In recent years, a host of cooking reality shows have cropped up across network and cable television, but none have captured America’s attention quite like "Hell’s Kitchen."
The Fox show, now entering its fourth season, has kept audiences enraptured on Tuesday nights thanks to its boisterous host/judge and head chef, Gordon Ramsay.
The blond Brit’s fiery temper and high standards have resulted in plenty of surprisingly fantastic reality TV moments. Aaron’s kitchen fainting, Rock’s freak-out over being sent to dumpster dive for recyclables, Josh’s mid-shift firing for being "f***ing useless," and Bonnie’s surprising un-elimination, were just a handful of last season’s highlights.
And Season 4 will be no different. For starters, Access Hollywood has learned that Gordon plays a little trick on his contenders in the first episode, donning prosthetics as he rides a bus with them. At least a few of the contestants learn fast, they should have kept their mouths shut.
We caught up with Gordon to find out what we have to look forward to this time around and where some of our favorite former cast mates, like Season 3’s Julia, the waffle house cook he promised to send to culinary school, are now.
Access: So first things first — Julia, where is the waffle house girl now?
Gordon: Amazing lady, extraordinary talent. She went on to culinary school. Don’t think you’ve seen the last of this lady. She’s going to come back, not too sure where she’s going to pop up, but I think she’s going to go on and become something quite serious.
Amazing isn’t it when you find that kind of talent cooking inside a waffle house, that has the most amazing taste that’s far greater than executive chefs she was cooking alongside. But trust me, you have not seen the end of her.
Did you keep in touch with her?
I do. I work hard making sure I keep in touch with all of [the former contestants] to be honest. There’s a few that I don’t keep in touch with for obvious reasons but in terms of talent, when it gets down to like, the last seven, then it becomes really exciting. And when you have to release that talent, it gets quite emotional because they’ve become part of your brigade, they’ve become a pillar in that brigade. This year we’ve had them all back judging as well which has been nice.
Who have you brought back to judge?
All the three previous winners.
Heather Michael and …
And Rock, and it’s nice to see the way they’ve matured, not just in cooking, but in stature and that level of confidence of course. More importantly, their level of determination was far greater than it was when they were on the show. And it’s just so nice to see because they are all so young and vibrant and they are making great progress in the industry.
And do they all still work in the restaurants you placed them in?
Yeah, they’re still there and more importantly, they spend time in and out of my restaurants as well. This year has been the most amazing year – Season 4, because I’m looking for a chef, for the new restaurant of mine in West Hollywood, so I’m raising the bar.
There’s been an amazing dominance of female chefs and having lived in France [previously], 35-40% of the brigades I worked with are all female and so it’s just quite nice to see that level of tenacity [and] real great taste and coming from girls.
Is there a lot more crying then with the ladies?
This year there has been a lot of crying, but more so from the boys, which is really weird.
So yeah, Girl Power this year has to be the main nucleus across Season 4. But I have to say the stakes are higher, the determination is extraordinary and it has been full of tantrums and tears, but more importantly the pressure has been on from the first minute they walked into the kitchen.
Speaking of the kitchen — you cook (and throw away) a lot of risotto, beef Wellington and fancy food. How do you stay in shape?
Good question. I went up across Malibu, up to Ventura yesterday, 30 miles on my bike.
I was a fat chef once, ten years ago. I don’t think it’s a good advert for any restaurant – a fat chef and secondly, who wants to eat a dessert when the chef’s a fat pig.
More importantly I’ve got my first Iron Man [Hawaii based triathlon] coming up this year … I’ve got the Paris Marathon … and the London Marathon.
Wow. How much do you train every day?
You know what? I’ve got this amazing rucksack and every night — Monday, Wednesday, Friday — whether I’m in LA, New York or London, or Paris, I’ll fill it up with potatoes and I’ll run down whatever river is adjacent to the hotel. I went for a run three nights ago with a huge backpack full of potatoes and I’m just — head down, run, run, run, music on — and I’ll do a 90 minute, two hour run, get home, eat my breakfast before I go to bed. That way I can spend an extra 15 minutes in bed. The most amazing way of doing it, but honestly, Raisin Bran, at half past one in the morning is just a great way to finish a day.
The fourth season of 'Hell's Kitchen' premieres Tuesday, April 1, on Fox.