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Humble Pie by Gordon Ramsay
This is Gordon Ramsay’s autobiography. The audio version is narrated by Gordon himself, which makes the book even more insightful and personal. What stood out to me the most was this. There were so many times that he left a good position at, or near, the top spot in a restaurant to go somewhere else to learn and develop his skills as a chef. He kept giving up his title, comfort, and pay in order to start at the bottom working under a new chef. He constantly pursued opportunities to work with the best chefs and at the best restaurants in the world.
I think you will enjoy this book if you like watching any of Gordon Ramsay’s television shows, are interested in the food and restaurant industry, or just enjoy reading a good autobiography. You can also read my book summary of Restaurant Man by Joe Bastianich for more on this topic from another perspective.
This book was published in 2006 and I hope he writes an updated autobiography to tell the rest of his life story. It is interesting how much his company, and reputation, have grown since this was published.
If you like autobiographies that are narrated by the author, you may also want to read my book summary of Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey.
My Favorite Quotes
- Good food is important. It can be life changing. Just look what it has done for me.
People and Places Mentioned
- Aubergine (London restaurant)
- Marco White
- Martin Dickinson
- J. Sheekey
- Harveys in London
- Alain Ducasse
- Albert Roux
- Le Gavroche
- Guy Savoy
- Joël Robuchon
- Reg Grundy
- Pierre Koffmann
- La Tante Claire
- Marcus Wareing
- The Blackstone Group
- Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road
- Boiling Point (TV Miniseries starring Gordon Ramsay)
- Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s
- Thomas Keller
- Mark Sargeant
- Stuart Gillies
Gordon was never close to his dad. Any time he tried to get close he would run into his dad’s competitive streak. He had a rough childhood to say the least.
As a boy he was never interested in cooking, he just saw it as a chore. His career choice came about by mistake. At age 19 he enrolled in catering college to study hotel management. He never dreamed of becoming a Michelin star chef.
His girlfriend got him a job at a hotel as a dish washer. That was the first time he got the idea of becoming a chef. He was working in the kitchen and was fascinated, he worked “like a donkey” but the time would fly by.
Around the middle of the 1980s he ran the kitchen and 60-seat dining room at a restaurant in the UK. He used this time to read many cookery books. Everyone loved the food there and it became a local hot spot.
His next role was at the Mayfair hotel in London. He worked as second commis chef in their banquet rooms for 16 months. He learned a lot there. On his day off he would work overtime without being paid just for the chance to work in the chateau (the hotel’s fine dining restaurant). This could easily turn into a 24 hour shift if someone called in sick.
He looked up to Martin Dickinson who is currently the head chef at J. Sheekey in London. The restaurant Martin was at back then had won a Michelin Star. That is when he first started thinking of Michelin Stars as the Holy Grail. Martin suggested that Gordon go work with Marco Pierre White at Harveys in London.
When Gordon went to get a job with Marco at Harveys, Marco told him they work so hard there that the kitchen will be your life. No social life, no girlfriend, and terrible money. Gordon didn’t care and took the job because he wanted to learn and gain experience.
Gordon new he needed to spread his wings if he was ever going to become the cook that he desperately wanted to be. He next wanted to study French cuisine. He was offered a job with Alain Ducasse in Paris, but instead took a job working for Albert Roux at Le Gavroche in Mayfair, London.
Working at Le Gavroche he made less money than ever and was starting from scratch in the kitchen. To make ends meet he had to work weekends at Harveys while working at Le Gavroche.
He worked at Le Gavroche for a year, then Albert Roux invited him to work has his number two check at Hotel Diva, which was a ski resort in the French Alps. He went down to an even lower salary there (minimum wage) and started at the bottom again.
In France they wasted nothing, every piece of food was used. It was all about precision and freshness.
He left Hotel Diva and took a job in Paris to work with Guy Savoy. After four months he was promoted to a senior chef position. He was always first-in and last-out. He was allowed a half-day off during the week, but he wouldn’t take it, he would go in and work for nothing. His colleagues didn’t like him and started speaking so fast that he would struggle to follow them. He was homesick, isolated, and homesick. Guy saw this and stepped in as a father figure and encouraged him.
After working for Guy Savoy for a year, Gordon told him he was going to leave. He was offered the number-two position if he would stay. He knew that he wouldn’t learn much more if he took this position and it would cut his training short. He declined the position and went to work for Joël Robuchon instead.
