Gordon Ramsay on Changing Judging Approach for Fox’s ‘Food Stars,’ His ‘Top Chef’ Obsession and the Role of Unscripted Series in the Writers Strike

Gordon Ramsay’s team has been inundated with emails from C-suite execs at food businesses across the U.S. over the past week, following the premiere of his latest Fox competition series, “Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars.”

With the unscripted series having already shot its first season in its entirety, these people are already itching to get on a potential second season of “Food Stars,” which, in a twist for Ramsay isn’t a show about how well you cook, plate or serve — it’s ultimately about how you play the business game. And the winner gets $250,000 investment from the celebrity chef himself.

“As you know, 68% percent of businesses fail in the first 18 months. And so I have to judge this on the business acumen, but more importantly, the decisions and the quickness of how decisive they need to be in the cutthroat business world,” Ramsay told Variety ahead of Episode 2 of “Food Stars” airing Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Fox “So I need to get behind the character to understand the business. And then as always, stress test those businesses and look for weaknesses. I’ve made mistakes in business, but I’ve never made that same mistake twice. Everything I’ve learned and the restaurants I’ve opened, and the huge success and the issues I’ve had to deal with, across the whole sector, has gone into this shows. It’s been fascinating, because the feedback has been extraordinary. Just on LinkedIn alone, the amount of CMOs and CEOs and COOs in the first 24 hours that my team was inundated with, thousands of requests. It’s been pretty incredible.”

Variety has an exclusive clip (which readers can view above) from Wednesday’s episode of “Gordon Ramsay’s Food Stars,” the second installment of its first season.

Per Fox, in this hour, “Gordon challenges the competitors to host a themed charity gala for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. The teams must work together to deliver a fun atmosphere, food, drinks and an impactful presentation to guests in hopes of generating donations. As the entrepreneurs split into teams, they compete to dazzle the guests to raise the most money and impress event experts Mindy Weiss and Courtney Ajinca. Some will thrive as entertainers and others will cause their teams to fumble.”

See more from Variety‘s interview with Ramsay below, in which he talks about his love for his shows’ direct competition, Bravo’s “Top Chef,” and the role of unscripted TV during the writers strike.

How did you pick the competitors for “Food Stars,” because some of them are very much in the kitchen, but its real focus is on their business. Were you looking for a mix of people who do also have a culinary background, alongside those who just have a food or beverage-related business?

We toyed with the idea of doing auditions and I just think too many shows in America have auditions. I want to get straight to the crux of it. We just recently come back from Australia shooting “Food Stars” with channel Nine. And I had an amazing co-host, a prolific entrepreneur, Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice. And then we had three days of auditions because the overwhelming response on the casting shout out on social was just through the roof. So we held auditions in this hangar in an airport outside Melbourne. And all these businesses, some of them was a business idea that wasn’t even launched, were pitching. With the US series, I was more concerned about getting straight to the crux. And so with my team, and the team of producers, we hand selected the very, very best of what was on offer. And then focusing on the crossover and not making it too chefy — which we’re always in danger of, because of the chefy background. I wanted to venture into some of the exciting ideas that you’ve seen already. I look at Lan Ho and her coffee idea for Fat Miilk and then you look at Chris Kanik with his Smart Cups down to the young kid of 23, Aaron Valentine, with his frozen shaven ice, Snow Cone King. It was quite an important task, but I want to get straight into the nitty gritty on business and not waste two or three episodes with them pitching ideas.

Unscripted programming like your shows have always been very important to Fox, and amid the writers strike, it’s obviously an even bigger part of their strategy and the TV industry’s overall. How does it feel being on that alternative programming side of the industry at this time? How does it affect your relationship with Fox?

