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Temperaments (Mean, Nice, etc.) of Famous Chefs?


johnsmith45678
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Everybody talks about what a nasty guy Gordon Ramsay is in the kitchen. So, I'm curious what you may know about the temperaments of other well known chefs/food personalities? Here's what I'd guess (never having worked with any):

Gordon Ramsay: Will kick your ass verbally. Extremely demanding. But he's really good, and if you can hack it, he will be good for your career.

Marco Pierre White: Probably (obviously) who GR takes after ;).

Rick Bayless: Seems like a really nice guy.

Thomas Keller: Seems quiet and somewhat distant. You know he's unhappy with you if he speaks sternly.

Alice Water: Don't know - seems like she'd be nice.

Mario Batali: Seems to love joking around and going all out, but he's the boss and won't let you forget it.

Wolfgang Puck: Seems like a nice guy.

Bobby Flay: He seems to love having the shit-talking, sarcasm, and joking flowing when he's cooking. Many don't like him - I'd guess his cockiness, mild belittling, ego, ...?

Eric Ripert: Seems nice. And somewhat quiet.

Emeril: Jokes around, somewhat aloof. MIA in his restaurants, from what I hear.

Kerry Simon: Seems like a really layed back guy. Seems like he'd be cool.

Can you expound? Or any others? Any others famous for having a GR temperament?

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  • 2 weeks later...
As far as I'm concerned Gordon Ramsey is a cariciture.

If he is anything like the dickwad he plays on his "reality" show then he has no place in our industry.

The only person on your list who I have actually met is Kerry Simon. First met him briefly about one month ago. Saw him again on Monday when I dined at his new place in L.A. Also, ran into him yesterday.

Nice guy. Friendly. Seemed to be enjoying what he was doing and that people were enjoying his new place.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Methinks there's something wrong with Gordon Ramsay -- he's entertaining to watch, but there's clearly something very wrong with him. I don't mind people using all the words in the English language, but when you constantly hurl abuse at people who work for you, there is either something wrong those employees, or something wrong with you.

For the Hell's Kitchen show, I can accept that those cooks are clueless and deserving of a good talking-to, but in the Boiling Point you see him treat his own employees even worse. Only two conclusion can be drawn from this: his employees are even worse cooks than the Hell's Kitchen crowd -- clearly not the case. The only other conclusion is also the only logical one: that there's something really badly wrong with Ramsay himself.

In Boiling Point he was caught on camera grabbing employees by their collars and physically dragged them away from their workstations, hurling abuse at them and telling them to stay in the corner -- when he was done, they'd meekly shuffle back to the line and continue working. What the holy hell kinda pathological behavior is THAT? And that was just what he did when the cameras were there... The food critic A. A. Gill described Ramsay as a classical example of a bully: he torments those he has control over, but if anyone over whom he has no control comes after him, he gets utterly paranoid.

The initial, British version of Hell's Kitchen featured famous people, including a politician who revealed in her autobiography that she once had an affair with the British prime minister, and Ramsay decided to bring this up to insult her... Since she'd written about it, it wasn't like a big secret or anything -- but it sure as hell didn't have anything to do with her ability to cook.

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In Boiling Point he was caught on camera grabbing employees by their collars and physically dragged them away from their workstations, hurling abuse at them and telling them to stay in the corner -- when he was done, they'd meekly shuffle back to the line and continue working. What the holy hell kinda pathological behavior is THAT? And that was just what he did when the cameras were there... The food critic A. A. Gill described Ramsay as a classical example of a bully: he torments those he has control over, but if anyone over whom he has no control comes after him, he gets utterly paranoid.

An the other hand, his employees seem to be very loyal to him. I remember reading in Bourdain's A Cooks Tour that most of his cooks followed him when he walked out on a job, and many of those he abuses are with him years later, so maybe there is something we are not seeing.

The sea was angry that day my friends... like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.

