• Image about Gordon Ramsay
PART OF WHAT IS TAKING SO much of Ramsay’s time away from the kitchen is his growing television empire. And when you sit across from him, all fidgety and garrulous, oddly handsome and mercilessly devilish, it’s as clear as clarified butter: This guy is not someone who rose to the occasion of being a “celebrity chef ” — he is one. After another hugely successful season each of Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen, as well as Gordon’s Great Escape, which whisks the culinary demon through the camel-ridden deserts of India, Ramsay’s new show, MasterChef, airing this summer, may be his biggest yet.

“It’s not like I’m doing some [bleeping] Food Network show,” insists Ramsay. “I don’t [bleeping] want to be in some competition with Bobby Flay to see who can get their balls crisper.” Instead, Ramsay, as talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel pointed out recently, basically goes “around the world yelling at people.” Some question how Ramsay can make a career of screaming at everyone who falls short of his standards when he seems in a state of denial about his own evolution as culinary cult personality. Like when Ramsay bristles at the suggestion that he is a “brand.” “I’m not a brand,” he retorts. “I’m a chef, for [bleep’s] sake!”

Given his take-no-prisoners brand of brutal honesty, many assume Ramsay has a skin as tough as rawhide. It turns out he has plenty of soft spots. Well, sort of.

“The recession has really reminded us that the customer is king,” sighs Ramsay. “It’s a challenging time, and in many ways everyone was getting arrogant.”

“Including you?” I press.

“I’m not arrogant — I’m confident!” Ramsay retorts. “I’m a man’s man, not some pansy in the kitchen.”

No, Ramsay is no pansy, particularly when it comes to dealing with adversaries. When faced with a hotshot restaurant critic who called demanding a very specific reservation, Ramsay had no problem. “Then I got into my bloody car and watched as she stood out there like a total knob knocking on the door, then beating on the window. It was [bleeping] hilarious. We were closed!”

There is one recent conflict Ramsay does appear to regret: the row he had with top Australian TV personality Tracy Grimshaw when, during a public cooking demo to help promote two of his restaurants, Maze and Maze Grill, opening this year in Melbourne, he likened her to a pig (some called for him to be kicked out of the country).

During one of his charming rants, my mind drifts to the incident and I mutter (or so I thought), “If I were an animal, I wonder which I’d be?”

“You’d be a sexy little minx, you would,” blurts Ramsay. “And you,” he says, nodding to my 6-foot friend, “you’re a [bleeping] giraffe! I mean, what is this,” he asks, glancing down at our ring fingers, “[bleeping] Desperate Housewives?”

Maybe it’s a British thing, but it’s obvious when you’re in Ramsay’s presence, at least to anyone without an overly developed sense of propriety, that he is not malicious. He’s a prankster and a wordsmith, using his rapier wit — he may be the most loquacious chef I’ve ever met — to score laughs. Chef, television personality, hawker of wares and writer of books, bon vivant and shameless troublemaker, Ramsay is in this game of life to get dirty … and have an almost illegally good time.

If it’s true in the end, and the meek do inherit the earth, Ramsay probably won’t be around to enjoy the postapocalyptic bacchanal. But wherever he winds up will be a heck of a lot more fun.