Gordon Ramsay fell in love yesterday -- with a Bloody Mary sorbet.
"I was slightly dubious about it" at first, he confessed, noting that it is seasoned with Tabasco sauce. "Now I'm over the moon. It's working brilliantly."
Ramsay shared this morsel during a phone chat yesterday afternoon (he was somewhere in England) to talk about the mega renewal deal he's just inked with Fox for two more seasons of "Hell's Kitchen" and "Kitchen Nightmares," plus a blind series commitment and plans for a live "cook-along-with-Gordon" special sometime in the coming season.
That's a lot for a guy who's already hosting multiple shows in the U.K. and running a growing portfolio of Ramsay-branded restaurants.
"It's a happy problem," Ramsay assures. "I take it all very seriously, and I have an amazing (production) team behind it all."
Mike Darnell, Fox's prexy of alternative programming and Ramsay's biggest fan on this side of the Atlantic, is in awe of Ramsay's work ethic. He doesn't just host "Hell's Kitchen" and "Kitchen Nightmares"; he is those shows, Darnell says.
"Unlike a regular reality show host comes in, does his job and leaves -- these are incredibly demanding television shows for Gordon," Darnell says. "On 'Nightmares,' he spends four-to-five days in each city. He's on camera 12 hours a day. This is a hard-working man."
Darnell notes that he's often seen Ramsay take far, far more time than is necessary for the show to counsel wayward restaurant owners on how to turn around their businesses "because he cares so much."
Since "Hell's Kitchen" debuted in the summer of '05, Ramsay has clicked with U.S. viewers because he's a draw for both men and women -- a rarity for a cooking show. In its fourth year, "Hell's Kitchen" ranked as the summer's most-watched original series, with an average of 10.1 million viewers. The U.S. rendition of "Nightmares" launched its second season last night in the tough Thursday 9 p.m. slot.
"He's a man's man in the kitchen, and he has this charisma going for him," Darnell says. "Girls go nuts for Gordon."
In this gourmand's opinion, Ramsay's shows work because he's so obviously talented, and so obviously not a food snob. He's always preaching simplicity -- in menus, in ingredients, in presentation -- and the importance of making things taste good rather than sound hifalutin' on a menu. And some of us just love the way he says "veg."
For Ramsay, his TV work is not a separate job -- it's all wrapped up in the driving passion of his life.
"I’m a chef, for God's sake," Ramsay says. "I'm not standing there trying to act. It's no longer a job -- it becomes a passion. It's part of the coal-faith I've kept for 20 years."
(Huh? Ramsay explains that "coal-faith" is coal-miner term for the determination that allows miners to descend into the blackness every day. It made me think of "How Green Was My Valley," and then I got it.)
The rangy Brit works hard, and plays hard -- which sometimes worries Darnell (and that's saying something). "He's kind of a daredevil," Darnell says, ticking off a number of injuries from soccer and other pursuits that Ramsay has suffered recently.
Ramsay says he intends to show off more of his manly man-ness in the new series he plans for Fox. "Man Camp," which he'll host, will send a group of men whose "ladies are slightly concerned about how feminine their men are becoming" to a boot camp where they'll face physical and intellectual challenges, and they'll learn how to cook too. He's already producing a version for the U.K.'s Channel 4.
"I'm a man with a pair of balls. I'm a chef, for God's sake," Ramsay reminds us. "I'm not from the Cordon Bleu school of wimps. I never had a rich father. I never had anything handed to me on a silver spoon."
The hourlong live special in the works is also patterned after a program that was a hit for Channel 4 in January, in which Ramsay prepared a meal with a celebrity partner in under an hour. Ramsay wants it to be a national dinner party where even novices get to experience the joy of cooking.
"This will not be for the blue-rinse brigade, or the Martha Stewart crowd," Ramsay assured. "This is not 'Here's how you make shortbread,' now go pop a Viagra if you want to get stiff....This is cooking for the young, the vibrant and the tenacious -- the dudes who are up and coming. I want people to knit on down to Whole Foods, pick up the ingredients and really be part of something."
Wow. Hard to follow that one with a business-like question. Lucky for me, Ramsay takes a breath and launches into a stream of consciousness discussion of the segs to come on this season's "Kitchen Nightmares."
"Customers know when you're faking it. They know when you're not putting integrity into the flavor," he says. "I can't think of any other program where people have to work that hard to make it properly succeed. The reality is, this program is documentary-led" in its production style, he says. "It's so real, and so unscripted."
A few other appetizers from Chef Ramsay:
**A quick way to test the mettle of a restaurant is to order a glass of orange juice or a Bloody Mary. "It's a good test of what kind of experience you're going to have with the meal," he says.
**He's working on another program concept dubbed "Dangerous Food for Boys." It involves him and others chasing down the raw material for exotic delicacies in exotic locales, like 130-pound eels in Iceland, giant squid off the coast of South Africa, etc.
**He thinks the world of Mike Darnell. "Mike Darnell is the man," he asserts.
**Darnell has been brave enough to take Ramsay out to some of his favorite restaurants. "I'm usually kind of embarrassed. He's gracious," Darnell says.
**Ramsay has no time for health-food joints, as we'll see in an upcoming "Nightmare" installment. "You don't go out to eat healthy. Who gets excited over a bowl of nut casserole? You eat a lentil salad -- it'll make you fart for a week afterward."