Working for Robuchon he went right back to the bottom working as a humble commis chef. It was the most famous restaurant in the world at the time. It was as snooty as they come as far as how the employees were treated. It was much more difficult to move up the ranks at Robuchon, impossible according to Gordon. Every section had its own Sous-chef.
Bernard Michaux (Robuchon’s right-hand man) eventually purchased Robuchon. After he took over it went from three Michelin stars to two. Every year Gordon sends him a congratulations card for maintaining his two stars. He imagines him going green with envy like the Incredible Hulk.
Gordon trained in France for three years and then took a position as a private chef for Reg Grundy on his private mega-yacht. He had so much respect for Reg. Reg taught him the importance of looking out for individuals long before he opened his own restaurant.
Gordon next went to work for Pierre Koffmann at La Tante Claire for about three months. He left there shortly after, he took a loan and invested £10,000 (pounds) to become part-owner and head chef of Aubergine. Marcus Wareing was his right-hand man there and was an important member of Gordon Ramsay Holdings at the time of this book’s writing. Aubergine turned out to be the greatest training ground for chefs in Britain.
At Aubergine, Gordon was focused on excellence and control. He wasn’t interested in cloning himself to start more restaurants.
Gordon got his first Michelin star in 1995, 14-months after opening Aubergine. Two years later he got his second in 1997. They were awarded a third star in 2001.
Gordon was contacted by The Blackstone Group about starting a restaurant in one of their hotels. Gordon said that The Blackstone Group partnership helped “fly them to the stars.”
In 1998 he opened Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road with funding from The Blackstone Group.
While at Aubergine he was approached by a production company to film the show Boiling Point. For anyone who wonders how stressful this period in his life was, Gordon recommends watching this show from 1999. Here is the show on YouTube.
Gordon says that losing a Michelin star would be like death to him. He wants to have as many as Alain Ducasse who has the most of any chef (20) at the time of this writing. He knew that winning his third start meant that better and better things were around the corner.
Shortly after being awarded his third Michelin star, he developed a relationship with The Blackstone Group and the Claridge’s Hotel. This relationship lasted many years, it took them into Europe and the United States, and guaranteed Gordon Ramsey Holdings a turnover in excess of one-billion dollars over the next ten years. This led to the opening of Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in 2001. Gordon personally chose all of the china, glassware, and cutlery for the Claridge’s restaurant.
The one chef’s table at Claridge’s can generate one-million pounds in revenue per year for his company.
All chefs that work for Gordon have worked for him for years, they have worked their way up the ranks and he trusts them implicitly. He effectively runs the best training school in the business. The same people do the cooking whether he is at the restaurant or not.
One thing that really makes Gordon explode in the kitchen is lies. A chef can make a cooking mistake and it doesn’t bother him. What really upsets him is when they lie about it. They aren’t just lying to Gordon, they are lying to the customers, and he can’t stand that.
The second thing that Gordon can’t stand is dirty cooks. He wants clean cooks with clean trousers, clean nails, and clean hair. He wants his chefs to take pride in their appearance. If they take pride in how they look, they will take pride in how they cook. All of his chefs are immaculate no matter how hot the kitchen or how long the shift they have been working.
The third thing Gordon can’t stand is clock watchers. There is no room for clock watchers in the kitchen. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been working 20 hours, so what. Stop looking at the clock. A clock watcher is someone who is more interested in catching the last bus than in serving the last table. Many times Gordon would have to walk home from Paris and still have to be the first one back in the kitchen the next day.
The final thing that Gordon despises above all else is a fat chef. He was a fat chef when he was younger, that is why he started running. He couldn’t even play squash for 15 minutes without losing his breath. He has run many marathons since that time.
Gordon can tell within a day if a new cook is going to cut the mustard or not. Within a week he can identify whether they will be with him for two years or five. If someone is not going to cut it, they are usually gone within a month.
The easiest way for a new chef to impress Gordon is with their seasoning. That gives him a real indication of how good their palate is. If you can’t season the food you are cooking, you’re lost.
According to Gordon, he often says things just to get a rise out of people. You shouldn’t take every word he utters at face-value.
