Gordon Ramsay’s Melbourne Restaurant

Unless you’ve been bound up in real news in Australia (e.g. remember Iraq? there’s still a war there), you’ve probably heard the words Gordon Ramsay Lesbian Tracy Grimshaw combined in some unholy fashion with great density. Chef Gordon Ramsay has been in town, stirring up the sort of misogyny that could only be surpassed by a visiting rugby team.

The media is loving it and milking it for a full week of coverage. The Prime Minister has weighed in saying Ramsay’s comments’ “as reflecting a new form of low life” which left me wondering what were the older forms of low life that are of concern to an Australian Prime Minister? Libertines? Footpads? Mountebanks?

Generally when you meet chefs or see them interviewed, their obsession with the minutiae of ingredients and the process of transforming those ingredients into food is evident and inescapable. Any attempt to interview them about nigh on any other topic eventually gets steered back to eating. What is most dismaying about Ramsay’s flight through town is his lack of focus on food and the media’s lack of care.

He’s planning to open an outlet of his Maze restaurant in Melbourne in the Crown Casino complex, and it hardly rated a mention by himself or anyone else. Odds on bets are that it will be doing haute tapas as it does in Cape Town and New York which will lead to an inevitable showdown with Movida. Anchovies at high noon. It is opening in the middle of an economic downturn. These are compelling food stories and they’re not being told. Ramsay seems to be too busy telling dick jokes to talk about food.

This is the outcome of food and television. Food plays a backdrop to human drama rather than a central focus because food alone makes for bad television. To be sure, television can mirror the soft-focus porniness of food magazines or blogs – the panning shots of a steaming meal, wide vistas of a cornucopia of ingredients – but to draw and keep an audience it needs narrative drive.

The narrative of food alone is either recipes or the path from living animal or vegetable to the plate. You could tell these stories almost without human intervention. By themselves, neither of these narratives are engaging because for the former, we’ve had almost 70 years of the “stand and cook” model of recipe TV to be oversaturated and for the latter, most of the public still don’t want to know from whence their food came. If you eat food with a head on it, you’re amongst the minority.

This is how we end up in a situation where we have food television without food. Human drama is the driving force behind food television. It seems that (in Australia, at least), we want chefs who say “fuck” to camera (Ramsay) or game shows (Masterchef). Nobody wants to see the prep chef peeling potatoes in the basement. The prep chef is only intriguing when she knifes someone.

Most telling of this whole foofaraw is a comment by Jason Atherton, one of Ramsay’s chefs, who is also in Melbourne at the moment presumably to begin staffing Maze. In Hospitality Magazine, he mentions:

“Atherton said Gordon Ramsay will spend as much time at the Melbourne restaurant “as the concept needs him”.”

It’s similar to McDonald’s: the concept needs the clown Ronald to make the occasional appearance. (At least, it used to). Gordon Ramsay’s primary qualification is no longer chef, it’s television presenter; the provider of drama against a food backdrop. He still needs the pretence that he cares about food lest the whole edifice and concept behind his restaurants crumble. The concept needs celebrity to survive and give it sustenance. It needs celebrity to somehow differentiate itself and draw in the punters who would never otherwise throw down a hundred dollars for a meal.

It no longer needs food.

8 Comments Gordon Ramsay’s Melbourne Restaurant

  1. Simon Food Favourites

    interesting read. i wonder how he’s new restaurant venture in Melbourne will sustain itself in the long run. in the end i think it’s the food itself which will need to keep people coming back no matter who owns or runs the restaurant. just like tetsuya’s is still running strong in Sydney after all these years because I think there’s attention to detail in the food. i think most of us can’t afford to throw money away at bad food these days.

    Reply
  2. Suzie

    I like your analysis. No surprise that food on TV has to be about something other than the food because food that you can’t taste, that you can’t touch, that you can’t smell is usually incredibly boring. Even the “stand and cook” model of TV show rests entirely on the personality of the presenter – either it is someone people will want to watch (someone with the proverbial ‘it’) or not. It has never been about the food they are cooking. My take on the Ramsay debacle is that, from a PR point of view, he has almost certainly screwed up the launch of the restaurant. Joe Average will stay away in droves and the critics will be more merciless than usual.

    Reply
  3. Phil Lees

    I’ve got a weird affection for stand and cook cooking shows, even if I’ve got very little idea of what the presenter is saying. I’ve been watching a whole lot of Vietnamese cooking shows on YouTube – like this recipe for bun bo gio cua

    I only understand the words for each of the ingredients, but still find it compelling.

    Reply
  4. Sara

    I think Melbourne is a bit too clever for this. Sure there will be some people that go for the celebrity factor, but they are not the people that will keep going back and sustain a restaurant in the long term. Unless it is really really good and not overpriced most Melbourne food lovers will stick to MoVida, Dino’s Deli, Bar Lourinha and other homegrown places. Look what happened to Starbucks in melbourne.

    Food shows that are just about the food are really only going to appeal to the totally food obsessed and not the general audience that the free to air commercial channels need. Personally I loved masterchef, not so much for the food but for what it did for our kids and their attitude towards food. My 7 year old was downloading recipes from the measterchef website and helping shop and cook the food, and more importantly, eating things he would have shunned previously. And the masterclass was a TV highlight of his week. This is stand up cooking but with chefs he came to know through the competition. Although we are food obsessed in our house masterchef made it accessible to kids in a way that The Cook’s Companion and other wonderful books never could. There is room for all types of food shows, although I would prefer they were more about the food and less about the chef’s former life as a failed football player.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *