[07/21/09 - 12:21 AM]
Interview: "Hell's Kitchen" Host Gordon Ramsay
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

It's only been a few months since the last season of Fox's "Hell's Kitchen" ended but Chef Gordon Ramsay is already back with a new crop of cooking contestants for season 6 of the competition series. One thing noticeable from tonight's season premiere is that many of the contestants seem to be giving Chef Ramsay a run for his money with their bad tempers and confrontational tactics. Who better to explain this noticeable change than Chef Ramsay himself, who spoke during a press call with our Jim Halterman.

Ramsay compared his experience with some of the chefs on "Hell's Kitchen" to be "like dealing with petulant teenagers." If there's one thing that upsets him, it is when a chef is cockier than his or her talents can back up. "Let the food do the talking and sometimes, I encourage that level of confidence, that's great. But when you have the arrogance, the confidence and you can't cook, then you're only going to look stupid. It's 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 today. Cooking today is far greater than it ever was, and more importantly, a chef's role today has changed dramatically over the last decade, so I want to inspire them and I push them to the limit. Of course they're going to come back like a hardass."

The grand prize for winning this season's "Hell's Kitchen" is one of the best the show has ever offered - the Araxi restaurant in Whistler, British Columbia. "We had several offers this year on the table in terms of the restaurants as potential gifts for the winners, and it's hard right now fighting a global credit crunch, which we've all seen a huge downturn," Ramsay explained. "Whistler's hosting the 2010 Olympics ... [the] 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. That's a dream come true for any chef. For a young winner to be in that position and to learn and respect what it's like to use things only when they're 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."

While one of the more entertaining facets of "Hell's Kitchen" is the way in which Chef Ramsay loses his temper at the contestants, it is surprisingly not something he loves. "It's hard, really. It's an industry language when they curse. I don't enjoy cursing actually. I suppose they've 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. You'll be surprised how far you go in a short period of time."

However, like it or not, nothing gets Ramsay spewing expletives quicker than basic errors and he admitted that at times it has brought him to tears. "Cooking a dish is fine; cooking it under pressure is a completely different ballgame. I always try to tell them from day one, pressure's healthy. It becomes stressful when you can't handle that. I mean, if you don't want to become pressurized in this environment, then don't be a chef. If you want to think about cooking, and it's a high-five, laid back motion, then flip burgers and dress Caesar salad, don't try to pitch in the premier league of restaurant. Build up to it, by all means."

Despite his frustration at times, there's another emotion that the renowned Chef admitted to. "It fascinates me on how emotional these individuals get sometimes. I'm 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 they're away from their family, they have no mobile or their cell phone, they're not in contact with the outside world and they're purely focusing, almost like a boot camp, on winning that prize and sometimes it gets a little bit highly strung."

The Chef also said that the caliber of contestants has pushed him to change up the challenges on the series over the seasons. "Everything has to be done for a reason," he explained, "and everything has to be done to make sense in terms of running a proper business today, and it's not just about the food. With the contestants being a lot higher standard in terms of culinary experience, it's been a lot more testing for me, but fantastic, because it's raised the bar. We've got to that perfect service earlier on. We think back to season one, two and three, we weren't hitting any form of consistency until week nine or week ten. Now there's 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. They've spoken to Wolfgang, they've spent time in their kitchen. It's been a lot more creative from that point of view because the standard has become a lot better."

Asked if he sees a difference between how he's portrayed on U.S. and U.K. television, Ramsay responded by saying, "In the U.K., we have an approach in terms of more documentary style. We're halfway through the new season of 'Kitchen Nightmares' now as we speak, and I have to say it's one of the most� the stories are heart-wrenching and, more importantly, just handling this global recession we've 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." He added that, in terms of his on-air manner, "arguing is not a thing of the past, but getting straight to the point is something I can never stop doing. [The contestants] 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 don't think it is, I just think the circumstances are somewhat different. But this year 'Kitchen Nightmares' is almost, I'd say, on par with the U.K. version."

Ramsay is not immune to seeing bits of his younger self in contestants on "Hell's Kitchen," including last season's winner, Danny Veltri. "Danny [was] 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 Poissonier, focusing on the saut�, focusing on dessert, the grill, whatever may be. He wanted to do everything, and that reminded me a little of myself."

As for those viewers who try cooking in their own home, Chef Ramsay suggested two items that everyone should be able to cook. First, he advised, "in order to create a little bit of confidence, start cooking with pasta. Pasta is phenomenal. Once you've 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."

The sixth season of "Hell's Kitchen" premieres tonight at 8:00/7:00c on FOX.

  [july 2009]  


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