BWW Interviews - Chef Gordon Ramsay Chats New Season of HELL'S KITCHEN
HELL'S KITCHEN, FOX, Reality TV
Internationally renowned chef Gordon Ramsay owns and operates a string of successful restaurants across the globe, from Italy to the United States. The three-star Michelin Star chef has become a fixture on the small screen both in the U.K. and internationally, including the four top-rated FOX shows that air in more than 200 countries worldwide: KITCHEN NIGHTMARES, HELL'S KITCHEN, MASTERCHEF and HOTEL HELL. He is also a published author of a number of best-selling books, most notably his autobiography, "Roasting in Hell's Kitchen."
Ramsay spoke by phone about the 11th season of HELL'S KITCHEN, an unscripted culinary boot camp that features the drama of aspiring restaurateurs competing for his approval and the chance to become America's next culinary star. The show airs Tuesdays at 8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT on FOX.
When a new competition begins, how much do you already know about the contestants and are you aware of any of the craziness that is happening in the dorms?
Good question. I based only and purposely took a decision eight years ago not to get engaged with what happens off set. I've always maintained, I run a restaurant and FOX runs a show, so it'd be very unprofessional of me to start delving into what goes on in terms of the characters and the personalities. I judge everyone from an equal playing field.
It's too easy to get obsessed with what goes on in the dorm, but that doesn't interest me because that doesn't sort of make any difference to me. When I open that restaurant, when we do the challenges, when we set the menu, which I'm totally involved in far much more this year than ever before, it's always done as a professional chef basis, so I don't want to look like I'm two-faced. I'm sneaking sort of behind the scenes to find out what I like, so I can have a different view of them when they walk back into the kitchen, so no.
All I do know is that we have some phenomenal chefs and Season 11 was quite scary for me because 11 seasons, I mean extraordinary, so it's just 11 times I've opened that amazing Hell's Kitchen, because I'm in love with it now. I'm love with the restaurant. I'm in love with the competitive edge, so it's like launching a brand new restaurant every time, so yes, a lucky number 11.
Now that you are entering the show's 11th season, how do you continue to keep the show fresh and interesting?
We've been so much more adventurous, not with our sous chefs, but their challenges as well. We try to make it relevant in terms of the multi-cultural world from phenomenal dinners from Spanish cuisine with a heavy influence of Mexico. We've gone out on some extraordinary field trips. We've done some amazing charity events that have put the pressure on unlike never before.
And then I introduce the chef tables quite early on, because that puts them under scrutiny. Try to find out who their sort of mentors were and their heroes and try to incorporate those guests, so they weren't just sort of cooking on a show. All of a sudden they're now cooking for some big mentors and I suppose they really got to terms with that early on in a way that they could handle that pressure. As far as they're concerned, they're competitive and really ready to win this thing.
Regarding your support staff this year, you lost Scott unfortunately, but Jean-Philippe is back. Can you talk about those two changes?
I've always said that I think females make the best chefs anywhere in the world. They're a lot more composed and a lot calmer and they don't need telling three or four times, so coupled with James, an American Irish talented boy, a young dynamic and first started working with me on Kitchen Nightmares literally four years ago. So Scott has gone on and opened up his own restaurant up in Santa Barbara, and obviously I can understand why he wants to have focus on that.
And secondly, he and I quite liked upping the ante because we move forward with the pressure with these individuals. It was so important equally behind the scenes that I had that kind of support from a fresh outlook with my sous chef, but you'll see and not just tomorrow, but it is seriously different in a way that we've become so much more energized with the relevant things happening in food, whether it's the food science, latest trends. And I just mentioned to Kyle earlier, we really have kept it sort of multicultural, so all that ethnicity you really get to draw out, whether it's an Indian background and Mexican or Portuguese cuisine, we even did some challenges with a sort of Vietnamese aspect as well, so really educational beyond belief.
When we see the chefs getting stressed out or upset, how stressful is it for you personally?
Do you know what, I don't know, I mean I love pressure and like I said, I always open those doors and when I say we're going live, it literally is live, so it's like a game of football. There's first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter and that goes across three hours, so I feel so much more relaxed that we can deliver that level of service this year better than ever before, because we have Jean-Philippe back. He opened up his amazing restaurant back in Belgium two years ago and I said to him, look, I don't mind helping you out if you want to do an undercover Kitchen Nightmares.
So he got upset, he said, whoa, you can't do Hell's Kitchen without me and I want to come back, so he's back this year and that has just lifted the team's spirits and the dining room beyond belief.
After 11 seasons, how do you manage to still go through the initial signature dish and not be surprised that the contestants haven't learned from previous seasons?
That's the same question I ask myself! This year we did something completely different where I said, look, just respond to cooking live better than ever before and if you don't, you shouldn't be a chef, because forget the cameras. Forget the show. Behind the scenes when you're in a restaurant, you are live and when you kick off, you can't just stop and say I'm not quite ready. You go, you go, so this year we brought them out in front of a huge audience in Vegas where they thought they were going to watch a show, and literally they had no idea. They thought they were going in to watch an animated new release from Disney.
Anyway, it's pitch black. The cart came up from underground and all of a sudden there was pure silence. The curtains dropped and they had to introduce themselves and then cook live in front of 2,500 guests, and I've done a motivational speech in front of 3,000 athletes once and that was pretty terrifying. The subject was passion.
So I wanted these individuals to understand, look, let me tell you the seriousness of this. Introduce yourself, show some character on the plate and then go and cook your live signature dish. So I thought, to be perfectly honest, these dishes would actually be better because once they introduced themselves on the stage, the whole back stage dropped and there was a live kitchen there, so it really was putting them on edge; and unfortunately it didn't create the best signature dishes. However, there were some shining stars, but they were few and far between because I don't think they were prepared for that, and I think in today's role and the pressure of a chef today, I'm sorry, but you have to be prepared for everything; anything and everything at any time.
This season you have Ray, who is one of the oldest contestants. Do you feel he might have an advantage because he's more seasoned?
Actually, you know bringing that level of maturity into the mix was nice, because not just a father figure, but the guy is well traveled. He's got integrity. He turns out as an absolute diamond and I could level with him and so I was almost showing him more my frustrations than the youngsters, because it just wasn't making sense at time, so God bless him.
I mean what an amazing guy. It was a rollercoaster for him, but he brought a level of maturity to the younger cooks and sort of almost coaxed them through it because of his experience in life in general. So I thought he was going to fall flat on his face within 24 hours, but the guy has a heart of gold and is a true, true passionate chef, so he did phenomenally well. You are not going to be disappointed with Granddad Ray.
You have chefs of all different cooking talents on the show. How do you deal with that?