Gordon Ramsay's 2009 annus has been nothing short of horribilis. Following allegations in late 2008 of a seven year long extra marital affair, Ramsay seems to have endured nothing but bad news ever since. That could well have something to do with the fact that he split from his publicist Gary Farrow in January, but even if Fleet Street has declared open season on him, most of the stories centre around Ramsay's troubled business empire and declining TV popularity rather than his apparently messy personal life.
In April, Ramsay made the front pages of the tabloids for selling pre-prepared food in his pubs after castigating restaurateur Mick Martin for doing the same thing in an episode of Kitchen Nightmares aired in January. In June, he was described by the Australian Prime Minister as "a new form of low life" after the chef insulted TV host Tracy Grimshaw by comparing her to a pig. Then in July, it was announced that profits for the group had plunged by 90%.
The Ramsay group has lost three senior staff this year including Gillian Thomson, head of operations in May, chief financial officer Nick Fletcher who departed in “mysterious” circumstances (according to the Caterer) over the summer, and in November right hand man Mark Sergeant left to become “creative director” of the Swan Collection. If you believe scurrilous industry gossip (which of course I don't), there are more high profile walk outs on the way.
In October the Ramsay Scholarship was scrapped due to lack of funding and his Kitchen Nightmares TV series was put on hold due to a lack of restaurants willing to take part (hardly surprising given Ramsay's own recent business track record and the number of restaurants featured on the show including Ruby Tates and Momma Cheri's that subsequently closed).
The new series of the F Word attracted just 1.8million viewers, less than a documentary about black holes on the BBC. Subsequent episodes have been pushed back an hour to a 10pm slot and re-edited to appeal to a more foodie audience. To add insult to injury, sales of Gordon's gin, for which Ramsay acts as poster boy were reportedly down by 3%.
In addition, Ramsay has closed a Maze restaurant in Prague and “handed back control” of both his LA restaurant and Gordon Ramsay au Trianon, the latter only weeks after it had won two Michelin stars. He also appears to be no longer involved with Cielo by Angela Hartnet in Florida, although the restaurant appears still to be trading.
No official announcement has been made but the restaurant has disappeared from his website (the same strategy was used when La Noisette closed, see Ramsay Roulette for details. And it now seems that the La Noisette site in Sloane Street has also been quietly withdrawn as an events/functions space as that too has gone from GordonRamsay.com).
Now comes the news of winding-up petitions by the Inland Revenue and Customs against Gordon Ramsay Plane Food and Maze Ltd (petitions against The Narrow pub and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay were dismissed as debts had been cleared by the time the case went to court). If the outstadning tax debts aren't cleared, the restaurants will be closed and assets sold off.
Its perhaps not surprising that Plane Food in Heathrow's troubled Terminal 5 is struggling, but Maze is critically acclaimed and by all accounts one of Ramsay's busiest establishments. Despite the closure of the Prague franchise, there are Maze restaurants in New York and Cape Town with Melbourne and Doha to follow next year.
So while Ramsay can shrug off failures such as the ill fated La Noisette, closure of the original London Maze would come as quite a blow. Sauce PR however have issued a typically ebullient statement, saying that, "In the summer, Gordon Ramsay Holdings (GRH) announced a restructuring of the businesses' finances following short-term cash-flow problems. The company announced it was repaying debts, but it would be a process that would take several months. In the High Court... the judge accepted this was the position and dismissed two of the petitions on the basis the debts had been cleared. She also gave GRH further time to settle the other two debts."
Ramsay might at this very moment be sitting somewhere quiet, newly botoxed head in hands, rocking back and forth, weeping silently, but somehow I doubt it. If Ramsay isn't simply whistling in the dark, and his entire business empire doesn't come tumbling down around his ears before the new year, the gob from Glasgow looks set to soldier on into 2010.
Early next year (the date previously announced on the website of 11 January seems to have evaporated into the ether) the new Petrus is scheduled to open a matter of yards from the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge where Ramsay protégé Marcus Wareing runs his eponymous restaurant that was formerly known as - yes you guessed it - Petrus.
Even if it is just a very expensive FU to Wareing (the pair had a spectacular falling out in 2008 after being inseparable for years, see Ramsay Roulette for details), it will undoubtedly be one of the highest profile openings of the year.
A new, critically acclaimed fine dining restaurant could go a long way to rehabilitating Ramsay's reputation as a serious restaurateur. With apparently dwindling appeal as a TV celebrity chef, it could be exactly what he needs to take him into the second act of his undeniably fascinating career.
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