The iconic chef, entrepreneur and TV personality known for such cooking competition shows as MasterChef and Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay, owns restaurants around the world that have amassed 17 Michelin stars. He also owns TV production companies that produce nearly 2,000 hours of programming a year. He has been appearing in cooking competition shows on FOX for two decades. In 2021, Ramsay closed a deal with FOX Entertainment Group and formed Studio Ramsay Global, a worldwide production venture whose aims include advancing and innovating culinary TV shows and reaching viewers on multiple platforms. Ramsay talks about two such shows, Next Level Chef and Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars, and his passion for discovering and nurturing new talent.
TV FORMATS: How have Studio Ramsay and FOX Entertainment benefited from the formation of Studio Ramsay Global?
RAMSAY: The synergy behind the prolific [nature] of FOX and its underlining determination, combined with my ambitious push for excellence, is a marriage made in heaven. I love the grassroots aspect. 20th Century Fox and I started in 2004. It’s almost like this relationship between Studio Ramsay Global and FOX, Rob Wade [CEO of FOX Entertainment] and Lachlan [Murdoch, CEO of Fox Corporation], was the beginning of a new chapter. I can’t believe the last two years have been as good as they have been. Running one of the most prolific foodie media production arms has been a dream come true. But the DNA is there with FOX—the collaboration, sharing aspirations and, at the same time, building what I’d call disruptive creativity in the way that we’re ruffling feathers, but all in the right way.
TV FORMATS: How have cooking shows evolved in the last two decades?
RAMSAY: When I started, there were no cooking shows on mainstream networks. It was all cable-dominated. Having a chance to crack into mainstream 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on network television was a robust idea but something I kept incredibly adventurous about. Look at the scale now of food shows—the cultural aspect and what it means to delve into the deeper roots of how this journey began. We’re excited that we’re running a smorgasbord, a plethora of incredibly talented food shows, unearthing some of the most prolific names to be launched in the industry. FOX has let me be me. And I’ve been incredibly lucky to be given that platform. However, food is everywhere now; if it’s not Tastemade, it’s Netflix with Chef’s Table and then it’s Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted on National Geographic and Disney+. There’s something for everybody. It is fundamentally at the forefront of everybody’s agenda. Somewhere down the line, you’re going to watch a food show at least once a week on network television.
TV FORMATS: A show like Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars also combines the entertainment of the cooking competition with learning about the business.
RAMSAY: I started with nothing. I look at the 3,500 staff on the team, 75 restaurants and a production arm that services close to 2,000 hours of television a year globally. At the beginning of a business, you can be one of the most talented producers or chefs in the world, but if you can’t turn that into a positive EBITDA or some form of profitability, then you become the craziest because no one can relate to your dream. I can relate to the dream because of how I started this company and the numbers I have to deliver. It’s like everything in life; there’s a price to pay for that. I’ve made the sacrifice, and now have been given the opportunity to share what that experience is like. Turning $1 into $5, $5 into $20 and $20 into $1,000 in the food world is a difficult calling. I’m happy to expose that and make it entertaining for the viewer.
TV FORMATS: How did Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars come about?
RAMSAY: From Next Level Chef to MasterChef to Hell’s Kitchen to Kitchen Nightmares, I’ve come across incredible talent with such aspirations. I went to the team and said, There’s an amazing explosion of creative ideas. We had to come back with something unique to get these ideas off the ground. And Covid taught us a lot because the idea was harvested and put together in lockdown. How do we come out of that pandemic with a grassroots effect that we can start looking at these new tiny little artisanal businesses that needed cash injections? The BBC and I studied the potential format. We did a pilot, it was exceptional and the feedback was incredible. We then went to FOX and said, Here are a couple of examples from a microbrewery to the most amazing homemade pasta sauce—these businesses have scalability. It’s time to have that grassroots effect and give them the platform they deserve. It was a tough challenge because it wasn’t drama-led; it was a creative-led document, and FOX was very good at understanding the potential behind these businesses. As you saw in the finale, from Lan’s coffee to Caroline’s pizza sauce to Chris’s Smart Cups, these businesses are going brilliantly, and that’s thanks to FOX.
