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Gordon Ramsay clashed with Hell’s Kitchen’s producer during the very first dinner service

Gordon Ramsay clashed with Hell’s Kitchen’s producer during the very first dinner service
Gordon Ramsay yelling, as usual, in Hell's Kitchen season 21, episode 21 (Image via Fox)

I knew Arthur Smith’s name from the credits of Hell’s Kitchen and American Ninja Warrior, and his voice as narrator of Kitchen Nightmares.

I did not know that Arthur Smith—the “A. Smith” in A. Smith and Co.—started his career in producing nonfiction television in sports, including coverage of the Olympics.

He’s taken that sensibility and applied that to reality TV shows he’s produced such as Ninja Warrior (obviously) and Hell’s Kitchen (surprisingly).

“When I was in sports, they called an entertainment guy. When I went to entertainment, they called me a sports guy,” he told me during an interview. “The truth of the matter is, I’m just a TV guy.”

Smith writes about his experiences as a TV guy in his new book Reach: Hard Lessons and Learned Truths from a Lifetime in Television, which is in bookstores June 6.

A portrait of a man in a black shirt with a blue background
Arthur Smith, chair of Tinopolis USA and chair of A. Smith & Co. (Photo by Zach Lyons Photography/Future PLC)

While sports producing finds its way into reality TV producing, they are, of course, different, starting with the way producers construct the sport itself for each show.

He told me during an interview that “when we’re structuring a Hell’s Kitchen or a Kitchen Nightmares or a Paradise Hotel, or some of the things you’ve covered for all these years, you put a lot more structure than you can put into a live game.”

“For me, doing this type of television has been quite exciting, because I’m creating the fire and I’m covering the fire, as opposed to covering the fire and trying to work within the limits of it,” he added.

Among the many behind-the-scenes stories he tells in the book is one about adapting Hell’s Kitchen for Fox, which led to the format changing dramatically.

A book cover looking over Los Angeles at night, with the city lights glowing. The word "REACH" is in the center, as if it was the Hollywood sign
Reach is Arthur Smith’s memoir about producing nonfiction and reality television

Its first UK season, Hell’s Kitchen was a live show airing over two weeks, with Gordon Ramsay helping celebrities learn how to cook. At the time, Ramsay was not a household name in the United States.

The American version turned that format—well, into sports: two teams, one restaurant arena, a winner every night, a control room covering it all live from dozens of cameras.

Smith is still in that Hell’s Kitchen control room for every episode. “I’m on set every day of Hell’s Kitchen,” he told me. “I’ve been there for 22 seasons—our 22nd season hasn’t aired yet, but it’s it’s been produced.”

In his book, Smith writes about filming the very first dinner service on the very first episode of Hell’s Kitchen, and the conflict that broke out—after conflict broke out:

We set up zone coverage, and producers were assigned different parts of the kitchen and the dining room. Our first dinner service got off to a tremendous start, but halfway in, a fight broke out among our chefs in the blue kitchen. Gordon was in the red kitchen at the time. I needed to let him know what was going on and redirect him into the blue kitchen, so I whispered something in his ear through the IFB.

The next thing I knew Gordon was heading off the set. At first, I assumed he was headed to the blue kitchen to put out the fire that had started there, but he’d pivoted in the opposite direction, headed straight for the control room.

This can’t be good, I thought.

I left my spot at the controls and stepped out into the hallway to meet him, thinking I could intercept him and defuse the situation.

“What’s happening?” he said as soon as he saw me. “Didn’t they tell you not to talk to me during the dinner service?”

I wasn’t about to get caught up in any kind of power struggle with our mercurial master chef. I just wanted to smooth things over between us and get back to work.

“They did,” I said. “But on the UK show, you’re only working with one kitchen. Here, we’ve got two kitchens. There’s a lot going on. I’m able to see things on our eighty-plus cameras you’re unable to see on the set. In this case, you’ve got some hot tempers flaring in the blue kitchen. You need to know about it in real-time.”


“I see what’s right in front of me,” he finally said. “I react to what’s right in front of me. That’s the essence of show, mate.”

“Yes and no,” I said, trying to agree while at the same time pushing him to see the bigger picture. “I’m sure you can appreciate the benefit in having another set of eyes in the back of your head. I got your back.”

That conflict ended with Gordon conceding with a “fuckin’ hell.” Challenging his star had paid off. Smith writes that:

From that moment on day one, Gordon and I have been in sync on set. For close to five hundred episodes, I’ve been in his ear, suggesting lines, giving him cues—and got to say, he’s as good as anyone I’ve ever worked with in terms of being able to respond to a suggestion on the fly. I’d put him up against any of the top play-by-play men in sports or news commentators who can deftly handle the twists and turns of a breaking story. We’ve developed a practiced shorthand, and it’s worked out great, but it might never have come about if I hadn’t pushed him that first day on set . . . if I hadn’t reached and asked him to reach right along with me.

A man in a white chef's coat looking to the right; the letters HK are in the background to the left
Gordon Ramsay before judging dishes on Hell’s Kitchen 21 episode 21 (Image via Fox)

While Hell’s Kitchen is a proven format now, back then, in 2005, it was a struggle just to get it on the air.

“The show sat on the shelf for six months,” Smith told me. “I was dying to get the show on the air. I felt like we had something special. At the time, there had never been a successful network food show.”

He also said that all successful reality TV “comes down to great storytelling. I’m a big believer in character and everything else, and I’m a big believer in taking risks.” And obviously, the risk of confronting Hell’s Kitchen’s biggest character paid off.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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