Thursday, 14 January 2010

Gordon Ramsay goes East

I seem to be spending a lot of time at Westfield lately. On Monday a colleague and I headed to Jom Makan, one of London's most talked about Malaysian restaurants.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia had flown over specially to promote Malaysian food and culture in the UK, and was welcomed with a frenzied fanfare of pomp and ceremony. A hush fell upon the crowd as a swarm of photographers emerged from nowhere and began snapping away frantically. There seemed a real sense of urgency, as if it were Obama about to give his first address as President.

But something more interesting caught my eye. From across the room I noticed a crowd of people huddled around a blond head. On closer inspection I realised it was Gordon Ramsay, keeping court with a group of adoring well wishers. My heart started beating faster. I have to admit, I have a thing for Gordon Ramsay. I have done for some time. I don't know what it is – the power, the success, the confidence, the charisma, he's just got that illusive 'it'.

I'd chatted to Gordon on a few occasions during my days as a reporter for The Independent. I remember him telling me at his F Word restaurant about the time when he made Cliff Richard do a blind tasting of three wines, including his own. When it came to his wine, Cliff had spat it out, saying it was disgusting, at which point Ramsay delighted in informing him that it was his own wine. He recounted the anecdote with glee, and it made the lead story in the diary page the next day.

I have no such anecdotes to report from Monday night. Something happened and I lost my reporting mojo. My terrier-like tactics deserted me, and I found myself unable to bound up to him. It's a very tricky thing, talking to celebrities – you have to time it impeccably, as it inevitably involves interrupting a conversation. If you go in for the kill too soon you'll come across rude, but leave it too late and you miss your window. It's a paper-thin line I used to navigate with ease.

Ramsay was joined by Atul Kochhar and Angela Hartnett, who had come out to play to show their support for Malaysian cuisine. It's a clever move for Ramsay, who in the same week launched his '100 of my favourite Indian recipes' cookbook to coincide with his Great Escape programme chronicling his culinary travels through India.

Before the speeches started, I found myself directly behind him. A waitress emerged with a gigantic plate of spring rolls. Braving the throng she saddled up to Ramsay and offered him one. A look of horror spread across his face. 'Erm, not right now my darling, but thanks very much. I promise I'll have one later'. The waitress fled, crestfallen. At an event where Ramsay had clearly been paid a large sum to be seen there giving his support, he had very publicly spurned the canap├ęs. The audacity was almost admirable.

My guest and I did the opposite, hitting the buffet hard between glasses of Champagne. The chicken satay, their signature dish, was particularly impressive. Ramsay left in a whirl of flashbulbs. I had failed to make an impression upon anything other than the noodle tray.

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