Gordon Ramsay recently spoke to reporters about the continuing success of Hell's Kitchen, which meal impresses him the most, and whether he can ever just enjoy himself in a restaurant:
This is the ninth season of Hell's Kitchen. What do you continue to get out of the show?
"That's a very good question. Talent, I suppose, that's what it is at the end of the day. It's been a tough climate, everyone's cooking more, not just professionally but personally, so the actual show gets better. I think 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 for Hell's Kitchen 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."
What is the biggest mistake chefs tend to make when they join Hell's Kitchen?
"I think the biggest mistake they make, to be honest, is they take it for granted... While 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 who 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 one mistake because they focus on their individual ego as opposed to the passion of the team and collaborating together. As opposed to trying to outsmart one another, get your head down and let the food do the talking."
How did the chefs stand apart this season to other seasons?
"We've moved the bar, we've raised the bar. There is one extraordinary lady, her name's Elise 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. The confidence is extraordinary and I can say she can back it up with the talent, so it's quite a phenomenon."
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Chefs can come in and cook their signature dish and sometimes it is awful. Are they buckling under pressure or are the signature dishes really not that good?
"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 p*ss 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 flavour. It's not something that looks like an intricate sort of jewellery box. We want something immaculate but tasting phenomenal."
What would you like chefs to cook for you?
Is it more difficult for you to dine out now?
"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 do 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 panacotta with new caesar and that was it. A bottle of wine and I was done. Perfect."
How do you devise the challenges each season?
"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. This year we did an amazing charity event 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."
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There will be theme nights this season. What do you think that brings to the competition?
"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. At the age of 19 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 instill 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 means if they ever get to a stage of owning their 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."
What is the secret to the continuing success of Hell's Kitchen?
"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, but no-one gets carried away. The prize this year is phenomenal - a prominent business position of head chef - and 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. We're on season nine, and, yes, I'm getting too old for this, to be honest. I feel right now that I am, but I'm not saying it's my last season. 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. 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, and season nine is going to put a stake in the ground in a big way. "
Hell's Kitchen premieres Monday and Tuesday at 8/7c on Fox