CELEBRITY chef Gordon Ramsay has told the High Court he felt like “a performing monkey” as he built up his restaurant empire while father-in-law Christopher Hutcheson was “up to no good” in the office.
Now at the head of 28 restaurants and a cookery school, Ramsay is accusing his father-in-law of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature and make him personally liable for the £640,000-a-year annual rent on the historic York & Albany pub near Regent’s Park in London.
The chef is asking a judge to grant a declaration that the rental guarantee is not binding because his signature was used without his knowledge and authorisation when the 25-year lease was signed in 2007.
Mr Hutcheson acted as business manager for the Ramsay group of companies until the chef sacked both him and wife Tana’s brother, Adam, on the grounds of “gross misconduct” in 2010.
Film director Gary Love, who owns the York & Albany, has described Ramsay’s allegation as an “absurd” attempt to wriggle out of his rental commitments.
Yesterday, in the second week of the court hearing, the chef was asked in cross-examination about emails in which he expressed his unhappiness about what was happening while Mr Hutcheson was managing the business.
Romie Tager QC, appearing for Mr Love, suggested to Ramsay: “You were complaining about him. You thought of him as treating you like a performing donkey making you overwork away from the office while he was up to no good in the office.”
Ramsay said “Yes”, then added he had in fact felt like a “performing monkey”.
In order to clarify, Chancery Division judge Mr Justice Morgan, suggested to him his complaint was: “You were doing the donkey work. You were out there working day in, day out while [Mr Hutcheson] had a cushy number at the office where he was able to abstract personal funds for personal gain.
“I am not saying this is true, but this is what you are saying.”
Ramsay agreed. He said the more he had dug into what had happened following Mr Hutcheson’s sacking “the worst it got”.
The chef first gave evidence last week and described “his shock and horror” at discovering Mr Hutcheson, whom he deeply trusted, had defrauded him and the Ramsay group of companies out “of hundreds of thousands of pounds”.
He said the ghost writer machine, or possibly two of them, had been used for some four years by his father-in-law but it was limited to signing books and merchandise and not business documents.
Yesterday he returned to the witness box after a trip abroad and faced accusations from Mr Tager that he did know that a ghost writer capable of reproducing his signature had been used to sign documents including the York & Albany rental guarantee.
Ramsay told the judge: “That is not true, my lord.”
The chef also rejected Mr Tager’s assertions that the use of the ghost writer machine was part of the “culture of the office”.
He also denied the QC’s accusation that he was trying to get out of the lease for the York & Albany hotel and restaurant enterprise because it was in trouble and “losing millions”.
Describing the dominating influence Mr Hutcheson had in their joint business, Ramsay told the court he had inherited the position of: “I am the son-in-law: and what he says goes.”
Ramsay said: “He took advantage, as I think is pretty obvious.”