The next Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted episode enters into the world of Cajun cuisine, which is Chef Eric Cook’s wheelhouse. He’s not only an award-winning chef, but he’s a New Orleans native. On top of that, he spent six years serving his country in the Marine Corps, and continues to work with a number of charities. He’s a founder and President of the First to Fight Foundation, which supports military veterans and their families.
With all of that on his resume, Eric was the perfect person to guide Gordon Ramsay through Louisiana on his latest culinary adventure. Ahead of the episode’s premiere Sunday, he also took some time to speak with me about how Uncharted is different from other TV shows that have ventured down south and the great work he does both in and out of the kitchen.
Get to know Chef Eric Cook more in our interview before you watch his Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted episode at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT tomorrow on National Geographic. And if you’ve missed them, don’t forget my interviews with the show’s other experts Analiese Gregory (Australia) and Zola Nene (South Africa)!
Brittany Frederick: What was your first reaction when you were approached to take part in Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted? What excited you about it?
Eric Cook: I was excited and honored. Not just being chosen to be on NatGeo and to work with Gordon Ramsay, but to also have the opportunity to do it in the way I love most, being outdoors. I thought it was a great way to showcase Louisiana with our unique culture and environment.
BF: Cajun cuisine is something that’s been featured on many TV shows, so what would you say makes this one different? Is there something that you feel TV has missed before?
EC: This show is definitely unique. It goes a lot further into the environment and history of our cuisine. Getting out into the marsh and wetlands, and talking about our climate is something other shows have missed. Most features on Cajun cuisine get cliche-ish with Southern stereotypes and the same dishes over and over. This one goes more in depth about traditional family meals and talks about where and why the ingredients are chosen and how they are used.
BF: How did Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted compare to your past experiences on TV?
EC: This is definitely the biggest production I’ve been a part of, but it was smooth and seamless. National Geographic is known for capturing wildlife in detail and being educational with amazing cinematography. It was impressive to watch it all come together. It was humbling to work with such an amazing crew of professionals, and see the care they took to make sure they were representing the area properly.
BF: What would you say that you learned from working with Gordon Ramsay? What was it like to teach him something about your world?
EC: Gordon Ramsay is clearly a master chef and world class culinarian in every aspect – from his attention to detail, to research, and his pure joy of learning. He has so much global fame, but inside is still like all of the other chefs out there, hungry for knowledge and the challenge to do new things.
Teaching about Louisiana cuisine is near and dear to my heart, and he was as eager to learn as I was to share. It didn’t feel like a celebrity to regular person situation; we were just two cooks sharing our knowledge.
BF: Your culinary career has taken many different forms, from being a private chef to having your own restaurant to even in research and development. Have you found anything that’s universal as you’ve moved between these different forms of cooking?
EC: Professional-level cooking is all about the love and passion of hospitality. No matter how you’re working, it’s about bringing joy and new experiences to people.
BF: Who are some of the people and that influenced you in your culinary career? What made them important to you?
EC: Growing up in New Orleans and having the opportunity to work in famous restaurants, I’ve been lucky to work under what some consider to be the greatest chefs in the world. I’ve had the opportunity to work for Michael Roussel, John Folse, and the tremendous opportunity to be mentored by the great Ella Brennan.
Looking back, I think every mentor I’ve had has left a unique mark on my career. With Roussel teaching me about the industry and the importance of technique, Folse keeping the history of Southern cuisine back its earliest roots, then Ella with the overall package of hospitality and fine dining. All of them emphasizing the magical dining experience you have to execute every day.
BF: You do an incredible amount of charity work. Can you talk a little about your charities and is there anything that you’d pass on to readers if they also want to get involved in any of your causes?
EC: I do everything I can to support local charities, education, feeding initiatives, and of course, military and veterans. A few years ago my wife and I started the First to Fight Foundation, which helps veterans in various types of need – whether it’s monetary assistance, medical, legal, or just a phone call or introduction to the right people.
If anyone is interested in getting involved, I just want to say that charity work doesn’t always mean writing large checks. Small donations add up, and donating time and services can be just as helpful.
Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted airs Sundays at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on National Geographic.