Review of 'Gordon Ramsay's Playing with Fire'

Gordon Ramsay's Playing with Fire by Gordon Ramsay

playing_with_fire.jpg This is the second biography by Gordon Ramsay, the controversial and exceptional London chef, continuing on from where his earlier “Humble Pie” left off…or so I would assume not having read the first. This book concentrates primarily on Ramsay's commercial enterprises and the lessons he has learned.

His initial experiences at Aubergine where he was taken advantage of led Ramsay to his gamble with the Royal Hospital Road restaurant he purchased from Pierre Koffmann who Ramsay had earlier worked with at “La Tante Claire”. Koffmann helped Ramsay in getting started to the extent that he held back demands for a portion of the purchase price until after Ramsay was profitable. Ramsay talks about the formation of the “Gordon Ramsay Group” and it's ever increasing portfolio of restaurants particularly their work at Claridge's then The Connaught hotels. It is here where they were forced to deal with not only running a high-end restaurant but also provide food for both the staff and guests of the hotel. But it is a lesson they have learned well as they continue to open more and more restaurants in hotels.

While he talks about his successes he also discusses his failures including his unsuccessful foray at a restaurant in Glasgow which he bitterly regrets but through which he learned a great deal. The effort he describes in opening a restaurant in a New York hotel is quite astounding and particularly the enormous cost in doing so. So many sleepless nights. At the time of writing he was just opening his “Plane Food” restaurant at Heathrow Terminal 5 and, indeed, this book contains a small update a year after initial publication that talks about how successful his £2 million gamble has been.

Though “Playing with Fire” concentrates largely on the restaurant side of things Ramsay does also touch on his rise as a media personality with his numerous television series both in the UK and the US. He also discusses how he has dealt with the money and fame this has brought him including his addiction to fast cars. But the focus in this book is much more on Ramsay's business ventures.

In typical Ramsay fashion he makes no apology for anything. He just calls it as he sees it a candid and often blunt way (of course, expect lots of the “F” word here). Early on he emphasises his compulsion to excel at anything he does with no compromise extending to his restaurants where he believes that perfection in food, service and experience is simply the key. At times this book is a tedious reading as he details the financial and technical issues he has faced over the years but it is also interesting at the same time, a glimpse into things that few will ever experience. Each chapter title has a small tidbit of wisdom under that summarises the lessons learned there such as with the chapter about Royal Hospital Road:

“When the time is right with plans, designs, borrowings and stuff, mix them in a bowl with a spoonful of intense passion.”

It might seem like Ramsay lives in a different world but reading this you realise that while he is working in areas few of us understand his feet have always been firm on the ground. He is canny in not only understanding his strengths but also his weaknesses by surrounding himself with competent staff and retainers including his acknowledged right-hand man Chris, father of Tana, Ramsay's wife. Chris plays a key role throughout Ramsay's rise taking care of the business and keep Ramsay focused. Ramsay is often at pains to point out the others that have helped and continue to help him achieve the success he has achieved including the various chefs that have run his various restaurants including Angela Hartnett (at the Connaught), Jason Atherton (at “maze”) and Mark Askew (at Royal Hospital Road).

“Meeting people with foresight and putting your trust in them is a scary prospect, but sometimes you have to listen to your instincts and trust people.”

Things are definitely all rosy though Playing With Fire ends with high hopes for the future of the Ramsay empire. With the pile of paperwork for future projects looming tall on Chris' desk it seems clear we have not seen the last of Ramsay. Not by a long shot.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2017-02-04

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Date: 2008

ISBN: 9780007259885