Gordon Ramsay dishes this season's Hell's Kitchen
By April MacIntyre Jul 21, 2009, 2:00 GMT
The FOX cooking reality series is peppered by the blustery bullying of chef Gordon Ramsay, and the format has not changed as sixteen contestants will try to slice and dice and politically maneuver their way to the finals of this season\'s competition. Courtesy of FOX
Hell's Kitchen is back on FOX.
The FOX reality cooking series is peppered by the blustery bullying of chef Gordon Ramsay, and the format is unchanged, kept to the letter as sixteen contestants will try to slice and dice and politically maneuver their way to the finals of this season's competition.
They just have to survive weekly challenges, dinner service mishaps, calculating fellow contestants and the profanity unleashed by Ramsay.
FOX promises that this season starts with "a twist" regarding the new contestants.
Monsters and Critics participated in a conference call with Gordon Ramsay, and talked about the new show and cuisine.
Why was Whistler the choice for the grand prize?
G. Ramsay: We had several offers this year on the table in terms of the restaurants as potential gifts for the winners, and itís hard right now fighting a global credit crunch, which weíve all seen a huge downturn. Whistlerís hosting the 2010 Olympics ... restaurant, yes, amazing.
The place is just beautiful. Very few restaurants anywhere in the world get a chance to survive the way they do in terms of everything is sourced, 95% of their produce is sourced within 100 miles of their front door.
Thatís a dream come true for any chef. For a young winner to be in that position and to learn and respect what itís like to use things only when theyíre available, as opposed to have a fascination with fresh ingredients that can be obtained from all around the world. The Whistler restaurant fit it perfectly.
Talk about the confrontational tone this season seems to have more of?
G. Ramsay: Itís an industry language when they curse. I donít enjoy cursing actually. I suppose theyíve watched the show before and they think they want to come in with bravado, but I always say on interim, initially let your food do the talking. Youíll be surprised how far you go in a short period of time.
Sometimes to be a menace, honestly ... like dealing with petulant teenagers. Itís frustrating, it gets to you after awhile, but I suppose, like I said earlier, let the food do the talking and sometimes, I encourage that level of confidence, thatís great. But when you have the arrogance, the confidence and you canít cook, then youíre only going to look stupid. Itís only a matter of time before they get exposed. However, never, never knock out that kind of confidence from a young chef to begin with because you need that kind of, I suppose today.
Cooking today is far greater than it ever was, and more importantly, a chefís role today has changed dramatically over the last decade, so I want to inspire them and I push them to the limit. Of course theyíre going to come back like a hardass.
When you were first training to be a chef, what was the worst and best lesson that came from your training?
G. Ramsay Yes. Some of my best disciplines are always by the French chef, Joel Robuchon in Paris. We had a duck cooked in the oven. It was in this big 30 kilo copper pan, and the pastry chef was shouting and screaming at me because I hadnít browned the duck properly. So I said Iíd do another one for him.
Anyway, the pan got put in the oven, the pastry got put around the outside, and the whole thing had been put in the oven. They cooked it for 45 minutes. Of course, he didnít wait for me to give him the second duck, so for some bizarre reason, they put the whole thing in the oven with no duck in there.
It got sent to the dining room and I heard this big crash, bang, wallop when the chef came through. He went for me big time. That stuff is unforeseeable. There is no way on earth you could ever put that on a screen, because it wouldíve been a Hollywood blockbuster. I learned from my mistake. I went and did it again and I completely screwed up. Itís harsh, especially when you work in a country where youíve got a second language that you werenít particularly fluent with at that time. You take it on the chin, you put your head down and you get on with it.
Who do you feel has gone on to the most success, or has impressed you the most of all contestants?
G. Ramsay: I thought Rock was an amazing winner, there are no two ways about that, very, very talented and Danny, again, very, very good. Itís hard, isnít it really, because you want them to use the position as a platform to continue thriving and learning. Even at 42 years of age today, I spent time in a restaurant recently in Sardinia where I put my head down and I went back to the floor as a learning process.
Iíd say Rock had the greatest potential, so far in terms of what he was doing, what he is capable of doing and to get the money and the fame, adulation. Enjoy the year, but then get yourself back and do something really serious and climb the ladder, as opposed to trying to think that you got to the top of the ladder. Because this is a serious game out there and itís a tough, tough industry to survive. You canít depend on the exposure of a TV screen to keep your feet on the ground and your food tasting delicious. Youíve got to push yourself. So Iíd say Rock and Danny are two of my favorites, so far.
Has any contestant reminded you or yourself?
G. Ramsay: Again, Danny tenacious, quite wild, difficult to tame to begin with, very, very energetic in the kitchen, slightly crazy, and slightly boyish. At the age of 21, he reminded me very much of myself with that level of energy.
When you are faced with an ingredient that you never, ever want to be intimidated by, and you want to bounce it around the kitchen and learn every section, as opposed to focusing on Poissonnier, focusing on the sautť, focusing on dessert, the grill, whatever may be. He wanted to do everything, and that reminded me a little of myself.
