Gordon Ramsay is the Yosemite Sam of reality TV cooking shows. When the Scottish host of British import Hell’s Kitchen loses his temper and unleashes a tirade of obscenities, it’s never really all that shocking. If anything, it’s kinda adorable. Ramsay’s vocabulary may be less family-friendly than Yosemite’s “yassin frazzum” tirades, but it’s no less hilarious. Over the last five seasons of Hell’s Kitchen, he’s come up with some refreshingly original ways to tell people that they can’t cook. He’s informed at least one fledgling chef that his carefully-prepared meal tasted like “regurgitated dog shit.” He’s dismissed their attempts at culinary artistry as “gnat’s piss”, “baby’s vomit” and “a dehydrated camel’s turd,” assured them that he’d “rather eat poodle shit” than anything they’d prepared in a kitchen, and announced to a room full of contestants that they “cook like old people fuck.”
I called Ramsay to discuss his accurately-named series, which just returned to Fox for its sixth season (it airs Tuesdays at 8pm EST). It didn’t take long for Ramsay to start swearing like a sailor in the final stages of syphilis.
Eric Spitznagel: Stand-up comic Patton Oswalt has a theory that all great chefs are in some way clinically insane, either because of OCD or some dark obsession that haunts them. Do you agree?
Gordon Ramsay: Yes, absolutely. Chefs are nutters. They’re all self-obsessed, delicate, dainty, insecure little souls and absolute psychopaths. Every last one of them.
Does that include you?
Oh yeah, I can relate to that quite easily.
So you admit you’re a psychopath?
Now I’m not so sure. Aren’t truly insane people unaware that they’re insane?
You know what? It’s always the morning after when you realize it. The kitchen can be this tenacious, tempestuous roller coaster, and then you get home later that night and you’re absolutely shattered. You feel like you’ve just ran a marathon. I never have any regrets, but sometimes I’ll be brushing my teeth in the morning and I’ll think, “Holy crap, I’m getting too old for this.”
Your kitchen staff is notoriously loyal—you have something like an 85% retention rate—and yet, on at least one occasion, they’ve called the cops on you. Are British people just pushovers?
There’s a bond among a kitchen staff, I think. You spend more time with your chef in the kitchen than you do with your own family. Your parents are the biggest influence in your life until you reach 18 or 19. But when you leave home, your next biggest influence is your work career.
See, here’s the thing: In America, if you feel unsafe enough around somebody to call the police and then you don’t pack your bags and get the hell out, you’re kinda an idiot.
Being part of a kitchen is about submerging yourself into a kind of… it sounds weird, but a head fuck. Because you’ve got to be so focused. You command loyalty but at the same time there’s so much to give back in terms of learning. There’s an addiction there, isn’t there?
Given your kitchen managerial style, what are you thoughts on the U.S. closing down Guantánamo Bay? Is Obama just being a baby?
It should’ve been closed down years ago. I like Obama. I like that he gets straight to the point. You can’t afford to pussyfoot around. It’s got to be all or nothing. Stand by your own convictions. A kitchen is exactly the same. The minute you start compromising for the sake of massaging somebody’s ego, that’s it, game over.
So where’s the ethical line on torture? No waterboarding or sleep deprivation, but it’s okay to call somebody a chunky monkey or tell them they cook like old people fuck?
A chunky monkey? Oh god, I haven’t heard that line since last season. You’re bringing back some old nightmares for me.
Don’t tell me you’re going soft.
Not at all. But cooking is a young man’s game today. The pressures of a chef are far greater than ever before. Not just in terms of cooking but how they come across as pros and assert themselves.
Vanity Fair‘s Christopher Hitchens once claimed that women aren’t funny. You once claimed that women “can’t cook to save their lives”. Are the two things related?
I said that ten years ago. It was a flippant comment that came back to bite me in the ass. Are you trying to get me into trouble again? I’m in enough shit as it is.
I think it’s a fair question. Is a woman’s ability to cook a Beef Wellington in any way connected to her ability to deliver a punchline?
I don’t know about all that. I’ve always said that women are much quicker learners in the kitchen than men. I’ve got some of the most refined, ambitious chefs on my team and they’re female. The refreshing thing about working with female chefs is they only need to be told once. Guys hate being disciplined in front of women, so having these female rottweilers positioned around the kitchen really helps to get guys up to speed quicker.
Let’s play a little game. I’ll give you a quote and you tell me if you said it or if it was uttered by former Sex Pistols’ agitator Johnny Rotten. Willing to give it a shot?
Yes, of course.
“Fuck off you, you fat useless sack of fucking yankee dankee doodle shit.”
Um, that sounds like… I think it sounds like me.
You are entirely correct. “Fuck off you wanker! You’ve sprayed beer over my fucking shoes you clumsy cunt! What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Fuck off!”
Fantastic! That’s got to be Johnny Rotten.
You’re on a roll. “Fucking ignore the system, use it when it suits you.”
That’s…. Johnny Rotten?
You’re three for three. “I’ll fucking cram it up your ass sideways.”
That sounds like me.
Exactamundo! “It’s a repressive society where you can’t be horrible. I’m not horrible, they made me horrible. I’m just honest.”
[Long pause.] That sounds like… oh, this is a tough one. I’ll say…. Johnny Rotten?
Bingo. “My work is done, it’s been a phenomenal journey, I’m ready for the next challenge, so fuck you all.”
That definitely sounds like me.
Wow. You’re unstoppable. Was there ever a doubt with any of these?