George Costanza

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There were some truly miserable kitchen moments in Boiling Point seasons one and two. The "nice guy" Ramsay was completely absent in the kitchen. In other shows -- like "Friends for Dinner" -- GR is better. He's all business in his kitchen, but jokes around a bit with Sarge (who definitely took verbal abuse in BP), and shows a great deal of patience (but which show signs they're at their limits) while working in his kitchen while on the phone with the annoying dork who keeps calling him for help preparing his dinner.

When Boiling Point was filmed, I think GR was under tremendous pressure - striving for THREE Michelin stars, having a big and unfavorable loan on his restaurant, competing against all the other restaurants and celebrity chefs, dealing with a lawsuit from Aubergines, dealing with his brother's drug problems, bad press from that bad bosses show, critics (like AA Gill), and other stories which frankly he had only himself to blame (badmouthing that Cherry critic, the Australian food show host, Brambley apples, etc.). The standards for three Michelin stars is next to impossible, and I suppose when clueless employees just off the street threaten to screw everything up by not living up to standards, we'd all get a little ticked, to say the least. But surely there are chefs who have achieved three stars without being so nasty? Perhaps if he trained his staff better, he wouldn't need to berate them so much. However, I think most people (like GR's staff) would rather work someplace that's among the best where the chef may be nasty, rather than some mediocre place where the chef is really nice to a fault. In the former, you'd be challenged to your limits every day and be expected to always bring your A game and you'd probably make a lot more money, in the latter, you'd get bored and be lazy and probably earn far less. With GR, I'm reminded of many cliches: nice guys never finish, only cream and SOB's rise to the top, it's better to be respected than liked, give people an inch and they'll take a mile (probably one of his policies for dealing with employees), etc. I don't feel sorry for a lot of the people GR attacks - especially the critics, who are generally snobby, and never have (and probably never have had) a hard days work.

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One thing i think people are forgeting is that no one forces people to work in GR's kitchen. I mean if it was a forced labor camp or something i would feel bad for them but they all make a choice to be their every day. (in fact its probably a very hard job to get in the first place.) I have worked in a couple of resturants and i will say this, i wish someone like Gordon Ramsey ran everyone of them. He takes the preperation and quality of food very seriously and has little patience for people who dont share his standards. Do you think he cold maintain the same quality of food and service by being a laissez-faire manager and never pushing his staff? maybe but i doubt it.

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Don't want to stray off the topic of cooking, but I think this does pertain to the subject...

I feel pretty iffy about the argument that his employees are loyal to him, and how they're not forced to work for him -- similar arguments could be used about an abusive marriage, and they don't hold water there either.

Being abusive is no more a sign that a chef cares about work, anymore than a husband's abuse being a sign that he cares about his wife -- it's just a sign that he is an abusive person, period.

Is being civil a sign that you don't care about work? Of course not! It isn't a sign that you care more about work, nor are more of a perfectionist either. Towards the end of Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain explains that all the uh, colorful behavior he's described so far, isn't the par for all good kitchens... He then goes on to praise Scott Bryan for running a far superior kitchen than himself, and describes how calm and collected the atmosphere is -- no shouting and screaming, no running around, no nonsense. Just calm, quiet efficiency.

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Bourdain also mentioned that Scott Bryan used to be a yeller and a screamer. In all the kitchens I've worked in, I've only encountered one chef that was a complete asshole. In the rest, everybody gets along enough to work togerther, jokes around, but also usually let the sarcastic insults fly wholesale. But in the high end restaurant kitchens I've visited, everybody was pretty quiet, friendly, focused, busy, and otherwise professional. I think the berating, insults, etc. comes when there's incompetent/arrogant staff that aren't holding up their end. Kitchens are also high-stress environments and there's going to be a lot more venting than in other work places. I've seen many otherwise easy-going people have a bout of yelling and/or throwing stuff from time to time.

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Rick Bayless: Seems like a really nice guy.

Can you expound?

He is.

