If Gordon Ramsay speaks in a restaurant, but doesn’t drop an F-bomb, does he make a sound?
Shortly before opening the doors for lunch on Sunday at Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen, the superstar TV chef had assembled his team for a pep talk. And it seemed like we might actually find out.
“Remember, when you make a mistake, think about what you’ve done,” the man known for both his rage in “Hell’s Kitchen” and his encouragement of children on “MasterChef Junior” told the team.
“Don’t ostracize yourself because you’ve made a mistake,” the 51-year-old continued. “Fight back. Come back strong. And never make that mistake again.”
So far so good.
“So on behalf of all of Caesars Palace, welcome!” Ramsay offered, before tossing out an almost obligatory, “Good (expletive) luck!”
Perhaps we’ll never know.
A surprise opening
The newest Hell’s Kitchen had actually opened for business the day before the chef’s speech, in the type of surprise “soft opening” that’s hard to accomplish in this food-obsessed city, even without the involvement of one of the most recognizable chefs in the world. The only indication that it would welcome the public 10 days before accepting its first formal reservations on Jan. 16 were Facebook posts from members of the kitchen staff, and some velvet ropes placed near the entrance.
Two hours before Saturday’s unannounced lunch service, hopeful Ramsay fans were lined up outside. And by the time he made an appearance during dinner service, the dining room was packed with fans hoping to get a photo, autograph or some other souvenir to accompany their dinner — much to the dismay of the restaurant’s executive chef Jennifer Murphy and Christina Wilson, the Gordon Ramsay Group’s executive chef for its U.S. division.
“Christina and Jen told me off,” Ramsay said. “Because the minute I walked in here, we had 300 people swarm up to the (kitchen).”
He did his best to meet every fan in the house, saying it was worth the distraction to his team.
“I had a tear in my eye last night when I walked in here,” he said.
From the screen to the Strip
With the new spot, Ramsay and his team have re-created the Hell’s Kitchen TV experience. “Walking into (the restaurant) for the first time is like mirroring the set from L.A.,” Ramsay said.
The bronze HK and pitchfork that appear on the set every season stand in front of the entrance, with dozens of miniature replicas suspended from the dining room ceiling. When Ramsay isn’t in town, fans will be greeted by a talking image of him on a wall near the entrance. There’s also a merchandise section.
The kitchen staff is divided into two teams, red and blue, each working on its own side of the large, open kitchen. Each team is responsible for different cooking stations, and several menu items will be familiar to regular viewers.
“An amazing risotto,” Ramsay says, listing the dishes he expects to resonate with patrons.
“Pan-seared scallops, incredible racks of lamb, beautiful braised halibut and the infamous Wellington.”
If you can’t stand the heat
While fan familiarity with the dishes and the setting in which they’re served may pack the house, it also may put added pressure on the team.
“The pressure is on,” he says. “Because anything wrong, the slightest detail incorrect, and customers will be going to the hot plate and complaining face to face with the chef about the fact that this isn’t the standard in Hell’s Kitchen.”
Ramsay knows that associating his team with a brand that’s known around the world is “a double-edged sword.”
“At this level, very few make it,” he says. “(But) if they can make it here, then the chance of success long term for them is brilliant.”
Ready for its close-up
The first restaurant with a direct TV tie-in also represents new opportunities for the show and its stars. A kitchen position here has been announced as part of the prize for the current all-star season. The setting was clearly designed with Hollywood in mind.
“My goal is to shoot the finale here,” Ramsay says. “I know Fox, and ITV and Caesars are happy, potentially next year or the year after, to shoot the finale here, live. There’s no greater city anywhere in the world than Vegas to do that.”
Tied for top dog
Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen is the chef’s fifth Strip restaurant, coming after his Caesars Palace Pub & Grill, a Planet Hollywood burger spot, grab-and-go fish and chips at the Linq Promenade and his fine-dining steakhouse at Paris Las Vegas. That ties him with Las Vegas pioneer Wolfgang Puck for the most restaurants on Las Vegas Boulevard — or it will once Puck’s Spago re-opens at its new Bellagio location. (Puck also has an off-Strip restaurant in Downtown Summerlin.)
Ramsay isn’t known for his humility, but a mention of the company he now keeps inspires a certain level of reverence for Puck, who cleared the way for so many of his colleagues in this town — and around the world.
“That guy created the celebrity chef,” Ramsay says of Puck. “It all started with him — that level of show biz, glamour. Look at what he’s done.”
In fact, Ramsay says visiting a Puck restaurant was a highlight of his first trip to the United States.
“I first came to L.A. in 1994 for the World Cup finals in Pasadena,” Ramsay recalls. “All I wanted to do was get to Spago. And I sat there, couldn’t afford to buy any wine, and I sat there and thought ‘This is amazing.’ I asked if there was any chance if I could meet this guy, and they laughed at me.”
Ramsay is also aware that the next superstar Las Vegas chef could be dining in one of his restaurants or somewhere else on the Strip today. And he welcomes them.
“I want somebody coming up pushing me in a couple of years time,” he says. “Who’s the next Gordon Ramsay? Who’s the next Wolfgang Puck? That keeps everybody on their toes. And that’s the beauty about Vegas: It’s highly competitive, (and) there’s some amazing chefs.”