Melissa Kelly, chef/owner of Primo in Rockland, doesn’t watch food TV – or any television, really – so she’s unfamiliar with the version of Gordon Ramsay who’s famous for yelling at young cooks on “Hell’s Kitchen.”
But she is familiar with Ramsay’s life and work because she’s followed his career – and pored over his cookbooks – for years. Kelly respects the man and his talent, so when National Geographic invited her to be the featured “local food legend” in a Maine episode of “Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted,” the two-time James Beard Award winner said yes. The episode was filmed in the midcoast in September. Kelly and Ramsay went seaweed harvesting and cooked on a wood-fired grill at the Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde.
Their time together will be featured on the National Geographic Channel series at 9 p.m. on June 13. The Maine Office of Tourism will be very happy – the episode is basically a love letter to Maine and its passion for local foods, with lots of scenic photography showcasing the coastline. Ramsay’s goal, he explains at the beginning of the episode, is to cook so well with Maine ingredients that locals will declare him a Mainer. (Good luck with that, Gordon.)
“He was absolutely lovely to work with – very respectful, very eager to see what we were all about and what Maine was all about,” Kelly said. “Very talented, very smart. Fun. Lots of energy – a ball of energy. I got the same feeling from him that I got from Tony Bourdain. He’s a real passionate person, just exuding culinary information and an insatiable desire to learn anything food related.”
Season 3 of “Uncharted” premieres at 9 p.m. May 31 – Memorial Day – then on June 6 begins airing weekly on Sundays at 9 p.m. The series follows Ramsay around the world as he harvests local ingredients and learns about local food customs and regional flavors. This season the chef hunts for rattlesnakes in Texas, harvests barnacles in Portugal, free dives for mollusks in Croatia, goes spearfishing in Puerto Rico, cooks bread in geothermally-heated soil in Iceland, rappels down a waterfall in the Smoky Mountains, and harvests honey sacs from burrowing ants in Mexico.
And in Maine? In addition to harvesting “truffle of the sea” with Kelly on their seaweed foraging excursion, Ramsay, known for putting young chefs through the wringer in the kitchen, got a taste of his own medicine while struggling to bait and release lobster traps aboard the Gold Digger with lobsterwomen Heather Thompson and Hilary Oliver. Thompson hilariously told the world-renowned chef that her 15-year-old niece could move faster.
Ramsay also traveled to North Haven, where he dove for clams and harvested oysters with Adam and Zeb Campbell. He seemed astonished by the size and beauty of the clams, calling them “absolute crackers.”
Next, he learned how to use a crosscut saw with Tina Scheer, aka Timber Tina, who runs the Great Maine Lumberjack Show in Trenton, and churned cultured butter with Lauren Pignatello at Swallowtail Farm and Creamery in North Whitefield.
Kelly said Ramsay was originally scheduled to visit Maine in last May, but the schedule kept changing. She worked with a production crew ahead of time and spent four or five days with Ramsay’s entourage before the chef arrived for filming. Kelly spent a couple of days with Ramsay, ending with a massive cook-off at the lighthouse, where they made food for all the other locals in the episode who had introduced Ramsay to the Maine ingredients he used in his dishes.
Ramsay prepared a clam and lobster bouillabase; grilled Lobster Thermidor with grilled corn, seaweed butter and yogurt slaw; and a platter of grilled oysters and Rockefeller smoked oysters with apple mignonette. Kelly prepared a stew with clams and tasso ham made from pigs she raised at Primo; a lobster and uni hand-rolled tagliatelle; and a grilled oyster and tuna deconstructed BLT. (Kelly seared the tuna on hot rocks.)
“It was fun, and he was really fun – a little competitive and jesting,” Kelly said. “He’s a really nice person and very talented.”
The day before he left Maine, Ramsay ate breakfast with one of his producers at The Porthole Restaurant and Pub on Custom House Wharf. Ken Macgowan, owner of the restaurant, said the staff was thrilled when Ramsay agreed to take a photo with them, particularly one employee who “idolized” the chef. “I thought she was going to faint on me,” Macgowan said.
Ramsay didn’t leave Maine before dropping one of his famous expletives, describing how much he liked The Porthole’s Casco Bay Omelet.