Tough Cookies: Tales of Obsession, Toil and Tenacity from Britain's Culinary Heavyweights

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 May, 2005, 12:00am

Tough Cookies: Tales of Obsession, Toil and Tenacity from Britain's Culinary Heavyweights

by Simon Wright

Profile $255

Tough Cookies, ostensibly, is about four people: chefs Gordon Ramsay (who has several acclaimed restaurants), Heston Blumenthal (of the Michelin three-star Fat Duck), Shaun Hill (of the now-defunct Merchant House) and Marcus Wareing (of Petrus). In reality, it's about five - because Simon Wright writes so much about himself. Wright was the editor of Britain's AA Restaurant Guide until July 2002, when he resigned in protest over the managing editor's attempt to force him to give the restaurant Petrus a rating of four rosettes, rather than the five Wright thought it deserved.

He hasn't lost that confidence in his opinions. Wright will be in the middle of a passage about one of the chefs when he suddenly interjects his philosophy. It's annoying and presumptuous. Why is he drawing parallels between his experiences as a restaurateur and those of Michelin-starred chefs?

Perhaps Wright is too close to his subjects, or maybe he's star-struck. After talking to Ramsay, he gushes: 'I'm exhilarated and thankful. Thankful for the chance to have heard the tale firsthand, thankful that he agreed to give me his time and strangely grateful, for the first time since it happened, that I lost my job because of one of his restaurants.'

As for the 'explosive expose', we've heard - or seen - much of this before, at least with Ramsay, who is the best known of the quartet. Anybody who's interested enough to read this type of book will know about Ramsay's reputation for brilliant cooking, foul-mouthed diatribes at his workers, and his falling out with one-time mentor Marco Pierre White. Blumenthal's love for experimentation is also well known, but Wright misses the opportunity to reveal how the chef creates some of his more innovative dishes. In the chapter on Hill, it takes Wright seven pages to get his own thoughts out of the way and even mention the chef.

The book ends with Wright recounting having to work 'back of house' in his own restaurant, when one of his two cooks was ill. The kitchen goes into meltdown because Wright can't handle the orders coming in. After the dinner, he sits with some of the guests, who say: 'That was a great meal. You know, Simon, it's not been quite the same since you left.' Wright adds: 'Rarely have I heard such nonsense and left it uncorrected.' Tough Cookies isn't nonsense, but it needed to be corrected.