Gordon, you are celebrating 25 years in the industry. How have things changed from your perspective and how have you changed as a person?
It’s changed because of the excitement for food, globally. Social media has been a massive welcome address across my businesses in terms of restaurants, because you get instant feedback, seconds later. So, the level of knowledge now from each and every customer is incredible. I look at MasterChef, and co-producing that in America, they come in super talented. And these are amateurs - bankers, police officers, journalists, who are excited to cook on a daily basis. From my point of view, everyone is worried about the over-saturation of food programming, but there’s room for more quality. The basic insight about how prolific the general public are is bloody good. They know so much more, so it keeps us so much fresher. It’s changed dramatically but - Great British Bake Off - 14 million people, half the nation watching that - baking! Incredible! So right now it’s at an all-time high.
Do you ever get concerned about overstating the brand?
When you drive quality, and I’ve mastered my craft in the way I work; the way Chris runs the studio, we’re in control of that content now. What is good – they are going to watch. Backed up with the synergy in the restaurants - customers vote with their feed and viewers vote with their control. So, I’m so excited about Culinary Genius and I’m excited about 24 Hours to Hell and Back. I’m pretty multi-faceted. So far I haven’t seen anyone slowing down in the market. When I’m ready to step down and get more creative behind the scenes I have my 15-year old daughter Matilda ready to take over and the earlier she does that, the better.
At the same time, you say that you are tired of the image of celebrity chefs as rock stars. It was one of the things that led you to do the Gordon Ramsay on Cocaine documentary. What’s the problem exactly?
When young chefs come to the kitchen today, they say “I want be a TV chef”. I’m a real chef, no disrespect - with or without TV, I’ll still work in that industry and maximize that level of perfection. The reason why I’ve managed to sustain over two decades of working in TV and restaurants is because I’ve mastered my craft and so the message for young chefs today is that you have to be like a sportsman - the hours and hours of practice and prep that goes in those 3 or 4 minutes of glory across the main course, it’s exactly the same. There’s no fast track. And TV needs to find you, you can’t find TV, so you need to have that balance done. The upset of that rock’n’roll image - I took up triathlons 7 years ago and that saved my life, because it took me away from the high pressurized environment three times - cycling, swimming and running. Then I wanted to go and do an IronMan in Hawaii so I went and took part in IronMan, and all of a sudden my balance of my life worked out brilliantly, at 42 years of age. I worked hard, I played hard, I kept fit and then I was tarnished with this image that “God, why is he so excited, that guy must be on drugs” because it’s in the industry. And they couldn’t be any further away from the truth! So that’s my responsibility now, to set that example that you don’t need substance, you don’t need to drink, you don’t need to be overweight. You can be a chef at the top of your game, master your craft, clean, like a sportsman, but then how many sportsmen in the last 10 years have been dabbling in drugs? So, I get tested about 4 times a year for drugs, due to service contracts, randomly tested, all my team in Vegas is randomly tested.
So what happened with the cocaine that you mentioned?
I don’t know, but it was a recipe that from a chef’s point of view, I wanted to know how to concoct that substance, so I went to the heartbeat. And it’s a great shame when I see chefs that are suffering from heart attacks, smoking, drinking - it destroys me, it pains me. So, I’m hoping this will help them, reach out for help.
Is it still taboo?
It’s not taboo; it’s the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. And so 30 tons of that shit every year into Britain alone, and Canada, and America, and France. It’s a lot. It’s an all-time high because it’s “class”, is something that is fun to do. When you see the recipe the way we’ve made it, trust me, it’s not fun to do. We pick the cocoa leaves, we chop them up, we dust them in cement powder, marinate them in sulfuric acid and then in gasoline, we then siphoned off the alkaline and then we purified it, cooked out the paste and then we crystallized the pure 100% cocaine.
And then personally, I lost an amazing chef. He was 33 years of age, 2 kids - my head chef, my right-hand man. And when you take someone away that’s important to you in life, and the next day outside your door the coroners asking to come identify a body, and that body has the credit card of your right-hand man, it’s a fucking big loss. So, I was angry with myself for not spotting it earlier because I’m wrapped up in this “perfection, perfection, perfection” and didn’t realize that level of substance that needed to stay, to run with me. To stay at my pace. I blame myself for not seeing it earlier and I hope this documentary gives them a branch, discretely and highly confidentially, to reach out and ask for help. That was a tough one, a very tough one.
What about short-form clips on the web?
At the end of 2017, we go past the one billionth hit on Facebook, and from a chef’s point of view, that’s quite a lot of people. Scrambled eggs, that’s the easiest fucking thing to make and 25 million people have watched it. The online stuff that I do is pure tutorial, it’s uninterrupted, there’s no press, I just cook. So, last year we did an amazing master class and it was 5 hours of just pure cooking and it was beautiful and shot by an Oscar-winning amazing director who did a beautiful job at it. When we put it out, 47 million people started downloading the trailer on a Black Friday.
