There are so many reasons why I love being me, and a big one is because I get to speak with people I admire or enjoy thoroughly. Recently, I got to speak with the fabulously articulate and talented Gordon Ramsay, when he took time out of his insane schedule (Honestly, listening to his busy life makes me want to nap.) to speak with a few journalists about the new season of Hell’s Kitchen.
Jump ahead to see what he had to say to Kyle and me, as well as some general questions.
Kyle’s turn to shine
Kyle: Hello, Gordon. Thanks for taking time to talk to us.
Gordon: You’re welcome, Kyle. How are you?
Kyle: Good. So this year, it looks like there’s more inter-staff drama, including an unofficial contestant, Chef Alfredo Al Dente. When a new competition begins, how much do you already know about these contestants, and are you aware of any of that craziness that is happening in the dorms?
Gordon: Good question. I based only and purposely took a decision eight years ago, Kyle, 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 in 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.
Kyle: You mentioned it’s the 11th time. How do you continue to keep the show fresh and interesting after such a long time?
Gordon: That’s a good question. 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.
Megan’s turn to play journalist
Megan: Hello, Gordon. Thanks for taking the time today.
Gordon: You’re welcome, Megan. TV is my pacifier… How on Earth do you get all that in .com?
Megan: A lot of fast typing, I suppose.
Gordon: I’ll say.
Megan: So after 11 seasons and in which the contestants have all been fairly unique, there are the usual challenges, but how do you manage to still go through the initial signature dish and not be surprised that they haven’t learned from previous seasons?
Gordon: I know. That’s the same question I ask myself, Megan. 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.
Megan: Absolutely. And just a follow-up to that. I completely agree. I was expecting them to be better with that challenge, but I did see you have Ray, who is one of the oldest contestants. How do you feel about it—do you think that he might have a better chance because he’s more seasoned?
Gordon: 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.
[Note from Megan: No matter how many times I get to speak with Gordon, he is still one of my favorite interviews because he gives such great answers, but also because he actually pays attention to us when we ask the questions. He really thinks about his answers and doesn’t just give us textbook, previously spewed responses. He’s a gem, on and off the screen. Although, don’t ask me to cook in his kitchen because I may very well pee my pants.]
On the stress of filming a season of Hell’s Kitchen
Gordon: 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.
How he handles the stupidity
Gordon: Well, first of all, I insisted this year that we have a little bit more mentoring, and you’ll see sort of week six or seven when we sort of start focusing on the real talent. You’ll see how we almost took a leaf out of Idol’s book and X Factor. I really wanted to get these guys good, because the better they look, the better we look. Yes, I’m always sort of defensive when they get criticized they’re not real chefs. They are real chefs. They just want an amazing break.
So I think back to when I first started out and I had to take two jobs to continue training. This is an amazing opportunity and I just look at what Christina has done in Vegas and how she’s handled the pressure of running the kitchen and still there this length of time after that program and the success of that, but it’s the success of the business in the real world. So I introduced Christina early on in the competition to say to these guys, look, this is not a fly-by-night 24 hour success. This is the real deal and you know the stakes are high this year with the Pub & Grill at Caesars Palace, so we are lifting the bar even higher, but we sort of collaborated with last year’s winner more and then had that mentoring aspect that went on more than ever before, cooking classes in downtime, little insights. I’m far more involved this year cooking, because that’s what I miss.
I missed that buzz, because I also like the, I suppose the little things of The Voice over the last 18 months, where the actual judges physically get off their chairs and stand up on the stage and perform in front of their contestants. And that’s exactly what I started doing in Hell’s Kitchen the way that I thought, look, you just see me now as this guy that is fronting a program, but you’ve got no idea I’ve made more mistakes than all of you put together. I continue pushing myself to the full extent, and more importantly I can cook and here’s why. So I like that vulnerability and I think you’ll see that after sort of maybe week six or seven when you start honing in this talent to how good they are.
On a culinary school tour
Gordon: I’m looking at a potential live tour in the summer of 2014, where I’ll actually go around sort of 25, 30 cities and actually do a sort of Gordon Ramsay Live. My problem is the time. We have an amazing academy back in the U.K. called Tante Marie, and we focus on scholarships to provide the ones that didn’t have that kind of break, that didn’t have that financial clout from their parents, because I was one of them. My parents couldn’t afford to dress me in chef whites and buy me my first set of knives, let alone send me to college.
But then I see the debt, the sort of the pressure that these young students get themselves in on the back of their training. They come out after two or three years of college and they’re $45,000, $50,000 in debt, so they got to work, perhaps not in the most prestigious jobs within the first three years of their career, just to get that debt down. Something has to change there, because it’s not the right kind of pressure to take a job for financial basis when you should be taking a job for learning. So maybe that could be a twist with the live show, actually becoming more educational. I like that idea.
How the chefs from season one compare to season eleven
Gordon: That’s a good question, how the chefs are different. I think the chefs are generally better. I mean I think any job offering $125,000 as a salary is huge, so you can imagine the excitement when they’ve got a potential salary per year of $250,000. That’s a life changer, so I see them more focused. I also think they’re more well rounded and there’s a level of humbleness this year that I haven’t seen in two or three years because of the, I suppose, the economic downturn.
You know we have some amazing challenges this year, with waste and I highlighted it from day one. This is despicable. You cannot do that to food. And secondly, if you were running your own business you would have shut down within the first few weeks if you did that. So we always get complaints sometimes about, hey, what happened to this food, hey, how can you throw so many Wellingtons away.
Well, we don’t. We have to sort of become a little bit more creative, so the chefs have changed because of the climate change and the economic downturn. But I think they’ve become hungrier, because there are less opportunities out there, so I think that’s why the continued success of Hell’s Kitchen is so apparent, because of that level of determination, because it is life changing.
And like I said, I look at the previous winners and again, this year we have them all back and then the highlight for me was Christina in Vegas because she is a phenomenon. When you discover a talent like that, it makes it all the worthwhile.
Gordon Ramsay is always a pleasure to speak with, and this season is off to a fantastic start so far. Don’t miss all new episodes of Hell’s Kitchen on Tuesday nights at 8/7c on FOX.