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Gordon Ramsay's Unique Eating Style

I've been watching the UK versions of "Kitchen Nightmares" recently, and I've noticed that the way Ramsay holds his knife is unique, to say the least. Everyone I've ever seen eat, in person or on TV, holds their knife so the butt is held in the palm. Ramsay, on the other hand, holds his so that the butt sticks out between thumb and forefinger. I watched him a few times, and thought he looked odd, but I had to watch closely the next few times to see what was putting me off.

Has anyone else noticed this? Is this style of knife-holding typical in some part of the world? It certainly looks awkward to me.

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  1. Don't know about GR, but a friend who was born and raised in Belgium holds his knife that way and if you watch closely they've always got the fork in one hand and the knife in the other while they're eating.

    3 Replies
    1. re: monku

      Fork in one hand, knife in the other is often called "continental" style (as opposed to "American" style, where after the piece is cut, the knife is lain down, and fork transferred to the right hand to move the food to the mouth). This has been discussed on many other threads, and I'm quite familiar with both styles. But three of my grandparents were from England, and I never saw them hold a knife in this fashion, nor did I noticeit on my few trips to the U.K.

      Maybe I wasn't moving in posh enough circles!

      1. re: monku

        It never occurred to me that there was any other way! What do Americans do then?

        1. re: greedygirl

          Americans hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand while cutting, then put the knife down and switch the fork to the right hand (often tines-up) to eat. While I won't say it's rude to mush food against the back of the fork in order to bring it to your mouth tines-down, it will certainly garner you some odd looks if people see it.

          European-style dining (which is what I was taught) is becoming rather commoner in the US.

      2. If you watch closely you will see many of the diners in the UK version of Kitchen Nightmares, The F Word, etc. holding their knives in this fashion.

        1. It isn't especially unusual. My London born wife really does eat peas off the back of a fork. She uses a knife and fork to eat chicken wings. The concept of "good manners" sure differs from place to place.

          1. I've never noticed this. We catch both "Kitchen Nighmares," and "Hell's Kitchen," though both are the US versions. I've seen Chef Ramsay wield a knife and fork in many episodes, but never noticed anything beyond the "continental" method. I'll have to pay much closer attention next time.

            I'll also see if the UK version is available on the set in our flat. In all of our stays, I have never seen Chef Ramsay on anything. I'll check SKY 1 & 2, plus the others, as I'd love to see "KN's" with UK restaurants. Thanks for giving me some "homework," and also a tip for what to watch for, this April.


            19 Replies
            1. re: Bill Hunt

              Just a word of warning - if you catch KN from the UK, be prepared - Ramsay seems incapable of uttering a sentence sans profanity. Doesn't bother me at all, but I'm weird.

              1. re: KevinB

                Actually, a friend in Denmark commented on the Euro/UK versions, sans "beeps." Hey, I play golf, and I sail. I have heard it all before, and possibly uttered a few, though maybe not with the frequency of Chef Ramsey. Personally, I'd rather have it "un-edited" (do not have children), rather than the constant beeping. Still, I cannot imagine him making a keynote speach for the PM, or similar.

                Thanks for the warning.


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  I recently attended a live interview with Ramsay and there was very little profanity. He can speak without it when he wants to. He does motivational/leadership speeches for major corporations (for a large fee) as well.

                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    We get both the US and UK versions of these shows in Canada and the UK ones are, indeed, extremely profane. I don't have a problem with this myself. The US mandated beeps are annoying and stupid, especially since every kid over 7 who might be watching (though I doubt many kids would be interested) knows damn well what's behind the beep.

                    As the dramatics on shows like Hell's Kitchen become ever more extreme, it occurs to me that Ramsay may eventually forsake the food biz for an acting career.

                    I suspect (no personally obtained evidence though) that, in real life, the much more likable Jamie Oliver is far more profane than Ramsay.

                    1. re: embee

                      The UK based Kitchen Nightmares is SO much more enjoyable because you get the voice-over narration by Ramsay himself. That gives a real sense that he truly cares about the restaurant and gives you more of an insight into what he's trying to do. The US version's overall presentation and narration is simply aggravating.

                      Just so you know here I stand, I also very much like Ramsay's 'The F Word' programme and dislike Hell's Kitchen entirely.

                      1. re: Atahualpa

                        The narrated version sounds the better. Hope to catch it in April. Thanks for the details.


                2. re: Bill Hunt

                  It's the European or Continental style of using the knife in fork.
                  In the US we use what Emily Post calls the "zig zag" style.

                  When I'm in a Chinese restaurant I use the "shovel" style....pick up the bowl and shovel the food into my mouth with the chopsticks...definitely a no no.


                  1. re: monku


                    I think that you missed an important detail and a distinction between the "general" continental method, "Ramsay, on the other hand, holds his so that the butt sticks out between thumb and forefinger."

                    This differs from what I observe with my Euro/UK dining companions.


                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      Is this what you're describing?

                      " in Europe it is considered better manners not to hold a knife or fork as one would hold a pen, but to have the handle running along the palm and extending out to be held by thumb and forefinger. This style is sometimes called 'hidden handle'. This method is also common in Canada and most other ex-colonies."


                      1. re: monku

                        You may have me there. Though I dine with a great many "continentals," I have never observed that style. Thank you for the clarification. Now, come April, I'll really be keen to see how my guests handled THEIR knives!



                        1. re: monku

                          Yes, that's it in a nutshell - he holds his knife like I would hold a pen, which I've never seen before. It looks extremely awkward to me.

                          1. re: monku

                            Actually, the hidden handle is the custom in the US (the butt end is concealed by the fisted palm). What the OP is highlighting is that GR appears to use the pen method.

                            1. re: Karl S

                              Not just in the US - Canada, Oz, everywhere I've been in Asia whenever they use a knife, all across Europe. And I would hardly describe it as a "fisted palm". The index finger runs along the top, the thumb and middle finger hold the shaft, and the ring and pinky don't quite curl around the remainder of the butt. I've never seen the "pen" method anywhere in the world except on GR's show.

                              1. re: KevinB

                                The "Pen Method" was, And I stress Was, taught to us not only by our parents but also by our teachers in preparatory school, along with ball room dancing and the polite way to hold a tea cup.But we are talking about in the 60's and in an ex British colony.My grand father however, A Norwegian ships captain used the fisted palm method. Now in the US ,I encounter the "Hold it down with the fork and stab it again honey, I think it's still moving method" Can someone explain?

                                1. re: currymouth

                                  I should clarify what I meant by fisted palm: I do not mean the knife being held vertically, but laterally, with the butt end enclosed in the palm - the palm is like a fist except for the thumb being extended along the knife handle, rather than held inside the palm.

                                  Just to avoid misunderstandings.

                                2. re: KevinB

                                  i was taught in primary school and by my parents to hold the knife as a pen, so were all my australian friends and everyone i knew in england did the pen method i grew up with it considered good manners ;-)

                              2. re: monku

                                OK, its confession time...this (thumb and forefinger method) is the way I hold a knife and I am from one of those "ex-colonies". Only very rarely do people ever seem to notice...I thnk my technique is more subtle than GR's (well everything about most people is more subtle than GR!)

                                1. re: LJS

                                  When I first read the OP, I had to grab a knife and fork to see what camp I fell into, and as is the case, I think I'm in all of them.
                                  I spent 8 years using only chopsticks with my first wife, now on 11years using a fork and spoon on occasion with 2'nd wife, taught the pen method in school,and now who knows? so I'm totally confused

                        2. Indeed, all of Latin America uses the "normal" European style of knife and fork use. Once you mentioned it, I immediately recalled seeing GR using the "pen" style that I had subconciously thought odd.

                          1. Ramsey's way of holding the knife - like a pen - is quite common here, but probably a minority. Most of us, I reckon, hold the knife in the palm.

                            It's not a regional thing but if I had to give you broad brush answer I would say it's social class thing. The "like a pen" being more a working class thing. It's the only way I can explain it and, please, accept that this is a broad brush answer, whcih will not apply universally.

