Ramsay: ‘So beautiful to craft the words ‘f--k off’
Gordon Ramsay is the superstar ingredient that brings spice and the occasional swear word to this season of MasterChef Australia: Back To Win.
It is the second time Ramsay, who is a global TV powerhouse and host of the US version of MasterChef has appeared on the show, having filmed episodes in 2018.
The father of five was so impressed by the standard of cooking he encountered on the set that he is seriously toying with using the Back To Win concept in the American MasterChef next year.
I caught up with Ramsay while he was in Melbourne filming MasterChef, which launches on Channel 10 on April 13, to talk food, family, the f-word, how underdogs inspire him, and why he isn't flipping burgers outside Buckingham Palace.
FIONA BYRNE: Gordon, you could be on any cooking show in the world. What draws you back to Australia and MasterChef Australia?
GORDON RAMSAY: I love propelling talent. That is what I have spent the last 25 years doing. I have always admired and respected Australia as a little, almost like, the sleeping beauty of cuisines because everyone just thought it was just about barbies and prawns but over the last sort of two decades they have really helped revolutionise their own style.
That multicultural aspect is apparent, but what I love more about the Australians is they cook with no boundaries.
Whether it is an indigenous inspired dish or something with a local yabby or a Murray cod, it is done with grace, so I have always been a big fan of the Aussie insight.
This year more than ever with the Back To Win ethos with MasterChef, it is a hugely pressurised situation for the new judges, it is immense pressure for the contestants.
There is no bitter pill but they (the contestants) have an axe to grind in terms of getting their hands on that trophy and this will be the most difficult year to win. If you are ever going to win it, this is the year to win because you will earn that badge more than in any other season. I knew it was going to be good and some of the dishes we saw on day one (of filming) were just exceptional, really exceptional.
When it is that raw and that good it gets me even more excited.
FB: How does MasterChef Australia stand up in terms of the global world of MasterChef?
GR: The talent here is exceptional, there are no two ways about that.
MasterChef has enabled the nation (Australia) to fall in love with their own cuisine and it has given them an identity, and it has put Australian cuisine on the map amongst some of the best countries in Europe.
I look at how this show travels and it is huge outside of Australia, and I mean really huge. It is the unsung hero of the MasterChef phenomenon.
FB: Why does the Back To Win concept appeal to you?
GR: I think with Back To Win I will definitely be taking that concept back with me on the plane and maybe introducing it into America next year.
The winners have had enough, they have done exceptionally well and if you don't springboard from that MasterChef platform then there is something wrong with you. There is no greater spotlight than being crowned winner of MasterChef.
I started as an underdog in this industry, so as a seasoned underdog for many years to being on top of my game I am all about the underdogs; those who just missed out by one point, or just missed out through seasoning or slightly overcooked something or their ice cream melted. That is why this is by far for me the most exciting season, without a doubt.
These are the underdogs and they are all here to win. Whoever is crowned champion of season 12 of MasterChef Australia, my God, special respect.
FB: Are shows like MasterChef important?
GR: MasterChefs are super important because they give those unsung heroes (contestants) such an amazing platform, but also for the viewer they create this level of confidence.
We co produce MasterChef Junior and MasterChef in the US and what that has done for juniors, in my mind, is give them an important life skill.
It is not about excelling in chemistry, maths and English and biology. It is not about becoming pigeon holed at 16 and being judged because you haven't got an A star.
Cooking is a life skill. It is as important as French and English to me.
FB: To that point then, should it be mandatory for all students to be taught to cook at school?
GR: I get really upset when I see kids on X-Boxes and then they get attached.
God, if they could only get that attached to cooking and where they would be at 15 and 16. You look at the pressures these kids are under and their eating habits.
It all relates to their food, their intake and their discipline. Cooking for me should be as fundamental, as basic, as maths and English and sport. It is all about the controlled diet and your calorie intake.
That level of skill, not becoming a super chef or over talented, but to be able to cook good, healthy meals is an important life and social skill. You need to be able to communicate, to look after yourself well and to know how to survive on a budget.
FB: The F-word … do you swear too much?
GR: Not at all. Are you Australian? Are you f*cking kidding me? I'd like to think that it is an industry language.
Whether you are a journalist, sportsman, prime minister, the Queen, they all say it. I don't mean to use it, but there is such a beautiful way when you craft the words 'f*ck off.'
It holds a certain amount of 'Wow.' So, I think it should be used in small doses. I don't walk down the street f-ing and blinding, I just get it off my chest. Going back to my sporting background, when I made mistakes playing football I did not say, 'I am so sorry, I slipped that corner and missed that penalty. I promise I will tie my laces up tighter and try a bit harder next time.' No, it was, 'F..k it, wake up and hit the back of the net next time.' I don't see there is anything wrong with it. Sometimes you need the occasional f-word and Channel 4 (in the UK) gratefully gave me my own show called The F Word, which is fantastic.
