Chef Gordon Ramsay dishes on his new Hell’s Kitchen restaurant near San Diego
Fiery British chef opens third restaurant based on his TV show today at Harrah’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center
TV fans may not envy the beleaguered chef-testants that fiery British chef Gordon Ramsay verbally eviscerates on his TV show “Hell’s Kitchen,” but they’re sure eager to try the food being cooked onscreen.
Today, Ramsay will open his fourth Hell’s Kitchen mega-restaurant at the Harrah’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center, and there’s not a single reservation available for the next 6-1/2 weeks.
The 332-seat restaurant replicates the look of the long-running show, the red and blue uniforms worn by the contestants and some of the most popular Ramsay recipes served up, like beef Wellington, crispy-skin salmon and sticky toffee pudding. The local Hell’s Kitchen joins three others at Caesars Entertainment properties in Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Dubai.
In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune last week, Ramsay answered several questions about the new restaurant via email.
Q: Your new Hell’s Kitchen is opening in Harrah’s SoCal’s former buffet restaurant, which shuttered during the pandemic. How did the pandemic affect you and your restaurants?
A: The pandemic was really tough across the industry globally, with furloughed staff, temporary — and for some permanent — restaurant shutdowns. We’ve come out of it, I think, with stronger resolve, and fingers crossed, now is the right time for us to continue expanding in the U.S.
Q: Why did you choose this location for your third U.S. Hell’s Kitchen restaurant?
A: I love Southern California. It’s one of the best places to live as well as visit, and Caesars Entertainment is an extraordinary partner. So when we were asked to bring Hell’s Kitchen to Harrah’s Resort SoCal, it was a no-brainer.
Q: This is your largest-ever restaurant. What are the challenges of running such a big space, and how do you make the experience intimate for diners?
A: Good question. It’s about consistency. Christina Wilson, who not only won Hell’s Kitchen but helped open the restaurant, is on the ground, training and making sure everything is up to our Hell’s Kitchen standards. Hell’s Kitchen isn’t about intimacy for me, it’s about the energy, the buzz and atmosphere that we bring to every Hell’s Kitchen around the world. Look at Vegas, it’s a big space, too, but as a diner, you want to be part of the experience of dining in the restaurant like you’ve enjoyed it on television for 21 seasons.
Q: How did you narrow down the list of your signature dishes for the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant menu?
A: Well, I just look at what’s stayed on the menu for the past 21 seasons to test the contestants on the series. It’s clear that some dishes have become TV favorites, which are easily adaptable to the restaurant.
Q: What are your personal favorite dishes on the Hell’s Kitchen menu, and which ones are diner favorites?
A: Oh that’s a tough one, but you can’t go wrong with a beef Wellington and (pan-seared) scallops. Not only are they show-stoppers, but they’re Hell’s Kitchen classics that regulars, as well as TV show fans, have come to know — and hopefully you like them medium rare and not raw.
Q: You’re a taskmaster on TV with the restaurant cooks. How hard is the hiring and training program for kitchen workers at your new restaurant?
A: Well, I think everyone in the hospitality industry is struggling with staff. But unlike the Fox show, I can’t offer every employee the once-in-a-lifetime prize. We have excellent leadership in both the front and back of the house that spent a month training with our team in Las Vegas, that’s best in class. My chef’s team then supports the six-week onsite training of the full HK team at Harrah’s Resort SoCal.
Q: How will dining at Hell’s Kitchen be different from what people see on the TV show?
A: To start, you’re guaranteed to get fed! There is an open kitchen — this is the heartbeat of HK. We take that energy and buzz and turn it into an unforgettable experience for our guests. We have a replica of the iconic HK fire sign. And you’ll have to keep an eye out. I’m known to pop into our restaurants from time to time.
Q: Reservations are booked solid more than a month in advance. Any tips on getting a table, or any secret off-menu dishes to recommend?
A: No secret off-menu items, but you can expect all of the HK classics. The response has been extraordinary, so plan in advance and keep checking. You never know about cancellations, as other people’s travel plans may change.
Q: Although you won’t be at the opening this weekend, I’ve heard that some of your past show winners will appear. Do you stay in touch with past “Hell’s Kitchen” winners and have some gone on to successful careers?
A: Well, Christina is my culinary eyes and ears in the field, and Michelle Tribble (HK season 17 winner) is one of our development chefs, so yes I’d say I stay in touch. I’ve also written the foreword for Ariel Contreras-Fox’s new cookbook, and I always try to keep an eye on past contestants’ social media to see their growth.
Q: You’re most famous in America for your TV shows. But in the U.K, you’re better known for your Michelin-starred restaurants that have been ranked on world’s best lists. What would you like people coming to dine at the new Hell’s Kitchen to know about you and about the dining experience that you want to have?
A: Hmmm, am I? It’s pretty full on over here on British telly, with multiple shows as well. But no matter what, my restaurants around the world feature exceptional service and thoughtfully crafted dishes. Some may be Michelin-starred, but we treat every guest the same way globally, with or without the blue team and the red team.
Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant
Reservations taken: 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily
Where: Harrah’s Resort Southern California, 777 S. Resort Drive, Valley Center
Phone: (760) 751-3100
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