Who do you hate more, bad cooks or vegetarians?
It’s bullshit that I have anything against vegetarians. I don’t know why people think I do. But I do hate a bad chef. At least you can work with a vegetarian. Not with a bad chef. It’s just too dangerous. It’s like having a donkey on a football pitch. My god, have I met a lot of donkeys!
If you hadn’t been injured at 18, would you have chosen being a professional footballer over being a chef?
I played at Old Trafford this year in a charity match. So I’m in the tunnel with Robbie Williams and we walk out to the pitch to shake hands with Bobby Charlton and someone’s tapping their hands on my shoulders to the beat of the drums – and it was Maradona. Fucking hell, Maradona! Even if I’d been a footballer, I would probably never have had Maradona drumming on my shoulders. So I guess I have the best of both worlds.
So no regrets?
The only regret is that it wasn’t my choice. But if it’s not meant to be… I didn’t want to become a footballer that nearly made it. I wanted to do something I could really get hold of. The better chef I became, the less it hurt that I couldn’t be a footballer.
It’s a long way from the pitch to the cooker…
Fucking hell, yeah! From a pair of shorts to a skirt, ha ha. To be fair, I didn’t have much of a choice. I hadn’t studied very hard at school. Catering was a way of travelling. I could cook on a ship and travel the world. It was an easy avenue. It wasn’t my dream, “If I don’t make it in football I’ll become a cook.” You don’t think like that. You think you’re gonna make it.
Is there kitchen humour like dressing-room humour?
Oh yes. On my first day in this place in Paris, we had this really good paté for staff lunch. Of course, the French hated the German cooks and vice versa. It was the young German chef’s turn to cook. We had these baguettes with a big slice of paté on them. So this German put a slice of paté on a baguette, took his knob out and put an imprint of it in the paté for the French chef and this Frenchman was eating away at this big imprint of a dick. It was hilarious.
Does it bother you that people think you’re an arsehole?
No, I don’t give a fuck. Go into the Ajax dressing room at halftime during a European match that they’re losing and listen to the coach. He won’t be all nice and cuddly, will he? It’s not just the pressure of the game but also the consequences. It’s the same when you’re a chef. You have to think of everything and everything has to be perfect. Your staff, your level of produce, fucking everything! Oh, by the way, you also have to become a good chef in the process. Everything you cook and touch has to be perfect. So, what do I think of people that think I’m an arsehole? I kind of like it actually.
You took Hell’s Kitchen to the US. How did you get away with swearing so much on TV?
I wouldn’t know ’cos I never watch. I made that decision when I started working in television.
Have you ever been asked to tone yourself down for TV?
Fuck no. The network wants a good show, I want to run a restaurant. So I tell them to fuck off and let me run a restaurant and don’t stage anything. And they’ve been good at that.
Do you get nervous at all?
Always. Whether I’m cooking for Tony Blair or my mum. I make myself nervous because of the pressure I enjoy being under. When I’m not under pressure, I’m fucking useless. Pressure is very healthy.
Aren’t you a bit young to write an autobiography?
Wayne Rooney did one at 19. Now that’s ridiculous. But to be honest, I’m frustrated with how wrong people got me. So this autobiography was a way of announcing the truth. It would help my public to understand me better, because I don’t think they get me at all. All they see is the swearing chef and all the glamour.
But cooking is pretty rock ‘n’ roll these days…
Yeah, the image of a chef today is far better than it used to be. But don’t get the wrong impression. You can’t start cooking because you think you’re going to be a millionaire. It’s the same with football – you want to play because you love the game, not because you want to earn £80,000 a week.
That’s not exactly true. Lots of people do want to play football for the money.
Absolutely. But if you’re really good, you will [earn that]. Cooking’s the same. I interview two or three cooks every month. So I ask these guys, “You’re 21, where do you want to be in ten years time?” “I want to have my own TV show.” “Okay. You haven’t got the job. Fuck off.”
How can you still get so worked up after all these years?
Yeah, you’d think I’d be more mellow, wouldn’t you? But the people I work with will all, at one time or another, get a job – just because they worked for me. So I’m firm because I want someone like that to be a good cook. I don’t want them to use me as a reference and turn out an embarrassment.
Is the autobiography also a bit of a charm offensive?
Well, people should understand the pressure. In a simple restaurant, where I would be flipping burgers and dressing Caesar salads, there’s no fucking pressure. But where we are, at the top of the top, it’s a whole different thing and it can be shitty. When something goes wrong it goes wrong big time. I’m also fed up with the tabloids and critics. I’m fed up with being criticised by people who know less about food than I do. I mean it’s awful.
Yeah, but fair’s fair. Most people know less about food than you…
Yeah, but restaurant critics today, what qualifies them? Where do you go to study that? You just have to be a fat fucking bastard and that’s it, right?
Would you fight Jamie Oliver in a celebrity boxing bout?
I’d be finished with Jamie in the first round. So I’d rather go for Vinnie Jones. I don’t know if I’d be able to beat him. He’s a hard man, but make no mistake about it, I’m hard too. Fucking hard.
Has anyone ever lost their rag and tried to lamp you?
They tried four times, but I always caught them. I don’t mind actually. It’s a form of emotion and that means they care about it. If someone doesn’t show any emotion they don’t give a fuck, so you have to tell them to fuck off and go flip a burger.
Big Mac or Whopper?
Are you a fast food man?
I am, but nobody knows. I’ve got black windows and call ahead. I’m in and out in ten seconds. There’s something very sexy about the way they flame grill a Whopper. It’s so much tastier than a Big Mac.
What does a national dish say about a nation?
Well we’ve got deep-fried Nutella sandwiches and Chicken Kievs. But the French have the same shit we do, they just give everything clever names. We have mashed potatoes, they have pommes purée. We have fucking cheese on toast, they call it croque monsieur. You just have to find sexy names for the same shit.
You say that a signature dish says a lot about a cook’s personality. What if my signature dish is a wiener schnitzel?
A wiener schnitzel? Then I’d say you’re a lazy fucker. Come on, you can do better than that. You’re an articulate man, put a bit of finesse in. A wiener schnitzel is like an old fart dish. It’s nice and pleasant but it’s been around a long time. It resembles Joan Collins; fucking wrinkled and depressing.
Do you cook at home?
Every Saturday and Sunday.
The wife never cooks?
Eh, well, I’m going to get in trouble for saying this, but I get a little bit nervous with her food, ha ha.
Original interview by Amir Andriesse in the June 2007 issue of FHM UK magazine