Gordon Ramsay is no stranger to controversy. It could be argued he’s made a career out of it, as an oft-screaming fixture on food TV shows since 2005. More recently, Ramsay has been making waves more for his choices in an ever-changing political and cultural climate than his temper.
Last year, Ramsay took heat for a pending collaboration with NatGeo wherein the lauded chef would travel the world studying the food of various cultures before challenging the locals to see who could make each dish better. Food personality and chef Eddie Huang chimed in on Twitter with a pretty concise takedown. Huang tweeted, “the last thing the food world needs right now is Gordon Ramsay going to foreign countries showing locals he can cook their cuisines better than they can.” There was some negative press and then the cycle moved on. (In a lesson on the power and dangers of social media, it was revealed that the show hadn’t been filmed, written, or even fully concept-created at the time of the backlash. It’s currently unknown whether there’s still a competition element to the show.)
Over the weekend, Ramsay again found himself defending his brand against claims of cultural appropriation. This time, it was for a pop-up invite-only preview for his new restaurant in London, Lucky Cat. Eater London’s Angela Hui was in attendance and wrote a scathing review of the preview. Hui pointed out the “vibrant” and “Asian” experience was muddled at best. Hui called the preview event “a real-life Ramsay kitchen nightmare.” According to Hui, the dishes served were a mix and match of East Asian cuisines with little to no cohesion, likely due to the lack of any East Asian chefs behind the restaurant (Ramsay and head chef Ben Orpwood are both white).
Last night, Ramsay fired back at Hui for a post she made during the preview on her Instagram feed. According to reporting from The Guardian, Hui allegedly referred to Chef Ben Orpwood’s wife as a “token Asian wife.” This remark brought down the ire of Chef Ramsay (chefs are famously, tenaciously loyal to their teams).
“Critics and reviewers have an important job to do,” Ramsay responded via Instagram. “And it’s important that they are independent and have freedom of speech. However, the slew of derogatory and offensive social media posts that appeared on Angela Hui’s social channels, were not professional.” Ramsay continued that it was “fine” for Hui not to like his food.
Overall, this feels like a bit of a mess — wherein important issues are muddled with personal comments — that, hopefully, leads to a larger conversation about what exactly is food appropriation. Comments on Hui’s Eater article point out that the reception of the preview of Lucky Cat was positive. However, as Hui notes in the last line of her review, “I was the only east Asian person in a room full of 30-40 journalists and chefs.”
Surely, this is a convo that will continue in various forms, as chefs and restauranteurs wrestle with what it means to be creative and to remix longstanding foodways in an age when people feel very protective of their respective cultures and who profits from them.