What's in a Name? Gordon Ramsay's Fat Cow: Insult or Loving Bovine Tribute?
Naming a restaurant is a tricky business. In just one or two words, you need to convey so much -- ideally a restaurant name should give prospective diners a snapshot of your ethos and aesthetic. It is the first cultural cue in a complicated social and business exchange.
Which is why the name of Gordon Ramsay's new restaurant -- the Fat Cow -- is so interesting. On the one hand, the name fits right in with the current trend of naming restaurants after farm animals -- just choose your livestock, stick an adjective in front of it and voila! Restaurant name done (the Fat Duck, the Spotted Pig, Black Hogg, etc.). On the other hand, "fat cow" is an incredibly common British insult. And Ramsay is an incredibly prolific insulter. He's also a very famous chef, and one whom people love in part because he's so shouty on camera, particularly on his best-known U.S. TV show, Hell's Kitchen.
So it would make sense, then, that he'd name his restaurant something that's part of a current trend of animal-plus-adjective but also a blatant insult. After all, Ramsay has been quite successfully selling himself as a celebrity's insulter-in-chief for years -- there's no reason people wouldn't gobble it up quite literally at the Fat Cow.
Not so fast, say his PR people. Last week, when writing about the Fat Cow's opening at the Grove, I mentioned the insulting nature of the name and got an immediate response from the restaurant publicist asking me to reword my assumption. The name is not an insult at all, they insisted, but rather a loving tribute to an animal we eat every day but don't appreciate.
"It's such a friendly, fun place," the email said. "We don't want people getting the wrong idea. In fact, there is not a big story behind the name ... the name comes from the following thought: The cow is something we eat all the time, but don't appreciate, so the title of the restaurant is just a nod to that, nothing more ..."
Why name a restaurant after an insult and then pretend it isn't an insult?
It may be that the publicity folks are still on the defensive from some press the Fat Cow received back in March when British tabloid the Sun questioned whether Ramsay's new L.A. restaurant was named in tribute to Sara Horowitz, a contestant on Hell's Kitchen whom Ramsay called "fat cow" on camera. Like last week, a spokeswoman for Ramsay denied the connection to Horowitz or any Ramsay insult, saying, "It is just a nod to the cow, nothing more."
But the fact that Ramsay has used the insult himself just cements its double meaning. Saying there's no insult implicit is like opening a restaurant called the Bloody Pom and explaining it by saying, "Well, we were inspired by the French word for potato, and also the meat-centric nature of our menu -- we just put those together and came up with this -- nothing else!" It seems if you're going to have the bollocks to name your restaurant something that is a well-known insult, the only way you could possibly get away with it is to just go ahead and own it.
Like at the end of the first season of Hell's Kitchen, when Ramsay was the last thing we saw, sitting in a chair and musing about the fantastic qualities of the winner. And then, he turned his head to the camera and said quite jovially to the audience, "Now you can all go fuck yourselves."
Well, yes. Exactly.
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