I had the pleasure of working as a prep cook with Rick and his wife, Deanna, while in grad school about 20 years ago at a California Cuisine inspired restaurant in Orange County. Even back then he had "chops" as they say in the music business. Deanna was a dessert and pastry whiz and was fairly shy. Rick was as you see him on television, energetic, outgoing, down to earth, curious and eager to share. He discussed the menu with the staff and had us all taste the dishes and give feedback. He also arranged for wine tastings for the staff.

A funny story about one of the few times I saw him get irritated. Rick taught me how to make ice cream from scratch, using a bain marie (sp?). I had a great time making a different concoction each night, using various flavorings, chocolates and liquors. One night, I uncorked a good one, so to speak and people were raving over the ice cream. Rick asked me for the recipe, which I didn't have, as I made it up on the fly. As a professional chef, he couldn't believe I didn't write it down.

After they left, Rick was replaced by a prima donna who changed the menu and couldn't be bothered with the rest of the staff.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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  • 6 months later...

Gordon has a new book out - something like "Standing the heat in hells kitchen" - well that was the restaurant name in the show - BUT Hells kitchen is an area in NYC - I believe if I remember right it was the Irish area of Ny - like China Town etc....don't mind being corrected there if I am wrong. But he has an interesting life - can you tell if he is an ass by the book - yeah he is pretty demanding - but if anyone knows a soccer player - he was a pro soccer player -who are the best actors - get tripped and act like someone cuts your legs off flapping around on the ground to draw the foul and when you don't get up and start running the next play - but he is a brilliant chef - I have been reading BBC/UK culinary magazines for a couple fo years now - -Olive, Delicious and Good Food where he is always in there somewhere.

I heard Mario was tough in a kithcen from a classmate and you did not dare "touch"him - But I also had the same conversation with a frioend that externed with Emeril - lots of don't even look up when he is in the room stories. Insecurity if you ask me. If I was as good as those guys I would want to be involved with everyone - because people move on and what great thing to say - I worked for X at X he/she taught me a lot and now look at me!

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I got to meet Bobby Flay, and I must say that from what I saw, his reputation is wrong. Although a bit distant, he was perfectly nice. I would certainly stage for him if I ever got the chance.

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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I had the distinct privilige of working with Thomas Keller for a while. Although quite intense, he is a really incredible person. He demands respect with a simple glare, which can be scary sometimes. He's quick to lend a hand or a little bit of knowledge on a whim.

But, if hes in a bad mood, everyone is in a bad mood. Thomas is truely the heart of that kitchen. Everything revolves around him. Hes extremely intimidating, even when you get to know him. All in all, hes simply amazing. Genius. Prodigy.

-Chef Johnny

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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I have had the opportunity to work with quite a few chefs in the industry for events, stages, etc. over my career, and here is what I have found:

Daniel Boloud- nice guy, but very demanding. At Daniel almost every night, he observes the start of service from the skybox, and then comes down and does a little bit of expo, and station checks, busting mistakes through the kitchen in a stern manner as he goes

Bobby Flay- worked with him for a day, seemed nice enough, but was a little bit messy from what I remember!

Jacques Torres- Seemed too busy to talk to a student at a time, flew his prep in, came late to the event, left early. This WAS right before he opened his chocolate shop in Brooklyn though....

Tom Douglas- seemed very nice to work with, but very clear with his directions and what he wanted

Charlie Trotter- came through the kitchen only once during my weeklong stage. Stopped to look at some of the poulet confit that I was picking. Held a quick pre-meal and talked like he writes, like he wanted quality only. From what his staff said, he isn't around as much as Daniel is, but probably present more than Puck at Spago

Melissa Kelly- Super cool, welcomed me into her kitchen for a week stage with open arms, giving me a walk through on whatever she wanted, and really taking the time to see what I was about, and about chefs I had worked for

Raymond Blanc (Le Manoir, Oxford UK)- very nice, but not super present in the kitchen. I got tapped on the shoulder to work with him on two separate projects during my four months there, each about a week long, and really enjoyed my time with him, although he seemed so busy, his vision was constantly changing

Michael Schlow- Seemed nice enough, but seemed very busy at the time with things going on at the restaurant, seemed distant to the chef's and people at the event

Jasper White- Couldn't have asked for him to be nicer. We were at Sakonnet Vinyards in Rhode Island for an event, and he asked if I would throw a football around with him. I wonder what his day to day is like though....

