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GORDON RAMSAY WAS IN TOWN RECENTLY, but it was the cool and collected chef and not the television PERSONALITY who turned up. By rory coen

RamsAy-Style at the St Regis

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ack in the early nineties, when my sister was a freshman in college, she got a part-time job working in a kitchen in a hotel that was somewhere between Fawlty Towers and the Palace Hotel on the island of Els Bels. Her responsibilities were modest insofar as she cut vegetables and tried to keep the work areas clear. I was but a pup at the time, but I can still remember the tears and her blind refusal after each shift to ever return to a job she despised, yet return she did. She was an

honest worker, but even at that low level, the temperature was too high for her weak soul. Gordon Ramsay opened up two new restaurants – Gordon Ramsay Doha and Opal by Gordon Ramsay Doha – at the St Regis Doha last year and his mantra, which would probably give my sister chronic nightmares, is deceptively simple: “attention to detail”. You don’t get three Michelins stars by compromising on detail and it’s the sum of all this attention that adds the value he boasts about. Ramsay has this infamous reputation for being a tyrant in the kitchen, of course, but as much as he tries to play it down – he claims Ramsay the Chef and Ramsay the television personality are dichotomous – it’s hard to

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believe he reached these professional heights by molly-coddling his staff. In some small way, when a dish goes wrong, the poor cleaner is probably in some way responsible. Perfection is always on a knife-edge. “There has to be an energy in the kitchen, which needs to be ramped up to get the level of perfection required,” says Ramsay. “Individuals who cook motionless won’t achieve anything in the kitchen. If you’re going to cook and be obsessed with ingredients, then you have to cook from the heart.” Absorbing Ramsay’s passion for his profession, you quickly realize that top-class kitchens must be brutal places to work in, and without an abundance of character and spirit, you’re a sitting duck. Ramsay didn't fall out of the pantry and invent this voracious personality overnight – he’s merely a link in a chain of eccentric chefs probably dating back to the fourth Earl of Sandwich. “When I worked for Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy, I got my ass kicked,” he says. Having interviewed Savoy recently, I was a little surprised to hear the affable Frenchman apparently slandered in such a manner. “Savoy is a granddad; he’s a pussy-cat,” counters Ramsay with a dash of sarcasm, when I call him up on Savoy being anything but a genteel chef. “Ducasse and Savoy are amazing chefs and I am glad they were as tough on me as they were because they made me what I am today. I didn't get into this business to flip burgers and put dressings on Caesar salads. You ask [Savoy] truthfully if he gets upset if anything goes wrong in his kitchen, and what do you think he’s going to say?” But a quick parting shot, Ramsay-style followed; I knew he didn’t want to leave Savoy in such an exalted place: “[Savoy] gave me the biggest telling-off of my career on the back of winning my third Michelin star before him, having been trained by him.” All is fair in love, war and the restaurant business, as they say.

Fierce competition Doha is going through a period of culinary enlightenment at the moment. If it missed out on the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, the Qatar Olympic Committee could do worse than stage the culinary equivalent here. The personalities and the restaurants are already in place. Ramsay is the latest three-star Michelin chef to open up an office here and if that wasn't enough, he trained under some of the others. He claims his in-house head chef at the St. Regis, Michelin-starred Gilles Bosquet, will also reach the top of the profession some day. Sorcerers and apprentices, mentors and protégés – the competition is fierce. “Every chef worth his grain will be here in the next two years. Doha is in the Premier League now and to compete here you need to strive for high standards. I think competition is healthy. People ask me about Ducasse and Savoy, but I say the more the merrier. They have a bit more experience than me, but I’m ready for the challenge. Cooking is going through this exciting resurge at the moment; it’s a very powerful career to have – to cook and to excite customers. The timing of all this is great.” Intimacy “Intimacy” and “Ramsay” are two words I never thought I’d see in the same sentence, but Gordon Ramsay Doha is essentially “a five-star avant-garde dining experience in an intimate setting inspired by the features of a classical English manor” – plenty of off-whites and grays to keep your attention focused on your immediate company. There are nine tables – which will seat between 30 and 40 guests per night. It’s a replica of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on the Royal Hospital Road in London. To give the setting its dues, its look and feel are indeed unique and cosy; it’s rather like walking into your grandmother’s sitting room. “The place is fitted out beautifully,” says Ramsay. “We have some kinks to iron out,

obviously, but I always say it takes a year for any new restaurant to settle down. The owners know that this level of food can’t be done with four hundred guests per week. It’s a special treat really. Maybe something you shouldn't be indulging in once or twice a week – once every two weeks instead." Ramsay was in Doha in January to give guests one of these special treats. He announced himself on ceremony with the set menu – which was QR1,200 ($330) a plate. “We'll start with European lobster and pear salad,” he says. “Main course will be a roasted spiced lamb loin with winter vegetables, and dessert: a soft meringue of vanilla mascarpone with assorted fresh berries and a blueberry sorbet.” You get a sense of what he means by “attention to detail”throughout the meal. As I was tucking into the lobster, our waiter – who was definitely well-reared – asked at what temperature I would like my lamb. "Chef Ramsay recommends rose,” he advised, witnessing my blank expression. I didn’t know what rose meant, but I didn’t feel it prudent to disagree with Ramsay, especially if he was the one finishing off my plate. I saw enough of him on television. Sometimes, even journalists should know their place and keep quiet. A man not endowed with a sweet tooth, I was wondering if I’d get anything pleasurable from the dessert menu. The blueberry sorbet caught my eye at the tail-end of the offering, however, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Let me put this into perspective for you: if you think of two confectioneries you absolutely love – blueberries and vanilla ice-cream for me as it turns out – that work off each other to produce something that's greater than the sum of their parts, then you can somehow gain an inkling into what I experienced. I wanted to go into Ramsay to ask for more, but I saw enough of Oliver over the Christmas holiday to realize that was a bad idea.
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