They won't be short of things to celebrate in Gordon Ramsay's house this Christmas. They've got 12 of them, all of them stars, all of them bestowed by Michelin in 2007. OK, he hasn't quite managed to hold all those stars at the same time. The two he was awarded for his New York restaurant came just after the one his company held at London's Connaught Hotel fell into abeyance, when the landmark building was closed for refurbishment. But it's still there in the current guide and he can still claim it as his own. In any case, do you want to try arguing with him? Look at those knuckles. Even allowing for the fact that the tattoos are a temporary adornment for our cameras, he looks like a boy who could punch above his weight.
'If Ramsay has proved anything this year it's that he knows how to win Michelin stars,' says our own food critic Jay Rayner. 'No, it's not exactly by the sweat of his own brow. But he was the one who put together an A-Team of top chefs and gave them what they needed to do it. Chefs like Marcus Wareing, Angela Hartnett and Jason Atherton all know that it's the sheer professionalism of Gordon Ramsay Holdings that has enabled them to shine.'
Anyway, it's almost Christmas. Let the boy take the credit. As he is tattooed with his 12 stars for our cover shoot, he thinks about what motivated him to cook in the first place. 'The moment I walked into a professional kitchen as a pimply 17-year-old, clutching my first set of knives,' he says, 'I knew I'd found my purpose in life. From that day onwards my sole ambition was to win three stars, and nothing was going to stand in my way.'
Now he can say he has outreached his ambition by a factor of four. It's a major achievement. The only chef in the world to match him is the celebrated Frenchman Alain Ducasse, and he is 10 years Ramsay's senior.
Attaining those stars has been a hard slog for Ramsay; at the beginning he would do 'double, even triple shifts in the kitchens and then work as a waiter in my time off'. Some critics have suggested that he has since spread himself too thinly, but Ramsay claims he takes nothing for granted. 'Once or twice a year, I wake up in a cold sweat, panicking about losing my third star at Royal Hospital Road, but if it happens, I'll just work my bollocks off and win it back again.'
Christmas chez Ramsay on 25 December this year will be business as usual. He'll be in the kitchens at Claridge's cooking lunch for 200 hotel guests. Doesn't he mind working on Christmas day? 'No, I love it. And the kids love it too. It's madly exciting because it's an opportunity to see Daddy at work. I've cooked Christmas lunch at Claridge's for the past six years, ever since we started there,' he says. 'The whole brood decamps to Claridge's. After Sarge [Mark Sargeant, the head chef at Claridge's] and I have finished service, we then sit down at around 4pm with our families.'
Christmas with the Ramsays is certainly sociable: 'On Christmas morning we have anything up to 20 friends popping in for breakfast at home, which turns into brunch. I always cook scrambled eggs with Perigord truffles and smoked salmon.' On Boxing day there will be another foodie gathering at their house in Wandsworth, London. 'We'll have about 25 people round, and I do three different meats - usually beef, goose and some Norfolk bronze turkey.'
Gordon Ramsay's restaurant food is famously technical, but with a little work, and a lot of time and concentration a mere mortal can give his Michelin-style cooking a try. The recipes here come direct from the kitchens at Royal Hospital Road. They are definitely not for the faint-hearted, as even he admits. 'Yes, they have been adapted and tested for the domestic kitchen, but they are still challenging and demand skill and precision on the part of the home cook.'
Here are three of his simpler - a highly relative term - recipes, containing some nifty tricks for those of us without a brigade of chefs on hand to reduce stocks overnight or spend five hours doing complex mise en place. All of them are perfect for a bit of culinary showing off. Get them right and, like Gordon himself, you'll be the star at the top of your tree this Christmas. OFM
Recipes from Gordon Ramsay Chef (Quadrille, £40). To order a copy for £36 with free UK p&p go to observer.co.uk/bookshop or call 0870 836 0875
This is a simple starter that can be assembled relatively quickly.
Serves 6 as a starter.
For the scallops:
9 large scallops, shelled and cleaned
sea salt and black pepper
4 tbs olive oil
18 quails' eggs
For the sweetcorn purée:
150g frozen sweetcorn
1 tsp caster sugar
50ml chicken stock
50 ml double cream
For the truffle cream sauce:
50ml double cream
1 tsp truffle-infused oil
pinch of very finely chopped truffle shavings
1 black truffle (optional)
lightly dressed salad of mixed leaves (frisée, oak leaf, chervil, etc)
olive oil, to drizzle
First make the sweetcorn purée. Melt the butter in a medium pan and add the sweetcorn and sugar. Stir over a high heat for 1-2 minutes, then add the stock and cream. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until the sweetcorn is soft. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and blend for 1-2 minutes until smooth. Push the purée through a fine sieve and discard the pulp. Return the purée to the pan and season with salt and pepper to taste. The sweetcorn purée should be the consistency of thick cream; if it is too thick, add a dash of hot water. Reheat just before serving.
