Interview with Gordon Ramsay from Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef, & Kitchen Nightmares

I was extremely excited to get to interview Gordon Ramsay recently. Whether it’s Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef or the new season of Kitchen Nightmares I simply can’t get enough of him.

Ramsay is an esteemed chef with multiple successful restaurants, he’s a dad and a husband, and he’s everyone’s favorite TV chef personality. His methods don’t always seem the nicest but his results speak for themselves. It’s true that sometimes he can seem a bit harsh but I believe the reason he comes across as such a bear is because he just wants the best he thinks you can deliver, and won’t except anything else.

So far in this new season of Kitchen Nightmares, we have seen him help two restaurants come back from the brink of disaster, and he did so with tough love but also compassion.

Check out the interview below to get a better look into the mind of one the most popular Chefs around.
 

I was really lucky to get the first question in, and I admit I had a definite moment of star struck silence. 😉

Megan- How do you decide which restaurants to feature in the show?

G. Ramsay- Good question. We have an amazing selective panel and from our set productions. They come from Palo Island from Optimum Television in the U.K., as well, the original, sort of, curator of Kitchen Nightmares, along with myself. We all jump in the room; we look at the ones that are most desperate to be on it. I like to have it sort of east coast, west coast, central and then, of course, the sort of restaurants that are really seriously on the red line.

But, the most important thing about this year’s series is I, sort of, begged Fox to turn around and give us permission to sort of turn these restaurants around so quickly and air the restaurants. As you know, the season starts on Friday, January 21st at 8 pm and we are literally weeks later on air. So that gives a double whammy, not just with the tools and what we’ve done to sort of help position these restaurants by having that exposure to help these restaurants get back to where they were, rather than a three to six, sometimes a nine month gap in between airing dates. It’s going to be such a benefit. So, we look for the ones that are crucially, basically on the brink and ones that were more, sort of, not family connected … of course, family connected, but the ones with the biggest jeopardy, financially, family-wise and obviously relationship-wise.

[Note from Me: He was super sweet, very kind to the journalists and he really seemed to enjoy being there to chat with us. I also admire his drive to help, and the compassion he shows to these restaurants that are weeks away from losing it all.]

 

We read today that you’ve maintained your Michelin three star status for the Chelsea Restaurant. How do you maintain your restaurants and do so well with them with all your other endeavours?

G. Ramsay- I suppose time management. I’m a bit of a control freak, unfortunately, but Chelsea, yes, that’s ten years, a decade. So, yeah, I mean work so closely with the team and every year we film Kitchen Nightmares, I take two young chefs out and one senior chef out of Royal Hospital Road and they come on the road with me. So, they get to understand where restaurants start losing their grip on the reality in terms of where they should be. It, sort of, puts it into perspective in terms of how not to run a restaurant.

So, I focus. We spent three weeks in the U.S., three weeks in London, three weeks in the U.S., three weeks in London, so I am never that far away from my little jewel in the crown. But, yeah, I have to say, it’s not just me, the team has been extraordinary and the loyalty within that team has been amazing. So, yeah, we are not stuck in a five star hotel with wonderful, sumptuous surroundings. It’s a little restaurant … on Chelsea of 10 tables, open Monday to Friday, cook 40 for lunch and 40 for dinner. So, maintaining three stars today, yeah, was a dream, but it’s down to the team and the understanding that we have with our chefs.

We know that on Kitchen Nightmares, you help family businesses, especially with problems that they may have in sorting out management. Your family has been supportive of you even though it has been a tough year. How do they support you and how are things going?

G. Ramsay- Yeah, I mean, this year’s been a tough one, really, as you know, my goodness me, yeah, don’t mix business with pleasure. So, we got a change in management, as you have probably read and I am no longer working with my father-in-law. He was instrumental for the first ten years of helping Gordon Ramsay Holdings establish that worldwide reputation. I want to take it to the next level now and we have parted company.

Sometimes a change is a breath of fresh air. He has been amazing and it gets very delicate, as you can imagine, because that’s my wife’s father. So, yeah, I am going to put my hands in the air and, yeah, I’m a human being, I have a big heart, a huge passion and it’s not easy dealing with family and that’s how I see that level of conflict in a restaurant while filming Kitchen Nightmares. I can actually, honestly relate to them and say, “Do you know what? Working with your mother-in-law, working with your father-in-law is even more pressure than you think. Let me tell you something.” As I am experiencing my own …, and, sort of, jumping over the next hurdle in terms of where I am, I am passing that knowledge straight back to them. So, it’s closer than you think and it’s got nothing to do with TV. It is definitely real.

