By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
I love Gordon Ramsay. But not for the reasons you may think.
Sure, he’s a famous reality TV cooking show star whose restaurants have garnered 16 Michelin stars (the third most ever). And yes, his culinary skills and standards still put him at the top of his game. Forbes magazine in 2015 listed Ramsay as the 21st highest earning celebrity in the world. Not bad for a boy who’s first passion was soccer.
I love chef Ramsay because he tells it like it is. He’s tough, demanding and without compromise, the way I was brought up in this business: by hard-nosed, no-excuses chefs who treated me like a child but expected me to work like an adult. But is this still an acceptable and effective way to lead?
Is Gordon Ramsay and others like him ruining our profession?
I recently read an article in the Los Angeles Times in which the great French chef Jacques Pepin expressed his displeasure with the on-screen persona of chef Ramsay. Yes, Pepin himself was tough, rigid, and without compromise. But he was a realist.
In this article, Pepin specifically calls out chef Ramsay for his egregious behavior; his lambasting of his disheveled staff; and his frequent, what can only be described as temper tantrums. While it may make for entertaining television, it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of young, eager, would-be culinarians.
At the opening of the first fine dining restaurant I worked at, I met Jacques Pepin. He was friends with our investor. I was 18 years old and eavesdropping on our chef’s conversation with him. Our chef asked him how he dealt with a young cook doing something wrong. He said with a smirk, “All I have to do is walk up behind them and say, ‘Don’t let me catch you doing that again.’”
Much like the doctor’s right of passage wherein young residents work 24-hour shifts because their chief resident had to do it, Ramsay may be cut from the same cloth, or apron so to speak. After all, another famed—some say outright crazy—chef by the name of Marco Pierre White once famously made a young upstart cook by the name of Gordon Ramsay cry!
But this is no longer an effective method of mentorship. And it’s certainly not attractive to millennials—those born between approximately 1983 and 2000. It was effective for me, but with one caveat: it was simply how it was at that time. It was the only way it was then. You were berated, talked to like a child, and made to feel as though you had no place not only in that chef’s kitchen, but in any kitchen. In retrospect, we actually worked harder and better than most anyone entering the business today.
As recently as 1998, myself and others in one particular restaurant’s kitchen were spoken to in such a manner and with such frequency that, in today’s world, you’d have human resources in your smartphone’s favorites. Or worse yet, most likely in your “recent” list.
But most of us have since learned how to more effectively communicate with each other and our co-workers. Once I reached a certain level of maturity and awareness, I’d tell myself I would never lead a team this way. Ever. I will coach. I will teach. I will mentor. I will not belittle, insult, or throw things.
Given the millennial culture today, what young person wants to come up in one of chef Ramsay’s kitchens, despite his talent? I don’t know any.
I am a fan of Gordon Ramsay. I’ve read from his books and learned many things, but leadership is not one of them.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.
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