Kate Stroup
June 23, 2008 12:00 PM

Gordon Ramsay is belly up to a 2 1/2-ton Rorgue stove, barking orders to aspiring young chefs. “C’mon Tilly, start mashing. Push, push, push!” he demands. “Meg, pick that mint!” Then, just before sparks from a plum flambé shoot toward the ceiling: “Stand back, Jack! Watch out!”

But this time the nine-Michelin-starred chef with the famously foul mouth isn’t slinging insults on his hit FOX reality series Hell’s Kitchen—or cracking the whip at one of his 19 gourmet restaurants (spread over three continents). No, Ramsay, 41, is simply serving up Saturday lunch in his south London home—with his kids Megan, 10, twins Jack and Holly, 8, and Tilly, 6, acting as sous chefs. Today’s specials: Sticky Lemon Chicken (from his new book, Fast Food), mashed potatoes with green onions and a plum-and-raspberry crumble—tame fare for a family of adventurous omnivores. “They’ve eaten lamb’s brains,” Ramsay boasts. “Yeah! They loved them.”

Bonding over exotic dishes is just one of the ways the boisterous brood stays close, despite a workaholic schedule that last year kept Ramsay—who also hosts FOX’s Kitchen Nightmares and The F-Word in the U.K.—on the road for seven months. And it’s about to get even busier: On June 4, he officially launched his newest restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood. The L.A. crowd is “very demanding, very fickle,” he says warily. At least two customers he can count on: close friends David and Victoria Beckham. (“Everyone thinks Victoria doesn’t eat, but she does.”) Another celeb fan? Pal Simon Cowell. “When I cook, he always wants roast chicken,” says Ramsay. “He’s quite an easy guy to look after.”

Likewise, his off-duty cooking style is “very relaxed,” the Scottish-born chef insists. Married since 1997 to Tana, 33, a cookbook author, Ramsay—who started cooking after knee injuries dashed his pro soccer career—does indulge his devilish side at home. In the garden behind their three-story, 10-bedroom Victorian, “we like to shoot off fireworks, and I tend to go a bit mad,” he says with a grin. “I sort of aim them in the direction of the houses.”

But when it comes to parenting, Ramsay is part teddy bear—”I’m [my kids’] best friend”—and part taskmaster: no sweets after school, no TV during the week and absolutely no cursing, despite Dad’s day job. “I don’t want them foul-mouthed,” he says. Adds Tana, who fines the children for bad language: “We have a swear box, and I figured I’d buy a new pair of shoes when there was enough money. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting!”

When he’s not testing out new recipes, Ramsay spends his time at home watching the kids play soccer and Monopoly (instead of street names, they buy and sell Daddy’s restaurants) and trying not to think about the ultimate nightmare: the day his daughters turn up with boyfriends. “Right now, I’m their boyfriend—they all want to marry me,” he says. “I’m enjoying every moment of it.”

For Ramsay’s Sticky Lemon Chicken recipe, go to PEOPLE.COM/RAMSAYRECIPE

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