As I am experiencing it, I am giving them my firsthand knowledge and, listen, I’ve never denied but I have made mistakes. The most important thing about making mistakes, my goodness me, have I learned from them. I tell it straight, I mean, I really tell it straight. The Spanish Pavilion, for instance, in New Jersey, it was family run. The mother was too hard on one son, and not hard on the other, and then there is a son-in-law and then there is a father-in-law and it was a disaster. I just sort of saw this whole personal inside unravelling in front of my own eyes. Having come out of this sort of situation I just got myself out of, I just went in there and told them as it was and even the producers said, “My God, I didn’t know you were going to be that frank.” I said, “Well, I have nothing to hide.” If that can help them to benefit from the sort of situation that I have just come out of, all the better.

[Note from Me: Nothing is more accurate than the fact that mixing family and business is a difficult thing. I admire Ramsay for being so outspoken about his past mistakes and his personal life.]

If you could only give one piece of advice to someone thinking of opening a restaurant what would it be?

G. Ramsay- That one piece of advice for anyone contemplating entering one of the toughest, one of the most demanding careers anywhere in the world: keep your restaurant local and cook according to what’s on your doorstep. Don’t venture outside of your circle and stay within the neighborhood and get the neighbors, get the local community on your side first. That’s your bread and butter. A restaurant can’t progress, can’t start thinking about Michelin stars and food critics. Cook for the facility and cook with what you have got locally. That’s absolutely crucial.

We were just wondering if you could talk a little bit about Down City Restaurant in Providence, in particular. Why did you choose it for the show and what were its main issues?

G. Ramsay- Providence and Down City … I made history. It’s the first time I’ve ever been kicked out of a restaurant within 17 minutes of entering it. I didn’t even get a chance to finish my dinner, let alone help them. A feisty and tenacious manager, she kicked me out. I didn’t know that they were taking on the room service from the hotel next door. So I ordered room service and this hideous mess arrived and then when I got to the restaurant, literally next door, I explained, “My God I had a horrific lunch, I can’t wait for dinner because the room service had been dreadful.” She said, “What the … are you going on about. We cook the food next door.” We got off to a bad start.

I wanted to say to her, “Look, you are running a restaurant. What on earth are you doing taking on something that’s more damaging on a daily basis to your reputation coming out of a small kitchen . What the hell are you doing taking stupid room service for?” So, yeah, we got off to a bad start, but yes, she’s made history because, yeah, it was the first time that I have ever been kicked out of a restaurant within 17 minutes of being there.

 

Since you have a larger-than-life personality at times, can you talk about the most important thing you have learned about yourself?

G. Ramsay-The most important thing that I have learned about myself, Christ Almighty, I mean, every day is a challenge. I think more importantly, I … get carried away. Yeah, I get excited and I get upset and I get passionate, but the minute any one wants to go into the business to think that they become a millionaire or they want to have a TV program or write their own books and to become that level of, I suppose, adulated with TV contracts, etc. I tell them, “You must, keep them real.” I’d still like to think ten years down the line not having changed in terms of that level of passion. So, yeah, forget the money side and really understand and look at yourself in the mirror, that you can be that committed to making it.

Really, for me, the most important part is for them to be honest with themselves because it is … and it is hard and you’ve got to work harder than all your staff. You’ve got to put more hours in and you can’t look at the money. You have to set that example. I have done that and I do set the example and then I do raise the bar. So, it starts from the top.

If you are not prepared to be that committed—and, it’s a marathon, it’s not a hundred meter sprint. Honestly, I can see it in the restaurateur’s eyes; I can look at them and say, “Well, this is a vanity, vain project for you. This is something that you didn’t really want to work that hard at, and you worry about the finances and you haven’t got the success at your hands, because you haven’t put the work in.” Whether you are playing hockey or you’re an amazing basketball player or you want to sprint for your country at the 2012 Olympics, the bloody training that goes on behind the scenes is phenomenal and cooking is exactly the same. You must, must, must master your craft.

