Why the 'Hell's Kitchen' host was as tough on the makers of his game as he is on his contestants
Gordon Ramsay, the intimidating British chef who terrifies contestants in Hell's Kitchen and offers culinary advice to tiny chefs in Masterchef Junior, doesn't have much in common with Kim Kardashian aside from the fact that he's followed in her footsteps and created a mobile game with San Francisco studio Glu. The recently-revamped Restaurant Dash with Gordon Ramsay, which was first released for iOS and Android last summer, is similar to the old Diner Dash games, but with a little added Ramsay rage.
We spoke to him about his career as a chef, why he decided to make a mobile game and what the young, volatile chef that started out in kitchens in the 80s would have made of this new media empire.
When you were starting out in the eighties as a chef you probably didn't think that this is where you'd be now, right?
You mean, when I was getting my arse kicked in the eighties? I suppose you're right. I think it's fair to say with the partnership with Glu I was pretty stubborn from the beginning. I said, "Look. I really want to be involved with this." It's not a label slap, an endorsement. It means so much to me to give that proper insight. There's a sense of direction that I had to give my team at Royal Hospital Road. To offload that level of insight. To perfect. I think it's very similar to what I've had with the partnership I've had with Glu, because they've been brilliant. I mean, really brilliant. Even spending time in my restaurants and watching me behind the line. Of course I don't stand 16, 17 hours behind the line watching every seabass. Cooking every piece of lamb. I've been there. I've done that.
So, that's why it was so important for me to spend the, I suppose, 18 months, near enough 20 months in development. To say, "Look. This is really important that we get this right."
So I'm guessing someone came to you and said "Hey, you know, would you be interested in doing a video game?" What was your first reaction? Are you someone that plays video games at home?
Over the last five years we've had quite an exciting level of proposals from several groups. For me, it was about finding the right partner. Here's a little insight. I've got size 15 feet, and growing up I could never afford to look for the shoes that looked the best. I just had to find a shoe that fucking fitted. That was the same thing with Glu.
I wanted to work with a partner that was going to fit right. If it fits right irrespective of how it looks you know you're going to get on. I think we turned down two major offers prior to Glu. It just wasn't right. The minute I met the development team at Glu and went up to headquarters at San Francisco. Took time out to meet the creative's, we hit it off. We really did. I pushed them. They pushed me. I'd get a 50, 60, 70 page document for voiceovers in a booth. I'm in there at midnight with my ears sweating for these voiceovers. I'm literally on my knees. Screaming into this microphone. Everything we can ever think about in the middle of service to add different sort of layers to make it feel so much more real.
I think the other issue for me was watching the kids. There's a juxtaposition with these youngsters today, because there are so many distractions on their phones that they grew up with. It's pretty common knowledge now. I've never been one to play Xbox games, to sit there and veg out. But mobile games, for me, was a little bit more interesting. Watching the kids, especially Holly [Ramsay's eldest daughter] saying, "Dad, really? I've got to download tokens to buy more ingredients? Are you serious?" Watching their feedback when we were in beta.
That was a big wake up call for me in terms of what's happening in the 21st century. And some of the data that Glu were giving me in terms of the reach. Testing little tiny markets globally first. Just being really smart with it as opposed to thinking, "Well. We're under pressure. We've got a gun put to our head. We have to get this out to the market for financial reasons."
Are your kids a good focus group? Have they been a good way to kind of test things out? You mentioned they were on the beta.
It's interesting I just need the negatives. I need the negatives because without those I can't get better. So, from personalizing the avatar to having a female dress code. The dressing up parts that they enjoy. Maybe it's not the most exciting part of the game. I'm competitive. I need to get in there. I need to fill the restaurant and get the best ingredients. I want to become the best neighborhood restaurant.
I'm in there at midnight with my ears sweating for these voiceovers. I'm literally on my knees. Screaming into this microphone.
I link it all back to 1993 when I came back from Paris without a pot to piss in. Sat in the bistro at the end of Chelsea called Aubergine. I had five years, six days a week working my balls off to become the best local neighborhood restaurant. Once you're the best local neighborhood restaurant then you become a heavyweight in that area. Then you become, I suppose, a premier league restaurant in amongst the big boys. Then the international stuff needs to come, three, four, five years down the line. It needs to start off humble.
With this I was allowed to develop that into the game where we could map this journey. That gave the player that kind of insight to building this little empire. Which I don't think has been done before. That was the important breakthrough with Glu. Finding stuff that hasn't been done before. I think that's why it's worked.
Do you think people are more interested in how the food they're eating is created these days? In terms of creating the game and the real world?
Listen, you're in a practical kitchen for eight to twelve hours a day for the buildup of three, four minutes of pleasure on one customer. Times three if they have an appetizer, entree and a main course or dessert.
