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Whether you consider him a brilliant culinary entrepreneur or screamy self-promoter, Gordon Ramsay has had fronted more successful U.S. broadcast reality shows than anybody else. Below we interview the famously volatile chef and producer about the upcoming 18th edition of Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen, asked for his favorite put-downs and his junk food guilty secret. Plus we discussed his controversial upcoming NatGeo show Uncharted, CBS’ attempt to import Love Island and what he thinks the secret is to his longevity in Hollywood.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So what’s unique about this Hell’s Kitchen season?
GORDON RAMSAY: I’m so excited about the rookies, the young hungry talent who haven’t gotten the finance to go to culinary school. They haven’t the wish to leave culinary school with a $100,000 debt. So these are warriors. These are millennials who have been studying on YouTube. They’ve been taking classes and they’re hungry raw talent. I wanted to give the All-Stars a bit of a kick in the ass, and bringing the rookies against the pros. It’s an interesting mix. It’s just an incredibly highly competitive insight into the culinary world and they got some rough diamonds this year that hone their talents beyond belief. It’s by far the best season we’ve done so far.
Really, the best you’ve done out of all 18?
Without a doubt.
How do you still manage the outrage that new contestants don’t know how to cook?
I get indigestion. If it’s not Pepto-Bismol, it’s Xantac to keep my f—ing heartburn controlled. The biggest problem from a chef point of view is everybody thinks they can cook because they hosted a dinner party. They think they can transfer that skill from running a six-top or 10-top to running a restaurant. I welcome that attitude. Can you name a sports person or an amazing success anywhere in the world that doesn’t have a bit of attitude?
You’ve said so many colorful things to contestants over the years. A couple of them, the idiot sandwich and the SpongeBob ones, have become memes online. What is your all-time favorite rebuke of a contestant?
When they lie it’s the worst insult that any chef can hear. When somebody lies to you it’s worse than working with somebody who can’t cook. Because when you trust someone with your reputation and they cross that line, they want [the food] out of their sight and they tell you they finished it, and you know they’re lying, that’s the worst. They also get a bit carried away with these flash materials. They got the best Japanese knife that costs $700. There’s no point in buying the best knife if you can’t f—ing slice [correctly]. But I think the biggest insult I would turn around and say was, “I’ve forgotten more than you know,” or “the butternut squash, would like it diced and rammed up your backside?”
Have you ever said something to a contestant that you genuinely regretted?
I don’t record myself and don’t press playback. I’ve never sat at home and watched myself and thought, “F—ing hell, what a dick.” By the time it comes out, I’ve moved on. So no. I take the feedback. The one thing I’ve realized is you can’t please everybody. I believe in getting straight to the point. Don’t give me the problem, give me the solution, that’s crucial.
Are there things that you used to be allowed to say to contestants that you no longer can?
That’s a tough one. Listen, the climate is changing. The best chefs in the world are female because they only need to be told once. I’ve never said anything so below the belt. In the heat of the moment, it’s like when the Clippers playing the Lakers. If you could listen to every word a basketball player or football player is saying, you’d be shocked. I’m just of-the-moment. I get it off my chest, I think that’s healthy.
What’s the trashiest, most embarrassing junk food you’ll admit to occasionally eating?
I love hamburgers. When everybody said five years ago, “Hold up, a Brit is going to open up a burger store in Las Vegas?” They said [Gordon Ramsay Burger would] last three days. We went past our 1 millionth burger sold in the first three years of business. There’s a line outside the door for 90 minutes. So burgers are my go-to. I have a drive-thru just down the road from me in L.A. and [I go to] either In-N-Out Burger or Fat Sal’s.
Speaking of Vegas, you had to remove the flaming Rum Donkey cocktail from your Las Vegas Hell’s Kitchen restaurant due to guests burning themselves even though it’s a drink served all over the world. When you heard that, did you think the drink was a mistake or that tourists in the U.S. are idiots?
I wanted to take two slices of bread and put it on their ears. When you’re drinking flambe cocktails it needs to be done with caution. It was a freak accident that we were sincerely apologetic about. There’s always something risk averse when you’re serving flame cocktails, so it’s a tough one, isn’t it?
Have you seen all those YouTube videos editing your cooking comments into a slew of sexual references and, if so, thoughts?
