Getting there

Getting there

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Definitely Not The F-Word

I don't really recall when I first began watching Gordon Ramsay on TV. I suppose it was probably the first season of Hell's Kitchen when I noticed him - after all, he's pretty hard to miss. I know he's controversial, and I've met many people who hate him, or at least hate his TV persona. And yes, he is prone to temper tantrums and foul language on his shows. I however, have always found him handsome (ok, I confess that I've always thought that Willem Dafoe is attractive, and think David Bowie is dead sexy, too, so my taste may be suspect). I understood his bouts of anger as the result of perfectionism. I've worked for perfectionists - doctors and veterinarians in my case - and frankly they are all very similar. I've dodged nasty comments and sharp implements in the workplace, too, so I understood Ramsay's behaviour to be that of someone who wants things done right the first time. Besides, a handsome man can be forgiven many things.

So, I watched Gordon in several seasons of Hell's Kitchen, and then Kitchen Nightmares. When I could I'd watch his shows from Britain, too. Funny thing is, of course, that I don't even like to cook. I like to eat, but cooking is profoundly boring to me. I just enjoyed watching him cook, rage, and look handsome.

As my daughter grew older she began to watch Gordon with me. I know what you're thinking - what about the foul language? Well, she's a pretty bright kid, so I wasn't worried she'd start dropping the f-bomb in front of grandma. She liked Gordon, too - he's a pretty lively character to watch, and entertaining even for kids. We would watch and discuss his shows, and we both became pretty avid fans.

In 2010, just as were in the midst of planning our trip London, along came Gordon and the new season of Hell's Kitchen. The prize this time? The head chef position at the Savoy Grill in the Savoy Hotel in London. Almost immediately a wicked plan began to take shape - we were staying at the Savoy for Christmas. We needed a place for Christmas Day dinner. The Savoy Grill would have a Chef's Table (for those not in the know this is a private table in the kitchen). Wouldn't it be marvelous if we could book it for Christmas Day? My husband was on it straight away. He booked the Chef's Table for dinner (we call it lunch here, but it's traditionally the big meal on Christmas Day in England). There were some considerations - the table was for eight, and there were only three of us, but we would have to pay the fixed price for all eight. Well, once in a lifetime, a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, chef's table, blah, blah, blah - of course we would pay it! So, we booked it, and paid for it all in advance. Normally they don't allow children under 12 at this table but as we were Savoy guests and our daughter is eleven we managed to slide her in - and I suppose paying for 8 people for a party of 3 probably helped.

We arrived in London on December 17th, and threw ourselves into enjoying the city. We had a fabulous time, a wonderful Christmas Eve, and when Christmas Day rolled around we donned some of our finest and wandered down to the restaurant for our 1 pm reservation. When we checked in they initially couldn't find our booking - until we mentioned that it was the Chef's Table. That's when the royal treatment began. As the table wasn't quite ready yet they seated us at the small lounge area and served us a glass of champagne. Santa came to visit our table, and gave our daughter a lovely children's cookbook, and gave me a delightful Jo Malone gift set. Various people began to introduce themselves - the maitre d', the bartender - and then David, the charming Barbadian-born restaurant manager, came over to visit with us.

David introduced himself and explained that our table wasn't quite ready for us as Gordon was still getting it ready, and then went on to ask if we had been enjoying our time in London. Um, hold up, did he just say GORDON?!? My brain went a bit blank at that point - I was pretty sure he had said Gordon. Was in the back. At our table. And then he said "Oh, the table is ready, let's go!".

Our daughter went first, right after David, through the kitchen doors - where she stopped absolutely dead, eyes big as dinner plates. There, standing before her, was Gordon Ramsay himself, looking devilishly handsome and with a huge smile. He looked at her and said "Hello sweetheart, aren't you beautiful?" and kissed her on both cheeks. She looked at me with an expression I've never seen on that face - awe, shock, and a bit of panic. Gordon then turned to me and said "Hello, dahling", and kissed ME on both cheeks. I felt a bit faint and weak in the knees. I couldn't help it - I hadn't expected to meet him, and this was someone I'd been watching for years. Gordon turned to my husband and shook his hand, and then turned his attention back to our daughter. He told her he had heard she was a bit of a foodie, and asked if she would like a chance to cook in the kitchen later. He told her he loved her dress, and she was so overwhelmed that I could see small tears in her eyes. She was completely speechless, so I stepped in and told him that we were big fans from Canada. He told me that he loves Canada, especially Whistler, and that when he'd been in Edmonton two months before he couldn't believe how cold it was. He was incredibly charming - and much larger than I ever expected, tall and broad. And I was right - he is bloody handsome, with a delightful smile. What really impressed me, though, was just how kind he was to our daughter - he obviously likes children, and she was thrilled with his attention.

The moment ended quickly, and we said our farewells as Gordon was moving on to his other London restaurants and to spend Christmas Day dinner with his own family. We met Stuart Gillies, the chef director, and head chef Andy Cook (who went on to cook our steaks personally that day). We were shown to our table, and we had a visit from Santa as well as a private magic show. We cooked our own fish course in the kitchen, and we enjoyed an exquisite meal that took almost 4 hours. Over it all, though, was the fact that we had met Gordon. We learned we had been the very first people to reserve a table at the renovated Savoy Grill. We learned that we should be honoured as Gordon doesn't spend much time at the restaurant, but had come in to visit his staff and meet us. We discovered that his staff love Gordon, and that his TV persona is not the same as the man and chef they know, and certainly not the same as the man we had met. I was touched that this man would take time from his own Christmas Day to meet a family from Canada. I know my daughter will remember that Christmas Day forever.

I've been asked if I have a photo of us with Gordon, and the answer is no. There are many reasons for this - it happened so quickly and was over so fast. And it seemed to me that it must be tiring to always have people wanting something from you - a photo, an autograph. I thought that maybe he'd like meeting someone who asked for nothing. And you know what? I don't need a photo of that moment - I was there. I'll never forget my daughter's face when she saw him. I'll never forget how excited I was, and how I fought to maintain control so I could speak to him and not gush. It's a moment I'll never forget, most of all because it was unplanned and unexpected. It was really one of our best moments in London.

Almost immediately after our return from holiday our daughter began cooking from her new cookbook. She now has an interest in cooking that had never before existed. When I returned to Canada I even went out and bought one of Gordon's cookbooks. As I mentioned I'm not much of a cook - but you know,
maybe, just maybe, I'll give it a try. Just for Gordon. He's a lovely man, really. And he never uttered a single f-word, either.

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