Interview: Gordon Ramsay talks stress, smoking and getting his ass kicked

Gordon Ramsay may be a terror in the kitchen, but fortunately he isn’t quite so fierce with reporters. At the TCAs he cheerfully offered his perspective on issues ranging from childhood obesity to getting “his ass kicked” as a chef. As you might expect, he heartily recommends yelling as a training tool. But did we really think that was an act just for the cameras?

Don’t blame obese kids for their weight. “I think the epidemic of obesity is everywhere,” he said. “Not just in the U.K. or the United States. I get very uncomfortable when the children get highlighted, because it’s not the children’s fault. It’s the parents’ fault. You have to have stricter guidelines from an early age. I weigh myself every day and my children weigh themselves once a week, which I think is a normal way to go through life. I think the parents should be almost put under scrutiny for letting that situation get out of control.”

We don’t complain enough. When asked about what customers can do about restaurants that deliver five star prices but little else, Ramsay urged consumers to stand up for themselves. “The better the customer becomes, the better we perform. I think as a nation we don’t complain enough. They do in France. If they’re not happy with anything from the waiter to the smell of the restaurant to the seasoning, they don’t argue, they send it back. As a nation, I think we should complain more.”

Don’t look to him as an eating role model. “Chefs are the world’s worst eaters,” he sighed. “You graze all day. We would be lying if we said we sat down and ate dinner before we cooked dinner. I prefer the Chinese way, where we eat 6, 7 times a day. But it’s a pain in the butt when I go out with my wife, because I’ve always stuffed myself by the first appetizer.” Even though he may not eat well and does “indulge from time to time,” Ramsay stays fit by running and says he’s only eight pounds above his ideal weight.

Yelling is constructive. Ramsay claims he doesn’t yell until he’s pushed to the limit on shows like “Hell’s Kitchen.” First time [an order is messed up] I’m fine, second time I get a little bit narky, third time I get pissed off,” he says. “I just want it right, really.” When I wondered if there might be some other way to get his chefs snapped into shape, he countered, “So, next time somebody overcooks the fish for the fourth time, I’m going to say, ‘I met this lovely lady at the TCA and could you be so kind as to cook this right? The whole dining room is waiting for you.’ Would you prefer me to say that? I get straight to the point. I think it’s healthy to have an old fashioned stance, in way. These people are in a competition to win a substantial amount of money with an amazing title. If I was in their shoes at 25, 26, I’d learn how to make an amazing risotto and cook fish perfectly before I went anywhere near a competition.”

Bad chefs usually have a bad habit. The fact remains that each season on “Hell’s Kitchen” Ramsay still must face piles of undercooked risotto, raw fish and overcooked beef Wellington. So why is it so hard for chefs to master such basic dishes? “I think a majority of them smoke, which I think is disgusting,” Ramsay said. “It’s like, would you go to a doctor who smoked six cigarettes a day?” Ramsay, for one, never got a taste for tobacco. “I’ve never smoked in my life,” he said.

Whoever wins “Hell’s Kitchen” has some tough work ahead of him or her. While Ramsay is giving his latest crop of chefs on season nine a hard time, the winner may face the toughest challenge — working at a New York restaurant. “I got my ass kicked in New York when we first opened. Absolutely hammered,” Ramsay admits. “I learned a tough lesson. I got absolutely hammered, as I did in Paris. You go in with that level of arrogance, thinking you’re going to take on the world. And it’s true — if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” 

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