What you need to know about Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted

It's hard to keep track of all the TV shows Gordon Ramsay appears on these days — the celebrity chef has built his empire upon culinary and hospitality reality drama shows, and it doesn't seem like he's bored of the idea. On July 25, 2018, another new show was announced: Ramsay is set to star in a new travel reality series called Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted. According to the official press release, "the celebrated chef will embark on anthropology-through-cuisine expeditions to unearth the most incredible people, places and flavors the world has to offer."

Sound familiar? The show's premise is already getting heat from critics, calling it to a too-soon-replacement for Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, and challenging the idea of how ethical a foreign chef "competing" against local chefs could be. But aside from the negative press for a show that hasn't even begun to film yet, there are a few other elements of Uncharted worth thinking about before you tune in. Here's what you need to know about Gordon Ramsay's new show.

The show is like a food competition on the go

When Gordon Ramsay isn't involved in reality television shows berating up-and-coming chefs, or criticizing restaurants down on their luck, he still can't just have a nice, easy program about food. According to the press release for Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, the basis of the show will center around travel and food, "with a dash of friendly competition." Each episode will show Ramsay exploring various food scenes around the world, while also exploring the local sites and points of adventure. He'll take what he's learned to test his culinary skills against the chefs he meets along the way, in an ultimate battle of regional taste buds.

It seems he has a literal hunger for drama, and one way to ensure there's always lots of it, is by hosting competition-based shows. Ramsay has been the star of such shows as Hell's Kitchen and the MasterChef series, both known for their intense culinary challenges and high-pressure time limits. If Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted is anything like those two, there will be anything but "friendly competition" involved.

This isn't his first rodeo

Ramsay has been gracing television screens since 2004, when he debuted both Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and Hell's Kitchen in the UK. Since then, it's clear he was made for screens. And while Uncharted feels like it's something new and different for the celebrity chef, it's actually more of a variation on a theme, than an entirely innovative concept.

In 2010, Ramsay entered into the travel series game with Gordon's Great Escape. The premise for the show was a personal journey through India and Southeast Asia, where Ramsay interacted with locals on a quest to discover what makes their food so unique. The show didn't last very long, and according to an article in The Guardian, it may have had to do with fans just being "over" Gordon Ramsay at the time. "Gordon's Great Escape has been met with almost blanket apathy," writes Stuart Heritage. "The first episode was watched live on Channel 4 by fewer than a million people." 

It seems Ramsay may have abandoned the original concept in favor of the competition-based, shout-happy programming that made him famous. But Ramsay has always had a taste for travel; he expressed its importance during a Reddit AMA event. "It's really important to travel … you pick up so many different techniques, and learning a second language gives you so much more confidence in the kitchen." Perhaps he's trying to learn from his mistakes by revamping an old idea?

Asia is definitely on the list

Production on the show is set to being this fall, and everyone involved is being secretive about the location plans. But it looks as though one area of the world is certain to be in the spotlight; the press release hints that Ramsay will visit Southeast Asia, saying he'll "harvest fresh nests in Malaysian Borneo" and "hunt tarantulas in Cambodia." Other than that, the list of potential countries and cities is unclear.

Ramsay is no stranger to working his way through the food cultures of other countries. The Southeast Asian countries of Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, were all featured on Gordon's Great Escape. He also considers Singapore to be one of his personal favorite places in terms of dining, ingredients, and how locals view meals and cooking. He told CNN he fell in love with the location after the Raffles Hotel invited him to cook dinner. He has since made regular returns, and has worked to develop special menus with Singapore Airlines. He also operates one restaurant, Bread Street Kitchen, in Singapore, and hopes to one day bring Restaurant Gordon Ramsay there, as well. We'll have to wait to see if Singapore will be featured on Uncharted, but it based on his passion for the place, it could be very likely.

He thinks it will make him a better chef

Ramsay believes this series will help him excel in the kitchen even further. "My passion for adventure has made me not only a better chef but also a fearless apprentice of all cultures," he said in the show's press release. While traveling will certainly enlighten his views of how people cook and eat around the world, the idea behind Uncharted seems less geared towards Ramsay's passion for adventure, and more towards boosting his TV ratings.

The thing is, Ramsay is already a great chef. His early training was exceptional, having learned under chefs Albert Roux and Marco Pierre White in London, and Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon in France. It certainly paid off: he's amassed a large collection of Michelin stars, and is one of the richest chefs in the world. Forbes named him as one of the top earning celebrities of 2018. A lot of this has to do with his celebrity status and the empire he's built up, but it does make you wonder — when you've already hit the top, how much higher can you go? Will Uncharted actually make him a better chef, or has Peak Ramsay already been hit?

It's produced by Studio Ramsay

He's got restaurants, cookbooks, and a line of homewares. With all of his television, documentary, and feature film appearances (including cameo roles in The Simpsons and Smurf's: The Lost Village), Ramsay is clearly a media powerhouse. Uncharted will be produced by Studio Ramsay, which — you guessed it — is the celebrity chef's own production studio. According to the studio's website, the company "develops and produces both unscripted and scripted television shows, creating new formats and innovative programming," and has been around since 2016Gordon Ramsay on Cocaine, The F Word with Gordon Ramsay, and Gordon Ramsay's 24 Hours to Hell and Back are all shows developed and produced by the company.

It certainly makes it easy to get a show like this on-air if it both stars, and is produced by, the same person. By involving his own production studio, Ramsay will be able to control a lot of what the show ultimately becomes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean the potential for fewer outside voices — with more diverse attitudes and ideas — to be help make the show something worth watching.

