When you’re too soft-skinned and pain-averse to sate your inner bloodlust by actually tearing your shirt off and throwing fists, you rely on the next best thing: hypothetical violence. Imaginary brawls, settled by robust debate and animated finger-pointing over lukewarm pints.
Who would win in a fight out of Superman and Batman?
Who would win in a fight out of peak Muhammad Ali and prime Mike Tyson?
Who would win in a fight out of all of the living, mainstream British television chefs?
The first two you probably have a guttural reaction to, throwing yourself into one camp or the other without much thought. But ‘who is Britain’s hardest chef?’ Well, now that’s a question.
The boring shit up front, here: feel free to skip if you know how a tournament works. Each chef (“THE PRINCIPLE”) is assigned a number, numbers are then drawn from a hat/an empty coffee mug, and the chefs fight until only one chef is left standing.
Gordon Ramsay (1)
There is no way that anyone who shouts that much is actually hard. No way. Gordon Ramsay is the world’s emptiest vessel and no amount of bellowing the word “FUCK” in the simpering face of a work experience pot-washer can disguise his hollow internal rattle.
Gino D’acampo (2)
Housewives’ favourite Gino’s already done a bit of bird after a spending two years in prison for burglarising Paul Young’s house in 1998, and there’s no way he didn’t get into at least a few scraps in the Pentonville canteen after flipping out over the quality of their slop. Quick on his feet and with scant consideration for the law, Lil’ Gino could be a contender.
Antony Worrall Thompson (3)
AWT has been having a tough time since he left the I’m A Celeb… jungle and now he just spends all his time staring staring out of the kitchen window at his neighbours, the Fawberts, his face pressed against the glass with envy: “They’ll never know this pain,” AWT mutters, fogging the pane. “They’ll never know what it’s like to have been Antony Worrall-Thompson.” “Isn’t that Antony Worrall Thompson?” one of the Fawberts will ask, bemused, pointing at the window. “No,” the other will reply, without even giving him the courtesy of a glance.
Paul Hollywood (4)
A vainboy with a head like a wobbling, red timebomb, Hollywood has all the tools to do damage and possesses a rat-like desperation for self-preservation and survival.
Gary Rhodes (5)
Yoooooooo, Rhodes is stacked. Who knew? Dude’s got a zen temperament, one of those awful hippy smiles like a Bristolian yoga teacher, and a six-pack you could cook a waffle on. Gazza the Underdog.
Jamie Oliver (6)
You take away a man’s moped and you take away his manhood. Jamie Oliver AKA The Naked Chef AKA La Chef Da La Nudisimo will here be present absolutely starkers. Pros: He’s a man who will do anyfink for Jules, mate. Cons: Can’t even handle a bit of salt without breaking into hot tears on national television.
The Hairy Bikers (7) (tied together)
The symbiotic connection between the two bikers Dave (the one who looks like he’s the left-field shout on Eggheads) and Si (the one who looks very much like he had a disastrous stint in WCW in the mid/late-’90s) cannot be overstated here. They are one. Big boys with hearts of Geordie gold, they are a single Hairy Biker – two halves of a whole. If one of the Bikers falls off his bike and dies, the other is duty bound to do the same. They are still technically two people, however, so will here be tied together as a single hirsute three-legged Biker with bike locks.
Heston Blumenthal (8)
Not sure if the perma-safety-goggled nausey-cuisine-wizard Heston has ever been in a fight; too busy making custard out out of Post-It notes or staring at himself in the mirror like he’s Captain America planning to save the world by nobly distilling an entire Christmas dinner – turkey, stuffing, crackers et al – into five pipettes and presenting them to his disappointed family. Here, he’d say, I have condensed an entire Christmas dinner into 25ml of liquid: you’re welcome. His nan would start crying. This is one of the only times she gets to see her whole family together, who knows if this will be the last. Why does he have to do this every year? Hest loves it.
Raymond Blanc (9)
Sugar Ray Blanc looks like if you pushed Gerard Depardieu into an Alan Rickman-shaped Play-Doh mould, and that sounds pretty hard to me. Very little structure to that squishy nose, but a nose with give might provide some welcome cushioning.