                            To give a family example, my parents in law have a working class background. Mother in law and one son hold it like a pen. Father in law and the other four children hold it in the palm. Nope - I can't rationalise it either. It's just how some folk find it comfortable to eat.

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: Harters

                              I am thankful for the details from this thread. While I am a "Yank," through and through, I do spend a good deal of time in Europe and the UK. We also host many guests from "across the Pond," so I get to see more of it, than the average "Joe." This is quite new to me, as should be obvious from an earlier reply, before I knew of the "pen" method.

                              Even when I had a protocol coach for a high-level dining event in London, no mention was made of the "pen" method, and the coach's father had been Ambassador to Great Britian, plus her husband was in the "corps." Even at the event, I looked about to observe my fellow guests, and their "Continental" style. Unfortunately, I was not comfortable, even after days, and days of practice, so I just reverted to my "Yank" style. My wife was much better a student, than was I. Also, she was the one receiving a Royal Appointment, not me. I was just busy trying to charm Lady X to my left, and not spill any of my wines. Still - no "pen" method.

                              The holding of knives was rather like how I hold my putter, if one took my left hand off of the grip. The handle is hidden, though the main grip is with the thumb and first finger, with other fingers lightly curled around the handle. Same for me, except I do swap utensils - "American style." I was just never comfortable with keeping the fork always in the left, and the knife in the right. I could just see disaster. I chose for all of the guests at the table KNOW that I was a "Yank," rather than think I was a clumsey buffoon too. During the course of the evening, Lady X never laughed, and pointed. Now, back at the manor, she may well have shared stories with Lord X, about your dining companion, but not that night - obviously deserving the title "Lady."

                              You ought to see me with chopsticks. It is not pretty, like my wife's technique, though I can still pick up single grains of rice (not just sticky-rice). Still, anyone, who has ever used chopsticks growing up would have a field day with my techinque.

                              Thanks for the education on this. Will have to observe Chef Ramsay much more closely next time.


                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                Now, you know how the English ( I'll leave aside the other peoples of these islands) are supposed to be still riddled with the ills of social class divisions. Well, at least that's what foreigners will still tell us from time to time. And, of course, there's a germ of truth in it.

                                Kate Fox's book "Watching the English" is a good read, if a little irritating at times, exploring some of what she perceives are our national characteristics - for example, our willingness to queue and the anger/embarrassment caused when someone is served out of turn ( a recent altercation in a supermarket resulted in a man being killed - but that is an extreme example even for us - we'd normally just mutter to ourselves saying "well, really").

                                She has a chapter on food matters but barely touches on the "like a pen" thing. But she does mention that Debretts etiquette guide suggests that it is "completele unacceptable". As she comments, tongue in cheek, that is reason enough not to do but that it provides instant confirmation that someone is going to be your social inferior. Bit like folk who call their lunch "dinner" and their dinner "tea" - but that's an even longer and more complex story.


                                1. re: Harters

                                  Actually, my wife received "Watching the English," as a gift from a UK board member. She's read it, but now I will have to do the same. See, if I had only done so earlier on, I'd have known about the "pen."

                                  Thanks for spuring my curiosity even more - just gotta' find where my wife put it...


                                2. re: Bill Hunt

                                  I must confess I'd never noticed that Americans handle their cutlery differently. So if I understand correctly, you cut your food using your knife in your right hand, and then move your fork to your right hand to eat? I'm going to be observing closely from now on!

                                  1. re: greedygirl

                                    Not all Americans eat in this fashion. What North Americans call "continental" style is becoming more popular. It really depends on what part of the country you are in.

                                    1. re: greedygirl

                                      In a nutshell, you have covered, what I see as the main difference. It's basically "two-handed" to cut, then "one-handed," with a switch involved, to eat.

                                      I see much more of the "Continental" method in use in the USA, by more locals. I would guess that they have either traveled to Europe/UK, or have been exposed by friends.

                                      Since this started with a Gordon Ramsay tie, I noticed that most of the last 8, or so contestants on "Top Chef" used the "Continental" method, regardless of where they lived. OK, two were European, but still several US contestants did so, as well.