For the truffle cream sauce, stir together all the ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cut half of the truffle for serving, if using, into wafer-thin slices and set aside with the sauce.
Cut each scallop horizontally into two discs and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large heavy-based frying pan until very hot, then add half the olive oil. Lay the scallop discs in the pan and cook for 1-1½ minutes on each side; they should feel slightly springy when pressed. Lift them out onto a warm plate and set aside.
Now cook the quails' eggs in two batches. Heat most of the remaining oil in the pan. Carefully crack the quails' eggs open with the tip of a knife and drop them into the hot pan. Fry for 1-1½ minutes until the whites are opaque and firm but the yolks are still quite runny. Remove to a warm plate. Add a little more oil to the pan before you fry the second batch. If you like, use a small pastry cutter to stamp out the fried eggs and neaten the edges.
To serve, arrange three scallop discs on each warm serving plate and top with a wafer-thin slice of truffle and a quail's egg. Drop little spoonfuls of warm sweetcorn purée between the scallops. Place a neat handful of mixed salad in the middle, then drizzle over the truffle cream sauce and a little olive oil. Finely grate the remaining black truffle if using and scatter over. Serve at once.
I use beef from Northumberland for this dish. The time-consuming elements are the braised shin and beef consommé, but you can make these a day ahead. In the restaurant, we prepare the infusion in a glass teapot with an infuser and pour it over the beef as we serve it.
Serves 4-6 as a main course
For the braised shin of beef:
650g boned shin of beef, in one piece
3 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
2 bay leaves, few thyme sprigs
500ml red wine
For the veal stock (about 1.5l)
1.5kg veal bones
100ml olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, trimmed and chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tbs tomato purée
175ml ruby port
100g chestnut mushrooms, cleaned
sea salt and black pepper
To clarify the stock:
200g beef trimmings, chopped
1 thyme sprig, leaves only
4 egg whites
½ tsp black peppercorns
For the truffle and root vegetable infusion:
2 pea pods, finely sliced
2 asparagus tips, finely sliced lengthways
2 baby morels, sliced
2 radishes, finely sliced
2 baby carrots, peeled and finely sliced
small bouquet garni (thyme sprig, rosemary sprig, bay leaf)
a few truffle slices, or 1 tsp truffle trimmings
For the beef fillet:
500g fillet of beef, trimmed
2 tbsp olive oil
For the vegetable garnish:
½ kohlrabi, peeled and diced
100g baby carrots, scrubbed and cut into 5mm rounds
50g baby morels, cleaned and trimmed
handful of cooked orrechiette (or other pasta shapes), optional
½ head of Savoy cabbage, shredded and wilted
To make the stock, preheat the oven to 220°C/gas 7. Put the veal bones in a roasting pan, drizzle over half the olive oil and roast for 1/1½ hrs, turning occasionally,, until brown. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a large in a large stockpot and fry the chopped vegetables and garlic over a high heat until lightly coloured. Stir in the purée and fry for another two minutes. Deglaze the pan with the Madeira and port and boil vigorously until reduced to a syrupy consistency. Drain the roasted bones of excess oil and add to stockpot. Pour in enough water to cover, about 5 litres, and bring to the boil. Skim off the scum on the surface, then reduce to a simmer and add the mushrooms and bouquet garni. Simmer gently for about 6 hours, skimming every once in a while, until the stock is clear. Leave the stock to settle and cool a little, then strain through a muslin-lined colander set over a large bowl. Use 1.5 litres, reserve the rest.
For the braised shin of beef, heat half the olive oil in a large heavy-based pan or casserole. Season the beef and fry for 2 minutes on each side until evenly browned. Remove to a plate. Add the rest of the oil to the pan, then the vegetables and herbs. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-6 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Deglaze the pan with the wine and boil until reduced by half. Pour in the stock and return the beef to the pan. Top up with a little water as necessary to cover the shin. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat right down. Cover with a piece of wet greaseproof paper and cook very gently for 2-3 hours until the beef is very tender. Leave to cool in the braising stock.
Take out the beef and set aside. Strain the braising stock through a fine chinois into a clean wide pan, pressing down on the vegetables in the chinois with the back of a ladle to extract as much juice as possible. Place over a medium heat and boil the stock until reduced to about 1 litre. Leave to cool.
