[01/29/09 - 12:03 AM]
Interview: "Hell's Kitchen" Host Gordon Ramsay
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

After four seasons of chef contestants being put though the ringer under the tough-as-nails tutelage of Chef Gordon Ramsay on Fox's "Hell's Kitchen," has the Chef softened? Judging from the mood that one of the 16 new contestants puts Ramsay in during tonight's fifth season premiere, the answer would be no. The short-tempered Scottish chef talked about the new season as well what bugs him about Bravo's "Top Chef" and his rumored feud with "Iron Chef" Mario Batali.

The competition is hotter than ever with the new season, according to Ramsay. "I will stick my neck out on this one and say the top four contestants this year could have quite easily won in any of the previous years so that's what I'm faced with in terms of talent." However, as fans of the show know, part of the fun is witnessing Ramsay to discard the less talented contestants and get to the winner of the competition. "I go through that shit fight for the first six or seven weeks and then I get rid of the donkeys and I focus on the talent," he explained, "but it's getting more and more pressurized because the talent is becoming far greater which really puts me under scrutiny but, more importantly, helps to make my job truthfully, ten times more exciting."

One reason for the heightened sense of competition is that the Grand Prize is the Head Chef position at the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. "[The winner is] going to take up the role of Head Chef at the Borgata Hotel Resort," Ramsay said. "It's going to be a fine dining, unique, nouveau, great interior, intimate setting and, more importantly, a perfect platform. I'm very excited about it. It's one of the best prizes we've ever had so far. Having been [to the Borgata] on a dozen occasions the place is sort of, I suppose, the closest to Vegas this side of New York. Exciting, fun, and [the winner] will even be a part of the design of the restaurant and, more importantly, putting the whole menu together."

Proving that Ramsay is more than a television chef, he explained that one of his restaurants, The London West Hollywood, didn't take long to begin winning top awards. "We were very lucky to win that Michelin star within three months of opening and we had a difficult opening because it's adapting to the climate, which is not like cooking in Europe." Ramsay voiced his pleasure at being able to coach some of the contestants during the course of the competition and utilizing his restaurants. "There is a down time period when the stakes get higher in Season 5 and the prize is incredibly significant in terms of where they go and how much we coach them... I've got the backdrop of having a professional kitchen and giving them access to my set-up over here whether they're on the East Coast in New York or here in LA and so they get a considerable amount of coaching."

Between the men and women chefs this season, which gender makes the better contestant? "I have to be honest," Ramsay offered, "there's a level of competitiveness that they're equally matched but there's quite an exciting, refreshing attitude to the girls. They seem to learn quicker. Where they may sort of bitch and get upset with each other internally, that has nothing to do with me. I don't want to have problems down in my kitchen. Whereas the men become more sort of aggressive and far more bonded in a way with less barrier but they learn slower... the ladies this season have been phenomenal. The guys have been sort of grumpy, arrogant and they take longer to learn [but] I can deal with that crap, trust me."

All that said about the men, one of the new contestants, Chicago native, Ben, made an impression on Ramsay. "Ben is extraordinary and, again, tenacious and very, very flamboyant... Ben is like having a rhinoceros in the kitchen. He's non-stop. He's energetic. A powerhouse. The fascinating thing is when you discipline a young chef it's the response that tells you how long they've got in this industry and Ben's attitude was 100% professional."

While cooking reality competition shows are currently popular with audiences, Ramsay had a few words about "Top Chef," which he acknowledges as having "done phenomenally well on Bravo but what I find my frustration is with 'Top Chef' is that a challenge is a challenge. I put my contestants � my chefs, I hate that word contestants - in the world of cooking like they're running a restaurant because I'm giving a restaurant away... I put them through the paces and understand that it's more of an entrepreneurial skill, as well, not just dealing with the kitchen, the management, the delegation, the level of professionalism... chefs today have got to better than just cooks."

Ramsay has also been in the news lately for a rumored feud with "Iron Chef" Mario Batali. Any truth to the rumors reported by the London Guardian that Ramsay has been banned from Batali's restaurants? Ramsay suspected the source of the rumor. "I've never met Mario Batali," Chef Ramsay said. "Obviously the man is a very talented chef... I had dinner with Bill Burgin from the New Yorker a couple of years ago and the food was embarrassing so Bill got upset and sent the food back; his sea bass because it was off. I wouldn't send any chef an off sea bass but, at the end of the day, I respect [Batali]. He's an amazing chef but, as far as I'm concerned, I haven't been banned from his restaurants. Listen, at the end of the day, we're all in this looking for the same customer so if we can't get on what's the big deal but I don't have any problem with Mario Batali."

Besides "Hell's Kitchen," cookbooks and his many restaurants, a future project on Fox is a live cooking event, which has Chef Ramsay excited to no end. "I can't wait to go live. I suppose the frustration in the cooking shows on the air currently [is that they] don't cook. It's the one that will prep earlier like some home economist behind-the-scenes and that's not cooking. Cooking is a passion and it's live and it's really nice to show that journey from the raw ingredients to an hour later something finished." He quickly added, "for me, the confidence level goes up ten fold, a thousand percent because you're following it and it's changing its textures and the flavor is getting better... I'm really excited that Fox is excited about this live show and it's something I can't wait for." However, there's one catch that may disappoint fans that love nothing more but seeing Ramsay spew a string of expletives. "No cursing. That's the deal so I'm fucked."

The new season of "Hell's Kitchen" kicks off tonight at 9:00/8:00c on FOX.

  [january 2009]  


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