Levi Roots (10)
Bottle of spicy sauce to the eyes. Job done.
John Torode (11) (w/Gregg Wallace)
A few things: John Torode is Australian and therefore Automatically Quite Hard. John Torode has had to put up with Gregg Wallace’s shit so long that he explodes with annoyance or ecstasy at the drop of a duck rendang. John Torode also has a love for navy blazers with a logo t-shirt underneath, the uniform of Universal Middle-Aged Sadness. Hard plus annoyed plus sad is a very volatile cocktail. Gregg Wallace is on Don King/Paul Bearer duties, so will not be setting foot in the kitchen.
Nigel Slater (12)
Don’t think Nigel’s getting anywhere close – the only thing he’s battering is a plate of puntillitas – but with his face like your favourite lecturer, the one who gives you a book to treasure, even writes a few lines in the front in pencil, he might spur a few contenders into throwing down their Y-peelers and embracing in a warm, olive-oil soaked hug.
Marco Pierre White (13)
Gordon Ramsay’s hard dad who will push your hand on a hob if you so much as drop the O off his first name, but how will he handle a Gary Rhodes roundhouse (aka a “Rhodehouse”) to the chops? We’ll wait and see.
Ainsley Harriott (14)
At 6’3”, Ains cuts an imposing figure and seems to have the positive disposition important to be a contender when the going gets tougher than an undercooked brisket.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (15)
HFW thinks he’s the shit, messing about with freshly-grown produce and serving it up in little white ramekins. You’ll need more than ramekins around here, Hugh, you ‘NME-staff-writer-from-1993’-looking motherfucker. He’ll have to take that shark tooth on a shoelace necklace off too, or else he might get cheese-wired with it.
Rick Stein (16)
BIG DRUNK RICKY IS COMING AT YOU WITH AN EMPTY BOTTLE OF 2015 CASTILLA Y LEON – A CHARMINGLY FRESH AND FRAGRANT WHITE WINE – AND A LEFTOVER SHANK OF LAMB KLEFTIKO. WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT?
Rick Stein (16) vs. Antony Worrall Thompson (3)
A wine-soaked Rick Stein is standing over Antony, begging him to stay down, like in Cool Hand Luke, only Paul Newman is played by a man who looks like he’s made out of the processed dust at the bottom of a packet of Doritos. Rick finishes the last drops of the bottle and stoves it flat end first onto Tony’s lucid orange pate.
Winner: Rick Stein
Gino D’Acampo (3) vs. The Hairy Bikers (7)
Tough one. The Hairy Bikers are hairy and big and Gino is hairy and small, with the fleet footing and slight of hand only afforded to those who’ve had to knock up a round of omelettes on live TV while Rylan Clark kicks off about about not being able to pronounce arrabiata (“Jus’ call it spicy ketchup, Gino!”), but it’s the HBs who advance. They might be tied together but Gino’s lightning-but-lightweight attacks against their unified front (“Aye, aye, thassit… Left foot, aye.” “Ta, Dave.” “Nae problem, Si. Right, now yer right foot, yeah. Aye. Lovely stuff.”) are ineffective.
Winner: The Hairy Bikers
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (15) vs. Nigel Slater (12)
Everything’s to play for in the Soft Dick Derby. I think they’d both just hug until Hugh’s beloved sharktooth-shoelace-necklace got caught on Nigel’s beloved charcoal-grey wool turtleneck and, in trying to push himself free, Hugh would slip and fall and smack his head open on a stainless steel industrial Buffalo Planetary Mixer. Nigel stands there aghast.
Winner: Nigel Slater
Marco Pierre White (13) vs. Levi Roots (10)
Marco is growling, howling. He’s mad. He’s real mad. He’s torn his chef whites to the waist. He wants to tell you about the time he used to hang kitchen juniors up on hooks by their aprons at his Wandsworth restaurant Harvey’s and pour boiling hot soup down their trousers (which is a real thing that happened) because he’s a Hard Bastard Man and that’s what Hard Bastard Men do. And then he catches his reflection in the Buffalo Planetary Mixer, the same one that took out HFW, and practises angrily smoking a cigarette in its brilliant, post-brain-matter shine, and Levi dashes a bottle of hot sauce into Marco’s eyes while he’s not looking. Job done. Get your guitars out.