Hope this helps!

Edited by Tonyy13 (log)

Tonyy13

Owner, Big Wheel Provisions

tony_adams@mac.com

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The thing with gordon Ramsay is that he a highly concentrated version of who he is is shown on the TV. In reality, he is a very charming and caring person - all the swearing you see on tv is purely for that - TV, - it sells, just as Simon Cowell's put downs and nastiness does on American Idol. Sure gordon works people hard and is demanding, but he also looks after people and is a great mentor to many. He has in essence created an academy of excellence, many chefs have come up from underneath his rule to become great chefs in their own right. He teaches his staff the importance of consistency and quality, as well as self-respect. If this were not the case, he would not have taken basically the entire staff from Aubergine when he left, and would not have many of those staff remaining with him from those early day now.

Don't believe everything you see!

If a man makes a statement and a woman is not around to witness it, is he still wrong?

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Charlie Trotter- came through the kitchen only once during my weeklong stage.  Stopped to look at some of the poulet confit that I was picking. Held a quick pre-meal and talked like he writes, like he wanted quality only. From what his staff said, he isn't around as much as Daniel is, but probably present more than Puck at Spago

Hope this helps!

I worked as a guest chef for Charlie Trotter and he is all business, to a fault. He has absolutely no sense of humor and very limited interpersonal skills. We were from the same University and he could have cared less.

During the first seating, including the kitchen table, he blew up after finding some pepper brunoise sitting out. He turned bright red, tossed the pan into the trash and stared down the two garde manger chefs, but never raised his voice.

The team building talk about excellence was somewhat contrived and painful to watch. Nevertheless, his message gets across.

I also know from experience that Mario Batali can consume some serious (volume and cost) wine and can also walk (stagger) out of a restaurant without paying for the empty bottles. Five bottles. His only tip for the waitress was some pathetic pawing.

Tim

Tim

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--I worked as a guest chef for Charlie Trotter and he is all business, to a fault. He has absolutely no sense of humor and very limited interpersonal skills. --

I always figured that guy has a stick up his ass. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during his Foie war with Rick Tramonto. I can picture him near-embolism..."HE SAID WHAT???"

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i've known a whole lot of great chefs, many of them quite well, and they all have a weird streak--in the very best way. it takes someone with an unnatural attention to detail and a really unbelievable drive to be able to cook consistently at that level. it's not the same thing as playing in your kitchen. the main part of being a great chef is not inventing fabulous dishes, but managing and motivating a staff to the level where every member can replicate those dishes perfectly 30 or 40 times a night. along the way there are so many spots where you could easily just let one little thing slide. and that's the beginning of the end.

great chefs are the kind of people who can walk into a 60-table dining room and instantly see the one napkin that is improperly folded, or walk into a crowded kitchen and instantly know who is behind on their prep, or who has gone a little sloppy.

that kind of person just is not normal.

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I have met Jean-Georges.....and he is a very nice, down to earth guy!

And he is in the kitchen cooking, playing around with new recipes, the guy is a bad ass. I respect him a lot. And his chefs that work with him are also really cool guys.

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Ive never worked for any star chefs per sey. Ive worked for some very notable local chefs in the regions Ive lived in though. Ill say that I enjoy working a kitchen where the focus is complete. I dont think a chef should be an asshole, just uncompramising. This goes for anything though. I mean if something is worth doing its worth doing right. Ive also seen chefs who are too friendly and this often leads toa diminished quality of food because there is too much emphasis on having a good time and talking rather than putting up perfect plates.

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As many of you know, Jacques Pepin is a class act in every respect.

My Son approached him on the street just to express his Father's admiration. They went to Jacques' office at the FCI and talked for about an hour. Jacques directed most of the conversation about my Son's film business.

The experience only increased my admiration for Jacques.

Tim

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