PASADENA, Calif. — “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!” That’s Chef Gordon Ramsay’s war cry as he excoriates contestants on Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen.”
Though Ramsay seems to outdo Lucifer in his cranky search for perfection, he’s actually a cream puff in real life, or so he says.
“The problem in kitchens today is the lack of discipline. Suddenly cooking is one of the very few jobs anywhere in the world that you don’t need qualifications to become a chef,” he says.
“You ... could walk down Sunset Strip tomorrow morning and get a job as a commis chef washing salads in the bistro, brasserie without even producing a form of certificate, certification, that you are a trained chef. That’s the bad news. ... I mean, it’s a very sad scenario. ... So I’m not making excuses for the lack of my management skills, but I have an amazing cookery school in the U.K., and I have amazing standards.”
The British Ramsay, 42, says one of the principal downfalls for chefs is smoking. “My father died of a heart attack 10 years ago at the age of 53. You can never smoke a cigarette and expect to perfect food literally two minutes after that. So if it’s an old-fashioned thing that we need to smoke to just sort of feel less stressful, it’s absolutely rubbish. There are other ways of becoming less stressful than smoking. So it does surprise me, but then you also have this sort of superficial setup. Cooking is seen as a very glamorous thing on the outside world, but behind the scenes. ... ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ helps to expose the sort of weaknesses.”
Ramsay has a wife and four children. He’s far less bombastic at home, he says. “I don’t act or perform like that when things go wrong with a Sunday lunch at home.”
But he admits he’s not the soul of restraint when his wife, Tana, is cooking.
“When Tana’s roast potatoes are stuck to the tray or the Yorkshire puddings haven’t risen, I get a little bit impatient. ... Of course, I want to jump in there and do it myself because I’m starving, and I want to move things on a little bit quicker. So we don’t have appetizers, entrees and desserts in our house. We have one course, and dessert is a treat, and going out is special. ... There’s two sides to Gordon Ramsay. “Yes, I am a hard-ass, driven, self-confessed perfectionist, but in a domestic scene, you know, I want to have that excitement with that journey as well.”
On Aug. 18 the 11 remaining contestants on “Hell’s Kitchen” have to devise three-course meals that don’t exceed 700 calories. The winning team gets volleyball pointers from 2000 Olympian Annett Davis during a day at the beach, while the losers prepare both kitchens. But there’s never a dull moment with Ramsay. During dinner service, one chef actually talks back to Ramsay and another is rushed to the emergency room.
As persnickety as he is about haute cuisine, Ramsay says he’s a meat-and-potatoes guy at heart. “Whether you’ve got a budget of $100 a month or $300 a month for food at home, it’s having the intelligence not to waste, because I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon. We didn’t go out to restaurants and have that kind of glamorous insight. So mainstream, great appetizer, great entree, and something exciting, involving fruit and clearly a lot of starch, protein for the entree.”
One of his passions, he confesses, is In-N-Out hamburgers, a chain of fast food outlets in California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. “One thing I enjoy eating is fish and meats. Here, the steakhouses — my choice — is something that is an event, especially for the kids as well. So it’s a treat once every, sort of, two to three weeks, but no, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with In-N-Out burgers.”
On another of his shows, “Kitchen Nightmares,” Ramsay, prowls the nooks and crannies of restaurants giving them the white glove treatment. He says his own restaurant in New York is often cited for minor infractions.
“We get panned for a little seal or an egg being left out of the fridge or whatever. Of course, we get violations because it’s Gordon Ramsay, and they are over us 10,000 times more, and every time we go into ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ and we unleash a disgusting kitchen, they know I’m coming.
“But I need kitchens to have the attitude like walking into a dental surgery, like any customers should have the divine right any time across that dinner to walk into that kitchen and just to stand there for two minutes. ...”
“The kitchen has to be that spotless,” he says. “And that’s what hurts more than anything when you see that level of hygiene that’s not practiced and the kitchen is disgusting, and it really hurts because, let’s be honest — it’s not as if I walk up unannounced. Jesus Christ, the team’s there three days before I get there. They hold movie interviews. They’re watching service. They’re seeing the restaurants function under pressure, and to turn around and to be told that, ‘We cleaned before you got here,’ and you discover what you discovered, it bugs you.”
Sept. 14 Jay Leno scoots into the 10 p.m. timeslot on NBC with a comedy-variety hour. Many people are unhappy about losing their 10 o’clock dramas five nights a week, but Leno says they won’t be sorry they tuned in. “When I started ‘The Tonight Show,’ it was an interesting challenge. It was, ‘You stink. You suck. We hate you.’ And then you just — you work, and you put your nose to the grindstone. And you apply yourself, and you try to turn it around.
“And that’s what we’ll do here. We’ll go into that with that same technique. So much of comedy now is specific. People like this type of comedy because it plays to a young college crowd, this type only — they work blue. ... I grew up in the era of Johnny Carson and Jack Benny, Bill Cosby, all these kinds of comedians that just tried to play to all of America.
“And that’s what this show, I hope, will do. I think there will be something there for everyone. We’ll have politics. And we can get a little edgy at times and such. But it will be something, I think, that hopefully will play across-the-board.”
On Oct. 5 “Let’s Make a Deal” will be trumpeting its prizes and goofy costumes with Wayne Brady presiding as its new host. “... I’d never really thought that I would be doing a game show, because it was never on the top of my mind,” says Brady. “When I was doing ‘Don’t Forget the Lyrics,’ that was a music thing, it seemed like a good fit and I liked the energy. But then when ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ came across, I, like a lot of people — I’m 37 — I grew up watching the show. Loved the show. Loved when people would choose, and I loved the Zonks, and I loved the deals. And to think I could be a part of that and help drive it with my background in improv. ... And everybody loves free money. And so it just seemed like a great fit.”
In spite of the lead character’s brain tumor, “Medium” is packing up and leaving NBC for CBS this fall. Glenn Gordon Caron, the show’s executive producer says it’s a surprise to him.
“I did not know we were coming to CBS. But for that matter, I wasn’t certain that we’d be picked up by NBC, so what I was trying to do was write an ending that was so provocative that it would be impossible to cancel the show. It was sort of me being a wise guy, frankly, and really trying to stack the deck in such a way. And for what it’s worth, I mean, NBC was complicitous. We don’t make the shows in secret. I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do. She’s going to have a brain tumor. She’s going to go into a coma. And we’re going to put up a sign that says, “To be continued.’” And they said, ‘Great.’ So ...”
The show was actually produced by CBS for NBC, so it was not a big surprise that when NBC tired of it, CBS was waiting in the wings.