It’s hard to believe that Hell’s Kitchen is already going into it’s 9th season, with the season premiere coming up Monday night at 8/7c on FOX.
Jump ahead to find out what Gordon Ramsay had to say about this new season, and so much more.
[Note from Me: I was lucky enough to get the first questions in. 🙂 ]
Megan: After a few seasons of Hell’s Kitchen what do you continue to get out of doing the show?
Gordon Ramsay: What do I get out of it? Good question. That’s a very good question. Talent, I suppose, that’s what it is at the end of the day. Over the last three days it’s been a tough climate, everyone’s cooking more, not just professionally but personally, so the actual show gets better, I continue running a restaurant, and I think more than ever before, because we’ve had quite a long gap since the last Hell’s Kitchen was on, we’ve got some extraordinary chefs in the mix. Cooking shows are not slowing down. I think Hell’s Kitchen got more … not just for the challenges but the menu. We pushed the menu out in a completely different direction this time and really upped the ante as well. I like the challenge and I like finding talent. That’s what really turns me on, I suppose.
Megan: We definitely saw a big increase on the talent for your other show, MasterChef, this season, so are we going to see such a huge jump with the talent on Hell’s Kitchen this year, as well?
Not just a jump, but I suppose ambition, too. Cooking holds so much freedom, you know that, you can travel anywhere in the world and cook for a living; very huge passion. I’m quite excited, because it’s multicultural. This season is better because I think there’s more ambition out there and cooking is a humble sort of exciting passion that can take you on so many avenues, so, yes, the talent has taken a jump this season.
[Note from Me: We had some issues with his line being connected so the answer got shortened, but you get the idea. Now let’s take a look at some of the other questions.]
What have you learned about the relationship between food and someone’s ego?
Unfortunately, egos get spiralled out of control. I suppose I love that level of confidence in a chef, but I also like that level of the control element and the way that they have the inner strength. If the vision is something that they can really pull out of them. So the ego, we don’t get carried away with stars and stripes, it’s what you put on a plate every day that should resemble you. It’s fascinating.
How do the chefs of this season stand apart from those of other seasons?
Do you know what, this season the chefs over studied the tapes, which I never do, and everyone says, hey, oh my God did you see what happened? No, do you honestly think I’m going to go back and watch it after really living it and being there live. I have no problems going live on a daily basis. I don’t think FOX would want me to go live for two hours a night on Monday and Tuesday, God forbid. However, you see that they master what’s coming next, we’ve moved the bar, we’ve raised the bar. There is one extraordinary lady, her name’s Elise out of Pittsburgh, and she is rare. She’s a unique, rare chef. I’m not going to say anything more. But watch out for this one because you’re not going to be tired of her name. And the confidence is extraordinary; and I can say she can back it up with the talent, so it’s quite a phenomenon.
A lot of chefs come in and cook this horrible signature dish. Is it the pressure or are the dishes really that bad?
They over complicate it, because if someone just served me a New York Strip with braised collard greens and the most amazing potatoes, I’d be like a pig in shit. So they over complicate it because they get too worked up and they get overambitious. That’s a problem with a lot of restaurants where you’ve got chefs that are moving too fast in front of their customers and they tell themselves that the more they fiddle and piss around with food, the better the customer’s experience. We know that’s wrong. If you want that kind of intricacy then go off and have a gastronomy put in front of you, but not for wholesome food.
Let’s be honest, the time has changed out there and there’s a humble approach to food that we need to touch base with our roots on a more deeper, essential position, because it’s not about filet, foie gras, caviar, high end ingredients, it’s about a skirt steak. It’s about an amazing, stunning meal. It’s about a wonderful passion. So don’t get carried away. It’s all packed full of flavor. It’s not something that looks like an intricate sort of jewellery box. We want something immaculate but tasting phenomenal.
Do you find it difficult to relax and dine out?
Do you know what, I love eating out. I don’t deny that. But I don’t want 12 or 15 courses because the chef wants me to taste this or taste that. I just want to be able to decide. I spend more time in the kitchen than I have in the dining room, for obvious reasons, however, I just want to sit and indulge. I want the lights to be low. I want the service to be attentive. I don’t want a 15 minute dialogue on the day’s specials. I always say to the chef, just stop promoting the specials because your menu should be special, and you give me what you think is your best shot.
I had an amazing dinner recently at the Lazy Ox Canteen and I sat there with a pig’s ear salad and had braised oxtail done in a ragout with pappardelle, and then I had this amazing panacotta with new Caesar …, and that was it, a bottle of wine and I was done. Perfect.
What’s the biggest mistake that the chefs who sign on for Hell’s Kitchen make?
I think the biggest mistake they make, to be honest, they take it for granted. But listening to one another just to get the strategy in terms of becoming a team player whilst I want them to shine as individuals, shining as a team and a great leader is far more important than being egotistical and telling the group straight out. I like that kind of inner calmness with vision, and individuals that can motivate a team. When the chips are down, never, never, ever start blaming. When chefs start pointing fingers it’s always the beginning of the end for me. That’s the one mistake because they focus on their individual ego as opposed to the passion of the team that they should be collaborating together, as opposed to trying to outsmart one another, .get your head down and let the food do the talking.
This season will feature theme nights. What did you find the themes brought to this season?
I quite like the variability in terms of both individuals learning and making a dish that’s been done ten times over for the last decade. But coming up with a stunning Mexican and Indian authentic delicious authenticity is something that very few chefs really understand. They need to know the diversity of the cross-sector multi-culture demand from restaurants today and not being just a one hit wonder.
I always look at it, through my training from the age of 19 when I went off to France and went to Spain and I went to Italy, then I went down to the Caribbean and recently I’ve just come back from Cambodia, and I loved the pressure of cooking with no dairy, and it opened my eyes up to how exciting food can be without any dairy. I used all these little techniques that I’ve been discovering and learning. Cambodia was amazing for me, and Vietnam was just extraordinary. They didn’t have refrigeration units that they just take for granted and they fill twice a week. They go to the market twice a day. I tried to install that kind of respect and put them back in touch with ingredients, because I believe that that makes them a more diverse and a much better cook, which then, if you ever get to a stage of owning your own restaurant or becoming a phenomenal head chef in a business, they become multi-taught, multi-followed and they’re offering a completely different opportunity to their customers.
How does the dynamic change as the number of contestants decreases?
To be honest, I cringe at the beginning and I go through that painstaking head down and work against … and I’ll wade through it. When we get down to seven or eight and I’ve really started focusing on the core talent, it is a dream for me. I feel like they’re my brigade. But this year for the first time ever when I got into one brigade I increased the size of the brigade, but my God I had a shock. I had a shock with that one brigade, because they thought they were going to be cooking with their new black jacket as a team, but I brought in a team of chefs that you’ve never seen before in Hell’s Kitchen like this, that good, and they gave them a run for their money. It was quite an extraordinary twist.
[Note from Me: I am SO looking forward to a more exciting season. It’s nice that after 9 seasons they’re going to switch it up a bit, that’ll keep it fresh.]
On the staff of Hell’s Kitchen
Andi Van Willigan, that girl’s amazing. In any business, any structure it’s not about a sous chef being number two or executive chef or executive sous chef, there’s no such thing. We have a team and we’re bloody good as a team; Andi worked for eight years alongside Michael Mina, one of the most prominent chefs in California; Scott Leibfried, that guy’s been there since day one. So I’m not saying they make me look good, but they give me untold support. And when I’m not there during the day my standards are implemented on a daily basis, and they’re like two head chefs so there’s three of us running it.
Behind the team I see the same faces in the production. I don’t really get involved with the thick of it, but what we do get involved is the creativity. The producers this year, more than ever before we’ve really gone out of our way, not just to involve the charity aspect but highly creative of the moment challenges that really put these guys in the premier league of where the restaurant sits. And that’s why I want to keep it real. My fight is always against FOX, they want a show and I want a restaurant. The delightful Wolfgang Puck coming in this year and really demonstrating some amazing stuff, I mean, this is one of the most prominent chefs in the country today, and I suppose we turned it up in a big way, so the teams there, they made me look good, more than they could ever expect.
Is there a secret to the show’s success?
Do you know what, no one’s walking on water thinking that they’re untouchable. Yes, of course it’s important for success and we keep it real, I suppose. No one gets carried away. The prize this year is phenomenal and a prominent business position of head chef, a phenomenal prize, but the level of creativity is second to none. I strongly believe that you will start to like some of the stuff that we’ve done this year because it makes perfect sense. We brought it closer to the real world.
Season nine, I mean, yes, I’m getting too old for this, to be honest. I feel right now that I am. I’m not saying it’s my last season, but I love it, you know I love it. It’s a passion, it’s heated, it’s frustrating, it’s rewarding, and then it’s gratifying when one of those doors open. Listen, when it doesn’t go right I still take the shit. When it does go right, I still take the shit. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. What I do know is that we have an amazing, talented group of chefs. I really focused on this year, more than ever before, that season nine is going to put a stake in the ground in a big way.
That’s all for the interview this time, but with the number of shows he has, I’m sure I’ll speak with Gordon Ramsay again. I will say that you’d be a fool not to tune into the season premiere of Hell’s Kitchen, Monday, July 18th and Tuesday, July 19th, on FOX at 8/7c.