After five seasons, how have qualifications and standards for aspiring contestants changed? G. Ramsay I suppose qualification now, was just over 13,500 last year, and they just started the casting for next year. I suppose more than anything, chefs have gotten better, which is great news, which makes my life a lot easier. I can be a lot more creative in terms of the menu.
The challenges in terms of the, everything has to be done for a reason, and everything has to be done to make sense in terms of running a proper business today, and itís not just about the food. With the contestants being a lot higher standard in terms of culinary experience, itís been a lot more testing for me, but fantastic, because itís raised the bar. Weíve got to that perfect service earlier on. We think back to season one, two and three, we werenít hitting any form of consistency until week nine or week ten.
Now thereís been within week four, week five, so it really seriously turned up the excitement in terms of the challenges, taking them to places like Nobu, to have Matsuhisa cook for them. Theyíve spoken to Wolfgang, theyíve spent time in their kitchen. Itís been a lot more creative from that point of view because the standard has become a lot better.
Who would prepare the ultimate meal for you?
G. Ramsay I took my wife last summer to Thomas Kellerís Napa Valley, The French Laundry. We had dinner there with David and Victoria. I had one of the most amazing dinners ever. We stayed in the vineyard and just had the fabulous time. So if my last supper was ever going to be cooked by a chef, it would have to be Thomas Keller. I started off with the most amazing potato and caviar soup, chilled.
Then I had the ahi tuna, which was phenomenal. Then I had a roasted Foie Gras wrapped in fig leaf. So, yes, thatís what I shall take to my grave.
What are the two things everyone should know how to make well?
G. Ramsay: You donít need to start spending fortunes on organic foods and start becoming way over budget. The better the ingredient, the littler that needs doing to it. And then in order to create a little bit of confidence, start cooking with pasta. Pasta is phenomenal.
Once youíve cooked pasta properly for the first time it becomes second nature. Then after that, bake some bread. Make a focaccia bread or bake a whole mill loaf. Do something creative, and then put the labor of love into it in the beginning. When you take that bread out of the oven and you eat it an hour- and- a- half, two- hours later, you start to appreciate it more and then you eat less because you worked so hard to make it, you appreciate it in a much better way.
So making pasta, cooking pasta and baking bread are two essential ideas to create a little bit of excitement, and you learn the basic, and then evolve it. Flavor the bread, flavor the pasta, go to a fish, go to a meat sauce and take it to another level.
Have you ever regretted anything you said to a contestant on the air?
G. Ramsay: I was recently at a soccer match with Jack, and the team was losing one/nil and he came within three feet of scoring this goal andÖ Jackís my nine year old son, and he side- footed it to try and be flash and he missed the goal. So I shouted at them ďJack, you shouldíve gone to Lens Crafters,Ē and he come running up to me like he was going to shout and scream at me.
He said, ďDad, all the best players miss them.Ē I thought, oh God, how right is he? There was this silence, this air of silence across the soccer pitch where all the soccer moms and dads are looking at me saying, hey, hey, you may be a hardass in the kitchen, but give him a break.
And I thought, oh God, here we go. So I learned to keep my mouth shut, and being on a soccer pitch is not the same as being in a kitchen when things are going wrong.
How emotional does it get this season?
G. Ramsay: Do you know what, Iíve come close to tears sometimes in excruciating pain. I canít quite believe that they make the basic errors. Cooking a dish is fine; cooking it under pressure is a completely different ballgame.
I always try to tell them from day one, pressureís healthy. It becomes stressful when you canít handle that. I mean, if you donít want to become pressurized in this environment, then donít be a chef. If you want to think about cooking, and itís a high-five, laid back motion, then flip burgers and dress Caesar salad, donít try to pitch in the premier league of restaurant.
Build up to it, by all means. But it fascinates me on how emotional these individuals get sometimes. Iím there as a chef, as a support mechanism and, more importantly, for them to offload on me.
It does surprise me, but they are pushed to the limit and sometimes it gets a little bit daunting when theyíre away from their family, they have no mobile or their cell phone, theyíre not in contact with the outside world and theyíre purely focusing, almost like a boot camp, on winning that prize and sometimes it gets a little bit highly strung.
Would you ever think of doing an F-Word for an American audience?
G. Ramsay: Yes, weíve thought about that. The new F-Word starts in September across the U.K. and itís really an exciting one because on the back of the downturn, in terms of business, weíre searching the country and finding the best local restaurant.
And if I could put that into practice over here and help these struggling restaurants, cheap neighborhood restaurants that need that kind of boost, then I would love to expand the basics for the F-Word style and then have a bit of fun with it as well, at the same time.
Why are there two Ramsays, a calmer kinder one for the UK shows, and a right hot head for the Yank versions of your TV persona?
G. Ramsay: Just on the professional front, I never sit and study in terms in how the editors at FOX have an amazing way of dealing with the edit and the programs, Arthur Smith, whoís been the producer, at the helm of Kitchen Nightmares and the Hellís Kitchen.
