Gordon Ramsay is still the mouth that roars in ‘Hell’s Kitchen’

Celebrity chef/restaurateur Gordon Ramsay, who stars and executive produces reality shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen,” is known for being brutally critical of other people’s cooking and how they manage a restaurant. But off-camera, when he walks into someone else’s restaurant in everyday life, how does he really act? He revealed that information and more during a recent telephone conference call with reporters to discuss the return of “Hell’s Kitchen,” which features chefs and cooks competing to be a head chef at a top restuarant. The show’s ninth season has a two-part premiere July 18 and July 19, 2011, at 8 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time on Fox. The grand prize for “Hell’s Kitchen” Season 9 is a job as head chef at BLT Steak in New York City.

During the interview, Ramsay said that viewers can expect to see some familiar faces in the Season 9 of “Hell’s Kitchen,” since former contestants will return to give updates on how they have been doing since leaving the show. He also talked about the biggest mistakes that contestants make on the show and which dish he would most like contestants to make for him if he had to choose just one dish. In addition, Ramsay revealed what gets edited out of “Hell’s Kitchen,” as well as why he has behind-the-scenes battles with Fox (the U.S. network for “Hell’s Kitchen”) about the direction he wants the show to take.

What do you continue to get out of doing “Hell’s Kitchen”?

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 to run 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.

We definitely saw a big increase on the talent for your show “MasterChef” in 2011, so are we also going to see such a huge jump with the talent on “Hell’s Kitchen” this year?

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.

Can you talk about the type of chef that a competition like “Hell’s Kitchen” produces, compared to a chef who has trained under other lead chefs?

[A competition like “Hell’s Kitchen”] 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. We’re not a fast track for superficial success. We did something quite unique this year, and I brought quite a lot of returning chefs back, not just to highlight where they are …

Paula [Dasilva, who came in second-place on “Hell’s Kitchen” Season 5] is running an amazing restaurant down in Miami. And these guys are using “Hell’s Kitchen” as an amazing platform. It’s not a fast track to success. They put a lot of effort in. I commit to them, they commit to me, and we forget the show, to be honest. Not everyone’s going to make it, that’s pretty obvious, but that’s like in all competitions. So this year more than ever, I focused on the returning chefs and put them up against the existing chefs in the competition to basically raise the bar.

Since you’ve dealt with so many personalities over the years, what have you learned about the relationship between food and someone’s ego?

Unfortunately, egos get spiraled 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 place every day should resemble you. It’s fascinating. I don’t see many out there that build such an arrogance, to some extent, because they’re telling themselves the dish is good. Any good chef is picking up on the negative and it’s easy to ignore them.

Out of all the chefs on “Hell’s Kitchen” Season 9, how did they stand apart from contestants from 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 [Wims] 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.

What is the one meal that you would want the contestants to cook for you?

One meal that I’d love a chef to cook? Do you know what? I’m a big lover of fish. Cooking fish is so much more difficult than cooking protein meats, because there are no temperatures in the medium, rare, well-done cooking a stunning sea bass or a scallop. I had the most amazing fish yesterday and pasta pappardelle, and it was just cooked to perfection. Fish, one temperature, crispy skin, sweet, and absolutely cooked to perfection. So I’m always putting the chefs to the test, cook me some fish, please.

In every season of “Hell’s Kitchen,” there are some contestants who cook their signature dish for you, and it’s awful sometimes. Are they buckling under the pressure, or are their signature dishes really not that good?

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 jewelry box. We want something immaculate but tasting phenomenal.

Is it difficult for you personally to get to dine out now? Are you hyper-critical? When you’re in a restaurant, do the employees get nervous?

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 pana cotta with new Caesar … and that was it. A bottle of wine, and I was done. Perfect.

What’s the single biggest mistake that these chefs make when they sign on for “Hell’s Kitchen”? Is there a commonality there? Is there a pattern?

I think the biggest mistake they make, to be honest, they take it for granted. Service is a tall order, 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. You know, get your head down and let the food do the talking.

Regarding the “Hell’s Kitchen” contestant challenges, what criteria do you use and how long did it take you to devise them?

I study, I look at the different challenges that we face on a daily basis with restaurants, chefs, customers, problems. I look at the waste percentage. I look at the creativity in terms of the seasonality, and so I really turn it up. I really turn it up. This year, we did an amazing charity event with close to $3 million … and we had the most amazing ingredients that were fresh and in season.

Then I want an individual flare coming from the control of cooking protein, filet, almost blindfolded in a way that you’ll identify the textures and you’re cooking with your eyes closed. In my mind the palate is paramount, and if you don’t know how something should taste then you shouldn’t be cooking it. I focus more on … understanding what it should taste like first before we understand how to cook it, because you’ve got to understand what it tastes like before you can cook it.

There are going to be theme nights in “Hell’s Kitchen” Season 9, right? What have you found that that has brought to the season in particular?

I quite like the variability in terms of both individuals learning and making a dish that’s been done 10 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 do you find that the dynamic in the kitchen changes as the number of contestants dwindles down?

To be honest, yes, 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, and they gave them a run for their money. It was quite an extraordinary twist.

You have a really great staff on “Hell’s Kitchen.” Can you talk about how you chose them and what it’s like to work with them?

Sure. 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 is 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.

But the foundation behind me is quite extraordinary because of the teaching that goes on … You see 42 minutes or 43 minutes, and that’s edited and all that stuff, and that’s television, but there are 150 hours of footage for 42 minutes. And the training is extraordinary. And that’s what you don’t get to see behind the scenes what goes on.

What do you think is the secret for the success of “Hell’s Kitchen”?

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 9, 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 sh*t. When it does go right, I still take the sh*t. 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 9 is going to put a stake in the ground in a big way. The proof’s in the pudding. And the proof’s in the talent and what I do know is that you are not going to be disappointed.

For more info: “Hell’s Kitchen” website

Source : www.examiner.com