One of the things that I’ve experienced by watching all of your shows, including Kitchen Nightmares, is I’ve learned an awful lot about cooking. I’m wondering if this is one of the intentions that you had when you started diversifying into television.

G. Ramsay- That is a very good question, really. I’m a pressure junkie. Today we got the confirmation that we maintained our third Michelin star in Chelsea for the tenth year. I am not saying everything is running smooth there, that it doesn’t need me. Yes, it does need me, but I like that kind of pressure of helping to sort of turn things around. I am not very good when things run perfectly.

But, The F Word was a huge success in the U.K. and I’m talking to Fox about doing something very similar over here where I can sort of jump from state to state and look at the most amazing food. An example, for instance, here in New Orleans, the food is extraordinary, I mean, absolutely extraordinary. From a chef’s point of view, it’s a constant learning period.

Last night, we were in Boca Raton, and had this amazing Carpaccio of octopus. They were served with this like sort of … soup and it was just phenomenal. So, I’ve already got new ideas about what I want to do with that dish. For me, we don’t cook enough on Kitchen Nightmares on screen but we do behind the scenes because we are running specials and developing the menu. I am so excited about the possibility of getting involved with these sort of Cajun influence here in New Orleans. That really does excite me and that starts tomorrow, but I’m learning as well. That’s the most important part. So, I’ve never stopped doing that.

 

You seem to have a successful career as a chef and a TV star. How do you confront reports about you having financial troubles?

G. Ramsay-Yes, well, that’s a good question. Listen, there is no business anywhere in the world over the last 18 months to two years that hasn’t experienced difficulties. Unfortunately, the stuff they report in the press is not accurate—let me tell you that. I have made a fortune and clearly lost money over the last 18 months, like any business. For me, the last 15 months has been the most testing. It wasn’t about making money.

The last 15 months in this industry, in restaurants, are about navigating your way around. Navigating your way around this recession and making sure that you stood strong. I have put in money back into the company I have never had any issues with. Here is where I sort of learned. I never went to business school. I sort of learned from a sort of weekly/daily basis. Today we celebrated ten years of three Michelin star. I’m the longest British chef to hold three stars in England. Next week we are sending a press release out that I am bringing my prices down and going back to the prices that were there from ten years ago, out of respect for the customers that have been supporting me for that length of time.

You give and take, but I don’t sit there and worry and squander and follow every God … word in the financial sector because they are inaccurate and that’s incorrect. However, and the business is standing strong and yes, we have lost money. We may have gone down, but we certainly are not out, that’s for sure. It’s been tough for everybody. I mean, here is me, talking about not making money in the restaurant when people’s houses have gone into foreclosure. Come on. So, it wasn’t … situation about being greedy. It was about being real. That is exactly the way I have played it over the last 15 months.

I have to tell you that Kitchen Nightmares scares me. When I go into a restaurant now, I am wondering what does it look like behind the scenes. I am just wondering, what can you tell us that we can look for. Just in general, are there two or three things that are dead giveaways for us to -walk right out?

G. Ramsay-It’s not just the aspect of the chef and the owner and the manager of these restaurants …. It’s also giving an education to the customer’s point of view as a consumer. I think Kitchen Nightmares should be like dental chairs. You come … your dentist and you go in and it’s immaculate, it’s like walking into a hospital. There shouldn’t be any area of that restaurant that you are not allowed to have a look at instantly.

But the first thing I would look at, I do it with my hand. I put my hand under the table and if you under the table, it’s absolutely spotless and there is no disgusting bits of gum, then you can tell that restaurant’s being looked after. Secondly, just have a look at all the skirt boards, all the skirting boards around the restaurant and see how marked and scuffed they are and just little things like that. The first thing my wife does, she always walks into the bathroom, the restroom, and if the restrooms are immaculate, you know … well that the kitchen is immaculate. They go hand in glove.

[Note from Me: I have to laugh at this question because my usual rule is if I go into a restaurant and the tables are dirty, or the bathroom is disgusting we leave. I worry all the time about what people are doing in the kitchen when I can’t see them, but I have to hope that most restaurants are following the rules, and that we only see the exceptions on Kitchen Nightmares … I hope. :D]

That’s it for the interview, but I enjoyed it a lot. I hope you all tune into FOX on Fridays at 8/7c to watch Kitchen Nightmares, and keep your eyes open for all the other shows (Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef) to return.

Thanks for reading.

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