GORDON RAMSAY: No, the kids, every time something makes the round, they want to show me stuff, I say, “Please, not now.” The one I did sit down and watch was the epic rap battle. That was f—ing hilarious.
You also have a new NatGeo show in the works, Uncharted, that’s received some criticism before people have even seen it, saying it sounds like Anthony Bourdain’s shows. What’s been your reaction to that?
God, the feeble warriors that sit in their dungeons and spout negativity without understanding what we’re doing. I’ve been doing assertive, combustial shows since 2006 since I started The F Word — whether it’s diving for giant crab or hanging off a 500-meter cliff chasing puffins. So I’ve been on that level of exploration and understand those cultures. I’m a chef that needs to get motivated by understanding different cultures. I helicoptered into Nagaland 50 kilometers from the Burmese border in Northern India and cooked at a wedding. And in order to get accepted into the wedding, I had to buy a f—ng buffalo. That was 12 years ago. Tony Bourdain was a great mate of mine. We were on the red carpet together last year at the Emmys. I think he’d be happy and impressed at [Uncharted‘s] level of jeopardy and jumping into these [places] — Brazil, Peru, Alaska — and sourcing incredible ingredients and then highlighting some of the best [culinary] talent that hasn’t been noticed yet. It’s a dream come true. Judge [Uncharted] when you see it. The research going into [the show] is extraordinary. We’re [airing in] half a billion homes, 177 countries, in 43 different languages. And I can’t wait to make all those bitter, twisted, little, boring truckers who aren’t busy enough in their lives eat their words.
As reality show host and producer on both sides of the Atlantic: Do you think Love Island will work in the United States?
You think of the dating shows, and sometimes they’re over-produced in a way that’s formulaic. Who’s getting the rose? It’s shambolic when you date someone and agree to marry them on TV and then three months later you’re not even talking to one another. With this idea, Love Island, it’s absolutely perfect. There’s temptation and you’re holding your nerve without overcommitting yourself in a way that you look cheap. It’s aimed at a younger demo. It will be interesting to see how CBS modifies that explicit insight. Do I think it will work? Yes, I do. It’s going to be a more raw look at relationships. You can go on Tinder now and swipe someone within 15 minutes. My assistant, when he broke up with his girlfriend, literally 24 hours later he was in bed with someone he had known for 17 minutes. Love Island will help put romance back into dating and make it even more worthwhile, building a bit of jeopardy, [with contestants] not thinking of people as objects, building up a bit of feelings. I think that’s what will come across.
I just watched season 4, and it’s a terrific format. I’m curious if CBS waters it down or if they’re really going to go for it.
They’re gonna go for it because the youth today are too impatient and distracted. We need to up the ante. If CBS keeps it raw it’s going to be a big hit. I’ve also banned my three daughters from ever appearing on it.
Finally, you’ve hosted more successful U.S. broadcast TV reality shows than anybody else. What quality do you think has most contributed to your success?
I keep it real. It’s drama but unscripted. It’s incredible pressure and I equally need to be under the same amount of pressure that I’m applying — whether it’s to contestants, to a mystery box challenge, or even if it’s to an 8-year old that wants to cook. I don’t like failure. I identify my own mistakes immediately. I don’t dwell on things. And I think dusting yourself down and becoming vulnerable is the key to my success because it [keeps the shows] fresh instead of becoming complacent. I study every new cooking show in the world — whether its the new Netflix show, Sugar Rush, or whether its The Final Table, a show that hasn’t even aired yet. I’m talking to producers and want to hear what we haven’t done yet so I can apply more creativity coming into the next season.
I canceled my own show on Fox, Kitchen Nightmares. I woke up in the middle of the south of France after filming a week with a British guy I wouldn’t trust to run my bath, let alone my restaurant. Because he was running a ski resort, he felt like he could take advantage of all those customers because there was nowhere else to eat. He was giving me shit for telling him the truth and I thought, “I’m done.”
I got a phone call [from Fox] and the call went like this: “You know Gordon, before you take your own show down, don’t you think we should talk about that together, as your partners? We don’t mind you resting it, but we’d like to come back with something stronger.” I rested it for three years and came back with 24 Hours to Hell & Back. So I’m my own tough taskmaster and I put myself through the mill equally as I do with any particular restaurant, or challenge or competition.
Hell’s Kitchen returns Friday, Sept. 28.