'Hell's Kitchen': See How Gordon Ramsay's Cooking Competition Blurs Reality Ahead of Premiere

Does Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen truly live up to its name? Fox's reality cooking series features chefs from across the country in a winner-take-all elimination contest competing in a figurative pressure cooker for the role of head chef and a substantial cash prize. The intensity of anger on screen makes this series stand out from a sea of similar shows. With contestants squabbling and Ramsay's trademark dramatic dress downs, that constant intensity may seem impossible to capture realistically; unfortunately, there are only a handful of reality shows that are genuinely real.

Several aspects of Hell's Kitchen are staged to varying degrees, ranging from design to presentation and the grand prize. Since Hell's Kitchen's debut in 2005, most of the episodes haven't actually been filmed in a restaurant at all, according to Good Housekeeping. The first and second seasons of the show were filmed at 915 N. Labrea Avenue in West Hollywood, California.The season 3 taping occurred at 3322 La Cienega Place, according to RealityTVWorld.com. The Hell's Kitchen crew soon moved again to 8660 Hayden Place in Culver City. The Las Vegas Review Journal reported in March 2019 that the show relocated from Culver City to Las Vegas. Currently, the show is being filmed at Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen restaurant at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas strip, which opened in 2018.

Parade noted that the coveted prize is actually the head chef position at a restaurant selected by Ramsay. A cash prize of $250,000 is also awarded to the winners. Much of the interactions on the show are reported to be authentic. Ramsay told Emmy Magazine of the contestants selected for Hell's Kitchen, "The muppets I have to work with. I mean, there's 50 percent cast for character, and there's 50 percent cast for talent. When things go wrong, I go crazy. When things go right, I get really excited. I'm not going to change anybody because so far, it's working." Hence, the best chefs may not always be picked, which some may consider partial staging. 

Many have referred to Ramsay's reactions in the show as staged, excessive, or otherwise deliberately outrageous. The famous chef has a reputation for delivering long, expletive-laden tirades. However, he is usually more reserved when dealing with the home cooks of MasterChef, child contestants of MasterChef Junior, or struggling business owners on Kitchen Nightmares.

It may be argued that he feels emboldened to act harshly for an audience reaction or due to the context of the mistake, but his responses are said to be sincere. A producer for Season 19, Kenny Rosen, told Reality Blurred that Ramsay reacts because he "knows what an important job it is." Rosen notes, however, that they don't show the majority of the time Ramsay spends with his contestants, much of which is positive and constructive. In Rosen's account, Ramsay demonstrated how to prepare dishes mid-competition calmly and briefly. "And once [Ramsay's] shown them — then, yes, he'll ride them if they do it incorrectly." 

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Former "Hell's Kitchen" contestant Nona Johnson, née Sivley, of Season 8, told Mashed Ramsay has a serious and humorous side to him. She said the Michelin star chef is "really, really funny. Like really funny. And I know that, as a viewer watching, I'm laughing because the things he says are funny, but he's genuinely really funny, and he cracks jokes, and really, one of the hardest things was not laughing when he would shout out in anger and frustration."

It was not unusual for her fellow chefs on "Hell's Kitchen" to discuss Ramsay's tirades once off-screen, and one moment stood out to Johnson in particular. "The TV audience never saw this, but he was shouting at everyone saying how terrible the service went and blah, blah, blah, all of these things. And he said, 'You guys are trying to f— me up the a— sideways from Sunday.' And we all just stood there like, 'Yes, Chef that's right. That's what we're doing. Yep.' Because we didn't know what to do. You just went, 'Mm-hmm. Yes, Chef.' But yeah, we talked about that one later." Season 21 of Hell's Kitchen premieres Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. EST on Fox.