As if on cue, Gordon bursts in with an expression of nervous tension that television never quite captures, as if the formidable chef may just be a bit awed by the artists. “Good, everybody’s here. Are you happy? Every customer’s a critic- I suppose pretty much like your work. What I’m finding difficult, now at the age of 37, is trying to keep everyone happy. Somebody asked me last week on the radio what I love, and I said: “criticism”. I never want to believe that I’ve got it, and everything is perfect. You’ve got to take criticism on board and ten years ago I couldn’t but now, at 37, I can.”
Reality TV seems to intrude on real life, as he quickly launches into another manic monologue about filming two television series, managing his one-star restaurant in Chelsea. “Well anyway, I’m very impressed with both of your work,” he says addressing Allen and David. “I’m not yet in a position to buy them, but maybe one day I may be able to.”
In all of his cookbooks and media appearances, Gordon talks about the importance of pleasure – of impressing people but also making them happy with food. “Both cooking and painting bring pleasure to their audience,” says Gordon, but for him the visual comes last. “Before anything happens, we need the high concentration of flavours. So all the kitchen staff put on blindfolds and taste things. I want a mind-blowing experience of the palate. Food can look beautiful, but if it doesn’t taste stunning it’s an anti-climax. We’ve got to be careful about finding that balance.”
As a young chef arrives bearing dainty bowls of roast pumpkin soup, Gordon explains how the dish was prepared to concentrate the flavour. The only possible response is to nod and slurp happily as he continues. “Living in France for three years was crucial for me to develop as a chef. I got inside every ounce of ingredient. To get inside a celeriac, to understand what the artichoke is, to understand what purple basil meant and how it should be cooked and what it gave me back – that respect and love for food was so natural there.”
As he speaks, he watches us like and interrogator, checking to make sure we are savouring every nuance of flavour, which of course we are. But neither David nor Allen belongs to the generation of British men brought up to express such enthusiasm, so they murmur “Mmm” and clear their plates without much fuss.
One senses that this is not what Gordon wants for a response, but he continues, “Another way the world of art is compatible with the world of cooking,” he says, “is that we never have the same day. Whether it’s an insight, a flashback, a memory of something explosive you’re dying to do.”
What does he think of the fact that his creations get gobbled up every day? Does he see his art as ephemeral?