By Myles McWeeney.
It is certainly not every day you get Gordon Ramsay cooking up a storm for you personally. Recently I was fortunate enough to meet him in the Ritz Carlton in Powerscourt, when the hyper-busy restaurateur was on one of his rare visits to his eponymous restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at Powerscourt. The space has just undergone an exquisitely tasteful refurbishment, and the menu has also been given a total revamp, and is now much closer to that in Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill in London. It includes well-loved classic dishes – roasted Carbury chicken, braised lamb shoulder, Silver Hill duck breast – with a modern twist, all using the finest local produce.
Beside it is a new Wine Bar, great for a casual tapas-style bite to eat and a glass of wine. Outside, with the most spectacular views of the Sugarloaf and the Co Wicklow countryside, the Terrace offers al fresco dining all year round thanks to the addition of awnings and permanent heaters.
The man himself is really relaxed at the stove, although he told me he doesn’t stand at one too much these days as he’s far too busy. I said I hoped he’s wasn’t going to serve me up the beating heart of a cobra, as he had been on his Great Escapes show filmed in Vietnam and shown on TV the week before. “Nah, don’t worry,” he said. “They wouldn’t take the plunge here at the Ritz Carlton and shell out for six-foot-long live cobras so it’s not on the menu tonight,” he joked. “How about a St Tola Goat’s Cheese Tart and a few scallops with Pea Purée, Broad Beans and Morel Mushrooms instead?” That, I told him, suited me just fine.
As he set about creating the dishes – they took less than five minutes to cook – he admitted he hadn’t much enjoyed the throbbing cobra’s heart. “It’s traditional, the local Viagra, in that part of the world,” he said. “You have to try it if you are a guest and offered it. It’s part of life’s experience. But the rest of the food in Vietnam was amazing, really delicious. There are, of course, no dairy products, so sometimes it’s a real challenge to extract flavours like we can here in Europe.”
Gordon will be 44 next birthday, but when relaxed and engaged in conversation as he was that evening, he looks a decade younger. He’s a physically imposing man, but doesn’t carry an ounce of fat. He’s run 10 London Marathons in his time and is currently in training for his first Iron Man Triathlon, which will see him swim 2.4 miles in the open sea, then jump on a racing bike and cycle 112 miles before running a full 26.2 mile marathon. He’s training really hard for the event, running miles every day that he can with a weighted rucksack on his back.
Doing the make-over of Gordon Ramsay at Powerscourt has been a five-month project. So who will do the cooking when he’s not there? “The same guys as when I am here,” he said. “I’ll be back three or four times a year to give things a bit of a tweak. People are much more savvy about eating now. They know their stuff. They want great food, a great ambiance but not necessarily something stuffy and over-formal. That’s what I hope I and Peter Byrne, my Chef de Cuisine, will be delivering.”
Peter, a true blue Dub, was for more than six years one of Ross Lewis’ most trusted lieutenants as Senior Sous Chef in the multi-award winning Chapter One, one of Ireland’s handful of Michelin-starred restaurants.
About the only time during the evening Gordon’s face took on the thunderous look familiar to viewers of Hell’s Kitchen was when I asked him about his relationship with his father-in-law, who used to be the MD of Gordon Ramsay Holdings until he was fired the year before last. “What can I say? I have a right to a private life. Everything is okay now, and losing £3.5 million is peanuts. The only really important things in life are family and health.”
West Cork Scallops, Garden Peas, Broad Beans, Morel Mushrooms
Serves two as a starter, or one as a main course
4 West Cork scallops
50g garden pea purée
30g broad beans
30g morel mushrooms
10 pea shoots
2 wild garlic flowers
salt and pepper
To make the pea purée, sweat some spring onion in butter until soft, add peas, a little vegetable stock and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Purée in a blender until smooth, then set aside and keep warm.
In a small pot, heat the broad beans in a little vegetable stock set aside and keep warm.
Place a pan on medium heat and add a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Once hot, add the morel mushrooms and cook until tender adding a little butter and vegetable stock to keep moist.
Season the scallops on both sides with salt and white pepper. Place a non stick pan over a medium-high heat. Once hot, add a teaspoon of oil and add the scallops. Let the scallops caramelized for a couple minutes then turn over, add a knob of butter to the pan and finish cooking the scallops in the butter foam.
To assemble the dish, place a spoon of pea purée in the middle of the plate, place the scallops, broad beans and morels around and garnish with the pea shoots and wild garlic flowers.