No secrets, just pure enjoyment and appreciation of the dishes.
This is what I expected of Gordon Ramsay’s book. Fair? Maybe not. We’ll see.
“Restaurant Gordon Ramsay” is a brilliant concept. The text on the opening pages, a quick account of how Gordon got to be ready for his own restaurant, is compact to the center of the pages. It reminds me of a dish with the focus being the food at the center and the pristine white of the rim of the plate kept spotless. The photos in the introduction are black-and-white. Then, you get to the first pages of food, “Canapes and Amuse-bouches,” and a tasteful explosion of color as an array of bite-sized portions are displayed on adjoining pages. There is no doubt, this is excellence. As I read and page through this book, I get the feeling Chef Matt Abe was in charge of the glossy food-centric pages, while Ramsay contributed his and the restaurant’s history and vision. I am repeatedly struck by the visual simplicity of a dish, but the underlying ingredients and techniques are so impressive. In each photo I get the impression that a pair of chef’s hands are inches out of frame, having just left after putting the finishing touches of garnish and sauce. Funny observation, on page 172, there is a pickled shallot ring placed over the shard of beetroot, like it had been tossed there as part of a carnival game. It just makes me wonder if even that choice was discussed during the dish’s design.
My overwhelming takeaway from this book is, that even if the dishes are (probably) now designed by Chef Matt Abe, they evoke the spirit of Chef Ramsay. The plates are direct, and the ingredients tend to retain their look; i.e., not a reliance upon foams or gels or changing textures of ingredients. This feels attainable. I know it isn’t, but every dish looks like… food. Beautiful food, certainly, but not some impressionistic interpretation of something we know. This was a joy and an inspiration to read. There are so many ideas that have popped into my head while reading about the dishes. Beyond enjoying it while I have it checked out, I will definitely be making room for my own copy at home. This was written by Gordon Ramsay, the Three Michelin Starred Chef and restaurateur.