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The public perception of cookery has changed beyond recognition in the past 15 years. On TV, we don't want Delia patiently teaching us how to boil an egg any more. We want some egomaniac telling us that vegetarians are vile bottom-feeders and if you can't make an omelette in less than two minutes then you're an (expletive deleted) disgrace. Throughout the first decade of this century, the cult of the celebrity chef made eating out cool: chefs were the rock stars and people came to see their sell-out culinary concerts.

The superchef's brand was enough to draw crowds of dinner guests into their restaurants, the quality of the food of only secondary importance. Opening new restaurants was easy, with property a secure financial investment and the banks willing to hand out huge business loans. Indeed, Gordon Ramsay reportedly borrowed more than £1 million in cash and bank loans to open his flagship Royal Hospital Road restaurant in Chelsea in 1998, which is remarkable when you consider he had never owned a restaurant before. "Television made our profession really international and sexy," said US chef Wolfgang Puck, who began as a breakfast television cook and now owns more than 90 restaurants worldwide.

However, a combination of reckless overexpansion and the economic crisis has seen the celebrity chef bubble burst. TV favourite Antony Worrall Thompson has closed four of his six restaurants and made more than 60 people redundant. John Burton Race's restaurant had to be closed down while he was appearing on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! and he declared himself bankrupt last year.

But it is the über-celeb chef who has suffered the most in his voracious attempt to cash in on haute cuisine's vertiginous social status. Ramsay was the archetypal success story of the culinary boom years. The finest British chef of his generation, Ramsay cultivated an impressive stable of talented young cooks and with them ran some of the world's best restaurants. The popularity of his restaurants and his lucrative television deals meant that he was able swiftly to expand the Ramsay brand. He opened 10 restaurants in 10 months in 2007 and 2008. But Ramsay has overcooked his golden goose; his restaurant empire has come close to collapse. The latest accounts for his business show net debt of nearly £10 million as well as an unpaid tax bill nearing £8 million. Over the past 18 months, Ramsay has closed four London restaurants and one each in Prague and Los Angeles, handed over control of his Michelin-starred ventures in Paris and New York to hotels and had to pump £5 million of his own cash into the company to avoid going into administration.

The Ramsay brand itself is a farce. He rarely cooks a service in any of his restaurants. A chef who was part of the brigade de cuisine at Ramsay's restaurant at Claridge's said the great man visited the restaurant about once a month and the only "shifts" he would work were those where he would hobnob with his celeb mates (the Beckhams, George Michael) at the chef's table. At the time of writing, Ramsay was in the US filming yet another TV reality show. It is his father-in-law Chris Hutcheson — a businessman whose expertise is not in catering but printing — who runs Gordon Ramsay International Holdings day to day while the chef attends to his numerous media commitments. That is not to say there aren't capable people running his restaurants: Ramsay has some of the most talented executive chefs in world cuisine. But for him to claim that he is a 10-Michelin-star chef, or even that he has control over his restaurants and their menus, is laughable.

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