STYLE

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay cooks up defamation suit against Montreal eatery

03/21/2012 03:03 EDT | Updated 05/21/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - Bad-boy celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has embroiled his former Montreal restaurant in a legal stew.

Lawyers for the colourful cook have served notice in Quebec Superior Court that he wants nearly $2.7 million from his former partners in Laurier Gordon Ramsay.

Ramsay is claiming more than $2 million in lost licensing fees. He also wants compensation for alleged defamatory comments he says were made about him.

Suzanne Cote, a lawyer who is representing Danny Lavy, Ramsay's former partner in the restaurant, said she and her client are studying Ramsay's claim.

"We are going to file a vigorous defence to the proceedings," she said. "We think that we have evidence to demonstrate that the allegations of Mr. Ramsay are not founded."

Cote said she was not particularly surprised by Ramsay's court action considering he and Lavy are involved a legal dispute in the U.S. over the breach of a sub-licence involving Ramsay-branded cookware. In that case, Lavy filed the lawsuit.

Lavy is quoted in the Quebec lawsuit as telling a Montreal newspaper that Ramsay was "too busy to come to the restaurant" and that the celebrity chef's team did nothing the restaurant's staff couldn't have done on its own.

He is also quoted as saying Ramsay didn't understand the owners' vision, gave only minor tweaks to the menu without providing a "wow" dish and didn't do promotional efforts such as appearing on a popular TV talk show.

The comments, published in the Montreal Gazette on Feb. 16, came around the time the restaurant dropped Ramsay's name from its logo and changed its brand from Laurier Gordon Ramsay to The Laurier 1936.

Ramsay's lawsuit calls the comments "false and defamatory."

The Scottish-born Ramsay is internationally renowned through a string of acclaimed restaurants and is a familiar face from the covers of his popular cookbooks.

He's also known for his volcanic demeanour on high-rated cooking shows such as "Kitchen Nightmares," "Hell's Kitchen," "Masterchef U.S." and "The F Word."

In Britain, he's also been in the spotlight for a toxic feud involving his father-in-law. Ramsay fired him as the chief executive of his restaurant empire, alleging he was financing a double life with company funds.

The Montreal lawsuit argues Ramsay met his obligations under the licensing agreement.

It said the agreement was binding for 10 years but could be dissolved if the restaurant declared bankrupcy or did not make at least $4 million in net sales in the first five years. Either party could also terminate the deal if there was a breach.

It also contends Ramsay's name had significant value as a brand.

"Negative and critical public comments regarding the plaintiff could have the effect of decreasing the commercial value of his name and any commercial ventures associated with it."

The legal battle is a stark contrast to the uncharacteristically warm and fuzzy media event Ramsay starred in last August to announce his involvement in the restaurant.

Ramsay, who has a reputation for putting flagging restaurants back on their feet, lamented that he felt like he'd been taken into a retirement home when he saw the Montreal eatery for the first time.

Rotisserie Laurier BBQ had been a local favourite since it opened in 1936. It was known for its comfort food dishes, including its chicken and steak.

Saying "businesses don't survive on nostalgia," he said he saw huge potential in the restaurant and was just as excited at opening his first Montreal restaurant as he was when he opened his first eateries in London and Paris.

Ramsay did a cooking demonstration, hosted a gala opening and waxed enthusiastically how he had fallen in love with Montreal during a previous visit.

"Montreal in many ways chose me,'' he said.

MORE:cpStyle