June 04, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

In just two short seasons, Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen — in which ”terror” chef Gordon Ramsay bludgeons a group of aspiring cooks until he finds one worthy of getting their own restaurant — has become one of summer’s most reliable guilty pleasures. The scary flames begin to rise on June 4; expect the first string of thick British profanities to follow soon thereafter. Frankly, we can’t wait, so we called up executive producer — and always-excitable salesman — Arthur Smith to get some details on what’s cooking. (Sorry.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So let’s talk scoop! What’s new?
ARTHUR SMITH: Oh my god.

Oh my god! Gordon Ramsay has shaved his head?

Hell’s Kitchen. What a joy. We have so much fun doing this show. It’s truly The Truman Show. Eighty-two cameras this year covered all the action. Have you ever been down to the set?

I haven’t.
Next year, come down!

You’re done shooting?
We’re done, yeah.

The restaurant’s new, by the way. We totally redid it.

Is it in the same building?
No, different building. And it’s got a big fish tank, and a balcony, and Gordon’s got a new office. But the funny thing about doing this show is you walk into this beautiful restaurant and then you go down a hallway, up a staircase, and there’s monitors everywhere, people running around. It’s a huge machine. And really a joy for us to work on because it’s real. It’s so real. One of the things about Hell’s Kitchen is that the people who are on it aren’t typical reality contestants. They’re not there for the 15 minutes of fame. They really want to win the prize.

Yeah, ’cause you need a very specific skill to get on the show in the first place.
Yes, you do. And it’s a real, working prize. We’re going into our third season and we’ve got two graduates: Heather, who won season two, is running a restaurant in Vegas; and Michael from season one has opened up a restaurant in L.A. called Tattoo. So they’re both doing great.

That’s an appropriate name for his restaurant.
Exactly. So that’s exciting. As far as what’s new, the game’s the same. Surviving Gordon’s the same.

Does anybody go toe-to-toe with him this season? I feel like by now, people know what to expect, so they might stand up to him a little more.
Yes. Yes. You will be surprised. In the first episode, someone does go toe-to-toe with Gordon, which is interesting. We’re also doing our first wedding in Hell’s Kitchen.

Between contestants?
No — the wedding reception is actually at Hell’s Kitchen.

What’s the prize this year?
The person who wins will be the head chef at a new restaurant at the Green Valley Ranch Resort in Vegas. They’ll get a quarter of a million dollar salary, and a percentage of the profits of the restaurant. It’s a huge prize. And the interesting thing about Gordon is that when he heard what the prize was, he just got tougher. Because he feels a responsibility — he’s sending someone to this resort! And Hell’s Kitchen is shot in such a condensed period of time, but he’s still gotta find somebody. So he really turns it on. I will tell you this about this year’s show, and you will agree with me afterwards: By far the most emotional Hell’s Kitchen you have ever seen. Everybody is in tears. There’s one moment in the first episode that’s going to absolutely shock you. Someone has a breakdown — it’s crazy. I can’t tell you more.

So you cast a bunch of criers?
It’s so intense, so dramatic. The competition and the infighting in the kitchen, and the pressure from Gordon. And of course, the raised stakes. There’s a lot of tears. A lot of man tears this year. More man tears than we’ve ever had.

Man tears! And now, Gordon, I know, has been dealing with the stress of getting his own new restaurant going in New York. How has that affected his general temperament? Is he taking out his own frustrations on the contestants?
I don’t think Gordon needs an incentive to get angry. And you know, it’s not about anger. He just gets frustrated. He really does try and work with them, and as the series goes on, you can see him — it happens this year. There’s one person in this year’s cast whose improvement is so dramatic that Gordon probably showed more affection to this person than he’s ever shown before. It’s obviously not at the beginning, but there’s a real lovable episode where it’s a good cry-fest. And Gordon does something very special for h– — for this person.

Did you just say ”her”?
This person! Not a her or a him!

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