“I had my daughters filming, shouting, screaming and kicking my ass,” says the 54-year-old merrily over Zoom.
The Scottish-born chef, who splits his time between LA and the UK, used the pandemic-induced pause to get creative, reassess – and try to “imagine we’re going into the ground for the first time, and how we pop up when we come out of this thing”.
To aid that, he started cooking live at the weekends on Instagram all the while being heckled by his kids who would fine him – in honour of the NHS – every time a dish took more than 10 minutes to throw together. And instead of winding him up, the buzz of it echoed the adrenaline he was missing and would usually access in his professional kitchens, which “I didn’t have while the restaurants were closed,” he adds.
He’s now turned those Instagram lives into a cookbook, Ramsay In 10 – a collection of swift, resourceful recipes that give an insight into how the Ramsays cook at home. “I know everyone thinks, ‘Oh it’s easy for you, 10 minutes…’” he admits, but argues it’s all in the prep. You don’t need three Michelin stars and “the most expensive Japanese knives to chop your carrot or finely dice your onion – grate the f****** thing; use a box grater and grate it! Things get done quicker.”
Ramsay just wants people cooking, and is typically no-nonsense about it, right down to a section at the front called “What this book expects of you”, which includes directions like “Read the recipe”.
“I’m an assertive guy, so there’s no bulls*** there,” says Ramsay. “I just tell the truth, and some people say, ‘Well, OK, that’s a bit harsh’ – then don’t f******* ask me if you don’t want to hear it.” The aim though, beneath the directness is to make sure people know how much fun they can have cooking, if they get the basics done first. As Ramsay says, “90 per cent of the battle is in the preparation, and I hate seeing missed opportunities go by, where things are overcooked because [people are] not prepping right at the beginning.”
Ramsay’s kids are never far from his thoughts. He and wife Tana, 47, have Megan, 23, twins Holly and Jack, 21, Tilly, 19, and Oscar, two, and he remembers teaching them the importance of food from the off, including buying his older children turkeys as part of Channel 4 show The F Word. “Tilly must have been three,” he recalls. The turkeys were “to give them the responsibility of understanding how important food is, wasting nothing; from turkeys they went to pigs, from pigs they went to lambs”.
They all know how to cook and host a great dinner party – vital now his eldest are starting to fly the family coop and get their own flats. “Meg’s always asking me to pop round,” says Ramsay, “and I did pop round and the [fridge] seemed to be 90 per cent alcohol in there and very little greens. So she said, ‘Well I haven’t shopped yet, so think of something’. I whipped up a butternut squash, roasted it and then turned that into a beautiful Goan-style curry.”
Two days before we speak, Ramsay was caught on camera tearing up in the Strictly Come Dancing studio after their daughter Tilly performed the Charleston. “I saw her [smart] watch the other day and she burned 5,800 calories, and something like 32,000 steps, training for 12 hours. She preps herself, every morning it’s either toast or porridge, and then for lunch, it’ll be like a chicken salad. And then for dinner, it’s either some pasta, carbs, to load up, but trust me, she’s a little firecracker, she knows how to look after herself,” says Ramsay, the pride palpable in his voice.
“She can stand on her own two feet, trust me,” he adds, describing the Tupperwares Tilly’s been stacking in the fridge the night before training, labelled “11 o’clock, four o’clock, and seven o’clock; super disciplined”.
Ramsay spent his own twenties working 18-hour shifts with Marco Pierre White at legendary London restaurant Harveys. “The only thing we’d have on the way home in the taxi – because we could eat before we fell asleep in the back of that thing – was a Lucozade and a Mars Bar. And that was that, because the last thing you can do at that time of night, is eat,” he says, voice aglow with misspent youth.
At work, he and fellow chefs and housemates Steve Terry and Tim Hughes would snaffle leftover pigeon and beurre blanc sauce “and make our own tagliatelle with this sort of oyster cream sauce and then feed ourselves from all the leftovers that Marco didn’t sell. Everything was so fresh,” he remembers, but “the only thing we’d do when we got home was literally crash, man,” and take it in turns to pay for that taxi they couldn’t believe they were taking home from work.
“You don’t really eat before service,” Ramsay adds. “Any chef would be lying if they told you [they did], because you can’t fill up. You need to stay agile; you need to stay on your toes, and you need to have that hunger to constantly perfect – so we’re the world’s worst eaters.”
Usually, Ramsay can be spotted in reruns of Hell’s Kitchen and Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours To Hell And Back, screaming at woefully horrendous restaurateurs and chefs. But more recently he has been eating, as well as larking about, with Gino D’Acampo and Fred Sirieix in their buddy-holiday ITV series Gordon, Gino & Fred.
They were in Greece together last and “there’s some bloody good chefs on those islands”, recalls Ramsay. “We never give [Greece] the look-in it deserves. It’s almost the ugly sister of France and Italy and Spain. Athens, Christ, some of the ingredients there, and what they do with octopus – there’s no restaurants anywhere on the planet that are as creative with octopus as they are in Athens.”
The food was sensational, but of course D’Acampo and Sirieix “were a nightmare. I mean a real nightmare.” Ramsay shakes his head. “We make it look fun in the edit but my goodness me, you should see what we have to do to get there.”
Does he realise Ramsay In 10 will be going up against Gino’s new cookbook? “I f****** love competition,” Ramsay leans right into the camera, eyes full of zeal, and practically growls. “I swear to God, competition is healthy, right? And he will have his take on his classics. Is it Italian cuisine, again?”
It is. Gino’s Italian Family Adventure, to be exact. “Can you remind him he lives in Hertfordshire not Sicily?” says Ramsay, his tone rich with a scathing-fondness.
And if you’re not tempted by Ramsay In 10 instead… “F*** it, if they don’t want it,” he yells, back on brand, “I’ll buy it for them!” And with that, he’s off cackling.
‘Ramsay In 10’ by Gordon Ramsay (published by Hodder and Stoughton, £25; photography Jamie Orlando-Smith), available 14 October.