How did you start in the TV industry and what are your plans for the next 20 years?
Behind me is an amazing team. They all have a part of the business as well, that’s very important - to empower them to run that. So, when young chefs are being with me for a certain time, not only are they at the top of their game, but they have a share in the business. And for any young chef to go and open up his own business and borrow up 3 million pounds a day, it’s impossible because the chances of success are very tight. So, we make them successful by giving them a slice. I’m a selfish person, so I enjoy that level of talent - I work a lot with talent, I develop talent and because the pressure is on them, to be honest - if they want their 10% and their annual bonuses, the pressure’s on them, so I’m going to give them a platform, but they have to make it. So where do I see that going? I’ve found the balance now. I have the balance absolute perfectly right. I’m working much smarter, and I’ve spent the last 15 years, from 35 to 50, working that hard to absolutely let it run and work now. So, I only got to where I am today through what I put in the last 15 years, and I mean really put in. As a chairman, I tried to convince the team my way of thinking, let them step up or step out, that’s really important.
But how did you get involved in the TV industry?
Stephen Lambert, an amazing guy, asked me to do a program called Faking It. Back in the 90s it was this amazing show where you take someone from one walk of life and transform them. There was a burger van, a dirty greasy van selling burgers up North, and the chef - my job was to take him in into my flagship and train him for 30 days and put him into a competition with big chefs, executive chefs. And the idea is that he goes into this competition as a guy cooking burgers, unnoticed - no one will notice a burger chef. So, we focused on tasting, searing, cooking, and then he went into this competition and he fucking won it. We concentrated on cooking one dish perfectly which you can do. If you and I had to spend 30 days together, 16 hours a day, I swear to God, you’d be a genius in the kitchen.
I did not go back and watch it because it’s three months later, you are too busy for that. Pat Llewellyn, the lady who founded Two Fat Ladies, The Naked Chef and started my journey on Kitchen Nightmares. At the time, it was called Ramsey’s Restaurant Rescue - fucking terrible name! But on that first episode, up in Cumbria, the glass house, I’ll never forget that - I turn around and there’s Pat Llewellyn, exactly where you are now, inside that kitchen, washing up, you know as the creative director, someone as talented as that, washing plates to help me turn this restaurant around. The next day she was painting the restaurant. So that’s how Kitchen Nightmares started. It went on Channel 4, and the first episode went out and then it went pretty crazy from there - Faking It and Kitchen Nightmares.
The F Word USA
Which other cooking shows do you really like?
Top Chef - I love. But then you go to Top Chef in France and it’s incredible, multi-mission star chefs participating. You see MasterChef America, MasterChef Australia - incredibly exciting. I watch MasterChef UK and I find it boring. Everything I download on my iPad, I watch the shows when I jump on the airplane and go up to speed with what’s happening. If I hear of something exciting is taking place in Israel and I don’t understand the language, I watch the content to see I can develop. So, I’m like a magpie - I look at the shiny bits, bring it all together, shake it up, and then put it back out. I think it’s lazy to copy, but I think it’s exciting to develop. Some of them bore the crap out of me, but some of them get me really excited.
Are there any new projects, besides the things that you are working on currently?
Yeah there is, but if I tell you now everyone will copy them, you will have to wait - it’s like a new dish.
I don’t lose sleep over being called an asshole to work for TV, because I’m turning these restaurants behind the scenes. In the real world, you should see the kind of loyalty and what goes on in that business. If it all went tits up tomorrow and you stopped watching programs, trust me, I can still make the best fucking scrambled eggs in the world.
Is there any food you haven’t tasted? And what can make you excited or angry?
What makes me angry is laziness, because there’s no worse position to be in the kitchen when you are lazy, you just can’t cut corners. My job from a chef’s point of view was to make sure I covered every ingredient globally, to know what to do with it and whether it’s golden caviar from an albino sturgeon or the most amazing durian fruit from Asia, I wanted to know what that was, so I’ve been on that journey. And from spending 3 months from the top of Rajasthan to Kerala to gather cooking for 2 500-guests wedding to celebrating the harvest in India and celebrate a Rice Festival. I’ve done that. So, ingredient-wise, I have nailed it all.
What does it take to be the next Gordon Ramsay?
To be a great chef you have to work with great chefs. And then, come out of the comfort zone and learn several cuisines. And then put them in the melting pot. So, coming out of France, go to Spain, go to Italy, go to California and then pick up all those shiny bits. But the secret to becoming a great chef is always pushing yourself and then when you have perfected it, don’t sit on it - move on. So, second language is important fluent in French, Spanish, Dutch, come out of your comfort zone.
But no, I don’t speak Dutch. That’s a tough language to learn. And because many people don’t speak it, there’s no point in fucking learning it (laughing). I love that place. They just fucking smoke too much. ▪