'Hell's Kitchen' star Gordon Ramsay dishes about the fourth season
By Christopher Rocchio, 03/19/2008
Consider Gordon Ramsay among those fired up about Hell's Kitchen's fourth installment -- the first edition to premiere before the show's usual summer programming season.
"I'm very excited about Season 4, more so than any other year before. When you look at the setup in terms of the level of professionalism, this year we've raised the bar," Ramsay told reporters during a Monday conference call.
"Looking for a chef personally is something I've stood by, got very nervous about and more importantly, I'd like to think that we have the most amazing -- I hate that word 'cast' -- I call them chefs. Fox wanted to run a show and I run the restaurant, so it's a great team of chefs, more so than any other year."
The foul-mouthed British chef also immediately heaped praise on the "talented" fourth-season female contestants, describing them as "amazing."
"I've never seen anything quite like it," he said. "It's quite refreshing, really on the back of a male dominant, chauvinistic stance that kitchens have today, so I was really pleased."
Hell's Kitchen's fourth season will premiere Tuesday, April 1 at 9PM ET/PT and its 15 culinary contestants comprise the show's largest cast ever. However according to Ramsay, the cast originally featured 16 contestants. Sort of.
"I actually get put into this prosthetic mask -- my name is Terrance from Texas -- and I'm actually made up as one of the contestants, so nobody spots it," he explained. "It's quite a fascinating behavior to see them on the bus and that's without my presence, unknown to them, of course. It's a really different way of setting it up. Of course, the pressure is on this year more than any other before because of the sequence of events with my restaurant. I'm taking it more seriously than ever before and the stakes are a lot higher."
"I had all the previous winners this year on Season 4 back judging, which was just so nice to see them grow in stature and maturity," said Ramsay. "Given that level of responsibility with your 25-year old or 35-year-old chef, it's just quite nice to see how they handled that exposure. Not every chef deals with it properly; they get slightly excited, a little bit overconfident and then they miss out on the most important part."
Since Hell's Kitchen fourth-season winner will be working as an executive chef at one of Ramsay's own restaurants, he said being a chef is "not just about the cooking" -- something the culinary up-and-comers need to understand.
In addition, Ramsay said it's the customers' opinion that counts, not reviews from the contestants' potential contemporaries.
"It's quite weird knocking that out of them and telling them to forget cooking for chefs; forget what chefs say about your food. The level of jealousy and insecurity in this industry is far greater than ever before," explained Ramsay. "Focus on your customers and make that restaurant synonymous to where you are in terms of area. Regionalize it from the ingredients to locally sourced, local purveyors and make sure you stay in touch with what's keeping in the area; not what's going on in Barcelona, not what's happening in the middle of Paris. Stay with what's happening locally. It's really important."
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Despite bestowing the winner with the title of executive chef at The London West Hollywood, Ramsay said important positions are not what Hell's Kitchen is about.
"When chefs enter this industry and they graduate from culinary school they chase silly titles, which means nothing," he said. "What is an executive chef? It's a chef that operates a computer that hits a P&L account and goes through a budgeting format with a food and beverage manager. If you're going to be a chef, then cook. There's no greater joy."
While the fourth-season contestants no doubt have joy in cooking, they might be singing a different tune under Ramsay's tutelage in the Hell's Kitchen kitchen. However he said there's no difference whether their work in the kitchen is being filmed or not.
"We do have good days and we do have bad days. We do have meltdowns and we do have tears. That goes on in any top-flight kitchen," he explained. "Now, if I was running a mediocre, run-of-the-mill, Caesar salad, flip-a-burger, of course there's no heat. When you decide to cook at that level and you want it to be perfect, it's harmony when it hits perfection. For me, it's real. I've done nothing but keep it real. I think that proves in the level of contestants that want to become good chefs that apply to get on there."
Ramsay said he has actually come to enjoy discovering chefs -- such as former third-season contestant and Waffle House cook Julia Williams -- via the Fox reality series.
"Watching domestic, talented individuals, determined chefs that have the desire and want that chance to succeed, it's far more exciting for me when you can pick out somebody from obscurity and bring them through and propel the talent and run that against an executive chef any day," he said. "That's far more rewarding from my point of view -- at the age of 41, having cooked for 21 years -- because it is a natural level of ability that they really do get excited. It's a natural turn-on as opposed to a natural excitement chasing a title. There's a big difference."
Still, Ramsay said he's all about eateries and not television, which is why Hell's Kitchen's infamous dinner services are so intense.
"There's nothing played for any form of camera. You see 44 or 42 minutes of the edited version and I run service from 6:00 until 10:00 -- four hours -- and cook for 120 guests. Of course it's going to look like it's combustive, tenacious and full of drama, and it is, but there's no script," he said. "That's why I fight every week that that restaurant opens -- to make sure I run the restaurant and not a show."