It’s no secret that Gordon Ramsay has a taste for adventure. But even this daring chef went beyond his comfort zone at times while globe-trotting in search of culinary inspiration for the filming of his new National Geographic series Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, which premieres on Sunday, July 21.
The 52-year-old Brit, famed for his Michelin-starred restaurants and intense competition shows like MasterChef, traded tricked-out kitchens and TV studios for “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore and reconnect” with the source of ingredients. Since Ramsay believes in learning by doing, he followed the lead of locals on sometimes harrowing expeditions, such as perching precariously on a mountainside in Peru to harvest a type of cactus valued for the protein-rich insect larvae it hosts. “It looks crazy,” he says, “but it’s what some locals do on a daily basis.”
The people Ramsay met, and their resourcefulness and respect for ingredients, made a deep impression on him. “Food is the foundation,” he says. “It gives rounded insight into the actual culture of a place.” For recipes, behind-the-scenes secrets, and other tasty bits, read the Uncharted digital magazine.
His advice to travelers? Be adventurous and seek out what really defines the culture. “And stay off the high streets,” he says. Here Ramsay offers his travel tips for each destination in the series.
Episode 1: Where to pick a perfect potato in Peru
“High altitude is no joke,” Ramsay says. Even the pisco sour, a brandy-based tipple that’s considered Peru’s national drink, packs a more potent punch in the lofty villages dotting the Sacred Valley. But his greatest discovery in the land of the Inca? “The amazing diversity in potatoes. Each one was unique and different, and they were incredible to cook and eat,” he says. Indeed, it’s estimated that some 4,000 types of potatoes grow in Peru, ranging from the pale papa blanca to the jewel-toned papa púrpura. But not everything succulent is starchy. Alpaca jerky, says Ramsay, makes a salty, satisfying snack. Ramsay’s chef to watch: Juan Luis Martínez of Mérito, a restaurant in Lima that puts Venezuelan spins on Peruvian ingredients.
Episode 2: How to be a rock star cook in New Zealand
“The hangi is my new favorite way to cook meat,” says Ramsay. “Dig a hole, light a fire, bury the meat, and go enjoy a few hours relaxing.” Methods for this traditional Māori way of cooking over heated rocks buried in a pit oven have been handed down for generations, and the hangi is still used to prepare meals on special occasions. Ramsay also marvels at how Māori cook with seaweed in inventive ways—and how they retain these techniques in their modern-day culture. Smoked eel, he says, is another best bite. And be sure to sample the sips. “New Zealand has some of the best local wines,” says Ramsay, referring to the vintages of both the North and South Islands—perhaps especially the tropical and tinglingly acidic Sauvignon Blancs of Marlborough. (Sample some of New Zealand’s best wine on this epic drive.) Ramsay’s chef to watch: Matt Brock of Kika restaurant in Wanaka; he’s a whiz with seasonal, tapas-style dishes.
Episode 3: Why you should go nuts for souks in Morocco
Think truffles, and you likely conjure up the forests of France or Italy. But these delicacies also grow in Morocco, says Ramsay, along with mushrooms such as morels, porcinis, and chanterelles. Head to the souks (local markets) in cities’ old quarters for oranges, vegetables, camel meat, tea, rugs, brass lanterns, ceramics, jewelry, antique treasures, and just about anything else you can buy. “The medina is full of diverse things,” he says. “You can buy the most amazing olives and a vintage carpet all in one place.” Don’t forget to try Berber pizza, or medfouna, dough stuffed with meat, onions, and spices. Ramsay’s chef to watch: Meryem Cherkaoui, of Marrakech’s Mes’Lalla restaurant, specializing in new takes on local flavors.
Episode 4: Secrets for binging on banana bread in Hawaii
The best way to start the day in this Pacific Ocean archipelago? “Banana bread,” says Ramsay. “It’s the perfect morning snack with local coffee.” While the Big Island’s Kona coffee claims the spotlight, Hawaii’s rich volcanic soil supports several varieties. After fully caffeinated outdoor adventures that might include scuba diving or lava hiking, pull over for a meal. “Roadside dining is some of the best food,” Ramsay says. His pick is barbecued and basted huli-huli chicken, devoured right by the water. (See Hawaii’s hula dancing like never before.) Ramsay’s chef to watch: Sheldon Simeon, of Maui’s Lineage restaurant, dishing up his family favorites.
Episode 5: Why the Mekong River is essential to Laos
Before the Mekong River empties into the South China Sea, it flows through six nations, including Laos. On his first trip to the country, Ramsay learned that “the Mekong is the lifeblood of the community. It’s not only where a lot of the food comes from, but it’s how you get to any location.” The river is so key, in fact, that its name in Lao can be translated as “mother water.” Along the banks, find historic temples, lush jungles—and tempting refreshments. But “don’t drink the moonshine unless it’s in a mixed drink,” warns Ramsay. Do try the roasted bananas, which he calls “simple, delicious, and the perfect treat.” (Discover why Laos is the world’s next great foodie destination.) Ramsay’s chef to watch: Seng Luangrath, who’s brought Laotian flavors to Washington, D.C., with her Thip Khao restaurant.
Episode 6: Where to find warm spirits in Alaska
One of Ramsay’s most memorable moments came when he visited an indigenous Tlingit community. As he entered a family smokehouse, he saw that the 12-year-old daughter was “braiding with absolute, utter finesse” the 23-foot-long intestines of a seal so they could be smoked and later eaten. “You stop in time and just think, wow,” he says. “It’s how they will continue to survive across very dark, hard-core winters.” For local fare requiring a less adventurous palate, he recommends Alaska’s white salmon and gin from Juneau’s Amalga Distillery, which has a lively tasting room. The owners forage many of the botanicals themselves. “A must try!” Ramsay’s chef to watch: Beau Schooler of In Bocca Al Lupo restaurant, serving handmade pastas and pizzas in Juneau.
A version of this story was published in the August/September 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveler.