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UP, Keweenaw featured in ‘Uncharted’ episode

AT THE DELAWARE MINE in Keweenaw County, Detroit-area chef James Rigato tells Gordon Ramsay how the pasty migrated from Cornwall, England, to become a Yooper staple during an episode of Ramsay’s show “Uncharted” that features the Upper Peninsula. The episode airs Sunday night on National Geographic TV. (Photo by National Geographic/Justin Mandel)

HOUGHTON — When viewers first see Gordon Ramsay in the Upper Peninsula, he’s apologizing to a monk for swearing.

From shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen,” viewers know Ramsay is irrepressibly himself. So Ramsay’s enjoyment of the U.P. and quest to become “a true Yooper” didn’t shut off when the cameras did, said chef James Rigato, who accompanied Ramsay on the trip.

“He actually hit it off with those guys,” he said. “Everything you see him doing and (his) interacting is pretty sincere.”

Rigato is featured alongside Ramsay on the Upper Peninsula episode of Ramsay’s “Uncharted,” which airs this weekend on National Geographic TV. The Keweenaw Convention and Visitors Bureau will host a live screening of the episode at 9 p.m. Eastern time Sunday at the Rozsa Center. Episodes are also available the next day on Disney+.

Rigato, chef/owner at the acclaimed Detroit-area restaurant Mabel Gray, has been visiting the Upper Peninsula for the past 15 years. Those trips have included mountain biking as well as pop-up collaboration dinners with Fitzgerald’s.

“It’s beautiful,” Rigato said. “I love the outdoors, I love the mountain biking scene … Obviously I love Munising and Marquette; there’s a lot of great stuff in the Upper Peninsula. But I think the Keweenaw is the most special.”

An “Uncharted” producer reached out to Rigato, a Michigan native and someone with past experience on shows such as “Top Chef.”

“When they reached out, asked if I was interested in the U.P., I said, ‘Very much so.'”

While the episode includes spots throughout the western and central U.P., Rigato said he was adamant about featuring the Keweenaw. Rigato’s persistence paid off, as the final episode includes a stop at the Jam Pot and a visit to the Delaware Mine with Rigato that starts Ramsay on his mission.

“You have a lot of the wild thimbleberries going around and the cool stone work, so it was kind of a cool little ghost-town vibe to start off the episode,” Rigato said.

Ramsay can also be seen riding the Flow trail on Brockway Mountain, using a bike he rented from the Keweenaw Adventure Company. They received a “mystery reservation” for a 6-foot, 3-inch man needing an extra-extra-large helmet and pedals for a size 15 foot, owner Shelby Laubhan said. It wasn’t until they received the waiver for the rental payment the next day they learned it was Gordon Ramsay.

The staff has since dubbed the bike “the Gordon Ramsay Flyer.”

“When we’re sizing customers on the bike, we’ll tell them, ‘This is our Gordon Ramsay special,'” Laubhan said. “In hindsight, we really should have had him put his signature on the bike.”

Throughout the episode, Ramsay meets with several Yoopers to collect local ingredients, whether hunting for woodcock, foraging for mushrooms or digging postholes to earn jam.

“It’s certainly bringing more attention to the fact that this is such a mecca for outdoor recreation and a unique culture that people want to experience,” Laubhan said. “Gordon Ramsay kind of explores the ins and outs of what to do, why to do it and who to do it with.”

The episode culminates in a cook-off between Ramsay and Rigato at Presque Isle Park in Marquette. The Yoopers who helped Ramsay along the way are both dinner guests and judges.

Rigato said he didn’t approach the cookoff looking to compete with Ramsay. Instead, he treated it as he would any of his collaboration dinners.

“For me, if we’re going to cook on the water on Lake Superior in summertime, up north, it’s chill, we’re having fun,” he said. “We’re just two dudes taking a break from the world and enjoying nature.”

Rigato’s used many of those local ingredients at Mabel Gray, which specializes in rustic, local foods.

“I even buy from the Jam Pot to get different jams,” he said. “If I’m making a certain sauce, I might fold in a wild strawberry jam to recreate some of the flavors that I find up there.”

The episode serves as a snapshot of what Rigato loves about the U.P. and the Keweenaw.

“Hopefully it makes Yoopers proud to be from the U.P., and I hope it makes people who’ve never been entertain the idea of going,” he said. “Especially how beautiful the scenery is up there, I hope it inspires people to show up and visit respectfully … take pictures, leave footprints, and that’s it.”

Other locations this season include Mexico, Croatia — and in next week’s season finale, Finland.

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