MasterChef kitchen on high alert as Cyclone Gordon arrives
ON SCREEN, Gordon Ramsay can come off as a bit of a foul-mouthed hothead.
But in real life, he simply seems straightforward and full of nervous energy.
"Cyclone Gordon" enters the MasterChef kitchen tomorrow night in what promises to be a sharp contrast to Nigella Lawson's guest appearance on the reality cooking show this past week.
"He just calls a spade a spade, and we'll bleep the odd swear word out," MasterChef judge Gary Mehigan says.
"The man knows what he's doing, regardless of what people think of him. He's had three Michelin stars for more than 10 years, and then on top of that he's got an international restaurant empire above and beyond anybody operating out of Australia.
"He's a dynamo. He just does not stop - it's nervous energy. Keep up or get out."
I was one of 50 lucky diners to have a seat at the team service challenge, filmed during Ramsay's whirlwind MasterChef visit back in January.
The teams have spent hours preparing their three-course dinners by the time we arrive. The two parallel kitchens are buzzing with activity, but it's not nearly as noisy or chaotic as I'd expected.
As service begins, it's clear one team is in better shape than the other, and there's the occasional outburst from Ramsay but nothing you could call a blow-up.
Has Ramsay mellowed with age? No, not really. He knows what he's here to do - and that's to inspire, not discipline.
"On Hell's Kitchen they want to be pros and think they know it all. MasterChef Australia is cultivating talent. I don't suggest they all become chefs and open restaurants - that would be a disaster," he says.
"I see a lot of that vulnerability in their eyes, no different to what I was like. I started off playing soccer. It got taken away from me at an early age and I was devastated. Food was my escape.
"The hunger, that's all you want. You put in 100 per cent and I'll give you 200 per cent back. I feel the synergy is better at times in Australia than it is with some of the professional chefs."
The father-of-four runs a food empire and has fronted more than a dozen TV shows, the latest being MasterChef and MasterChef Junior in the US. At 51, he says he's finally found a healthy balance in his life.
"Gone are the days of an overbearing, overweight, out-of-control chef," he says.
"I didn't spiral out of control, I just needed to take control ... I needed to get fit to deal with the day-to-day stress of what it takes to run what I'm running. It's not removing (myself) from the fine dining, just finding that balance in life and that's what I've struck. The last thing I want to do is go out to a restaurant and start worrying what I'm going to eat.
"Also as a dad, it's about setting an example for the kids."
He even tweeted recently about "giving this vegan thing a go".
"I tried it and I f------ loved it," he says.
"I've had offers from about 10 different publishers to write a vegan cookbook."
So is that his next project?
"I'm not losing the plot OK?" he jokes.
Since first visiting our shores as a young chef working on the private yacht Idlewild, Ramsay has watched Australia blossom into an exciting food destination.
"Australian cuisine is at its all-time best and has been the past four or five years, because there's no 'it must be this or it must be that'. There's a no-boundaries attitude," he says.
"What shines above all else is the produce. It reminds me of the plentifulness that the Japanese culture has, except the Aussies are a little more f------ boisterous when it comes to barbecues. I got invited to a barbecue when I was there and the last thing I want to do is go to an Australian barbecue and get competitive on the grill. I know my place."
He's already fielding requests to return early next year, which would line up nicely with filming for the next season of MasterChef.
"I loved every minute I've been down there," he says.
"My dream is to do an ironman in Australia, with Matt Moran doing the food at the end."
Gordon Ramsay week on MasterChef starts tomorrow at 7.30pm on Channel 10.