Not so long ago, Michelin-starred Chef Gordon Ramsay joined us to talk about saving America's restaurants on Kitchen Nightmares. Now he's back, looking for the nation's best amateur cook on MasterChef (starting tonight at 8 PM ET/PT on FOX).
What's the biggest difference between this season of MasterChef and the previous one?
Gordon Ramsay: I think what’s happened over the last eighteen months or two years, everybody is watching the pennies, everyone is very careful. Therefore, we’ll be cooking more at home, and on the back of cooking at home more often, maybe three, four, or even five times a week, what’s happened, naturally, is they got better. They got more competitive because there’s more TV shows, more magazines, sourcing food is so much easier. [They] came in with much more ambition, almost in a way that they wanted to sort of set the bar thoroughly in the MasterChef kitchen.
Did you learn anything from the first season that you brought into season two?
The biggest thing I took away from the first season - I got a little bit scared, to be honest. Whitney Miller, at twenty-two years of age, I just couldn't quite believe how trained her palate was. I saw her again three weeks ago, putting the final touch to her cookbook.
MasterChef is a phenomenon in the UK and it is globally - you go to the food halls, you look at all the food trucks, you go to the shops, you go to the malls, you see how busy the restaurants are, you see how excited young kids are cooking - but I didn't actually think it would be as big as it was in the States.
The biggest scare for me was how competitive they really are at home. I’m not talking about glamorous ingredients [either]. I’m talking about a box of anchovies, some dry spaghetti, sun-dried tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil and some fresh lemons. That’s not at all expensive.
On Hell's Kitchen, you deal mostly with professional chefs. Here, it's all amateurs. Do you change your approach between the two groups?
Hand on heart, the difference is pretty much insignificant and is quite scary in a way. It’s a breath of fresh air really that the domestic front can give the professional chefs, me included, a boot up the a$$. Why? I’m not saying we got complacent, far from it. But they’re getting good. They are getting very good. They obviously had a little bit more time on their hands, but they are obsessed foodies, and I would now confirm that we’re a nation of foodies here [in America].
There was one lady in the competition who actually went to have her knives made to fit her hand. She actually went to a specialist that got the grip focused around her hand. You’re having these domestic goddesses now that go and get knives made to fit their hands. I mean, Jesus, I’ve never heard of that before.
Do you think it has something to do with more attention being paid to the subject? We're seeing more awareness now about what we eat, especially with kids.
I’m fed up with that level of ignorance about [how] chefs portray the wrong image and sending the wrong message out to kids with obesity and all that. It’s not [the] kid’s fault; it’s the bloody parents' fault. You can’t blame an eleven-year-old [for] what they eat, it’s the parents. There’s a huge responsibility.
Is there a particular quality you're looking for amongst the MasterChef candidates?
I love attitude. You know, when you've got food ingredients in front of you, you need to be sort of quite ballsy and somewhat selfish to say, “I can make this dish better than you.”
I never want to get into a superficial world where it all gets wrapped up in cotton wool and we’re always scared to say, “Sh*t, that tastes delicious,” or “Well done, it’s bloody amazing.” I like that kind of attitude with the confidence, a smidgen of arrogance. It shows on the end delivery in terms of that dish, and I think it’s quite healthy to be ballsy.
Do you watch any of the other competitive cooking shows? What do you think of them?
I do, to be totally honest. I tell everybody else I never watch them, but, of course, I do. I’m obsessed with them. Top Chef, everyone wants to see me on there. Iron Chef, they want me to go up against Mario Batali. If they can film Iron Chef between midnight and six o’clock in the morning, I’ll be quite happy to take them on.
All jokes apart, I do, and I watch them a lot. I quite enjoy Top Chef, and I quite enjoy MasterChef Juniors [in the UK]. To see nine-year-olds and ten-year-olds coming in with that level of bravado and cockiness to say, “Hey, my spaghetti carbonara can knock yours for sticks,” is quite funny.
My wife has downloaded on my iPad Housewives of Beverly Hills and New York City. I sat on the plane last week, and there it was on my iPad, and she said, “I thought you might want to watch it.” [I said] “Ah, no. I’m a chef, darling, I don’t want to see ladies arguing and fighting over a glass of wine [about] who broke their nail.”
My thanks to Chef Ramsay for this interview! MasterChef has its first night of a two-night premiere tonight at 8 PM ET/PT on FOX.