Gordon Ramsay was one of my most inspirational culinary role models growing up. His manner of explaining food, bringing stories around it to life, and his innovative approaches to dishes formed a core of cooking knowledge that motivated me to delve deep into the gastronomic world.
As much as I adore his cooking and respect his talent, though, I feel like his latest venture in the realm of food television is an out-of-touch ego trip.
Sometime next year, Ramsay and National Geographic will launch Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, a travel show where the Scottish culinary icon immerses himself into the cuisine and culture of a region, then faces off against the local chefs there with his own twist on their traditional favorites. It feels like an Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown episode meshed with a reality cooking show, a combination that sounds as tone-deaf as it is bizarre.
When Bourdain went into a country to learn about its food and culture, his purpose was to go beyond the tourist favorites for our own enrichment. His approach educated us not just about the popular dishes of a cuisine, but also looked deeper and examined how locals ate and the political, economic, and socio-cultural reasons behind their diets. It’s how he was able to leave such a legacy behind in the world of food television, and why we all were struck by his untimely and tragic passing.
On paper, National Geographic’s concept sounds strikingly different. What irks me (and a good chunk of social media users, for that matter) the most is that Ramsay will be competing with native chefs in the regions he travels to. As if he has to somehow prove that despite all of their cultural knowledge and the history behind their food, he can cook it better because he’s Gordon Ramsay.
I’m not saying that Ramsay’s food wouldn’t be delicious, as his years of experience proves he can make something taste good. But he has a reputation of taking a culture’s dishes and applying his own stylings to it, often perturbing or messing with the original flavors in ways that make it inauthentic.
On several of his videos, like the Huevos Rancheros recipe above, that tends to be the argument fought out in the comments. Sure, his creations look and likely taste amazing, but Ramsay often disregards traditional nuances of the dishes in favor of his culinary prowess. Utilizing black beans with lime instead of refried beans or mixing butter into the eggs are examples with the Huevos Rancheros.
But ultimately, it’s that sense of competition that I think undoes this show’s concept the most. With Ramsay going up against the locals in competitions, the episode suddenly doesn’t become about a region’s culture. It becomes about Chef Ramsay being better than them.
Ramsay has had this problem in the past. On his previous travel show Gordon’s Great Escape, he would sometimes invade a local chef’s kitchen not nearly as professional as his, attempt to cook a refined dish, then complain about facilities and a lack of English-speaking help when it didn’t go his way.
That’s not to say that Ramsay’s food descriptions lack any sort of eloquence. His introduction of some of the more intricate native dishes, like ant chutney in India, were as enlightening as they were thorough. But that focus gets lost once Gordon starts competing against locals or cooking in their kitchens, rather than letting them show off the cooking all on their own. And often times, it ends up being offending to the locals, like in his infamous Pad Thai incident.
If Ramsay’s show just involved him traveling to regions, tasting their food, and immersing himself in their culture, I would be all for that. He can actually describe food itself well, although he lacks the ability of someone like Eddie Huang that can delve deep into the nuances and backstory behind it. It only takes watching just one episode of “Huang’s World” to showcase his talents at tying together politics, culture, history, and food.
With Ramsay’s recent documentary on cocaine, he’s proven that he can address some of the more touchy topics imbued in the global food industry. To me, his need to get in the kitchen and compete with others ruins what a show akin to Bourdain’s is all about.
Even if the new show isn’t meant to be Bourdain-esque, it still lacks the self-awareness required when presenting regional food cultures to the world. A host of this format best does it without proving to the world that they can do it better. If Ramsay can’t refrain from interjecting his cooking into the program, maybe his hands aren’t the right ones to pass this torch to.