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The Problem With Gordon Ramsay’s New Travel Show Is Gordon Ramsay

Notes on a new TV series plus a roundup of the week’s food pop culture news

National Geographic/Ernesto Bena

This post originally appeared on July 26, 2019, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.

Welcome back to Eat, Drink, Watch. I’ve got some thoughts on a new show starring TV’s most famous chef, plus a roundup of the week’s food-related entertainment news.

Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted Has Way Too Much Gordon Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay and Virgilio Martinez
National Geographic/Ernesto Bena

Although the TV landscape has changed by leaps and bounds over the last decade, American audiences have not lost their appetite for shows starring hyperactive hothead Gordon Ramsay. The shouty chef still commands a sizable chunk of primetime real estate — approximately 10 percent of Fox’s total programming calendar — and now he’s even branching out into basic cable with a travel show called Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted.

I was hoping that for his National Geographic debut, TV’s most overexposed chef would show us a different, perhaps more introspective side of his persona. The Hell’s Kitchen star did recently tell the Hollywood Reporter that he’d “rather front less and create more,” which made me wonder if Ramsay might take a note from the late Anthony Bourdain and do more listening than talking. But unfortunately, what we have here is another Gordon-palooza, where Ramsay, even in his quieter moments, somehow finds a way to make the experience all about himself.

At times, the first episode, set in Peru’s Sacred Valley, feels like an advertisement for a Gordon Ramsay action figure: There he is riding a motorcycle! Climbing a 100-foot-tall mango tree! Fishing on a junk boat! Lassoing a cactus on the side of a cliff! These activities are interspersed with scenes of Ramsay collecting ingredients with farmers and foragers, and learning how families prepare local dishes. Except for one moment where he spits out a fried caterpillar and remarks that it’s “no bueno,” Ramsay is generally a polite guest. But it’s still sometimes hard to watch him butter up the locals like they’re guests on one of his talk shows as they prepare their family recipes for him. He’s that tourist who wants to not only take in the sights and the sounds but also get a thumb’s up from a local, as if to say, “You’re not like other tourists, you’re a cool tourist!”

Many of his experiences are capped off by corny asides that show just how little Ramsay learned about these communities. Take, for example, his visit to an Andean village where a family prepares a meal of roasted guinea pig and potato soup. After remarking that the dinner was like, “a traditional, old-fashioned British stew,” but with “more depth,” Ramsay turns to the camera and says, “That was extraordinary, because that is a proper insight: something as basic as the huts could produce food like that.”

Uncharted also somewhat awkwardly tries to wedge a cooking competition into the action. The Peru episode begins with Ramsay and Chef’s Table veteran Virgilio Martinez scaling the side of the mountain. As they begin their ascent, Gordon remarks that Martinez is “a younger, better looking Peruvian version of me.” Later, after being shown how to make an herb salsa by a local fisherman, Ramsay remarks, “Peru is famous for it pastes, but I have an idea for a high-altitude twist that might help me kick Virgilio’s ass.” And in the climactic battle, an outdoor cook-off where Ramsay serves undercooked alpaca heart skewers, our host seems nervous about potentially losing the competition. “These farmers are the hardest customers of anyone on the planet,” Ramsay remarks. “Why? Salt of the earth.” At the end of the dinner, the competition is deemed a 50/50 split between Ramsay and Martinez.

When the show was first announced last summer, the news was met with immediate backlash from people who balked at the idea of Ramsay parachuting into a foreign land on a mission to one-up the locals on their own culinary turf. The finished product isn’t quite as offensive as it first sounded on paper — especially since the competition scenes are fairly breezy, and it seems that Ramsay will only be cooking against other very famous chefs in these sequences. But by merely scratching the surface of what life is like in this part of the world, Uncharted also feels like a big missed opportunity.

Ramsay is clearly drawn to the natural beauty of the land and the local traditions, but he doesn’t seem to want to delve into any issues that might get in the way of what he calls his “epic adventure.” Especially considering that the chef has come under fire recently for cultural appropriation at his London restaurant Lucky Cat, it would be nice to see him in a show that placed more emphasis on the lives of his hosts, instead of the experiences they can offer him.

New episodes of Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted air Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on National Geographic, and they’re also available to screen on Hulu.

In other entertainment news…

Have a great weekend everyone and if you’re looking for a killer dish that also won’t take forever to cook this weekend, consider checking out Priya Krishna’s recipe for garlic-ginger chicken with cilantro and mint.