Three Star Chef
by Gordon Ramsay
Publisher: Quadrille, Country: UK
ISBN: 9781844005000, Edition: First, Year: 2007
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Once upon a time, the marking point of a chef’s success was the awarding of a Michelin star or equivalent. The professional recognition and a dining room full of satisfied diners was all that was needed to make your mark on the culinary landscape. But chefs and restaurants have now evolved to a stage where global brand recognition has become a part of the game. Cookbooks featuring the flagship restaurant are a part of that marketing strategy.

Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road is the flagship of Ramsay’s empire, and “Three Star Chef” is his homage to it. As you’d expect, it is a beautiful book that will draw attention whether you keep it in the kitchen or on the coffee table.

The photography is of a high quality and the dishes presented are remarkable in terms of the skills behind them and their presentation. Given the time, skill, and ingredients, this is food that would impress at a dinner party. Ramsay’s words display his customary bluntness when discussing restaurant life in the first half of the book, but change to a more encouraging tone in the recipe section. Does this book, like the restaurant, stand alongside corresponding works by the likes of Thomas Keller, Heston Blumenthal, and Michel Bras? While the Ramsay book matches these others in terms of recipe content and production values, it falls short in that you never truly get a sense of what drives him, his food, and his restaurant.

Full review

Structure of the book

After introductory comments by Gordon Ramsay, and quotes from Michelin Guide inspector, Derek Brown and El Bulli’s Ferran Adria, the book is then divided into two main sections. The first, printed on glossy paper, is a photographic essay about the food and people at Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road. Breaking up the photographs are comments by Ramsay and Tony Turnbull. The second half of the book contains the recipes, and it is printed on matted paper. There are sixteen starters, seventeen mains, and seventeen desserts. Each course has its own section, beginning with a double page showing each dish, with its name and page number. Each recipe takes two pages with the left page containing the name of the dish, comments from Ramsay, and the list of ingredients. The right page has a picture of the dish on the top right hand corner and the instructions. The book then finishes with a section on basic recipes, an index, and the acknowledgments.

About the author

It would be very surprising if you didn’t know who Gordon Ramsay is. But for those of you who only recognise him from his expletive ridden caricature on his television shows, Ramsay is one of Britain’s most talented chefs. He trained under Marco Pierre White, Albert Roux, Guy Savoy, and Joel Robuchon. Later, he built his reputation at the restaurant Aubergine, got noticed by the public in the controversial documentary “Boiling Point”, and since then, built a restaurant empire, earned 3 Michelin stars, released over a dozen cookbooks, and became a television star.

How is this book interesting/special/new/useful?

This was the Ramsay book that I had been waiting for. While early books like “Passion For Flavour” gave us a glimpse of his work in a professional kitchen (albeit modified for home cooks), the vast majority of his books have covered similar territory as the likes of Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. But this book was the one where I hoped to get a view of him as a chef with three Michelin stars.

While Ramsay offers a few opinions on the world of three star dining, but his more interesting comments are on the development of his dishes. As with many other chefs, some of their finest ideas come from a need to improvise. One of Ramsay’s examples was a lack of scallops causing him to experiment with thinly sliced octopus for a lobster salad. The substitution worked so well that he has stayed with the alternate ingredient ever since.

Like most restaurant standard cookbooks, it is only a highly competent home cook who could successfully make the dishes. Even with the skills, a thoughtful selection of the dishes presented is required if someone wanted to cook a three course dinner from it. A dinner party featuring the griddled asparagus with sel de Guerande served with tomato vinaigrette, the slow braised pork belly with langoustine, crushed peas, and Madeira sauce, and the raspberry compote with tarragon cream is achievable with sufficient preparation. However, with the more complex recipes, some of the smaller components could be ignored to make a simpler dish. Ramsay might not approve, but your sanity will be preserved.

Those within the restaurant industry will be keen to see Ramsay’s plating. He uses the natural colours of the food to bring out a feeling of freshness and vibrancy. His entrees generally have a circular pattern to their plating with no single element allowed to dominate. By contrast, his mains put the feature meat as the centre of attention. But it is in the desserts where he excels. The caramalised pear tatin is reminiscent of a painting, the wave design of the raspberry, lemon, and basil millefeuille with milk icecream makes you wonder how he created the shape, while the plum crumble tart with almond frangipane has the eye pleasing shape of a flower.

What problems/flaws are there?

As great as the photography is, I’m not sure there is much point in showing the same photograph of a dish up to three times in the book. It’s also hard to avoid comparing this book to his mentor, Marco Pierre White’s “White Heat”. While the black and white photographs in White’s book imply movement, energy, and controlled chaos, the colour photographs in Ramsay’s book look static, sterile, and posed. It’s hard not to compare the stains and sweat on White to the pristine condition of Ramsay’s whites.

Far too many of his comments about the restaurant and himself seem more like sound bites from one of his television shows rather than a genuine reflection of what he has achieved. You could imagine him saying these exact words to the television cameras as you read, “The minute you send a dish you’re not 100 percent happy with, you might as well go home. Game over.”

At their best, restaurant cookbooks deliver the reader a wide window on the chef and his restaurant. Reading books like Martin Picard’s “Au Pied de Cochon”, Fergus Henderson’s “Nose To Tail Eating”, and Thomas Keller’s “The French Laundry cookbook”, you are left in no doubt about what drives these people and their food philosophies. With Three Star Chef, you do know that Ramsay stands for excellence and quality, but there’s a missing element in that he doesn’t deliver the message on what drives his attitude on food and what motivates him to do what he does.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

Gordon Ramsay fans will love this book, as will those who want to give or receive a coffee table book. Professionals will find some ideas, especially in the area of plating, from it too. In terms of the recipes, buyers need to be aware that the book is about restaurant recipes adapted to the home kitchen.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 3. Recommended – some flaws
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: Likely to be strongly appreciated
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Rating: 4.3/5 (3 votes cast)
Three Star Chef, Gordon Ramsay | 2007 | UK, 4.3 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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