Tracey Grimshaw is at the top of Gordon Ramsay’s guest list for the opening of his Melbourne restaurant. “Yeah,” jokes the British chef, “her and the prime minister, joined at the hip.” We’re drinking coffee in the green room in between Ramsay’s shows at the Hyatt Sanctuary Cove resort on the Gold Coast. The furore over Ramsay and the Current Affair host’s public spat has yet to die down. Ramsay doesn’t shy away from the subject and claims forthrightly that his “light-hearted jab” was taken out of context. Despite the controversy, hundreds of his fans have parted with $300-plus to see him talk and demonstrate four dishes over the course of a meal. It might seem remarkable, but their respect for Ramsay seems undimmed by the scandal. “We’re with you 100 per cent, mate,” says one punter in a Q & A session. “We’re here for your Michelin stars not the stars you upset,” says another.
“I’m slightly embarrassed by the stigma of the beat-up-slash-witch-hunt it’s created,” he says. “It’s embarrassing.” Ramsay plays down any suggestion of wrongdoing, which is surprising considering the outrage his spat with Grimshaw caused – a slap on the hand from the prime minister, no less, and an onscreen apology to the presenter – and is particularly annoyed that journalists have begun contacting his mother in an effort to trip him up. “What a load of bull**. Like my mum’s going to open me up and throw me under the bus. Pffft. A ratings stunt on my part? Nothing of the sort. I’m just glad it’s been put to bed.”
Back in the banquet room, though, Ramsay has just about everyone eating out of his hand. Most of his fans have travelled, if not from Brisbane then from Sydney or Melbourne, to be here. They’re lapping up the Royal Doulton finery, the gags about giving away the Smeg fridges, the lakes of S. Pellegrino mineral water and, as compere and professed “wine wanker” Ben Edwards notes, the wines from Hardys – at a rate of several glasses an hour.
Ramsay is in full crowd-pleasing mode. He jokes about vegans and kisses nannas. He gets a 17-year-old aspiring chef up on the stage, shakes his hand and gives him some of the cookware off the set, and signs a plate for another fan of just seven.
As he cooks on stage, his team back of house oversees the production of hundreds of Jerusalem artichoke soups with roast shallots, and beef carpaccios with vegetables barigoule and quail eggs. Roast snapper comes teamed with cauliflower cream and shellfish vinaigrette, and the lush coconut panna cotta is paired to winning effect with mango sorbet and coffee essence. Everything is matched with a Hardys wine as well as S. Pellegrino or Acqua Panna water, and the plates go back clean.
Backstage, Ramsay is keen to talk about the version of Maze, his well-regarded London small-plate restaurant, that will mark his first venture Down Under when it opens at Melbourne’s Crown in early 2010.
“What does Maze bring to Melbourne? It’s not for me to say what Melbourne hasn’t got already, but we’re about de-formalising fine dining and injecting a bit of fun.” He shows a working knowledge of Australian restaurants that puts most visiting chefs to shame.
“That’s because Maze has to be about what’s happening in Melbourne,” he says. “It has to fit into the scene, and the scene is highly competitive. I had a great dinner the other night at Cutler & Co, for instance. A very cool place. The tuna was brilliant, the duck was phenomenal. A talented guy in the kitchen and unintimidating surroundings, a cool wine list and amazingly knowledgeable staff. You’ve got Shannon Bennett and your collection of chefs, but why that guy’s not sat at the top I don’t know.” Giuseppe, Arnaldo & Sons and Gingerboy are also singled out for praise, as is The Press Club. “I’d like Maze to sit somewhere between Cutler & Co and Press Club, so you could go there twice in two weeks and not get bored.”
“Handover is on the 15th of March,” Ramsay says, “and we’re kicking off in April.” There may or may not be a documentary-style kitchen talent-search produced for TV to accompany the opening. “Providing,”he adds, “I’m allowed back in the country.”
PHOTOGRAPHY CHRIS CHEN
This article appeared in the August 2009 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.