Most Montreal foodies sensed it was an oddball fit when a loudmouth celebrity chef from London descended on a beloved-but-worn-out neighbourhood chicken joint.
As usual, their sense of taste proved impeccable. Six months after Gordon Ramsay put his name to Rôtisserie Laurier BBQ, his imprimatur was unceremoniously scrubbed Thursday by the disgruntled local owners of the revamped restaurant.
New menus for “Laurier 1936” were freshly printed on crisp stock in time for dinner, offering the trademark $15 chicken leg and fries, with a side of coleslaw. Mr. Ramsay’s name was nowhere in sight, replaced by the year the restaurant was founded.
Mr. Ramsay’s erstwhile partners said they were driven apart by neglect rather than the trademark bombast that made Mr. Ramsay world famous on his TV reality show, Hell’s Kitchen. For his part, Mr. Ramsay said he was saddened by the rift.
Mr. Ramsay sashayed into Montreal for a 24-hour whirlwind media blitz during the August launch, but he hasn’t been seen since. He said a team has been at the disposal of the restaurant. But the owners said he never did become a true partner. After he declined to put in any money, he signed a six-month consulting contract instead, which ends this week.
“I started Aug. 23, and I haven’t once laid eyes on Mr. Ramsay,” said restaurant manager Patrick Bourbonnière.
Consultations were few and strained and Mr. Ramsay’s minions were very heavy handed and rather insulting, Laurier owner Danny Lavy told The Montreal Gazette. They even tried to get rid of Louise, the woman who has greeted guests for 33 years. (She declined to offer her family name on Thursday.) About 600 VIPs joined Mr. Ramsay for a grand opening after a $1.5-million facelift in August.
However, it would be a mistake to proclaim the experiment a failure like so many other celebrity transplant restaurants.
Ever since news of Mr. Ramsay’s possible involvement leaked out more than a year ago, the place has been busier than ever, with frequent lineups of east-side Montrealers spilling into the sidewalk outside a haunt familiar from childhood.
The chicken was the same, according to restaurant critics such as Marie-Claude Lortie, but a fresh coat of paint and the reminder that came with Mr. Ramsay’s involvement breathed new life into the institution. Some of the new-found enthusiasm was based on the fear the restaurant might just turn into yet another celebrity eatery catering to the city’s poseurs. Patrons also returned out of fear the restaurant might just disappear.
Celebrity chefs such as Daniel Boulud and Charlie Trotter have launched and shut down restaurants in cities like Vancouver and Las Vegas in recent years.
“Ramsay created a buzz. It woke people up, especially the fans who had grown bored with the place. In a strange way, Ramsay gave it a jolt. But I don’t think the changes he brought made the difference. The chicken really didn’t change, everything else they were supposed to do to add pizzazz was quite average,” said Ms. Lortie, co-author of Restos Montréal 2012, a restaurant guide. “It was a strange fit for an old-neighbourhood restaurant from the start.”
Mr. Ramsay’s team expressed disappointment on his behalf Thursday, and the entertainer-chef issued a thinly veiled threat to sue Mr. Lavy for dismissing his contribution to revitalizing the restaurant. (A suggestion that Mr. Ramsay was monitoring Mr. Lavy's every utterance was scrubbed from later statements.)
By Thursday afternoon, Mr. Ramsay’s people steered away from hints of legal action, but his anger still seeped through layers of publicists.
“We have done far more than we were contractually obligated to and it is therefore extremely disappointing that Mr. Lavy should behave in this manner,” the brief statement said.
Meanwhile, on Laurier Avenue, restaurant management were happy to have photographs taken of the cream wainscot walls and copper trim (the kitchen was off limits), but reluctant to get into the dispute.
Mr. Ramsay said he has not ruled out returning to the city some day.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified David Chang as the celebrity chef who closed his restaurant in Vancouver. Mr. Chang will open his first Canadian restaurant in Toronto later this year. This online version has been corrected.