Gordon Ramsay on his new St. Louis restaurant, tipping, and toasted ravioli

Chef Gordon Ramsay is in town for the grand opening of Ramsay’s Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay (999 N. 2nd), the namesake restaurant located on the eighth floor of the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis. The prolific chef and TV personality owns more than 80 restaurants in 10 countries worldwide and has earned 17 Michelin stars throughout his career. Ramsay’s Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay is the fifth under that banner and the first Ramsay-branded restaurant in St. Louis. The chef sat down at the restaurant with SLM dining editor George Mahe, who arrived with an order of Trattoria Marcella’s toasted ravioli, which is where the discussion began.

It’s always nice when a food guy shows up with food. Well, thank you, first of all, and I do know about toasted ravioli. We’ve been experimenting with them here, but we chefs have a cardinal rule: You don’t mess with tradition. Whether it’s a pierogi, an empanada, a croque monsieur on the Champs Elysees, or these toasties in St. Louis, you can enhance it, but don’t mess it up. Are you going to join me?

No, thanks, I just wanted to offer you something that’s representative of the city. Mmm, it’s comforting, right? The kind of stuff we’d grow up eating back home. Steeped in tradition, and it’s delicious. Would I eat it every day? No. Would I eat it once a week? Absolutely.

Had you been to St. Louis before? I arrived in the U.S. in 2004, so, yes, I had been to St. Louis before. And let me tell you that very few restaurants hold that majestic view [of the Mississippi River and the Arch] that we’re looking at right now. It’s stunning. There’s something unique not just about the Mississippi but about the national park that surrounds it.

Have you eaten anywhere memorable since you arrived on this trip? I try to stay off the radar, but we did visit the terrace at Vicia. The food was exceptional. Michael [Gallina], the chef, incredible guy. Humble, down to earth… The mushroom lasagna was to die for. The pork, we devoured it. Seeing so many people eating outside on that terrace… We don’t have that kind of setup in the U.K. Everyone’s too shit scared of it pissing down rain halfway through dinner.

So why is the Four Seasons such a good fit for a Ramsay’s Kitchen and not one of your other concepts, like GR Steak? Family is high on our agenda. We’ve all seen the devastation restaurants have gone through the last several years, the closings causing breakups in families. [The pandemic] hit us…hard. And so Ramsay’s Kitchen was about a grassroots moment and that trajectory of putting a), a restaurant idea back on the map, and b), having it be family-oriented and family farm–oriented. Ninety-five percent of our produce is grown within a 30-mile radius and that connects us. Chefs have reconnected with the farming industry and understand that the better and closer the produce, the less needs to be done to it.

I thought that Ramsay’s Kitchen was the best of your concepts for the Four Seasons. Right. And it doesn’t need Michelin stars. It needs comfort. People say, ‘Oh, this Michelin-starred chef is coming to town. The food is going to be so fancy.’ No, working on that gooey [butter] cake and understanding what’s going on locally here…the ribs, the chicken, that’s what I have to compete with. And it’s of a high standard. How rude would it be of me to come in with a completely different style? We want to blend in and blend in quietly. Well, we opened the reservation book six weeks ago and currently have 30,000 reservations on the books, which is a record for my restaurants. We had hundreds in here last night. We had 12 pregnant ladies in with their partners, celebrating. One was due today. I thought we were going to welcome our first Ramsay’s Kitchen baby! I was getting hot towels ready. I saw water on the floor, and you know what I was thinking. Fortunately, it was a water bottle that had spilled. But can you imagine delivering a baby here, in between courses?

There are several cities that have multiple Gordon Ramsay restaurants, and I read where “the Midwest has one of Gordon’s largest fan bases.” Would you consider opening another restaurant here? We’ve done our research and would absolutely love to do a Street Burger or Street Pizza here. Something fun and local, definitely.

Which segues into my next question: I also heard that some of your concepts are franchise operations. Could I operate a GR restaurant? You are so experienced—I’d love you to! [Laughs.] But shouldn’t you be ready to go throw a fishing pole into the water somewhere? But if you’re interested in going into business with me and doing a burger franchise, I’m all yours.

