Interview with Gordon Ramsay on The ‘F’ Word

by Lisa McGarry

Gordon Ramsay's F Word

Gordon Ramsay’s F Word returns to Channel 4 this autumn with an exciting new mission: the nationwide search for The F Word’s Best Local Restaurant .

The nation’s favourite food show will celebrate the very best of Britain’s independent local restaurants and seek out the highest quality food at affordable prices with the help of nominations from 10,000 restaurant-goers across the country.

Check out the interview with Gordon below:

What can we expect from the new series of the F Word?
It’s the fifth season. For me this will be the most important series, because we’re looking for Britain’s best local restaurant. It’s about discovering talent that we, as a nation, didn’t quite realise we were sat on. The last 12 months has been a horrific time for the industry across the board. When you look how many restaurants have been closing in the past 18 months on the back of this recession, it’s a great shame. So we’re trying to discover the best local talent, and bring it into the F-Word kitchen, where they’ll go up against each other. So we’ll get the two best local Chinese restaurants, for example, and we’ll have the chefs in to cook against each other. And we’ll do the same for each category. This isn’t about the top, fancy restaurants. Mum might like eating out, but she’d never go and spend £90-a-head, she might spend £25-£30. So these restaurants have to come in under £25-a-head.

What types of cuisine have you tried?
Wee’ve done it all! Chinese, Indian, Italian, French, American, Spanish, an open category. We’ve discovered some real hidden gems. We put the most amazing F-Word panel together to judge it. It consists of one of the most articulate palate’s in the country, Jean Baptiste – he grew up in restaurants. His parents and his uncle have a two Michelin-starred restaurant in Lyons, so he spent his summer holidays in restaurants when he was at school. Janet Street-Pensioner, as you know, in her 64th year, so she’s taking advantage of her free bus pass by going round and looking at these restaurants incognito. The biggest surprise of all has been on the back of the website. The numbers have been staggering.

This is people nominating restaurants?
Yes, we asked people to nominate on the Channel 4 website. We had 10,000 nominations for 4,500 restaurants. And we did it without even announcing it properly or launching it anywhere other than on the website.

How on earth did you narrow that down?
Good question! First of all, it depends on the amount of nominations and how much support each restaurant has. Then we’ve had several visits, across the board, in terms of the panel visiting them. I’ve spent the last month travelling round the country eating up to five meals-a-day, nipping in, having a course, nipping out. And listening to the customers, seeing how passionate the customers are. The response has been phenomenal. It’s incredibly positive. Narrowing them down and putting them up against each other has been a tough call, because the talent has been so overwhelming.

You’re dealing with all these different genres of cooking. Do you have a favourite?
It’s hard for me to say a favourite. I suppose I grew up with curries. I grew up on a council estate in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Before that, we lived in a flat in Birmingham. So curry was a staple diet. Porridge in the morning, curry for dinner. It’s the nation’s favourite dish. The Indian restaurants featured in the category have been exceptional.

So the two best in each category come in to the kitchens here and cook. How are they judged?
They cook for the F-Word diners, who are discerning. I’d love to say pompous, jumped-up little fuckers, but you can’t because they’re customers. They all think they’re critics, they’re all wannabe AA Gills and Michael Winners and Fay Maschlers – which is a potential nightmare for any chef out there! However, there is some very good, constructive criticism coming back.

And, overall, you’re of the impression that cooking in this country is in pretty rude health?
Yes, definitely. And one thing that this recession has taught every restaurant and every restaurateur in this country is the value of the customer – the customer is king. So I’d like to think the last 12 months has removed the snob factor of food. It’s become less intimidating and more enjoyable. It’s been a breath of fresh air in that respect. All these selective menus ‘you will do, you will have, you will choose, you won’t mix…’ bullshit – all gone. The whole restaurant scene now is slightly more humble. The struggle for these independent places is against these chains, these conglomerates that are swallowing up and wiping out independent restaurateurs. We need to fight for our local places, and put a stake in the ground and say ‘No, we’re not going to give up and move out so a Burger King or a Pizza Express can move in.

How about the other aspects of the series. Are we having livestock rearing again in this one?
Yes. Janet Street-Pensioner is now running a farm. She has these amazing Mangalitza pigs, Dexter cows, and chickens. So God help them. They say the abattoir is somewhat traumatising. Waking up in the fucking morning and looking at those teeth, and Janet Street-Porter’s voice screaming at you has to be a nightmare for any animal, never mind the slaughter house. So this time we’re preparing a somewhat unique mixed grill, an amazing finale with the chickens cows and pigs.

Who have been the best and worst cooks among the celebrities that you’ve had on the programme?
The worst ever would have to be James May, with his fish pie. Even though he won, which was extraordinary. He was drinking a bottle of red wine throughout the challenge, so I thought it was in the bag. And Geri Halliwell as well – disaster zone. You won’t be seeing either of them opening a restaurant.

Gordon Ramsay’s F-Word is on Channel 4 on Tuesdays at 10pm.