Understand My Life: Gordon Ramsay

I've made it my goal to read the biographies of 3 of my favorite people. I'm calling this the "Understand My Life" series.

Why? I believe that through the understanding of other people, we can better develop our sense of empathy for other people.

It’s impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.
— Andrew Solomon

I have a good friend who slightly differs from me politically, but our openness and respect for each other allows us to have really meaningful conversations.

Recently, we came to the conclusion that one of the main points of our college's general education and diversity requirements is to teach the skills of appreciation and most importantly, empathy. Whether it does teach empathy is arguable, but that's what the intention is.

So in order to better understand the struggles of different people and increase my ability to empathize, I've chosen the following 3 people to read about:

  1. Gordon Ramsay: Humble Pie
  2. Bear Grylls: Mud, Sweat, and Tears
  3. Malcolm X: The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told by Alex Haley

Let's talk about this week's first autobiography: Humble Pie. This autobiography was written 6 years ago. 

How does a man end up owning multiple Michelin-Star restaurants around the world, be an international television celebrity, and complete several Iron Man races?

Ask Gordon Ramsay.

He seems like a mean guy on his reality TV shows, but underneath it all, he's a man who has high standards for himself and for others, and he shows it through tough love. It's amazing because no one would expect the amazing person that exists today to come from such an unfortunate background.

A short timeline of Ramsay's life:

  • grew up with an abusive and often drunk father
  • chose soccer as his first real passion and almost went pro in order to impress his dad
  • came home late one night with a girl and his father went mad
  • his father got drunk one night and poured hot milk on and started beating his mother
  • dad fled the country after authorities were called
  • at 19, was just excited to be cooking at a restaurant learning a skill
  • had an affair with his boss's wife
  • didn't work out that his life's work would be in cooking until his mentor gave him the verbal recognition of his talent
  • traveled around Europe and working at different Michelin Star-quality restaurants, slowly building up his reputation
  • started his first restaurant, Aubergine
  • Left Aubergine because of poor leadership

... and after a little show called Hell's Kitchen, the rest is history.

I definitely think there are a few things we can learn from his journey.

1.) Cooking was not his passion at first.

Cooking was just a skill to him that he enjoyed doing.

The great thing about the way Ramsay learned cooking was that he wasn't just learning new concepts and recipes and never applying them. He learned and consistently applied at the same time.

And he was earning money as he was learning through working, which is quite the opposite of today's idea of what learning is. Soon enough, Ramsay reached a masterful level of cooking, built his personal brand, and didn't even have to go into debt.

Work is who I am, who I want to be. I sometimes think that if I were to stop working, I’d stop existing.
— Gordon Ramsay, Humble Pie

Some people simply use work to pay the bills. Others create their identity through their work. It's like an artist, who has spends years building one giant art piece of a life.

These type of people inevitably are the ones who choose to create something marvelous no matter the cost. They've chosen to ride the proverbial "struggles-and-breakthroughs rollercoaster" that comes with devoting yourself to your job.

I find it really hard to devote myself to school because I don't see any immediate effects when I complete a course. After a half-year of my life, multiple problem sets, and being around $5000 poorer, what do I get back?

The honest answer is, I don't know.

I guess I know a couple of new mathematical concepts and philosophies behind statistical analysis, but what's the point of learning if I don't get to use it? For a half a year, I don't get to practice what I've learned unless I manage to get an internship at the same time, which is not well-integrated into the college experience at all.

The thing with college is that it separates too far the learning from the producing. This makes it almost impossible for experiential learners like myself to ground our lessons through practice. Else, everything we learn goes in one ear and out the other.

2.) He acts as a mentor and lifts up those around him.

People sometimes point out how, in shows like Kitchen Nightmares, I’ll always encourage the youngest chap in the kitchen. If you want to know why - Paris is why. I know how it feels to be in a corner, unnoticed and unloved.
— Gordon Ramsay, Humble Pie

Ramsay's background is part of what makes him so humble and understanding of other people's situations. He sees these young cooks with large amounts of potential, and sees himself in them.

This influence is worth gold to these young chefs as I can envision the approval of such a skilled person acts as a Rite of Passage for them.

It mentally gives them permission to keep getting better, giving them the confidence to be the teacher rather than the student.

3.) There's a positive dynamic in celebrating the differences between men and women.

What about women in kitchens? I love women chefs: they’re intelligent, they’re fast learners, and they can be tough. As for the effect they have on the boys, it’s entirely good. Put a woman in a kitchen and discipline will improve. The guys hate being told off in front of the girls. It’ a playground thing - they just find it embarrassing.
— Gordon Ramsay, Humble Pie

I think it's interesting to note that Ramsay talks about the workplace dynamics of men and women and how it works in harmony to have both sexes represented. 

Overall, I've learned that Gordon Ramsay started from very humble beginnings. He didn't build his legacy overnight. It was slowly accumulated through times of struggle, embarrassment, and uncertainty.

The most important part of his pathway to success? Consistency.

He was always taking action, no matter how seemingly small in the beginning.

I think that's a lesson we can all implement in our lives: focus on getting just 1% better every day of our lives.

Next up: Bear Grylls - Mud, Sweat, and Tears