In the U.K., we have an approach in terms of more documentary style. Weíre right through, halfway through the new season of Kitchen Nightmares now as we speak, and I have to say itís one of the mostÖ the stories are heart-wrenching and, more importantly, just handling this global recession weíve been struggling for the last eight months in the U.K., and in New York, and in L.A., and in Japan, and in Paris.
So, as Iím helping to turn my own business around, the first hand information is going straight into these restaurants. I think youíll see a different side this year in a way that sometimes, when chefs confront, you know I have to get straight to the point, and the minute they start understanding why Iím there, letís not forget, they asked me in there. I want to get on with the cooking and helping the business restructure itself.
Listen, arguing is not a thing of the past, but getting straight to the point is something I can never stop doing. They get very insecure too quickly on, the quicker you tell them the truth.
But the truth hurts. So a different chef in America to what it is in the U.K.? I donít think it is, I just think the circumstances are somewhat different. But this year Kitchen Nightmares is almost, Iíd say, on par with the U.K. version.
What will be different this season for HK?
G. Ramsay: The prize is phenomenal. Thereís no two ways about that. Not just on the head of the Winter Olympics but having a chance to run in this amazing restaurant, the Araxi restaurant in Whistler, very few restaurants anywhere in world that function like that.
Like I said earlier, to have 95% of the ingredients sourced, food and wine, within 100 miles radius, thatís a dream come true for any chef. I think the standard of chefs across the board is far greater.
Weíve had a great support mechanism from various chefs from Melisse, Nobu, and Iíve really put them into the real premier league of high-end restaurants early on just to see whether itís a sink or swim. Thereís always a tantrum, the roller coaster, the reward for being phenomenal.
Weíre taking advantage of the Napa Valley, weíre taking advantage of the restaurants in and around California, and really trying to expose them and their potential in terms of when you get this right in this industry, a) itís the best job in the world; and b) it never seems like a job, it becomes a true passion. So, I had an amazing time and, more importantly, weíve been a lot more creative in terms of the challenges and entered in a few twists and turns that are completely different.
My dream next year is to take it to a live week extreme so you actually see what itís like across the board, making it bigger and broader. This year is going to be very interesting.
Why did The Chopping Block show not do well with U.S. audiences?
G. Ramsay The Chopping Block wasnít on long enough for me to catch on to see it. I think it was on for a couple of weeks. I got it on TiVo and the minute I get back to L.A., which I canít wait for, the last week in July, which Iím going to be spending the summer in Malibu, I will catch up on The Chopping Block on TiVo and as soon as Iíve watched it, Iíll give you a call back.
Hell's Kitchen airs Tuesday July, 21st from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on FOX.
16 HELLíS KITCHEN chefs are:
The Red Team:
Name: Amanda Age: 27 Occupation: Sous Chef Currently Resides: New York, NY Hometown: Vancouver, WA
Name: Ariel Age: 27 Occupation: Sous Chef Currently Resides: Los Angeles, CA Hometown: Santa Cruz, CA
Name: Lovely Age: 23 Occupation: Childrenís Camp Executive Chef Currently Resides: Chicago, IL Hometown: Chicago, IL
Name: Melinda Age: 38 Occupation: Private Chef Currently Resides: Philadelphia, PA Hometown: Chadd Fords, PA
Name: Sabrina Age: 34 Occupation: Restaurant Manager Currently Resides: Phoenix, AZ Hometown: New Caney, TX
Name: Suzanne Age: 24 Occupation: Sous Chef Currently Resides: Las Vegas, NV Hometown: Milwaukee, WI
Name: Tek Age: 27 Occupation: Line Cook Currently Resides: New York, NY Hometown: Greenwich, CT
Name: Tennille Age: 28 Occupation: Executive Chef Currently Resides: Fairfax, VA Hometown: Hampton Roads, VA
The Blue Team:
Name: Andy Age: 39 Occupation: Executive Chef Currently Resides: Boston, MA Hometown: Seattle, WA
Name: Dave Age: 32 Occupation: Executive Chef Currently Resides: San Diego, CA Hometown: Chester, NJ
Name: Jim Age: 34 Occupation: Sous Chef Currently Resides: Nashua, NH Hometown: Mendham, NJ
Name: Joseph Age: 27 Occupation: Sous Chef Currently Resides: Massapequa Park, NY Hometown: Massapequa Park, NY
Name: Kevin Age: 35 Occupation: Executive Chef Currently Resides: Middleton, CT Hometown: Plymouth, MA
Name: Louie Age: 45 Occupation: Diner Owner Currently Resides: Fitchburg, MA Hometown: Fitchburg, MA
Name: Tony Age: 30 Occupation: Culinary Store Manager Currently Resides: Chicago, IL Hometown: Chicago, IL
Name: Van Age: 26 Occupation: Fish Cook Currently Resides: Dallas, TX Hometown: Buford, GA
HELLíS KITCHEN premieres Tuesday, July 21 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX