In addition to overseeing a slew of restaurants and authoring bestselling cookbooks, the Scottish-born Gordon Ramsay juggles three programs on FOX — "Hell’s Kitchen," "MasterChef "and "Kitchen Nightmares." A fourth, due out later this year also on FOX, is "Hotel Hell," which will unleash the irascible host on failing hotels and inns in an effort to rescue them from ruin.
Here, the enfant terrible of cooking shows holds forth on what’s wrong with most restaurants, why people should avoid honeymoon suites and what leaves him foaming at the mouth.
You have a reputation for having a terrible temper. Do you think the image of you as this angry person is deserved?
Very few chefs would do what I do, because they want to keep this cool facade so their customers will keep buying that $20,000 bottle of wine. Every top chef in the world has a fiery temper and a passion that is second to none. I’m one of the very few that doesn’t have an agenda when it comes to TV.
Have you mellowed at all?
I don’t think I’ve mellowed. I still get upset. A lot of people like to smile for the camera, and they’re like total assholes when the cameras are gone. I don’t give a fuck. I am what I am, and that’s what it is. You know, I have a rough side. I have a smooth side. But underlining all that is an honest side. I have an earnest desire to get things absolutely right.
Is it part of your method on shows like "Hell’s Kitchen" to break down contestants and then build them back up again?
Yes, I motivate them and become a mentor, but at the same time you have a firm hand on them.
Do you ever worry that you’re too hard on the people that come on your show?
Definitely. I wouldn’t have a conscience if I didn’t.
What bothers you? Why do you find yourself exploding sometimes?
Laziness. There’s laziness everywhere, whether it’s JPMorgan not checking where its $2 billion went or whether it’s a waiter taking for granted his 20 percent tip so he doesn’t have to bust his ass at his tables.
How successful are the restaurants that you rehabilitate on "Kitchen Nightmares?" Do most make it?
Between 65 and 70 percent of them last. I treat these places like my own. I show up, I get rid of the dead wood and I motivate the talent. Whatever happens inside these places, we leave them with the remedy.
You came under fire in 2010 after a former "Hell’s Kitchen" contestant Joseph Cerniglia committed suicide. Do you think that was fair?
When you get blamed for the sadness and deaths like that—individuals taking their own lives—it really hurts, because it’s a tragedy. But it’s also a very selfish thing to do—to jump off a bridge and to leave that restaurant and your family behind with all the mess.
You’ve talked frankly about your father’s alcoholism and your brother’s drug addiction. Do you ever worry you’re sharing too much?
I’m just fed up with all the bad influences out there. I want to try to turn a negative into a positive. Growing up in Glasgow, at the time I thought it was an amazing upbringing because there was always food on the table. Now I look at it and it was a shit storm, and I was fighting to get out of there. I got dealt a dysfunctional card. Not just my father being an alcoholic, but the level of potential failure going against me.
How were you able to overcome that rough upbringing?
I found myself at a very fortunate position at the age of 22, where I got my ass kicked in France and learned how to cook. And I always say to my young chefs wherever they may be, become vulnerable. Get yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s a great learning experience. I think today everyone plays it safe too much.
"Hotel Hell" looks at failing inns and hotels. Any advice for travelers?
If they turn around and say, “Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, we’re going to upgrade you to the honeymoon suite,” decline it. For some bizarre reason everyone thinks it’s the most romantic place. I did a black light search [for germs] on the honeymoon suite at one of these hotels. I swear to God, it was like a fucking galaxy.
What about restaurants? Is there anything that we should be concerned about?
The American public should have the right at any time to walk into the kitchen and see how the food is being prepared. You go into a dentist’s office and you look around and you’re so comfortable with the pristineness. Kitchens should be the same way.
The biggest problem today is that anybody can open up a restaurant with no qualifications. It’s just ridiculous, and there should be stringent laws. You can’t just open up a restaurant because you have these stupid little dinner parties and all your mates blow smoke up your backside and say, “Hey this is great, you should open a restaurant.” Running a restaurant and having a dinner party is fucking night and day.
How do you think the recession has changed the food industry?
It was a breath of fresh air, because it removed the arrogance. We were saying to the customers, “We will do [what we want].” Now the customers are saying, “We will tell you,” and that’s the way it should be. The customers are king. They vote with their feet. At the end of the day, it all comes down to what’s happening on that plate.
What would winning an Emmy mean to you? I’m happy with what we’ve just produced on a phenomenal season of "MasterChef," but the Emmys to me would be like a Michelin star. It’s the Oscars of the TV world. For me it’s the shining jewel in the crown I haven’t got yet.