Finely shred the beef and place in a bowl. Add enough of the stock to moisten the meat and season generously to taste. While still warm, divide into 100g portions and place each one in a small resealable plastic bag. Press each bag on the work surface to flatten and use a rolling pin to even out the thickness of the beef throughout. Chill overnight, until the beef and gelatinous stock has set into a thin rectangular disc.
Next clarify the stock. Put the beef trimmings, herbs, egg whites and peppercorns into a food processor and blitz for a minute, then tip into the pan containing the cooled beef stock. Slowly bring the stock to the boil, whisking continuously with a balloon whisk. The egg white mix will form a frothy crust on the surface of the liquid. Line a colander with a piece of wet muslin and set it over a large bowl. Ladle the stock through, letting it drip through slowly. It should now be clear; if it is not, repeat the clarification process once more using more egg whites. Set aside until ready to serve.
For the vegetable garnish, blanch the kohlrabi, carrots and peas in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Drain and refresh under cold running water, then set aside.
Before serving, remove the beef shin from the fridge and bring to room temperature.
To cook the beef fillet, preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6. Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof pan until hot. Season the beef fillet with salt and pepper and sear, turning, until browned all over. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for another 4-6 minutes until the meat feels slightly springy when pressed.
Meanwhile, for the infusion, bring the beef consommé to the boil in a pan. Take off the heat and add the sliced vegetables, bouquet garni and truffle. Cover and leave to infuse for a few minutes, then strain. Reheat if necessary.
When the beef fillet is cooked, remove and rest in a warm place for a few minutes. Blanch the kohlrabi, carrots and peas, and pasta if using, in boiling water for 1-2 minutes to reheat.
To serve, put a neat pile of hot cabbage in the centre of each warm plate, using a square metal cutter to create a neat presentation if you like, then remove the cutter. Unwrap the beef shin and lay on the cabbage. Pour over a little of the consommé to soften the beef and warm it. Thinly slice the beef fillet and place on top of the shin. Arrange the blanched vegetables, and pasta if using, around the plates. Pour over the remaining beef consommé as you serve.
This is an ideal main course for vegetarians that can also be served in smaller portions as a starter. Rather than make risotto the laborious, traditional way, I blanch my rice in advance, which halves the last-minute cooking time. The result is just as deliciously creamy, provided you use a good risotto rice.
Serves 4 as a main course
For the sautéed ceps:
250g fresh ceps, cleaned
2 tbs olive oil, plus extra to brush
sea salt and black pepper
a few knobs of butter
For the risotto:
200g risotto rice (such as carnaroli or vialone nano)
about 600ml vegetable stock
10g dried ceps (or porcini), rinsed
4 tbs olive oil
2 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
100ml dry white wine
2 tbs mascarpone
2 tbs freshly grated parmesan
2 spring onions (green part only), finely chopped
fresh truffle slices, to garnish
a few deep-fried parsley leaves
truffle-infused olive oil, to drizzle
Halve two large ceps. Chop the rest and set all the mushroom aside until ready to cook.
For the risotto, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the rice and blanch the grains for 5 minutes. Drain well and spread out on a lightly oiled tray. Let cool, then cover with cling film and set aside until ready to cook and serve. (If preparing several hours ahead, refrigerate.)
Put the stock in another saucepan with the dried ceps. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Strain the stock and return to the pan. (You could use the ceps for another dish.)
When ready to cook, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan and add the shallots. Stir over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until beginning to soften. Tip in the rice and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes, then pour in the wine. Let bubble until almost totally reduced, then add a third of the infused stock. Stir occasionally until the rice has absorbed almost all the stock. Add another third of the stock and cook, stirring from time to time, again until the liquid is nearly all absorbed. Pour in half of the remaining stock, stir and simmer until absorbed. Now taste the rice to see if it is al dente. Add a splash more stock if the grains are still a little chalky. Remove the pan from the heat.
Heat a griddle pan until hot. Brush the ceps with a little olive oil and season well. Put the halved ceps on the griddle and cook for 4-5 minutes on both sides until nicely charred and cooked through. Heat the rest of the oil in a large frying pan and add the chopped ceps with a few knobs of butter. Season well and sauté over a high heat for 3-4 minutes until lightly browned.
Return the risotto to a gentle heat and add a little more stock. Stir in the sautéed ceps, then the mascarpone, parmesan, spring onions and finally the butter. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Divide the risotto among warm bowls and top each with a griddled cep half. Garnish with the truffle slices and parsley crisps. Drizzle over a little truffle-infused oil and serve immediately.