National Geographic gave it the green light

Gordon Ramsay may have helped conceive the show, and Studio Ramsay might be producing it, but National Geographic is the channel set to host Uncharted. According to the press release, the show will be broadcast "in 171 countries and 43 languages." National Geographic's current programming includes nature, history and science content, everything from Wicked Tuna (a show about fishing boats in Massachusetts), to a documentary about Jane Goodall. Whatever Ramsay is planning on doing with Uncharted feels somewhat… out of place. It's going to be interesting to see how his hot temper and gritty attitude measure up on the same channel as Neil deGrasse Tyson's soothing series about space exploration.

However, the National Geographic television channel is partly owned by 21st Century FOX — so it shouldn't really be a coincidence that Ramsay will now be a face of the Nat Geo. The FOX network is home to Gordon Ramsay's 24 Hours to Hell and Back, MasterChef, and Hell's Kitchen. While Uncharted will air on a different channel, it's clear that Ramsay is a favorite of the FOX family, and was likely a way for the two networks to further unite their programming and brands.

But it's getting a ton of backlash

Despite Ramsay's celebrity status, and National Geographic's historic reputation, many around the world are claiming that Uncharted is a show which should not be produced. Most are upset with how the announcement of the show's premise — having Ramsay, a wealthy, white, British male, essentially compete to see if his take on regional cuisine was "better" than those local to the areas he'll be visiting — was a stark example of cultural appropriation and, in some ways, a current version of culinary colonialism.

Alicia Kennedy touches on many of these points in her Washington Post article, "Gordon Ramsay's new Nat Geo show is a colonialist mess." Along with support from other food and travel writers, she discusses how the show's concept not only degrades world cuisine, but that it perpetuates the stereotype of how the restaurant industry is still a "boy's club."

National Geographic went as far as to issue a reaction statement, in an exclusive for Eater, saying, "We are disappointed that the announcement of our upcoming series with Gordon Ramsay was taken out of context … We have not gone into production on the series yet, so this perspective is premature." While that may be valid, it hasn't reassured critics. At least there's time for the production to take these issues into consideration before filming begins.

Anthony Bourdain fans are especially unhappy

The disruption towards Uncharted doesn't stop at claims of cultural appropriation — many also think it's a direct capitalization on a tragic event. People around the world were devastated after learning that Anthony Bourdain had taken his life on June 8, 2018. Fans knew he had revolutionized the travel-and-food media space, and that his loss impacted the culinary industry on a higher level. Most importantly however, he was remembered for the way he interacted with other cultures around the world. He was humble and inquisitive, and championed regional cuisine and local chefs.

Because of its similar premise, many of Uncharted's critics claim that Ramsay and National Geographic snatched up the chance to fill the space Bourdain left behind. "So Gordon Ramsay has joined Nat Geo for a new food travel competition series called #Uncharted … I wonder if this would be happening if Anthony Bourdain was still alive?" @AaronFlux tweeted, after hearing the news. Others felt offended that the new show could take what Bourdain revolutionized, and exploit it for popular gain. Twitter user @andreplaut followed up Eater's article on the show with, "I imagine the pitch for this went something like: 'It's like Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown except instead of honoring people's cultures, he's there to appropriate it in the most imperialistic and insulting way possible.'" 

Andrew Zimmern kind of predicted it

Like Anthony Bourdain (a close friend of his), celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern  also created a new wave of culinary travel experiences with his show, Bizarre Foods. Zimmern was truly saddened by the passing of Bourdain; in an interview for Us Weekly, he talked about how very few people can replicate what Bourdain had created, and that the "loudest voice" pursuing those topics was suddenly gone. But even spookier was the way he talked about how soon other channels could capitalize on Bourdain's legacy.

"My fear is that having realized how valuable he was now that he's gone, that there's some network out there ready to launch 30 Bourdain copycat shows with real idiots hosting them … I know the way these things work, and I know in some room somewhere, there's people starting to scribble these things on a blackboard and game plan it and market it."

The announcement for Uncharted came just over six weeks since the passing of Bourdain. And while Ramsay himself was affected by Bourdain's death, it's unclear whether or not he was inspired to continue the work Bourdain began. One thing is certain: Zimmern made his feelings apparent in response to a tweet from Eddie Huang, who criticized the announcement of Uncharted: "Very true, my brother. That's an ethnocentric meme that perpetuates the problems of 'otherness' and invisibility…"

Parts of it could be staged

When you've worked in reality television for as long as Gordon Ramsay has, you begin to learn what you can and cannot do on screen. So much of what happens on unscripted programs is actually very much planned out. Ramsay has been accused of faking elements of his shows in the past; he's been awarded compensation for libel damages from these accusations, but it does make you wonder how "real" his reality shows can be. For example, according to Matt Reidl's article for The Witchita Eagle, Ramsay's production team reached out and carefully selected local folks to dine at a featured restaurant in an episode of 24 Hours To Hell And Back.

Ramsay's media persona is also slightly questionable. He's known for being "shout-happy," cursing at and degrading contestants or lower-level chefs on his shows, but in reality, Ramsay certainly has a soft side. He's deeply involved in various charities, has a no-swearing policy at home, and has gotten emotional when talking publicly about slaughterhouses. Is his mean side something he keeps in the kitchen, or is it just an act? Maybe his mood swings can't be confirmed, there's a good chance his attitude in Uncharted won't be based on how he conducts himself off-camera.