A Beginner's Guide to Gordon Ramsay's Sprawling, Tyrannical TV Empire
The British chef's charming indignation can keep you occupied for at least a couple weeks of quarantine
I’ve never been to one of his restaurants, purchased one of his cookbooks or tuned into one of his MasterClass lessons. Hell, I’ve never even looked up one of his recipes online for free. But I will watch the shit out of Chef Gordon Ramsay television programming.
I first became acquainted with Ramsay while flipping through the channels about a decade ago, back when plugging a cord into the cable jack in your wall would still bring you all the basic channels. Landing on Fox, I caught an early episode of Ramsay’s cooking competition show Hell’s Kitchen and immediately became transfixed by his obsession with risotto and beef Wellington, tendency to scream expletives at greenhorn line cooks, and insistence on taking his shirt off when the opportunity presented itself.
Upon seeing an episode of another Ramsay cooking show targeted at home cooks, MasterChef, during which he coyly asked a fellow judge if he was “turned on” by the beaver a contestant had cooked, it was all over. I was, and still am, a big time Gordon Ramsay guy.
Though the beaver jokes were a one-off, there are plenty of constants in Ramsay’s stable of shows, with the most entertaining probably being his standard response to undercooked food. When one of his contestants invariably attempts to serve a piece of beef, chicken or pork that hasn’t been cooked through, the Michelin-starred chef will gather the masses, jab his finger at the offender and utter three words: “It’s bloody raw.”
Then comes the look.
It’s the same one my parents gave me when I was 18 and arrived home after bailing myself out following a high-noon arrest at my high school’s soccer field for smoking weed behind the utility shed. It’s a look that says, You know better. This isn’t how you were raised. You’re better than this.
Thing is, given my propensity for lapping up Ramsay’s reality-TV trash like it’s the yolk from a well-prepared poached egg that’s been plated in front of him, I’m not really so sure that I am better. What I do know after all these years later is that I’m not alone.
If I search Ramsay’s name on my Roku, a menu of options that fills the entire screen pops up. A glance at his IMDB page is even more telling than that, revealing that he has been executive producer of 18 TV series of which he is also the star, including 2017’s Gordon on Cocaine, 2015’s Matilda and the Ramsay Bunch and 2010’s Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Christmas. (In contrast, Guy Fieri only has nine producing credits to his name.)
While I’ve never been blessed to see Gordon on Cocaine, Matilda or Ultimate Christmas, here are the Ramsay shows I have seen, and, in my opinion, what makes them good, brainless eating.
Probably the crown jewel in Ramsay’s television empire, Hell’s Kitchen pits professional cooks against one another in a competition that ends with one of them being given the keys to one of Ramsay’s signature restaurants. Initially a team competition, Hell’s Kitchen takes its viewers into the dorms where its contestants are staying and captures who is hooking up with whom and how much contestants are drinking each night (everyone and a lot, at least to start). Essentially Real World with chef’s knives and gas ranges, Hell’s Kitchen benefits from having Ramsay, with a pencil always behind his ear, as its unquestioned star, and he really lets his trademark snark and indignation shine through — in a good way.
On this program, Ramsay teams with a pair of other judges to run a group of home cooks through a series of team battles, Mystery Box challenges and pressure tests before crowning one of them the winner after 20 episodes or so. Contestants are eliminated on a weekly basis, unless they are spared at the last moment, which happens more often than it should. On this show, Ramsay usually lets one of his co-judges play the role of the bad guy; that said, bringing in Paula Deen to judge Southern cooking doesn’t read quite as charming as it did a decade ago. While there isn’t any real behind-the-scenes drama, contestants will curse each other out and threaten violence from time to time as Ramsay and his cohorts look on with raised eyebrows. For a slightly tamer version, there’s also MasterChef Junior.
As formulaic as the day is long, Kitchen Nightmares follows a basic script: Gordon meets troubled restaurateurs, teaches them how to make good food and then magically saves their restaurants in the space of 60 minutes. Each episode beings with a bad initial meal, a horrible dinner service and a revolting review of all the unhygienic stuff the restaurant has growing in its freezer. Also, lots and lots of yelling. At the end of each episode, the restaurant and its menu have gone through a makeover and the prospects for the future, for a day at least, look bright. If you can find it, Hotel Hell is very similar, except Ramsay rips hoteliers instead of restaurateurs. Taking the blacklight through the bedroom where he is sleeping is a standard operating procedure for Ramsay, to the point where it seems fair to guess whether he carries one around on his person.
There is one glorious episode that diverts from the show’s standard formula. In 2013’s “Amy’s Baking Company,” Ramsay goes to Arizona and meets cat-loving restaurant owners Samy and Amy Bouzaglo. Samy and Amy are delusional about their food, their restaurant and the way they treat employees, to the point that Ramsay decides the situation is helpless and he walks out. As the show makes clear, it’s a first.
Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back
This is essentially the same show as Kitchen Nightmares, except, as the name suggests, Ramsay is tasked with turning around a struggling restaurant in just 24 hours. It is just as formulaic as its inspiration, but no less entertaining. Fans of the Home Makeover-style series will also likely enjoy seeing what a design team can accomplish in such a limited amount of time.
If you’re looking for just a taste of what Ramsay has to offer, start with the above and see where the streaming waves take you. With Ramsay, it’ll never be too far from home — as long as you’re comfortable with a home filled with yelling, swearing and mediocre food.
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