Guillermo Russo is the force behind Laurier Gordon Ramsay, Montreal
It would appear Guillermo Russo works for the world’s most demanding boss: a rock’em, sock’em leader who’s master of the kitchen and culinary world stage. His employer’s name is on the sign out front, which reads “Laurier Gordon Ramsay.”
“Gordon’s got a great sense of humour,” says the 31-year-old who trained at Ramsay’s London restos — The Savoy Grill, Maze, Claridge’s and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. “The mission for me in England was to spend time at restaurants that belonged to Gordon.” It’s how Russo learned “Ramsay’s standards: quality control, the products, how to treat people and how to operate the business.” And, Russo got it. “Guillermo’s a very talented and focused young man; he is a force for us,” confirms the celebrity chef.
Pet lover: Owns a bull terrier named Liza.
Tenacity and serendipity led the McGill international development grad (BA 2005) to Ramsay. During down time from his job at Olivieri’s, Russo knocked on Laurier’s door. Months passed before he got a call and was asked to create a menu for key execs. “I had to express my vision of what Laurier could become. I was told to do 12 courses and a couple of side dishes.” But cooking in a tired, 75-year-old restaurant, not yet given the full Ramsay reno, came with its challenges. “On the day of the tasting, the gas wouldn’t turn on. There was smoke coming out of the oven, the fridge didn’t work,” Russo sighs. “I had to pack up everything, go back home and continue cooking it there.” He thought for sure he was being “punked,” but he persevered and got the gig.
Today the 300-seat barbecue spot, known for shabby-chic, comfort food, is doing about 700 covers a day, with an average check of $32. Russo’s team prepares dishes such as sweet potato with pecans and marshmallows ($5), beef chili with bacon, chorizo, peppers and cornbread ($13) and a classic hot-chicken sandwich with hand-cut fries, peas and gravy ($13). The kitchen brigade also makes three dishes for its after-hours ‘$21.30 after 21:30’ menu.
Who’d win a cage match between Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain? “Gordon — he’s huge! Gordon looks a lot smaller on camera than he is in real life.”
And, if being connected to a famous name from the culinary world isn’t amazing enough, Russo also boasts a family connection to a famous name from history. Russo’s grandmother cooked for Cuban radical leader Che Guevara. “[She] used to cook him breakfast; she became best friends with his first wife,” he says. Guevara’s breakfast likely included “eggs and chorizo, chicharron [fried pork rinds] or sweet potato sandwiches with onion salsa.”
With an incredible résumé to draw from — including stints at The Black Hoof in Toronto, Aroma in Ottawa and La Gloria in his native Peru — Russo could easily go wild in the kitchen at Laurier. But he steers clear of dictating to Montrealers, many of whom grew up on food from the original Laurier restaurant. “It was never our goal, to say, ‘here’s what we think you guys should eat.’” Recognizing the need for re-invention, but maintaining the restaurant’s original spirit, Russo adds, “it was more like, ‘what have they been eating for so many years? Okay, that’s a good dish, they’ve just been doing it terribly.”
So, has it been intimidating working for the Hell’s Kitchen star? “Did I get butterflies at first, yeah, I guess,” says the son of a Peruvian diplomat. “But I’ve been cooking a long time so this is what I’ve been training for all these years.”
Would Ramsay show mercy on Bourdain, or would he go for the jugular? “Jugular.”
More in Feature Articles