TV FORMATS: How has Next Level Chef elevated the cooking competition genre?
RAMSAY: Next Level Chef was a chance to shine a light on not just professional chefs. I love Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen, but for me, Next Level Chef was this incredible arena of social media chefs, amateur chefs, those who were good but never had the confidence to go public, and the professional world. It was an amazing time to put that mix together and create an exciting buzz because the majority of chefs in the U.S. dislike the intrusion of social media. I love the excitement on social media. Some of the best chefs are on those social media platforms. It’s an art no different from a singing artist or a painter. Social media chefs are artists; you can see the sublime techniques they’re using and the clever editing. It’s a force to be reckoned with. I wanted to see that in a competition with amateurs and professionals because we cannot leave these guys behind; right now, they’ve got the space, the advertising and the following, whether it’s YouTube, TikTok or Instagram. We have 100 million followers across those three platforms. When we recently put a burger I made on social media, it got about 110 million views! Whether it’s ABC, NBC or FOX, if you get 5 million people watching a program, it’s a massive hit. So 105 million views of me making a fricking burger—what does that mean? So, the evidence is there. The combination of the excitement, the social media boom, the amateurs playing catch-up, and the chefs having to massage their egos with a social media platform—that was the premise for Next Level Chef. And, so far, it’s working.
TV FORMATS: As you mentioned, there are many cooking competition shows now. Has casting had to evolve? How do you find the people that make the show so good?
RAMSAY: Casting is about installing confidence into that front room. I’m done with the huge turnouts where we just focus [our casting] on Chicago, New York, Detroit or Miami. I turned the casting call on its head and said, Strip the formalities, stop the big entourage moving into these cities and get these young kids to send me a video. Let me see what they’ve got when they tell me about themselves within 60 seconds. And honestly, the excitement and the hundreds of thousands of videos, messages and blogs we got by casting that net wider into the provinces was incredible. That’s the future of casting now. We don’t need them to turn up in a city and rehearse and rehearse. I want to invest in the character before investing in the idea.
TV FORMATS: When it comes to your shows or restaurants, how important is honoring local cultures and communities?
RAMSAY: For me, honoring cultures and communities is honoring the beginning of that journey. I love that melting pot of ideas, that multicultural aspect. But underneath those layers, there’s the beginning, that cultural aspect. I remember going to Thailand and showing a local chef I thought I knew how to make Pad Thai. I kid you not, he schooled me and tore me to pieces on the practices. And I was grateful for the feedback. That, for me, was crucial. In Indonesia, I thought I knew how to make a Rendang. But I went to the birthplace of Rendang and got schooled again. It’s not about what you know; it’s how good you know it. That was important for me, especially in India, when I thought I had mastered a beautiful Butter Chicken. I went to the birthplace of Butter Chicken, and then the schooling began again. The secret is stripping yourself of everything you know and becoming the student. And by becoming the student, I lengthen the platform of my knowledge by extending the real cultural insight. That is crucial. Uncharted has helped that. Uncharted is the one show that allows me to be me and puts me back in the classroom. I get schooled, and I get beaten up, but I come back for more.
TV FORMATS: How useful are YouTube, AVOD platforms like Tubi or FAST channels in helping you reach your fans and extend your brands?
RAMSAY: These platforms are divisions of developing talent. I’ve got these multifaceted platforms that I can put these programs on now, and they broaden the horizon for your fan base. I’m also looking at the flip side of that as a pool of talent, whereby you haven’t got a network’s demand to have a hit from day one. In terms of developing talent, Andre Rush was a success with Kitchen Commando on Tubi. We’ve got three more young, prolific foodie ideas in the pipeline at Tubi; really exciting stuff. It’s a nice way of breaking ground, exposing new talent without a network breathing down your neck about the results, the percentages, the share and the viewing figures. It’s a welcomed, multifaceted platform that has a dual dimension for me. It’s a great way of exposing areas you could never reach but also a platform for new talent.