                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        My sibs and I adopted the Continental method when we were kids 40 years ago because it is just so much more efficient and had the bonus of annoying my father. We did not know it was Continental - we just figured it out on our own.

                                        1. re: Karl S

                                          I love your reason for using the knife and fork this way! I am glad that I did not have any wine in my mouth, as I read it.


                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            I should add that Judith Martin aka Miss Manners decreed the American manner more refined than the Continental precisely because it is less efficient, as she believes that refinement and efficiency are inversely correlated, as it were....

                                            1. re: Karl S

                                              I have never ascribed to the "efficiency" aspect, since I do not look upon dining with others to be a competition. Why, I have actually been known to put down all utensils and converse with a table-mate.

                                              OTOH, I do rather admire the Continental method for its “style.” I was just never comfortable with it. My wife switches back and forth with no noticeable effort. I flounder, and fear the worst.

                                              Thank you for pointing this out. I really do not debate one vs. the other, and just use that which serves me best.



                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                you must have avoided the typical large family experience of meal time as a competition. sometimes the incentives were to eat fast, sometimes to eat slowly....

                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                  Yes I did. I was an only-child, until age 13. We had a very small family, so I have no experience in this.

                                                  I will try and observe the "pen method" more closely, when we're in the UK in April. Until this thread, I had never seen, or maybe never observed it.

                                                  Thanks to the thread,


                                3. Can we take a little side trip to how people hold forks? I was taught that the proper way to hold a fork while transferring food to my mouth was pen-style, and that only young children and barbarians hold their forks with the handle buried in the fist.

                                  16 Replies
                                    1. re: rememberme

                                      I was taught that if you were holding your knife, you held your fork with the tines down, and the handle would then be in your palm. If you wanted to turn your fork tines up, you laid your knife down, and then you would hold your fork in the "pen" style. Of course, this presupposes you are using "continental" style, where you don't transfer the fork from left hand to right. So, if I'm having roast beef, the fork in my left hand will hold the meat, tines down and butt in my palm, while I cut it with the knife in my right hand. Then, without putting down my knife, I transfer the cut piece to my mouth (possible detour to the horseradish, of course), again keeping the tines down and butt in palm. However, when I want to eat the mashed potatoes, I put my knife down, turn the fork tines up, and go to a pen style grip.

                                      I quite agree - I can't imagine any form of tines up, butt in palm grip that wouldn't look boorish in the extreme.

                                      1. re: rememberme

                                        "that only young children and barbarians hold their forks with the handle buried in the fist."

                                        And we Europeans and those who eat in our style, of course.

                                          1. re: Karl S

                                            karl, i'm just in wonderment how you found a photo for "buried in the fist" that shows this fork attack. [;^D.

                                            1. re: Karl S

                                              unfortunately for my keyboard, I just DID have wine in my mouth when I see this photo!

                                            2. re: Harters

                                              Oh, I didn't mean European or "continental" style, I meant young-child-style, i.e. using the fork as a shovel, a method some adults retain.

                                              1. re: rememberme

                                                hey, is this shovel style? pen style? or "shooting bird" style? http://s48.photobucket.com/albums/f20...

                                            3. re: rememberme

                                              this was really interesting to read because I have adopted somewhat of a "melting pot" version of Continental and US

                                              I'm left handed and have never mastered holding a fork or spoon in my right hand but can wield a knife quite efficiently with my right hand.

                                              For me, when cutting meat, fork in left hand tines down, butt in palm - knife in right hand, index finger on top of knife, butt in palm. After cutting, put knife down and raise fork to mouth with the "pen method" of holding.

                                              This has always made me a bit self-conscious - when I was in the 6th grade, we had a field trip to a fairly famous restaurant in Tampa (the Columbia for you Tampanians). At any rate , my teacher found my table manners completely offensive and called me out in front of 2 entire 6th grade classes. If I recall, she said "you are eating wrong - who taught you how to eat that way"

                                              Well, I've always been one to sort of "buck authority" so I questioned her on the "proper way" and she literally snatched - yes! snatched! my knife and fork out of my hands to demonstrate the proper way ie, zig zag method.

