Why Gordon Ramsey is so Good: The difference between Jags and everyone else in West Chester

One thing that Gordon Ramsay has brought to my life is an appreciation for fine food.  I have a background that involves working in several Cincinnati restaurants as a grill cook and waiter and have seen many of the troubles featured on the Gordon Ramsay television show Kitchen Nightmares firsthand.  I learned a lot from those places of secondary employment—most notably how to handle trouble when short of expected staff.  It created in me a lack of professional rigidity that serves me very well now.  So needless to say, my wife and I nearly exclusively these days make it a point to watch the several Gordon Ramsey television shows that are in production, Hotel Hell, Kitchen Nightmares, MasterChef, The F Word, MasterChef Junior and Hell’s Kitchen.  After watching so much of Ramsay it is impossible not to critic my food when I eat out—especially in the upscale places.

In Cincinnati it is Jags in West Chester that represents the best that the culinary arts have to offer.  It used to be the Maisoniette in downtown Cincinnati which finally closed in 2005 after maintaining a five-star culinary rating for several consecutive years, and the Celestial in Mt Adams which continues to a wonderful restaurant.  I used to be a fan of the Celestial after plays at the Taft Theater and days spent at the Art Museum—but Jags has replaced it. The drawback to Jags is that there isn’t much to look at outside the windows as the Celestial has a wonderful view of the city and the river.  But Jags for its exclusivity is better in that you can tune out the outside world and enjoy culinary art with some much needed isolation.

It’s not like I plan for days to embark on fine restaurant adventures, they just sort of happen out of necessity.  However, prior to Chef Ramsay I would usually prefer McDonald’s to the complicated—long winded dining experiences at the Celestial.  For instance, the Celestial Oscar is priced just under $40 and had dainty portions as opposed to the Oscar at Jags which costs $59 currently—and is more than enough to fill you up.  When it’s just me looking for food, I often want the quickest bang for the buck just because I’m so busy, but Ramsay has shown how wonderful food can be, that I find myself more and more enjoying the finer dining options around Cincinnati—as opposed to the quickest.

It’s not a fluke that Fox has so many Ramsey television shows featuring the award-winning chef.  Gordon Ramsey is a very effective manager—and it is a pleasure to watch him cut through problems quickly to get to the core of a problem.  Usually, the trouble with food ends up being psychological as opposed to knowledge based.  A lot of people know how to make great food, but they lack the sanity to put it on a plate.  This is what is fascinating about Ramsey—is his ability to break people down and rebuild them in such a short period of time.  In Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsey usually only spends a week figuring out design changes to a struggling restaurant, confronting owners who are struggling with personal problems which come out directly into their products, and re-launching with aggressive marketing campaigns from the local community.  The same process can be seen more articulately in Hell’s Kitchen where most of the candidates appear to be floundering messes at the beginning of the episodes, but as the season progresses, Ramsey pulls out of one or two of them, a potential culinary master by pounding out their inner psychosis into something that can produce masterpieces on a plate.  Ramsey films Hell’s Kitchen at the same time as the MasterChef shows which are incredible as the participants are forced to become greater through competition until they are master chefs.  It is amazing how quickly Ramsey is able to get to the source of a problem—and helps people overcome it.

Ramsey even though he is from the United Kingdom is one of the finest examples of capitalism that there is currently.  In essence, beyond all the personal problems of the people he helps, he forces them to accept capitalism or to perish—which is really the best thing he could possibly do for them.  Most of Ramsey’s enterprises succeed, although a few fail—his ratio is incredibly successful—which is why my wife and I enjoy watching him so much.  But because of Ramsey I can now spot the quality of people’s minds based on what they cook for me, which is something I never considered prior to watching so much of Chef Ramsey.  I can now spot in a little dive of a restaurant in the middle of Tennessee that the owners are having marital difficulties based on the way they prepare the food, and I can tell when a little over-priced Bistro on Lake Ontario is full of self-inflated egos based on the quality of the food.  Like Gordon Ramsey, Chef Michelle Brown at Jags has a background in sports and that competitive spirit finds its way onto the plate with every serving.  The food is often served meticulously, even in large groups.  Recently while in a large group it was easy to see even during the appetizer that great care comes out of the kitchen as we ordered three raw bar sea food samples.  They were brought out in massive fountain-like containers, and within each were oysters, jumbo shrimp and crab legs not haphazardly thrown in with clots of ice, but meticulously spaced.  I measured them in their spacing and each serving was equally distributed.  This to me was remarkable and is why I prefer Jags over something like the Celestial.

Compared to other area restaurants like Stone Creek and Bravo! Cucina Italiana which are franchise establishments that give nice middle of the road dining experiences disguised as upper crest—I can now eat in places like that and know much that there is to know about the kitchen and personalities involved.  The standard procedure in Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares is to sit down and eat the food—once he’s done that he attacks directly the root of the problem which is usually psychological problems between owners, managers, and staff—or food prep laziness.  In Jags you can feel that the victory of the meal is won during food prep, in those critical hours between 2 PM and 5 PM when dinner rush is planned for vigorously in the kitchen, and those other places where things are frozen because they are purchased in bulk for all the area restaurants by deals cut with food suppliers.  The employees at second-hand restaurants pretending to be exquisite is that they show up for work an hour before dinner service and expect to make great food—and it just doesn’t work that way.

Critics of Gordon Ramsey are often  the same people who think that capitalism is unfair—and they are also the same type of people who would rather eat at Bravo! Cucina Italiana as opposed to Jags where the individual meticulousness of Chef Michelle Brown comes out in virtually every meal leaving her kitchen.  They are the ones Ramsey cusses at as opposed to receiving his praise.  But I continue to be amazed at the playfulness and hard work that Chef Ramsey is able to conger up all while maintaining a family, traveling the world, and hosting four television shows that involve intense management techniques.  He is a remarkable person which is also why his food is so magnificent.  West Chester, Ohio is one of the best areas in the United States to live and its per capita income make it affluent enough to support a Gordon Ramsey restaurant.  Until he does that, Jags will likely be my top pick of dining experience.  And under the benefits of capitalism, it would be a great day indeed to have the difficult choice of Chef Ramsey or Chef Brown.  I like Chef Brown so much that I might have to pick her over Ramsey.

Rich Hoffman