Behind my passion of cooking is a big love of sport. Staying ahead of my game and staying fit. Getting myself up to speed with the demands. I go back to FIFA and the way modern day professional footballers, Ronaldo, for instance or Messi or even David. When they put their name to these games it's them on a screen playing for their Barcelona, Real Madrids. That's encouraging these youngsters to get out, once they've played the game, and kick a ball. I'm hoping that this gives a little insight, not just for that entrepreneurial ship, but this is what it takes to be a chef. All of a sudden the penny drops. We're multitasking. We're in service. This is how we function.
How does your work across all these different ventures feed back into the cooking and your other projects?
I'm like a magpie. If I'm in the middle of Colombia or the arse end of Barcelona, the latest tapas bar. I'll find something that is magical from that dinner. Even if it's a bad experience, I'm bringing it back to the nest.
I've got a foot in the modern day happenings and what needs to be done on social media. Snapchat, another one, we're working on some really exciting stuff with them, going forward. I did the online Masterclass last fall. That was incredible because, no distractions, me locked down for five days, in my house. Fifteen chapters of pure utter cooking. I mean, literally, unadulterated. Absolutely no interruptions and pure cooking.
You're really embracing technology with the online Masterclass and the mobile game, is that all part of building the empire?
It's hard to think that you have a global reach. You work in tiny circles with absolute, incredible experts that never lift their head above the parapet because they're so focused on what they do. Then you come out, you work with all these tiny talented pods of individuals. Whether you like it or not you're sat on top of it and is a global reach.
In Singapore, for instance and just watching the amount of traffic across Asia with the game and what that brings. When we go to Bread Street Kitchen at Marina Bay Sands for a meet and greet. I mean, it's insane. Insane. That's the scary bit for me. I think that's the only bit I struggle getting my head around.
Listen, I've had some failures. I've made some mistakes. The most important thing is learning tenfold by those mistakes.
So, I need to do passion projects alongside the shiny floor stuff, because that keeps me grounded. That's where I sort of say goodbye to all the glamorous, exciting stuff, and get back to the coalface. We've just embarked on that in Honduras and Colombia in a massive way. So that, for me, is important. So that's why I find that balance.
I've been one of the most unselfish chefs in terms of some of the young fledglings that left the stable and gone and become great successes. If they can reach my heights then that's my job done. What I have been able to do is to hand the baton over and embrace that talent. Let's not be bullshitting, the pressure's on them as well.
If you could travel back in time and tell that young Gordon, just starting out, that he'd have his own video game, what would he say?
Probably fuck off. Stop drinking or smoking. Leave me alone. I need to look after table seven. So, I'd never have entertained that. I think in this industry you move with it or it moves you. If there's always one thing that we've managed to do is just to stay in front of it. Listen, I've had some failures. I've made some mistakes. The most important thing is learning tenfold by those mistakes. So, I've never been too shy with that one.
Yeah, I think we may have seen it boom over the last sort of seven, eight years but I came to America in 2004. When we started this little boot camp competition called Hell's Kitchen, we just finished 18 seasons last month. Opening our first Hell's Kitchen restaurant in Vegas in one of the most amazing positions. Already, they've had to shut down the lines because of the reservation demand. We just got fucking planning permission. We haven't even built the restaurant yet, and the thing's already fully booked. I suppose that's the scary demand, but for me it keeps me on my toes. This may sound really weird, but, I've never been turned on by money. I've got to be excited with the product first.
And like I say to everybody in the team, "Get the product right first before you start even thinking about reaping any rewards." Just going back to boiling point back in 1998. Following me for that 12 months and watching that, I suppose, that level of insecurity, in order trying to make it. I've sacrificed a lot to get where I am today. This hasn't been handed on a silver plate because I've got a house in Bel Air. This has been a long time coming. I think that's been pretty important to stress that buildup. Not an overnight success.
What are the moments when you really can sit back and enjoy it?
Bored. 33,000 feet in the air, sat on a G5 and Justin [Ramsay's assistant] gets me internet service where I can abuse shit food on my Twitter feed. That's where I get fun.
I have been enjoying those tweets actually. They are...
...A little bit naughty. Also I'm just getting fucked off with the amount of crap that's been sent my way. I swear to God, if it's not the inside of my grandad's colostomy bag, it's the kneecap on my fucking grandma. So, I'm like "Guys!" You know I had a blind lady on Masterchef, three years ago, that won.
I showed her to visualize ingredients raw on a plate. This lady's blind. She put food on a plate like an angel. So, who's got any right to send me that shit on my feed. Will they just stop for two minutes and just think about dressing the plate with a bit of finesse? It doesn't take much. We're not talking about poncey food, just presentation skills. It's no different to getting dressed or putting makeup on or putting gel in your hair. It's the same feeling and you need to apply that with food. I think that's really important.
This interview has been edited and condensed.