                                              I have to admit that even after that scarring incident, the zig zag method still seems completely inefficient and awkward. Why all that extra work!?! Everyone knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line....

                                              one last thought ...How do they address left-handers in the etiquette books/training? Would my eating style get me kicked out of the embassy?

                                              I would think my thrashing food around by trying to hold my fork in my right hand would be far worse....admittedly, funnier, but still probably not the desired outcome ;-)

                                              1. re: chicaraleigh

                                                Being a lefty myself, I feel for you. I remember being told to write with my right hand, which I just couldn't do. My parents had to complain to the school before the teacher let me be.

                                                But, as I noted in an earlier post, why not just keep your knife in your right hand, and transfer your meat to your mouth with your fork tines down? Saves a lot of fussing, and to me, looks significantly more elegant. That may just be me, though.

                                                1. re: chicaraleigh

                                                  I'm slightly confused - the "Continental" aka normal method to me is to hold your fork in your left hand and knife in your right. I'm left-handed as well and that's how I eat. So you wouldn't have a problem.

                                                  Mr GG has just told me about a film in which an American spy in occupied France is rumbled because he eats American-style, ie cuts his food up before he eats it. So potential secret agents take note!

                                                  1. re: greedygirl


                                                    I think it's usual for European lefthanders to hold fork in left hand just as we righthanders do. And similarly with dessert spoon in right hand.

                                                    Seeing as you mention film, I always noticed in the TV show, the Sopranos, that the main characters always seemed to eat European style. Presumably a deliberate take on the subject possibly referencing back to the lnks with Europe.

                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                      Again, I don't think continental/European style is as uncommon in North America as some people seem to think. I never see the "American" style in Canada, or when I visit NY/LA.

                                                  2. re: chicaraleigh

                                                    I'm another halfway person. I'm an American who lived & worked in Europe for years, and generally eat Continental style, but still switch the fork to my right hand for certain foods like rice. Part of that is because there are two basic methods of using a fork: tines down for "stabbing" things, and tines up for scooping things like rice or peas. While I have no problem stabbing with either hand, I find it awkward to use the scoop method with the fork in my left hand.

                                                    1. re: BobB

                                                      Fork & knife are no good for anything small, and even less good for small & saucy. For that you need Fork & Spoon, where the back of the fork loads small food into the spoon. Way more efficient.

                                                  3. I'm a little late to this party, but the subject is always coming up here and there. I was taught by my high school French teacher (and I find this explanation here and there on the net as well) that the so-called "American Style" was the older style and was maintained by the colonists for a variety of reasons. Among them, many were not well to do and could therefore not afford more than one knife, so either food was served already chopped or one was expected to cut then pass the knife on. The Continental style developed after they were here and so they just never developed it. On the western edges of society, mum was generally pleased if her crew just managed to handle the old style and chew with mouth closed. By-the-by, the Revolution came along, and people were rather proud of distinctions from England and Europe.

                                                    That said, I tried this holding the knife like a pen thing, which I had never seen either. It's very awkward, I'd be jolly lucky not to toss my meat half way across the dining room trying it. I've been told by several Brit friends one never never ever under any circumstances turns a fork tine side up. They consume entire meals tines down, generally applying a bit of potato or what have you on the back of the fork with a bite of meat. They have the tendency to cut much smaller bites of meat than one tends to see here, and so it is no problem. As to a class issue, two grew up in a council flat, the others are all from well-to-do families. One is titled. Maybe it's an area or certain schools?

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: GertieHound

                                                      it always cracks me up when mr. alka (who spent his young adult years in england) puts food like potatoes or peas on the *back* of his fork -- so unpractical!

                                                      however, he makes huge cuts of meat, e.g., but i attribute that to feeling like he might be deprived of his food (a psychological legacy of eating at the catholic school dining hall!
                                                      ;-)). i tease him that i'm not going to take away his food. it is sort of sad, really.

                                                    2. Perhaps interestingly, I noticed that on the latest series of The F Word, Ramsey is now eating in a normal European way. I suspect the Channel 4 style police have given him coaching lessons that, as a 3 star chef he should not be eating like a working class chav.