It's nearly 10 minutes into the interview but famously potty-mouthed British chef Gordon Ramsay is disappointingly expletive-free. The tape could go out on any radio station in the world without edits, bleeps or warnings to the sensitively disposed. Is this the same man whose red-faced, profanity-laced tirades have reduced kitchen staff on two continents to blank-faced terror, tears and even violence? Perhaps the rumour that he has banned cursing from his restaurants is true. Ramsay gives a stare that could curdle the creamiest Hollandaise sauce, and I know that first bleep is on its way. 'That was an April Fool's joke by The Independent. It was bulls***. I don't check these things because I'm not an internet buff, and thank f*** for that.' Ramsay is in Tokyo to check on his restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at Conrad Tokyo, and to shake things up. 'It was a disappointment not winning the [Michelin] star last year,' he says. He has since appointed 34-year-old Shinya Maeda as chef de cuisine at the modern French dining venue, the only Asian to head one of his restaurants. One imagines his staff running for cover the moment his jet touched down in Narita Airport, but Ramsay says he retains more than 80 per cent of them, despite the wear and tear. As others have noted, there appear to be two Gordons. Outside the kitchen, he is politeness personified. But surround the 42-year-old with stainless steel cookers, pots and pans and a couple of hapless young commis chefs and he turns into the Alex Ferguson of haute cuisine, a foul-mouthed taskmaster who pushes people to their limits in the cause of three-star cooking. 'I'm a father of four for God's sake. I have a life outside of the restaurant; I take my jacket off and relax. But I work in an industry, like Roy Keane, where when the s*** hits the fan, it hits the fan,' he says. 'I don't go out of my way to swear and I know some people don't like it, including my father-in-law. But I get let off the lead and sent to these restaurants to turn them around, and I kick arse. I suppose my biggest problem is that I'm too honest.' Ramsay's invective and passion for grub in Kitchen Nightmares, Hell's Kitchen and the F-Word have made him one of the best-known celebrities in Britain, and his fame is growing in the US since his Fox TV debut three years ago. His colourful insults are circulated endlessly on the internet: tasteless soup is 'gnat's piss'; bad food is 'rancid' stuff that 'you wouldn't serve to a pig'. In one episode of Kitchen Nightmares, he calls one cook a 'chipmunk' while ranting at him for putting apricots into bangers and mash. 'I was that passionate because it's sausages and mash,' explains Ramsay, in between breaks promoting his Conrad restaurant, which opened in 2005. 'I grew up on a council estate in Glasgow and I ate a truckload of bangers and mash. Let mash be mash. What are you f***ing around with it for? When you grew up with that, you get angry.' The episode encapsulated three of Ramsay's biggest irritants: laziness, upstart young chefs who won't shut up and listen, and British tolerance for bad food. 'There was this guy trying to dictate to me that you should put apricots into mashed potatoes and this is a national treasure so I take that very seriously. A good mash is something to die for when it's done properly.' Ramsay is a controversial figure in Britain, where some accuse him of accelerating television's slide down into the ratings-driven gutter, but he has only helped expose a truth long known in the catering industry: life in restaurant kitchens can be nasty, brutish and short-tempered. He says he learned this the hard way after being forced to give up a career in professional football because of injury, starting on the bottom rung and moving to Paris 'without a pot to piss in'. Later, he would work with some of the most celebrated - and demanding - chefs in the world: Marco Pierre White, Albert Roux, Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon. In France, in particular, he quickly learned that when you stand in a kitchen with such culinary titans, 'you're working with their reputation in your hands', so you take your lickings. 'Kitchens need revving up, you know? I begged for bollockings in a bizarre way, because it made me better. I only need to be told once, and I know that every time I got s*** for doing something wrong it was making me a better person. 'You get thick-skinned, finding a way to deal with the arrogance of the French and absorb what they teach. You form a character. You don't come into it because of the money. Cooking is like medicine. It's a 20-year investment and I've been cooking for 21 years now. And you have to have a consciousness of food. I've pushed myself to the extreme, and have pushed the boundaries out in a big way.' Ramsay absorbed his fair share of that legendary French arrogance during his Paris sojourn, but also much of its gustatory brilliance. Since opening the Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, London, in 1998, he has added 17 restaurants to his spreadsheet and earned 12 Michelin stars, the restaurant trade's equivalent of the Oscars. He has also written half a dozen best-selling books and cursed and cooked his way into the hearts of millions through his TV shows. When he is not working, Ramsay tries to spend time with his children, Megan, nine, twins Jack and Holly, who are eight, and Matilda, six. Are they allowed to watch dad turn the air blue on national TV? 'They know some naughty words. Jack is on the [school] bus now and we don't try to wrap him up in a bubble and make life surreal. So every day he gets taught little words. He's eight and he's on the bus with 18-year-olds. So when he comes to me and asks, 'Dad, what's a w****r?', I say, well, a w****r is not a very nice person.' His eponymous London eatery was rated Britain's top gastronomic experience in the 2007 Hardens Guide, and he is one of just three British chefs who has three Michelin stars. Two years ago he was awarded an OBE for 'services to the hospitality industry'. Not bad for a working-class boy who, by his own admission, endured a less-than-ideal, and sometimes abusive childhood. 'I came from a very insecure background, a fragmented relationship between my mum and dad. Unfortunately, my brother is a heroin addict; so you [can] go two ways. You can sit and ponder and your background becomes a huge thing in your mind, or you just get on with it. I chose the latter, to get good at what I love doing. Football was an upset, but for my second bite of my cherry I decided to focus on something in a way that took over my life.' It's an odd choice, though, to go from football to cooking. 'A very odd choice,' he concedes. 'I was also going to be a cop, but I wasn't patient enough to put my mind to studying. I found that food was just this amazing journey. It's an easy job to get into because sadly you don't need many qualifications to cook ... I suppose I found my calling because there was a comfort zone there: the adrenaline and the boisterousness.' The adrenaline is sometimes pumped up artificially in an industry 'notorious' for cocaine abuse which sometimes 'breeds monsters', says Ramsay. 'One of my talented head chefs fell out of a window on coke, and that guy I'd nursed for seven years; talented beyond belief.' Ramsay says he was mortified to discover that the chef was taking chemicals to 'pump himself up and make himself look better for me'. The incident made him question - briefly - whether he pushes people too hard. 'Unfortunately, of course it did. But they all have a choice, don't they? If you want to flip burgers and dress Caesar salad they can be the happiest chefs in the world. But if you want to do that, don't enter the realms of three Michelin-stars cooking. I did because I needed to recover from my fate, by no means my fault, in football. For a footballer, there is a cup winner's medal; for an actor there is an Oscar and for chefs there is a Michelin star.' Talk of the famed Michelin leads inevitably to Asia. The culinary bible last year gave 150 Tokyo eateries a total of 191 stars, relegating Paris to a distant second with 94 and New York an embarrassing third with 54. London scored just 50. 'Tokyo has become the world leader in gourmet dining,' the guide announced. Ramsay was delighted, despite the Conrad restaurant being overlooked by the judges. 'Well, you know Japan has been the sleeping beauty of unique cuisine for years. The world is finally waking up to it and, as ever, it took the Michelin Guide to confirm it, and to illustrate the sort of respect they have in their regional cooking, let alone their fine dining. It was nice to see the baton taken off the French and handed to the Japanese.' He says that after a decade focused on Britain and three years in the US, where he has restaurants on both coasts, he wants to shift his attention to Asia. He loves Singapore's multiculturalism, and hopes to open in Shanghai as well as Hong Kong. 'We got asked to do a Maze and a Petrus [in Hong Kong] but the site wasn't right. I want to do it properly and control it. I could have opened in Shanghai or Hong Kong if it was a consultancy, but I don't want a consultancy. I want a proper restaurant where I can sustain quality without a board of governors and licensing,' he says. 'Definitely we will open in Hong Kong. There are two sites in process. I love the place, absolutely love it. The buzz is like New York. My partners in America, Blackstone, have invested in properties there. So the group wouldn't be complete unless I had an opening in Hong Kong. But the location and timing are crucial.'