Gordon Ramsay is reminiscing about his latest globetrotting adventure.
The multi-Michelin-starred chef has stepped out of the kitchen, and his comfort zone, to throw himself headfirst into an epic adventure for new National Geographic series Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted.
His mission – and believe us, he was only too happy to accept it – being to embark on ‘anthropology-through-cuisine expeditions to unearth the most incredible people, places and flavours the world has to offer’.
"Here’s the issue: you get to a level, you’ve won Michelin stars and you (own) multiple restaurants around the world and all of a sudden everything is running brilliantly," Ramsay, 52, says candidly.
"You need to stop and think, ‘I want to continue learning’ because that’s what keeps you at the forefront."
Connecting exploration, adventure and food, the action-packed series sees the Hell’s Kitchen star in hot pursuit of local delicacies, from capturing eels with his bare hands in New Zealand to diving into dangerous waters in the search for snails in Laos; and climbing a sheer rock face during a snowstorm to harvest native herbs in Alaska.
And that’s not all: the newfound ‘apprentice’ also gives spearfishing a go in Hawaii, rappels down a raging waterfall for mushrooms in Morocco, and hangs off a cliff in pursuit of cactus worms in Peru.
"It’s about getting to the crux and the heartbeat and what made that particular region sing," offers Ramsay, who met with local people and inspiring chefs in each location, before eventually cooking a feast together.
"Going to those uncharted territories and not being recognised is a dream because they’ve got no idea who the hell you are," quips the father of five.
"And the fascinating thing about not even understanding their language and talking through food was a massive connect for me."
So, what else can he tell us?
On swapping the kitchen for the wilderness
"It’s a passion project that I believe strongly in. I’m at that age now where I want to continue striving for excitement and uncharted waters. It’s a global launch, so we’re going into half a billion homes and 170 countries with 42 different languages, so the impact is bigger than I ever thought it would be. So far the feedback has been extraordinary, but it’s something that I don’t want to overindulge in. I can’t see myself doing more than six to eight episodes a year because I want to deserve it and make it super special; you won’t be seeing 30-40 episodes rolled out because that’s not the objective here."
On the drive for more sustainability in the culinary world
"Several ingredients that I discovered on this show, globally, couldn’t be transported. Some of the fruit and vegetables grown in Peru, at that high altitude, their flavour was incredible, so we need to continue emphasising that point. Listen, when it’s out of season, it’s off the menu. It’s something that we practise in our kitchens on a daily basis and running out of some things is good news. Never feel that it’s a bad thing to tell customers that it’s sold out, it’s gone for a reason."
On introducing (or not) the local cuisine to his menus
"Would I bring certain items back? I think the influence from New Zealand. I took my chefs out of London and put them on a plane, and they stood side by side with these incredible contributors. And they saw it, they indulged there. So there will be little influences popping up across several menus without a doubt. But I’m not too sure about the blown-up small intestines of the seal, how well that would go down for Sunday lunch at the Savoy Grill. Ask me that question next week when there’s a riot outside the hotel."
On his pursuit of adventure
"The passion is there. There’s something rather strange at me still being this competitive at my age, having the success I’ve had, so that makes the job so much more exciting. But it’s also the vulnerability, when you’re in those tough situations and you’re having to travel up a mountain or propel down a waterfall to go and find a wild mushroom or a white truffle… I quite like that adventure. It’s a big change for me; it takes me into the unknown."
On the series’ biggest challenges
"I thought the Alaskan programme was tougher than I could ever expect because the winds were brutal. We’re scaling mountains and then literally you’d have the weather turn within minutes and we’re all of a sudden in a 25mph blizzard! So crossing a lake, open water, was pretty touch and go. At one stage we thought we were going to have to beach the boat and bunker down in a hut. But we dealt with it. We powered through it. But again, that’s what makes the show, that you deal with it!"
On showing his vulnerable side
"I’ve always said pressure is healthy, it depends on how you handle it. When you’re under immense pressure, I think you get the best results. That vulnerability is important to me, to show it’s not all wrapped in cotton wool, and I love taking risks. So that juxtaposition between going on that journey of discovery, and being vulnerable with that kind of pressure, to conquer, is a really blessed feeling. And it’s something I’ve always grown up with."
Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted starts on National Geographic this September.