Let’s switch gears and talk about mentors. You’ve influenced the careers of countless other chefs, but who are your mentors, not just in the industry but on a personal level? My mentor would go into the walk-in and scream obscenities for a few minutes and come out a changed man. I don’t scream in the walk-in. I scream at the camera. I don’t want my scream to be unheard. But seriously, your upbringing focuses you on how you want to become. Marco Pierre White was an incredible guy. He taught me to put food on a plate like Picasso. What really resonated was when I was in France, lucky to spend time with Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon, and Alain Ducasse, trailblazers who could all present haute cuisine with incredible lightness. Guy was traveling from two Michelin stars to three, which is the most exciting time to be around a chef… [He was] on it, super creative, and innovative in a way that was just breathtaking. You have different mentors at different stages in your life, and I tell this to my team all the time: ‘The moment you think you’re the smartest guy in the room, you’re in the wrong f—king room. Get out. Surround yourself with inspirational individuals that you want to become.’

One of the reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire was said to be “freakishness in the arts masquerading as originality, enthusiasm pretending to creativeness.” How accurately does this describe the current culinary scene, and how do you distinguish, in the kitchen, between this and real originality and creativeness? Alastair Little used to go to the market and write each night’s menu from what he found that day. Next day, same thing. He was a realist, purist… He cooked from the heart and knew the importance of starting with perfect ingredients. I grew up with that mindset and that respect. When chefs stray away from that DNA, they’re f—ked. When they try to be too clever, they’re f—ked. I don’t teach my chefs how to cook; I teach them to taste. Too many chefs cook first, before they learn to taste. You need to know the exact point when something is at its best. Close your eyes, and taste. Know the flavor first, and lock that memory in. Alastair did just that.

You’re an opinionated guy. Do have any pet peeves? You want to know what pisses me off? When chefs smoke. It’s the most disgusting habit on the planet. The worst thing you can do to food. I’ve never smoked in my life. Your palate needs to be recognized as something unique… It’s a tool, a gift. Can you be taught how to taste? Yes, you can. Can you train your palate? Yes, you can.  You can also kill it. I worked with a chef named Christine Hà, who was blind. She went on to win MasterChef. She and I would get the raw ingredients—a double pork chop here, a zucchini there, some snap pea purée… I would close my eyes, and we would both visualize them on the plate, and she would turn around and cook them. The strength of her palate was extraordinary. She’s extraordinary. She now has three restaurants in Texas.

You’re from the UK, but you spend a lot of time in the U.S. So where do you come down on tipping in restaurants? Tips are crucial, absolutely paramount. They should never be a given, and I’m saddened when restaurants include it. The waiters don’t get the thrill of running a kitchen. They’re serving your food and, for me, service is equally as important. They work long hours, and they take the brunt when something isn’t right. When the restaurant gets ripped apart about the service or the food, the waiters take the heat; the chefs don’t. When I go out, there’s a 25 percent service on there.

What three pieces of advice would you give a chef—or anyone—wanting to get into the restaurant business in 2024? First, know your market. If you’re cooking beyond your customers, you’re f—ked. And if you’re full on the weekends and empty Monday through Thursday, you’ve missed the mark. Secondly, don’t shoot too high. My first ever restaurant was a tiny little bistro in Chelsea. I used to beg for Marco Pierre White’s waiting list from his three-star Michelin restaurant… I used to grab whatever I could get, like crumbs from a table. And third, stop worrying about making money. You have to grow a business first—speculate in order to accumulate. Focus on returning customers. Focus on keeping your place full.

You’re a fan of In-N-Out Burger. Do you have any other fast-food indulgences? Ribs. I’m a sucker for ribs, especially lamb ribs. Sweet, succulent, and incredible lamb ribs.

When informed that the interview was ending, Ramsay joked, “Wait, I could spend all day here. We’re doing a franchise together!”

Ok, last question: Would you do this again if given the chance? Sit with you? Of course.

No, get into the restaurant business, become a chef. I’m built for this. My balls are made of steel. You know the French game, pétanque, the one they play with big steel boules? That’s my bollocks.

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