Paul Menta believes Gordon Ramsay’s Uncharted highlights Key West’s real flavor, interview

Paul Menta on Gordon Ramsay's Uncharted, Key West episode
Paul Menta on Gordon Ramsay's Uncharted, Key West episode / Nat Geo

In the premiere episode Gordon Ramsay’s Uncharted Season 4, Paul Menta helps guide Chef Ramsay through the real Key West local flavor. While many people might think of the rum, Key Lime Pie, and stunning seafood, there are more delicacies waiting to be enjoyed.

The drive to the Southernmost point might be a scenic journey down a two-lane highway, but the beauty and splendor surrounding that road is one of many reasons people journey to Key West. Beyond the popular tourist attractions or cruise port, the real locals have a storied history that flavors the food culture. For the traveler who hungers to discover those hidden gems, Paul Menta has some suggestions.

As a fellow Floridian, my conversation with Paul was a spirited one. Whether it is the unpredictability of an afternoon storm or the quiet simplicity of a night under the stars, the closeness to the water continually impacts life.

When Gordon Ramsay’s Uncharted came to Key West, Paul was thrilled that Gordon was willing to immerse himself into the real local culture. As Paul said, “Key West is a place where we’re thought of as sunset celebrations, the Southernmost point, a tourist town, where people like to drink. But, no one pays attention to the food. Locals do not usually let people into that food culture. Gordon really embraced the local food and culture that people do not see.”

One aspect that Paul highlighted was that Key West was “the richest place in the country at one point and we're also the poorest place.” That juxtaposition can be seen in its food culture.

Given Paul’s well-rounded culinary experience, he appreciates that every type of cuisine, at every price point, has merit. But, he believes that one style can be more difficult to achieve ultimate guest satisfaction.

Paul said, “I said to Gordon, I’ve done fine dining and I’ve done $5 dining. $5 is a lot harder to do. They want something for their value at a reasonable price that they can afford. We have access to a big ocean with lots of seafood; we have very interesting fruit. You can have a fine dining meal without having the cost; people find that in Key West.”

It might not necessarily be a $5 dinner, but Paul showed Gordon how the Key West chefs make delicious meals that do not have to cost a fortune. As seen both on the screen and during filming, the whole team was genuinely interested curious in all the hows, whats, wheres, and whys.

Paul Menta and Gordon Ramsay on Gordon Ramsay's Uncharted Season 4, Key West
Paul Menta and Gordon Ramsay on Gordon Ramsay's Uncharted Season 4, Key West / Nat Geo

Paul shared a story about Gordon and learning how to cook grunts. That local fish might not be common in other areas, but it is vital to Key West culture.

Speaking about the grunts, Paul said, “it’s funny because it was the poorest of the poorest food. They are coming back and the grunts are plentiful, but they are very bony.”

In this episode, Paul said, “viewers get to see a Michelin Star chef coming down to use a food that generally only the poor people cook with. We turned into something incredibly delicious.”

Gordon Ramsay’s Uncharted might have a dinner competition worked into every episode but it is not meant to be just a culinary competition. The food television show is meant to both educate and entertain. While each location hopes that the stunning scenery and scrumptious food has viewers booking their next food travel itinerary, it is more than just a picturesque postcard of food wanderlust.

Key West seafood on Gordon Ramsay's Uncharted
Key West seafood on Gordon Ramsay's Uncharted / Nat Geo

As seen in the Key West episode, sustainability is becoming an important theme. Specifically, in this episode, the stone crab is a prime example.

Paul mentioned that if the show covered all of the sustainability concepts that the Florida Keys touches, the show would be longer than the entire Uncharted season. With the stone crab, Paul believes that it is one of the few examples where the animal is not killed. Simply removing one claw allows the crab to continue to thrive and the other claw be harvested at another time. It showcases the give and take of the ocean.

Although not included in the episode, Paul was happy to share an insight on the importance of eating seasonally. As a long time supporter of local fishermen, it is imperative for visitors to appreciate the fresh, local, seasonal fish. Key West locals know when it is Spanish mackerel season versus kingfish. Not only does the flavor impress, the fish offer vitamins and minerals, in season, which make them even better for people to eat.

While many people are more aware of the sustainability conversation, Paul mentioned that it is more than just appreciating the ingredients. The people who harvest those ingredients are just as vital.

Paul said, “we used to say the most endangered species down here in the Keys is the commercial fishermen.” For anyone who comes down, he recommends talking to restaurants and chefs to ask about their specials. Usually, those items highlight the fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Additionally, he hopes that the conversation sparks a bigger benefit. Paul said, “not only does it support the economy, it also supports the ecosystem. If we can do this concept on this stretch of islands, there is no reason in a big city that people cannot do it there, too. We hope that people leave with that mentality” and continue the concept wherever they live.

For anyone who wants to get a taste of true, local Key West cuisine, be sure to watch Gordon Ramsay’s Uncharted on Nat Geo channel or stream the episode on Disney+ or Hulu. New episodes air every Sunday night on Nat Geo channel.