If you can't stand the heat, Ramsay's would definitely, positively, absolutely be the kitchen to stay out of. But that doesn't mean his antics aren't fun to watch: Eight million viewers tune in to see what, or who, will be battered on Kitchen this week. "Tough luck if you can't handle [it]," says Ramsay, 39, whose chefs at his 13 restaurants pass through a similar gauntlet (he won't promote any who can't pass a blindfolded "name the ingredients" test). "There is nothing wrong with being persnickety and demanding. That helps get you to the top." And if Ramsay comes with a side of attitude, even his critics admit the guy's got a gift. "There are very few chefs who end up making money—worldwide you can count them on two hands," says Gill. "Gordon is as good as he is rare." As for their squabble? "We buried the hatchet. He sent me a sweet letter."

Sweet? Yes, Ramsay does soften up when the apron's off. Especially when he's at his four-story London Victorian (with his-and-hers kitchens), with wife Tana, 31, and their four kids: Megan, 8, twins Jack and Holly, 6, and Matilda, 4. "He is completely different at home," says Tana, who has a cookbook of her own out in September. "His family is everything for him."

He does let his mischievous side show when trying to get his kids to eat their veggies. "My son didn't want to eat broccoli, so I said, 'Your teeth will fall out then.' The following week, his tooth was wobbling. It was naturally going to fall out, but it scared him," says Ramsay. "The phrase 'I don't like' doesn't sit with me in this house."

Ramsay and Tana began dating in 1993, a year after he opened his first London restaurant, Aubergine, at 26. His interest in cooking began at 19, after bad knees put a halt to a soccer career. "I just went on a mission with the idea that 'I like cooking, it likes me, I like the hours and I'm durable,'" says the Scottish-born chef. He began a work-study program at a hotel near Stratford-upon-Avon until, he says, he concluded the food was "absolute s—," to use another of his favorite cusswords. (Note: Ramsay's mom, Helen, would like you to know that "I don't know where he got that sort of language—he didn't learn it from me.") After ditching the hotel, Ramsay landed jobs at top restaurants in London and France, until he decided it was time to have his own place.

So how does a guy wound so tight relax? With extreme sports, of course. Ramsay runs marathons (seven so far, and he's run South Africa's 56-mile Comrades "ultra marathon" five times) and is training for a November Ironman competition in Florida. Professionally, he'll open two more restaurants—one in New York City this fall and one in Los Angeles next year. Any other goals? "I'd like another boy," says Ramsay. "But Tana is not too keen. Pink champagne and a vacation and she may change her mind." And maybe, just maybe ... a little sweet talk?

Chef Gordon Ramsay has a favorite phrase. See if you can guess what it is.

• Britain's Sunday Times critic A.A. Gill gave Ramsay a scathing review. Months later, Gill brought actress Joan Collins to one of Ramsay's restaurants, and the owner booted him out the door.
"I said, 'Don't take it personally, but would you mind f—— off?'" says Ramsay. "Joan was furious."

• He doesn't like special orders.
"I had customers asking for Atkins's food," says Ramsay. "I said, 'F—off! You're spoiling the fun of food.'"

• After a day of shooting Hell's Kitchen—the FOX reality series, now in its second season, in which wannabe chefs must pass their food and souls through the flaming crucible of Ramsay's kitchen—he went to change his clothes.
"There was a man standing outside my door waiting to take my pants," says Ramsay. "Only in L.A.! I told him, 'F— off right now!' I don't have a pants man!"

  • Contributors:
  • Pete Norman/London.