Not really. I suppose the society one was a little iffy. Because that’s really what it’s like. There’s something quite scary every time the doors open on Hell’s Kitchen and it’s like, “The battle is on!” They take my advice, but especially this season, they take me on like never before. Oh my god almighty, they are ab-so-lute psychos. Which is great! I have a black belt in marital arts and I keep incredibly fit. Provided nobody’s going to lob a fucking knife in the back of my head, I can pretty much stand up and stand strong. I don’t do it to confront them in terms of getting physical, but I do push them to the absolute limit.
Let’s talk about the word “fuck”. You’ve been criticized for overusing profanity, which seems like criticizing Shakespeare for writing in iambic pentameter. Do you consider cursing a weakness, or is it just part of your style?
It’s not necessarily a part of my style. Unfortunately it’s just industry language and I’m not 100% proud of it. Can you imagine if it was the other way, if a kitchen needed to be polite and it was “Can you please be so kind as to pass me the striped sea bass?” Or “hurry along and give me the spinach when you’ve got two minutes? Finish your cigarette and then come and cook.”
Yeah, fuck those motherfuckers! Give a fucking chef a fucking break and give him the cocksucking spinach!
Exactly! It’s a kitchen! If we were just flipping burgers and dressing Caesar salad, that would be one thing. We could all be high-fiving and having a grand time. But when you’re cooking at another level of perfection, it’s a different thing entirely. I have to keep it real. Go to any top five kitchen anywhere in America and when the shit hits the fan, it will hit the fan big time.
Are there any tricks of the trade you can share with us? How do you know when the time is right to drop the f-bomb?
No, no, no. I’m completely unedited. When it comes, it comes. Nobody tells me what to say or when to say it, it just comes out.
Let’s try a few examples. I’m a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen and you caught me trying to sauté scallops without a non-stick pan. What do you say?
That’s just fucking stupid! A non-stick pan is there to color the scallops! You’re fucking nuts!
Okay, how about this? You just learned that I’m filling my shepherd’s pie with horse meat.
Just complete fucking donkey! I wouldn’t even serve that to… to… unwanted horse shit!
Bravo, sir! I have no idea what that means, but I feel thoroughly schooled.
You just have to trust your gut.
Speaking of horse meat, didn’t you once argue that Brits should be eating more of it?
That happened after I lived in France for three years. My French girlfriend’s parents ran a horse’s butcher shop. We have a level of sensitivity about animals in Britain and we don’t quite understand that they eat horses in other countries. Every culture has their unusual ideas of food. In Australia they eat kangaroo and here in the U.S. you eat lots of buffalo and in France they eat horses. I learned about that when I was living with my girlfriend above this butcher’s shop, which I didn’t realize was a horse’s butcher shop until I saw the horse’s head outside of the bedroom door one morning, with a neon light hanging around its neck.
What does horse meat taste like, and please don’t say chicken?
It’s very lean, very gamey, almost like a mature beef on the verge of being venison.
PETA protested your horse meat endorsement by dumping horse manure outside your London restaurant. Did that seem like the worst Godfather homage ever?
It wasn’t just a little horse shit, it was five tons of horse shit. The whole of Mayfair got shut down. I was in Fife (Scotland) at the time, riding buffaloes, chasing buffalos.
Whoa, whoa, slow down. You were riding buffaloes?
I was making the very first homemade fresh buffalo mozzarella. But of course, before we could make the mozzarella we had to get the buffaloes first. So we ran after them on quad bikes and I jumped on the back of one of these fucking things and started riding it. It got so fast, I couldn’t jump off. I finally fell off the damn thing and heard my cellphone ringing. It was Julian, my operation manager, and he said to me, “Gordon, I think the shit’s hit the fan.” I was like, “What do you mean?” And he said, “No, no, I mean literally the shit has hit the fan.” He told me that half of Mayfair has been blocked and Brook Street was closed down because there were five tons of horse shit parked outside our front door. I had to change my pants because I was just peeing myself laughing. It was hilarious.
Good for you. Not many people would appreciate the lighter side of a mountain of feces outside their place of business.
It really was something. It was a nice hot day, and the stench kept rising, five floors up, to every room and carriage above the restaurant. It was just pungent with manure.
Is there any meat you would never, ever, ever eat, under any circumstances?
Ah, the most dangerous game of all.
I’m just not interested.
But other than the obvious, is there a meat you couldn’t see yourself sampling, even out of curiosity? Greyhound steaks, maybe? Or Labradoodle chops?
Hmmm. Not really. I just got back from Rakovec last year where I ate some Puffins.
I assume you’re talking about the bird and not the Trader Joe’s cereal.
They were just delicious. My kids didn’t talk to me for two months after they saw me eat a raw Puffin’s heart on national television. They just ignored me. They didn’t even take their pocket money. You can always tell when children are pissed off if they give back your pocket money. I thought they were on the verge of becoming vegetarians but finally the pendulum swung back to sort of normality, which is good news.
So there is literally nothing you wouldn’t put in your mouth?
Lady’s Fingers I can’t stand. I just don’t enjoy Okra. But I love any meat, whether it’s white meat or red meat. Vegetarians are missing out on such delicious, fibrous protein. I was in India last month, shooting this amazing documentary while I lived with a tribe in Nagaland, and we had to chase wild boar for our dinner. It was phenomenal.
One final question: Does Gordon Ramsay like to cuddle?
I do. Provided I don’t have to cuddle with a vegan. Their breath is just too smelly.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com.)