Friday, November 19, 2010

An Evening with Gordon Ramsay

I had the good fortune to see Gordon Ramsay in Toronto this week. He's in town for 'Chef's Challenge', a fundraiser in support of women's cancer research at Mount Sinai, but I caught up with him before hand at a private dinner with 500 of my closest friends! The evening started with a one-on-one interview with Chef Ramsay by Cookbook Store manager, and long time friend, Alison Fryer. Contrary to his wildly explosive and fiery TV persona, Gordon Ramsay was actually quite charming, good-natured and playful, bewitching us with amusing anecdotes and personal insights into his life, loves and cooking philosophy.

He is committed to buying local and only features seasonal food in his restaurants, so absolutely no asparagus in January! He is also passionate about helping young chefs become better cooks by teaching them first, how to taste. Ramsay says that only by exposing the palate to excellent cuisine may we learn how a dish is meant to taste — after that, should someone learn to cook.

Ramsay is also an avid traveller, he has to be with all of the restaurants he has around the world. Excited by many of the dishes he's enjoyed on his journeys, he admits to being inspired by others, and taking those ideas back to his restaurants, but not copying the dish verbatim. What's important is making the dish your own. Putting your signature on it. I heartily agree.

Then there's the playful side. Recounting a lovely dinner party he had at home recently with David and Victoria, they all decided after many bottles of wine, to go into the garden for a midnight game of soccer. On went the bright lights illuminating the whole back garden and waking up all the neighbours, and what a sight they saw — David Beckham and Posh Spice falling over themselves trying to get a goal on Gordon Ramsay!

Energetic, engaging and charismatic, Gordon Ramsay has also had his share of bad press. From being the foul-mouthed bully chef of Kitchen Nightmares and the F Word, to allegations about a long term extra-marital affair that tested his marriage to Tana Ramsay, to the rapid over-expansion of this restaurant empire (GBH/Gordon Ramsay Holdings), Ramsay was left with losses of over £15million, a badly tarnished reputation and waning television appeal. 

Of course, none of these topics were brought up in the evenings friendly chit-chat or pre-screened Q&A. Quite the opposite. We all showed up to see the celebrated cookbook author, restaurant magnet and handsome father of three, discuss his fierce passion for cooking, enjoy a lovely 3-course meal made with recipes from his cookbooks and lovingly caress the signed cookbook that we all received as a cherished momento of our evening.

Gordon's Fig and Frangipane Tart
Dessert served at the Gordon Ramsay Dinner 11/15/2010
Serves 4-6

1lb ready-made puff pastry
flour, to dust
1 egg yolk, beaten, to glaze
10-12 ripe figs,

125g butter
125g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
2 whole eggs, beaten
125g ground almonds

To serve:
Warmed honey to glaze
Double cream to serve
Mint sprigs

Pre-heat oven to 400°F.

To make the frangipane, cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl. Slowly add the eggs mixing until fully incorporated. Sift in the almonds and flour and fold through. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes.

Roll out the puff pastry thinly on a lightly floured surface, until about 1/8" thick. Using a small plate or saucer, cut out 4-6 circles from the pastry. Score a 1/2" border around the edge, making sure you don't cut right through the pastry. 
Lift the circles onto a large baking tray and lightly glaze the border with the egg yolk. Smooth the a thin layer of the frangipane over the centre of the pastry.

Slice the figs in quarters, then each quarter in half. Arrange them over the frangipane so that the slices slightly overlap. Dust with a little icing sugar and bake at 400°F until the pastry is crisp and golden, about 15-20 minutes.

Once out of the oven, glaze the tops of the figs with a little warm honey to glaze the tops. Serve with thick double cream or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle of each tart, garnishing with a sprig of mint.