By Roberta Muir
Football star turned Michelin-starred chef. A Scot by birth, raised in England, now with restaurants in both London and Glasgow. A reputation for being a tyrant in the kitchen, yet with a loyal team of chefs who make it possible for him to maintain a frenetic workload including running a number of the UK’s most highly regarded restaurants, writing cookbooks (five to date) and consulting to companies such as Singapore Airlines. Gordon Ramsay appears to be a man of contradictions. The media love talking about his temper as much as about his cooking, something which clearly annoys him, but which he’s come to realise is part of the media circus that surrounds someone with his level of success. Ramsay is a man driven, believing that the only recipe for success is to work, and to work hard! Sure, he drives his chefs relentlessly, but he asks nothing more of them than he asks of himself: total dedication and a constant striving for perfection. He believes that Britain has brilliant produce, and that skill, dedication and technique can make the most of that produce. With a total of seven restaurants in the UK (with five Michelin stars between them), and two more due to open, as well as involvement in two restaurant in Dubai, and talk of possible US or Japan ventures soon, Ramsay is a man who knows more than a few ‘tricks of the trade’. These are what he imparts to readers in his latest book: Gordon Ramsay’s Secrets.
This collection of over 100 recipes is arranged according to primary ingredient: shellfish, fish, birds, meat, pasta & rice, vegetables, eggs, fruit, baked goods and an invaluable section on stocks, sauces and dressings. Ramsay intends the book to be much more than a collection of recipes, he believes there are groups of techniques that apply to specific ingredients and, by arranging his chapters in this way, he provides a cooking course for the reader. In the introduction, Ramsay suggests: “Work your way through the recipes and you should greatly improve your culinary knowledge and skills.” Gordon Ramsay’s secrets are often quite basic, but not necessarily things the home cook knows. He seems to have succeeded where very few professional chefs can: he has remembered (perhaps with the help of his co-authors Roz Denny and Mark Sargeant) in stepping into the shoes of the non-professional cook, in understanding what they know, and more importantly, what they might not know. He starts by recommending a good selection of sharp knives and good, heavy, non-stick pans. He also reminds readers to source the best quality produce, free-range and organic, where possible, and to treat it with respect.
Beyond this basic advice however is a wealth of kitchen knowledge and basic tips illustrated with clear colour photography. Two lobster tails are tied together, head to tail with flesh-side facing inwards, giving the neat round medallions that grace a salad of poached lobster with potato and rocket. Curry powder and other powdered spices are mixed with salt for sprinkling over fish or meat, as this prevents the spices clumping together and enables the cook to apply a light, even sprinkling. From caramelising bitter leaves and lemon slices to floating olive oil filled ice cubes in chilled soup and cooking meat sealed in a plastic bag to retain all its natural juices, there are tricks throughout the book that will make many peoples’ next dinner party easier and more impressive at the same time. The colour photographs include valuable step-by-step colour diagrams of technique such as tying a rolled joint, preparing a fresh crab and shaping ravioli. There is also advice on special ingredients, from what to look for when buying balsamic vinegar to making a quantity of beurre manié (a butter and flour mixture) to keep on hand for thickening sauces. In the final chapter, Ramsay encourages his readers to take the time to get the basics right (rather as one imagines he must with the apprentices in his restaurants). He stresses the importance of concentrating flavours with good stocks and extracting the essence of ingredients in infused oils.
Rumour has it Ramsay’s considering opening a cooking school sometime in the future. For now however, reading Gordon Ramsay’s Secrets is the best way to learn some of the tricks of the trade from one of its greatest exponents, without risking the heat of his professional kitchen.
Published by: Quadrille Publishing Limited
ISBN 1 844000 37 0