I’m mortified that the strike took place, and I totally understand why and I’m 100% behind them. It’s hard, isn’t it, when you start looking at the talents of writers, good writers, and you think of the multiple shows from James Corden to Jimmy Fallon to Colbert — just the talent around those presenters alone, at 10 o’clock in the morning, when you’re sat around half a dozen incredible writers. And then you see the multiple times these shows are aired. I travel the globe, so I could be in Barcelona next Monday, and Sydney the following Wednesday, and I’ll see a late-night talk show or a drama that I watched three months prior in the U.S. And so the issue with this strike is making sure that they get the right package. And the streamers, whilst they’re super important, they need to understand the multiple times that these shows get played. And then these writers need to be rewarded properly for that.

We’re in a different unscripted side of Fox, and I’ve been there since 2004. I remember arriving at Fox, and working with the most extraordinary Mike Darnell and Peter Rice, and “House” with Hugh Laurie was the biggest drama. And that was just after this little singing competition came along called “American Idol.” And then “Hell’s Kitchen” launched six months after that. And mainstream food/drink business, hospitality was never ever apparent on any major network. I was excited to have my first foot in the door on Fox, nearly 20 years, next year is gonna be 20 years. The relationship is powerful, because it’s a partnership. And I have a very strong work ethic, and I treat this partnership and the studio as I do restaurants — it’s all about what the viewer wants. And so we have an amazing, dynamic, super creative team. And we’ve already come up with an exciting idea for the next big show regarding a sort of “hell in paradise” idea. I never stand still.

But honestly, Fox is not just the network, it’s this plethora from Tubi, its incredible digital platform, we’ve got some exciting going on with Fox Sports. These relationships don’t happen overnight, but we’re talking about two decades of collaboration. I take everything seriously, I never take things for granted. And I have a very dynamic team, we don’t have a pyramid at Studio Ramsay Global, there’s no, who is at the top? We just have a platform and my job is to get everyone on that same level and get in front of the competition.

“Next Level Chef,” for me, was the first time we could see amateurs, social media stars and professionals in the same arena. And not enough respect goes out to these kids on social with their food TikToks and their presentation skills. I’d say 90% of professional chefs hate social media intrusion, and I welcome it because it’s refreshing.

What are the current differences you and your team at Studio Ramsay Global have found between making TV series in the US vs. the UK?

Working in the UK and developing shows in the UK gives you incredible discipline because we haven’t got huge budgets. We’re making 60-minute programs for less than £200,000. That’s a quarter of a million U.S. dollars. It’s hard to get an hour of TV in the US under a million dollars. So what the UK gives you is this incredible discipline to not get overzealous and not overcomplicate formats. The development team has got a great understanding of less is more, because the networks just haven’t the money and the advertising revenue is nowhere near the comparison to the US. The US has a huge R&D team with a very, very strong development team in a way that we have a lot of resources. And then the scale of it over here, because we’re a population of 280 million as opposed to 65 million. So we get to scale things in the US in an exciting way. And that is evident. I look at “Idol” today, that started on ITV, “Dancing With the Stars”/”Strictly Come Dancing,” and “Shark Tank.” You just think about the exciting scalability when we hand those formats over to a US network. That’s where it gets super exciting for me.

Given how busy you are, I don’t know if you’ve seen the most recent “Top Chef” — but Restaurant Gordon Ramsay alum Buddha Lo has made it to the Final Four for Season 20. I’m assuming he’s who you are rooting for in the finale?

So “Top Chef” is one of my favorite programs that is on my iPad — it’s “Top Chef” and “Bear Grylls.” I don’t want to know any results, because that’s the one thing I watch in transit when I’m on a flight. And trust me, I fly a lot. With four and a half million air miles, “Top Chef” is my go-to pleasure. It’s funny, because I get looked after incredibly well and the first thing the steward asks me is, what are you watching? And I say, I’m watching “Top Chef.” And they say, what, you’re watching “Top Chef”?? Yes, I love that show. So I can’t wait to catch up on that.

I’m terribly sorry to have spoiled it!

It’s quite alright. I do know Clare Smyth appears this season — and Buddha previously worked under her — and the contestants were working in her restaurant for a restaurant takeover. As you know, Clare was with me for 12 years and is one of the most prominent chefs anywhere in the world today. I’m excited to see it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *