Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Gordon Ramsay admits he was scared.
The world-class chef and authoritarian star of "Hell's Kitchen" says he didn't expect to find such young, talented, undiscovered kitchen stars when he debuted "MasterChef" last season on FOX.
"The biggest thing I took away from the first season: I got a little bit scared, to be honest. (Show winner) Whitney Miller, at the age (of) 21, 22 years of age, I saw her again three weeks ago, putting the final touch to her cookbook, I just couldn't quite believe how trained her palette was. I mean, 'MasterChef' is a phenomenon in the U.K. and it is globally, but I didn't actually think it would be as big as it was in the states," the no-nonsense culinary king tells Behind the Screens.
"You know, 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. I'm fed up with that sort of level of ignorance about chefs (who) portray the wrong image, and chefs sending the wrong message out to kids with obesity and all that," Ramsay says. "It's not kids' fault; it's the bloody parents' fault, and you can't blame an 11-year-old on what they eat; it's the parents. So, there's a huge responsibility and the biggest scare for me was how competitive they really are at home. I'm not talking about glamorous ingredients. 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."
It's that sort of ingenuity that inspired Ramsay to bring "MasterChef" to FOX. The 44-year-old UK native, who has successfully launched more than a dozen restaurants around the world, sought to find the next generation of culinary aces. In season one, he found Miller, who dazzled Ramsay and judges Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot with her baking acumen and main course mastery.
Ramsay says the contestants in season two (premiering Monday at 8 p.m.) have all seen the show, and "they all think they're going to sort of outsmart the judges." However, he warns, "We raised the bar. We became more competitive with the 'Mystery Box' challenges. We had some pretty darned difficult, you know, out-of-the-studio challenges; I mean, really tough, and in some remote locations.
"I think they came in better, to be honest, because we had different sorts of cuisines, widespread from a phenomenal sort of lady who cooked Mexican food for her local school, a private school, and they wanted it sort of almost on a daily basis, and food to go home as well. When was the last time you heard food from school to be taken home to go?
"We had a molecular gastronomy chef that wanted to cook with lots of liquid nitrogen and CO2 and dry ice. He looked like a professor, pushing his cart down. To the most amazing classic American. A phenomenal baker this year as well, which, yeah, my God, the guy's name was Ben Star, and what an appropriately named surname, Star, because he cooked like a star. I've never seen a man stick a carrot cake together with roasted pumpkin and come out as delicious as his did. It was quite mind-blowing."
This array of "chef-testants" is bound to create some tough choices for the judges, who are tasked with choosing the "MasterChef."
"Yeah, it's sort of funny," Ramsay says. "Sometimes it goes like a sort of a highly competitive spirit sat on those chairs. Then they all sort of retreat to their comfort zones. Joe doesn't like Indian food; Graham can't understand Chinese food; Joe wants olive oil drizzled on everything.
"Then we have a bit of banter and then when we start arguing, yeah, it gets a bit hairy sometimes. Graham comes out as a big cuddly bear that everyone wants to sort of love. Joe is the one they're undecided of, because depending on how he looks at them with his eyes will dictate whether they're going through. And with me, well, you never know what's going to happen. You know, if I find something absolutely delicious, I'm going to fight tooth and nail to get it through. If I think it's shocking, then I'll say it there and then."
"MasterChef" airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on FOX.