Gordon Ramsay is well-known in America for shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen,” where the biggest danger is whatever he’ll scream at a hapless chef whose cooking isn’t up to snuff. But in “Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted” the celebrity chef has to contend with more material dangers, such as avoiding being eaten by a species of giant crocodiles and dodging venomous snakes.
“I went into the shallow waters in the jungle in Guyana to chase the caiman. You have to be careful that it’s not the black caiman, which are protected. You need to know your shit and take the safety briefing properly,” Ramsay said in an interview with IndieWire earlier in the year. “From infested waters with giant, highly poisonous snakes to the most amazing caiman you’re creeping up on, you’ve gotta be quick. There are no second thoughts. Second thoughts, you’re gonna get taken out. I did say to myself sometimes, ‘Shit, what if this goes drastically wrong?’ I came across a highly poisonous snake literally two inches above my head that was circulating a tree in a mango grove awaiting a prey.”
Ramsay’s trip to Guyana is one of several places that the outspoken chef and TV personality visited while filming the second season of “Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted,” which centers on Ramsay visiting far-flung communities to learn about their cuisines and cooking methods. Season 2 premieres on National Geographic tonight at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT. IndieWire is premiering a clip from “Uncharted” Season 2’s premiere episode where Ramsay practices fly fishing in Tasmania in an exclusive video that can be viewed at the end of this article.
Ramsay discussed his work on “Uncharted” Season 2, the importance of valuing obscure cultures, and the contentious response to his National Geographic series in an interview with IndieWire in March. As in the show’s first season, each episode of “Uncharted” Season 2 follows Ramsay as he explores a different region and meets with its culinary experts while learning how they source their various ingredients. As with Season 1, each of the sophomore season’s episodes end with Ramsay and a local chef cooking a feast for their guests, who either compliment or critique Ramsay’s attempts to cook their culture’s dishes.
However, “Uncharted” Season 2 boasts a somewhat more relaxed pace than the show’s first go-around. Gone are the references to the closing cookout being a sort of “competition,” and Ramsay doesn’t mention how he’s rushing from place to place quite as often. There’s still plenty of action and tension, be it Ramsay diving into the ocean from a moving helicopter or acquiring ingredients while nearby rhinos or hippopotamuses monitor him, but there’s a bit more of a focus on where Ramsay is visiting, rather than the chef’s own adventuring.
“We try to get more of the food and cultural foundations discovered,” Ramsay said. “We’re digging deeper because every country has their heritage and sometimes it can get lost in translation. So, I think it’s becoming more foodie-oriented than it was in the first season.”
Ramsay is nothing if not outspoken about his critics, but Season 2’s tonal shift is almost certainly a direct response to some of the criticisms reviewers raised about the show’s first season. “Uncharted” Season 1 was well-received by critics, but many reviewers noted “Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted” focused more on the reactions of the man the series is named after, rather than actually charting out the destinations he visited. Ramsay still undeniably carries the show, but Season 2 dedicates more time to the people and places he visits.
Much of the initial skepticism about “Uncharted” stemmed from the timing of the series’ announcement. “Uncharted” was announced in July 2018, several weeks after beloved celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died by suicide. Comparisons between “Uncharted” and Bourdain’s “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” were immediately drawn, with some critics arguing that Ramsay was a “colonialist” or wanted to “parachute into foreign food cultures and show the locals he can cook their cuisines better than they can.”
Bourdain’s 12-season “Parts Unknown” received widespread acclaim for offering in-depth look at local cultures and issues, as well as its cuisines. Given Ramsay’s notorious confrontational attitude and vulgarity on hit shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Kitchen Nightmares,” some critics had concerns that “Uncharted” would be a crueler, culturally insensitive version of “Parts Unknown.”
Ramsay — who referred to Bourdain as a dear friend whose death was a tremendous loss — is aware of the comparisons between the shows, but stressed that those comparisons came before critics had the opportunity to watch “Uncharted.”
“We took a bashing from keyboard warriors about what we’re doing and I said, ‘Just judge the program. You have a reason to voice your concerns, but judge the program,’” Ramsay said. “Wait until the program comes out and you’ll see how respectful we’re being.”
There’s little doubt, given Ramsay’s occasionally crass wording and history of controversial remarks, that some television viewers could still find it difficult to separate the chef’s past remarks and confrontational television shows from his work on “Uncharted.” That said, Ramsay’s National Geographic series genuinely never comes across as offensive. Granted, Ramsay doesn’t skimp on all manner of bleeped-out expletives while adventuring in “Uncharted,” but his incredulousness is exclusively centered on the outlandish scenarios he finds himself in in every episode.
Ramsay said that visiting Tasmania was the highlight of his work on Season 2, given the lack of publicity about the region and his fond memories of hunting for crawfish in its ocean waters.
“Tasmania was the big one for me. It’s sort of the ugly duckling of Australia because it gets forgotten about and everyone treats it like it is barren and doesn’t bring much importance,” Ramsay said. “So, I was desperate to get to the bottom of Tasmania, study the island, and understand what it meant culturally. I thought I’d seen some pretty big crayfish in my time but honestly, the crawfish we found in Tasmania were in dark, deep crevices and were the size of bloody Labrador dogs. These things are huge and getting them out of the holes was exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.”
Still, there are times in “Uncharted” Season 2 where truly charting out a local culture could’ve been to the show’s benefit. In the South Africa episode, Ramsay and South African celebrity chef Zola Nene prepare a meal for an unnamed Zulu chief who is wordlessly flanked by heavily armored guards carrying AK-47s. It’s a surreal, distressing segment that begs for elaboration — Ramsay appears a bit unsettled by the situation in the scene but the episode offers little in the way of context regarding the chief. (IndieWire’s Ramsay interview was recorded before the publication received previews of Season 2’s episodes).
While “Uncharted” still doesn’t offer deep-dives into the history and cultures of the locales Ramsay visits, the chef never belittles the places or people that he runs in to. The chef is kind and deferential to all of the people he meets, and many of them playfully riff on Ramsay as he learns about their local cooking methods and cuisines.
“Uncharted” is one of around a dozen shows that Ramsay is developing as the celebrity chef continues to expand his restaurant empire. Though Ramsay is juggling all manner of projects, he expressed a particular fondness for his National Geographic series and said learning about other culture’s cooking practices helped him become a better chef.
“I like to keep it fresh and don’t want to do the same thing, day-in and day-out. At 53, ‘Uncharted’ is the most exciting program I get to do. I still get told by a producer that, ‘That was shit, do it again,’” Ramsay said. “It’s a great amount of pressure for me to steer away from the posh side of my career, to get rid of the filet mignons, the caviar and start looking at cheaper cuts, rare birds, and rare meat. We’ve forgotten how tasty this stuff is. We’ve got too spoiled with things available 12 months a year. In many ways, it’s like going back to intense training. You become stricter about sticking to things that are in-season. It’s a very important message to send back to my chefs.”
Check out an exclusive clip from tonight’s episode of “Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted” below.