At the time of writing, he was still working at Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road for 3-4 nights and 3-4 lunches every week. The restaurant only has twelve tables, forty seats total. It is closed on weekends. It is systematical and foolproof. It’s like eating inside of a Chanel handbag. It is bespoke food for discerning clients. They turnover 3 million per year and make 500-750k per year profit. The waiting list for a single week is 30-40 tables long, at that point they stop taking names for the waiting list. This is his premier restaurant, the jewel in his crown.
Gordon guards against spoiling his children. They get one present each for Christmas. He wants them to understand and value what they have.
He makes it clear to his children that life is about hard work. He tells them he goes to work because nothing comes for free. He doesn’t want them to get hooked on luxury. He wants his children to have choices in life. He wants them to decide what they really want to do and then go for it.
His kitchen at home is where they do all of the shoots for his website and weekly columns. It cost £500,000 (pounds) and includes a main oven the size of a car which cost £67,000. It also has two dishwashers.
Hell’s Kitchen and Television
Gordon had no idea how big the show was going to be. They offered him £40,000 per hour so he earned £500,000 for two weeks of work. He didn’t do it only for the money, but it was a factor in his decision. This was for season 1 of the British Series of Hell’s Kitchen in 2004.
As filming started he quickly realized that getting the celebrities to cook at a high level was a much larger task than he expected. He was not happy that the production people allowed the contestants to drink a lot late at night. The celebrities were being paid £25,000-30,000 for being on the show. They were lazy and didn’t want him to pick on them. His guys work a year to earn that kind of money. He treated the contestants like cooks, not like celebrities.
The real problem with the show is that the producers were only concerned about making a reality TV program. Gordon was attempting to run a proper fine-dining restaurant. Gordon felt that his reputation was on the line.
Gordon walked off the show and refused to come back because people wouldn’t listen to him. The producers eventually agreed to hire prep-chefs to help in the kitchen and Gordon agreed to come back.
Shortly after season 1 of Hell’s Kitchen ended, he was offered a £100,000 retainer to do a second season of Kitchen Nightmares, while also being asked to do a second season of Hell’s Kitchen by ITV, and Fox was also interested in doing the show in America. In the end he decided to accept the offer from Fox to do the US version of Hell’s Kitchen.
Gordon was really pleased with Kitchen Nightmares and was really excited about doing that show. He didn’t like how Hell’s Kitchen (the British version) made him look. The reason he agreed to do the same show in America is because Fox did it without using celebrities. The contestants were members of the public who seriously wanted to cook.
Gordon owns about 3,500 cookbooks (at the time of writing). He uses cookbooks himself and says it is a myth that chef’s don’t use cookbooks. He picks up cookbooks everywhere he goes and uses them for inspiration and learns from them. He especially likes cookbooks from Elisabeth David, French Provincial Cooking is one for reference. He especially likes older ones like Escoffier which is from 1969 and has 2,973 recipes. Amazon also has the Escoffier Second Edition available.
For the home cook, Gordon recommends Nigel Slater cookbooks. He has a timeless quality and he is good beyond belief. Here are a few from Amazon:
- Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food
- The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater
- Greenfeast: Spring, Summer
When naming a restaurant, he looks for a name that rolls off the lips. It has to be completely memorable without being too difficult. He thinks Nobu has been very clever in that sense. You want a name that is known all over the world.
There will never be a day when he has enough restaurants in his group or enough Michelin Stars under his belt. The Gordon Ramsay group is not a chain, it is fantastic collection of individual talents.
Gordon’s goal is to have three sets of three Michelin Star restaurants like Alain Ducasse. If anything, he feels like he is lagging behind Ducasse and Thomas Keller. He looks at them and thinks that he has a lot of work to do. All of his guys want the same thing and are chomping at the bit, such as Mark Sargeant and Stuart Gillies.
Gordon is not convinced that people cook enough. We need to get a feeling for ingredients. We need to get closer to what we eat, to scrutinize it more, to love it and pay attention to it.
“Good food is important. It can be life-changing. Just look what it has done for me.” – Gordon Ramsay
Related Book Summaries
- Biographies and Memoirs Summaries
- Business and Leadership Book Summaries
- Restaurant Man by Joe Bastianich Summary
Hope you enjoyed this and got value from my notes.
This is the 66th book read in my 2020 reading list.
Here is a list of my book summaries.