FB: You were keen to pursue soccer as a career when you were younger, but that fell by the wayside due to injury. Did your natural competitive streak help you as a chef?
GR: Tremendously, also, chefs have to be super disciplined. Today they are not just cooking, they are looked upon as a marketing tool, a businessman, a businesswoman, a mentor, and so the spotlight on chefs today, anyone in the food business, is magnified ten times bigger than it ever was and you need to be more rounded. Health is important, we need to look after ourselves, so I like that discipline whether it is through a marathon, a triathlon, an ironman and having that discipline in the kitchen and in the business side is so important. Competitiveness is really important. If I wanted to flip burgers and dress Caesar salad as a chef then I would not have sacrificed what I have sacrificed and missed out on in life what other people in my position could have had. I'd have put a baseball cap on, a pair of orange Crocs, a pair of shorts and got myself a trolley and parked it outside of f*cking Buckingham Palace and sold burgers. I have gone the other way.
FB: Do you see yourself as a chef or a celebrity these days?
GR: I am not a celebrity. I am definitely a chef that is popular through his cuisine. What is a celebrity today? I think sometimes you misconstrue popularity because you are on Big Brother or you are on I'm A Celebrity in the jungle f*cking around in South Africa, and then you are famous for a bit. I have a craft and I have worked exceptionally hard to perfect my business. Some of that business is done on TV. I am not a big fan of that word celebrity.
FB: You have achieved enormous success. Is it a challenge to keep your kids grounded?
GR: I keep it real with the kids and so does Tana (his wife). Tana is an ex-Montessori schoolteacher so she is super disciplined. All we have done throughout their young lives is install passion and it is about finding that passion.
FB: Speaking of success, what does that mean to you?
GR: F*ck all. It is graft, it is absolute graft (hard work). Success is never to be sat on, it needs to be worked at. I could have taken my foot off the gas years ago but I decided not to because that is in my DNA, that is what keeps me the guy I am today. Watching the contestants deliver gives me such a buzz, such a buzz. Success needs to be shared and I think I am one of the most unselfish individuals on the planet. I have spent the last two and a half decades nursing talent and season 12 of MasterChef Australia is no different.
FB: You briefly had an outpost of your Maze restaurant in Melbourne 10 years ago. Would you open a restaurant in Australia again?
GR: The employment laws here are super tight and the seven and a half-hour working day, that is very hard to fit into a passionate business called running a restaurant. I am not too sure if I have the time in my life now, at this stage, to commit to being here for the amount of time I should be if I had a restaurant, so no, I don't think I would. I would rather come in twice a year and enjoy the trapping of Australia now. Having been there, learnt from my mistakes, no. Australia is very much like Britain, it wants the meat off your bones so if you are going to open up a restaurant called Ramsay in Melbourne they want to see Gordon Ramsay not a fake called Ramsay.
FB: What five words best describe you?
GR: Passionate, honest, naughty, hot, generous.
FB: Which Australian chefs do you admire?
GR: When you look at Vue de Monde and what he did and how he started, Shannon (Bennett), incredible. Matt Moran, amazing. He is like the Kojak of cooking. He is just a solid, honest, hard working guy. Fico Bistro in Hobart, extraordinary. Matt Abe, who is my head chef (at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London). He has been my chef for ten years, he is from Melbourne and is a phenomenal chef. Britain is littered with talented Aussies and Australia is littered with talented Brits.
FB: Did you have any memorable dining experience in Melbourne while filming MasterChef?
GB: I landed on a Sunday night, put on my cap and went straight out to Supernormal.
FB: You helped pack hampers at Foodbank Victoria while in Melbourne in January during the bushfire crisis. Did seeing the community's response to that crisis affect you?
GR: That was very personal for me. We cancelled every engagement we had for the book, (Ramsay had author signings arranged for his Gordon Ramsay Quick and Delicious cookbook) but that was not the time to sit there at book signings. We auctioned ourselves out and did two lunches and raised over $120,000. This country is a nation of fighters.
FB: As you said you could stop working tomorrow if you wanted. But you don't. So what keeps you motivated?
GR: Discovering new talent. I got shown so many things as a youngster and my job now at 53 is to show other youngsters what I got shown.
MasterChef Australia: Back To Win featuring Gordon Ramsay premieres Monday, April 13, at 7.30pm on Channel 10.
Originally published as Ramsay: 'So beautiful to craft the words 'f--k off'