Sonny Hurrell has been cooking professionally for 17 years, first in kitchens around the world and then as a private chef in Aspen, Colo. When the pandemic began, he found himself lacking work, he said: “No one wanted me in their house.” Though he had been trying to get a YouTube channel off the ground, “it was crickets.” He transitioned to TikTok and soon became one of its biggest food stars, earning more than 3.7 million followers.
“Thank God it worked out,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do after I lost my job there.”
He heard that Gordon Ramsay was critiquing videos on the app, and he decided to try catching the celebrity chef’s attention. Hurrell cooked braised short ribs with mashed potatoes and carrots, filmed it, tagged Ramsay and waited. Eventually, he figured Ramsay had better things to do.
But about a month later, his phone began blowing up with messages saying Ramsay had taken the bait.
At the beginning of the video, Ramsay actually seemed pretty pleased, repeating phrases like “so far so good, big boy.” He appeared particularly excited when Hurrell added carrots to the dish.
When Hurrell artfully plated the dish, however, using a different set of carrots, Ramsay went off.
“What the hell? Why are you playing Connect Four with those carrots? Where are the original carrots that cooked for two and a half hours?” Ramsay shouted. “The carrots were the flavor, you doughnut! Show me the carrots!”
Hurrell doesn’t mind, pointing out that it seemed Ramsay was looking for something to criticize.
“He would never in a million years serve those carrots. They were mush, and the flavor’s already been extracted,” Hurrell said. “It was kind of funny, but I think he just need something to say.”
“I was beyond proud,” he added.
Like a panther hiding in the brush and stalking its prey, Ramsay lurks on TikTok and waits for the perfect opportunity to strike. An overly decadent dessert, a poorly cooked steak, an overstuffed burger. Or worse yet, a creative take on the former soccer player’s signature dish, the beef Wellington.
The famed chef, known for scathing takedowns of contestants on “Hell’s Kitchen” and his other cooking competition shows, brought his unique brand of, erm, criticism to TikTok in September. He regularly uses the duet feature, in which someone can make a video commenting on another in a split-screen view. With no advance warning, the roastees are often surprised, sometimes honored, sometimes crushed.
Ramsay doesn’t tend to hold back, calling them such quaint insults as “doughnut” and “muppet” while referring to dishes as “a coffin” and “nightmares.” (He declined an interview with The Washington Post.)
He doesn’t only go after pros. Case-in-point: Jack Mancuso. The mechanical engineer always grilled for his buddies during college at California Polytechnic State University. After they all graduated and spread out across the country, he created a TikTok page because “they missed my food,” he said. While they might not get to eat it, at least they can watch him cook it.
Grilling wasn’t particularly popular on TikTok, so Mancuso jokingly named himself the “CEO of Steak.” Naturally, in keeping with the classic TikTok story, Mancuso’s page soon blew up.
“It just kind of happened,” he said.
One day he decided to make his own version of Ramsay’s signature dish, the Wellington: a filet mignon, mushrooms and (sometimes) prosciutto wrapped in puff pastry and baked. Mancuso’s version begins with a tomahawk rib-eye, a marbled cut of meat with the rib bone still attached.
A few months later, Ramsay posted a duet. The first thing Mancuso saw when he opened his phone was the title of Ramsay’s takedown: “You’ve ruined my signature dish.”
“A tomahawk Wellington? Big boy, there’s no such thing,” Ramsay began, as Mancuso proceeded to sear the steak. “You call yourself the ‘CEO of Steaks’ on TikTok? Really?”
As Mancuso laid the steak in a square-shaped pastry dough filled with mushrooms, Ramsay became nearly breathless, criticizing Mancuso’s knife work and ingredients, repeating “No” and “Really?”
“You can’t wrap a square like that. It’s going to fall apart,” Ramsay said, then repeating it. “That is not a Wellington! You don’t wrap squares, you doughnut!”
“I didn’t know if I should be excited or bummed,” Mancuso said. “It was really a roller coaster of emotions. I never thought the best chef in the world would be seeing my food in general, let alone absolutely ripping it apart.”
“It’s super funny though. You can’t take it seriously. That’s what Ramsay does,” he said.
Since then, Mancuso awarded himself an expanded title: CEO of Steak and Doughnuts.
Joe Moruzzi, the founder of the London-based cheesecake company Pleesecakes, had a similar experience when he smothered two chocolate bars with heaps of Nutella and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Ramsay dubbed the resulting sugar bomb an “idiot sandwich” in one of his most-watched TikToks.
“We laughed. Gordon wasn’t the kindest and most supportive of our creation,” Moruzzi said via email. “But it boosted our page massively, which was a positive.”
The hashtag for the videos, #ramsayreacts, has become so popular that it has led to sponsorships, as was the case for Ramsay’s reaction to home cook Jenny Martinez. Her authentic Mexican queso tacos, buñuelos and watermelon margaritas have attracted nearly 2 million followers to her page, making her a core member of FoodTok.
Brands began reaching out, hoping to partner with her on certain videos. One of those was Bounty, who asked her to use their paper towels in a video, promising a surprise celebrity talent “would be re-creating your dish,” she recalled.
That’s not exactly how things went down. She made carne asada fries and didn’t have to wait long. The next day, her 11-year-old son ran into the room, shouting, “It’s Gordon Ramsay critiquing your video!”
“I didn’t even want to hear it,” she said. “I was so nervous.”
As it turns out, she didn’t need to be. The culinary king of insults didn’t find much to critique, though he certainly tried. In the end, his criticisms included “too much guacamole” and that she slightly undercooked the meat.
“I challenge you to cook the steak properly,” he said to end the video.
“I couldn’t believe it. All my family was talking about it, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, it was not that bad! Not as bad when he critiques other videos,’” Martinez said. “The only thing he did that threw me off was the guacamole. And you know, it’s not enough guacamole for us Mexicans!”
An earlier version of this article identified Joe Moruzzi as Jon.
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