Winner: Levi Roots
Gordon Ramsay (1) vs. Gary Rhodes (5)
It’s a classic clash of styles: while Gary Rhodes has six-pack abs, Gordon Ramsay has a six-pack on his forehead, like a Klingon. While Gary is laconic and succinct, Gordon is bellowing “WOULDN’T SERVE THAT TO DEAD PIGS” at someone who’s asked him to critique their nine-year-old son’s first blancmange on Twitter. The heart says Gordon Ramsay’s bloody-mindedness could win it, but the head says Gary Rhodes – a man who has been getting up for fun at 4.30am to do a punishing routine of pull-ups, weights, and push-ups for at least a decade – could do him. The contained energy. The economy of movement. A ladle to the groin. A forearm to the jaw. Calmly telling you, in a post-knockout interview, “I've never taken any illegal substance or smoked a cigarette in my life – this is my drug. It's an addiction – no question. Now... Here's my simple recipe for crispy parmesan chicken with soft basil tomatoes.” Like Ip-Man with a flat top.
Winner: Gary Rhodes
John Torode (11) vs. Raymond Blanc (9)
Without Wallace, the Robin to his Batman, the Mutley to his Dastardly, Torode is alone. Deathly alone. Blanc has a reputation as “the nice guy of the chef world” (according to one blog post I read called “Is Raymond Blanc Britain's nicest chef?” and the answer was “Yes, I think so”) but has a look in his eye like he’d do you in if pushed, without the smile ever leaving his face. Bewildered attack-dog Greg would come bundling in after the job was done, but it’d be too late. Blanc advances.
Winner: Raymond Blanc
Ainsley Harriott (14) vs. Heston Blumenthal (8)
Heston Blumenthal does have the aerodynamic face of a mature bull terrier and looks like he could take a beating, but there’s no way Ainsley fucking Harriott is getting beaten by a man who wears wraparound shades. Ains has been laying dormant for a few years now but you still know he could pick up and throw a man if he had to.
Winner: Ainsley Harriott
Paul Hollywood (4) vs. Jamie Oliver (6)
This is a tough one because Jamie Oliver would be naked but, not to be outdone, Paul Hollywood would also be naked. Jamie Oliver would be chatting shit about the amount of butter Paul puts into his pastries, how he’s scum, how he’s fattening up these kids, how GBBO was tantamount to propaganda paid for by Big Butter, but he’s just sort of going through the motions. It wouldn’t be until Paul Hollywood bad-mouthed his Jamie’s wife Jules – and you just know Paul Hollywood would say something awful about another man’s wife at the drop of a toque blanche – that Oliver would flang a pot of oil he’d had boiling from the get go and just fully strip yer man to the bone with molten liquid. He’d burn himself too – because he’s naked, remember – but he’d still quip, like Essex Deadpool, in between howls of pain as his skin burned off; “Bosh. Done.”
Winner: Jamie Oliver
Rick Stein vs. The Hairy Bikers
Bit annoyed that they’re still tied together, The Hairy Bikers will start rubbing each other up the wrong way – literally, perhaps, chafing on account of their large shaggy frames and the amount of sweat each produces – and allow Rick’s pent up rage (no man with hands that hairy can be without it) to overcome them. It would be a pretty fair fight because the Geordies are no mugs, but Rick would close his eyes, think of the sea, and all the times he’d bashed a trout to death on the deck of his trawler until it was all over.
Winner: Rick Stein
Nigel Slater vs. Levi Roots
Nigel Slater would have one of those big upside down Us for a mouth, like a chastened cartoon schoolboy about to receive one helluva detention, and Levi would just dash a bottle of hot sauce into his eyes for the win. Job done. Get your guitars back out.
Winner: Levi Roots
Gary Rhodes vs. Raymond Blanc
I think I’ve gotta stick with Gary Rhodes, here. The guy gets up before the binman to punish himself, to work his body until it’s just a piece of gristle. If you type in “Gary Rhodes topless” he looks like he’s in American History X, like he’s a weight-bench-hogging neo-Nazi, who has been arrested and thrown in jail for being ultra-violent, and possibly a Nazi.* Maybe he’s always in jail: a jail of the mind. It’s a jail of his own making. It’s sad, really, that Gary Rhodes has to do this to himself. Raymond Blanc would get a dumbbell to the head before he even had a chance to think.
Winner: Gary Rhodes
*(If anyone from legal reading this - and, honestly, fair play to you if you’ve made it this far – I do not think he is a neo-Nazi; he just has the body of someone who concentrates his energy on hatred and sit-ups.)
Ainsley Harriott vs. Jamie Oliver
Jamie Oliver, at this point, is covered in blood. It’s his blood. On account of his being totally naked and losing all of his skin. He’s still somehow got the mop of dirty blonde hair and his bracelets on, but don’t think about that now. Ainsley Harriott is essentially fine – bit tired, but fine. Jamie Oliver needs the impetus of someone slagging off his wife but Ainsley wouldn’t stoop to such levels. He’d just laugh merrily, throw some salt at Jamie’s exposed wounds and rub that shit in. Screams howl through the empty dining room. Ains keeps laughing. He’s seasoned that man to death. Lovely.
Winner: Ainsley Harriott
Rick Stein vs. Levi Roots
Rick Stein is a man who loves the plonk. We’re talking a montage-of-doctors-taking-off-their-glasses-tapping-their-instruments-and-going-this-man-has-polished-off-enough-plonk-to-kill-every-man-in-Normandy-level love. And yet Rick Stein still stands. Levi Roots steps up and dashes a bottle of hot sauce into Rick’s face. It does nothing, Rick’s eyes already puffed closed by booze. Levi Roots rains down punches – hooks, straights, uppercuts, an open-hand slap after rubbing his hand on a Scotch Bonnet – upon his man but they do nothing. Rick just keeps coming, and coming, and coming – powerful, unknowing, unknowable, like the sea – and backs Levi Roots into a corner and squashes him there like a thumb squashes through the eye of a trout.
Winner: Rick Stein
Gary Rhodes vs. Ainsley Harriott
By this point I can just imagine Gary Rhodes being so heavy with anger, dripping with it, like a sponge, like an angry sponge, that he’d snap off his own tibia and start wailing it around like a baseball bat. Hopping around, screaming, all pretense of Kind and Calm Gary Rhodes now long since gone, swinging around the bottom half of his own severed left leg. Ainsley Harriott just laughs and walks off.
Winner: Gary Rhodes (by default)
Rick Stein vs. Gary Rhodes
So, yeah, by now Rick Stein is the inebriated undead and Gary Rhodes is rapidly losing blood thanks to a self-inflicted transtibial amputation. Rick Stein is a character not unlike the mild-mannered John Rambo from the film series Rambo: a man apart, banishing himself to the countryside after earning his stripes, knowing that he can prove his minerals whenever needed. Gary Rhodes, too, is the artist in exile: deep, knowledgeable, intense, quiet – a soft-voiced culinary master in the streets, a man very loudly doing crunches in the dark in the sheets. But who is harder? That’s what it all comes down to. Who would win in a straight up fight to the death?
It’s Rick Stein.
Even ignoring the fact that he’s now a blind-but-unkillable monster full of good wine, Rick is a man of the earth, of great depth. He knows his body, he doesn’t need to carve it in the wee small hours, doesn’t need to spend his waking hours split between the stove and Men’s Health magazine. He’s an irrepressible spirit who would rather cook you a lamb tagine than wrench your head off like a chicken drumstick, but if you want to kick off, he’s there. He’s ready. Stein has the unquenchable thirst of a man who could batter every trout in the ocean to death on the deck of his trawler, drink the world’s plonk resource clean dry, and still Stein would roam the seven seas, looking for just one more trout, just one more drop of plonk. We should arrest Rick Stein and throw him in a maximum security prison immediately.