Though Gordon can be quite nasty, when somebody with real skill comes to Hell's Kitchen he doesn't hesitate to recognize it.
Season 3 had Julia, who despite being a "mere" Waffle House chef made it to the final four because of her natural talent and passion (and a generous helping of common sense). When she was eliminated, Gordon paid for her to attend cooking school.
That one needs to be explained more. The heartbreaking reveal of her leaving (or as Ramsay stated, "I'm really sorry. It's Julia.") only leads onto how Ramsay also states that he wants Julia to come back after her stay at cooking school and "win the competition hands down". After a tearful hug, Julia walks out but everyone knows that she's off to do some great things. She was also a good friend to Jen and Bonnie as the two girls are tearfully hugging one another at the fact that Julia leaves, and Rock considered her such a Worthy Opponent and inspiration throughout the show.
Even better? Julia first stated in Confession Cam that she never went to culinary art school. Now she could.
Ramsay shouldn't get all the glory. Season 4's "General Bobby" helped get Petrozza back on his feet after being chewed out by Ramsay caused him a crisis of faith in his abilities. Petrozza went on to place second overall.
Season 5 had Ji, who despite being a strong competitor (and one of the best compared to most of the others) had to withdraw in the second episode thanks to a twisted ankle. Gordon praised her courage and skill, and actually let her keep her jacket as a sign of her bravery. And then as one of her teammates helped her leave, the men's team gave her a standing ovation.
Season 5 also had Robert, who after making it to the top five had to withdraw due to a heart condition. When he left, Gordon told him "you have been a fantastic competitor. You've had the potential to win this competition. Do not ever, ever forget that." And when he was brought back and subsequently eliminated in Season 6, he had a miniature CMoH where he said "My cooking career is far from over" and as Gordon replied, shaking his hand, "I look forward to it."
Season 6, when Tennille was eliminated (justifiably; she was the only one of the three to have a bad service that night), Ramsay offered words of encouragement, highlighting that Tennille had "the greatest comeback" the show had seen. Before leaving, the four chefs have a group hug, and Tennille is told to leave with her head held high.
Season 7 had Nilka, who completely broke down during a dinner service and was repeatedly yelled at by Ramsay for incorrectly cooked food. After Ramsay finally threw her out for undercooked lobster and told her she was going home, she threw a fit, begging him to take her back. She tried to come back into the kitchen and continue cooking, only to be shunned by everyone. Finally, she put her bags together and left, only to find Ramsay was waiting for her near the taxi, much calmer and consoling. He told her to leave with her head held high, and that she really was a good cook who put together some phenomenal things. They parted amicably, and he wished her the best. One could cry...
He did make her give back her jacket though.
Season 7 also has one with the final 4 chefs. The chefs performed so well in the dinner service that Chef Ramsay REFUSED to send anyone home and he brought out their friends and family to visit them in a tearful reunion. There had been previous instances of Ramsay not eliminating anyone, but those had been due to injuries, the chef storming out, etc, This was a first for Ramsay to refuse to eliminate anyone due to good service.
He did it again in season 8 where Ramsay asked Rob to give in his jacket, only to give him a fresh and clean one because no one was going to be sent home after they did very well after 6 nights of lousy dinner service in a row.
When Russell won a challenge in season 8, he was allowed to select one of his five competitors to accompany him on his prize outing, a tour of the prize restaurant. Until Russell had presented his entry in the challenge, it had appeared that Gail was a sure shot to win, so he selected her since she placed second. Ramsay complimented him on the choice, calling it "honorable."
Subverted two episodes later; Nona won a challenge and was also allowed to select someone to accompany her to a spa trip. She chose Russell, who had been the runner-up in that challenge — then later revealed in a Confession Cam segment that the only reason she did so was because she thought Russell was her strongest competitor, and she wanted to keep on his good side until the final.
In one episode, Lacey, in all her whiney, moany,throw-in-the-towel-before-you-even-GET-the-towel glory is less-than welcome in the men team, no less so when they lost the challenge of going grocery shopping and creating three dishes through the ingredients they bought. There is a small glimmer of hope, however, as the punishment the team had to face was folding origami pieces, which Lacey happens to know how to do and happily teaches the rest of the group to complete the task without incident. Granted, it wasn't enough to completely redeem her for her past attitudes, it offered a small moment the team were on good terms with her. In that same episode, there was also Robert, who took a turn in jackass when he started showing attitude and refusing to listen to Ramsay, earning his wrath. When Ramsey pulled him away, however, Ramsay learns Robert's rebellion was sparked, among other things, by Ramsay constantly calling him "Bobby". Bobby was the name of his father, who he was not on good terms with, and so disturbed him when his name was brought up. When he learns this, Ramsay backs off as well as promises Robert he will refer to him as "Robert" from now on, and while he had choice words of his earlier attitude to show he won't stand for it, he decided against sending him home that night.
In Season 4, after a particularly bad service, the men came up with a plan to cause a deadlock by nominating each other. Petrozza, however, refused to go along with the plan and threw himself to the lions, saying that he couldn't nominate his teammates because, mistakes or no, they're hard workers and good guys. Gordon responded by calling Petrozza "the most gracious man on that team" and "a true gentleman", with Petrozza thanking him by saying "Coming from you, Chef, that means a lot."
In season 9, episode 10, when the bitchy, drama-causing, and all-around weak Carrie was (apparently just barely) eliminated in place of the lovably dorky and good-spirited Tommy, the quick shot of Tommy's teammates hugging him immediately after his survival is a very heartwarming moment.
On the "romance dinner" in Season 9, the marriage proposal at the end of service. While wedding proposals have happened before on Hell's Kitchen, the editing always showed the set up for the wedding proposal. This time, the payoff was the only sign it was going to happen. And just seeing the stunned look on the woman's face when the lid came off of the dessert, with "Will you marry me?" written underneath it in chocolate sauce...a Tear Jerker of the good sort.
In episode 14 of Season 9, Ramsay angrily kicked all of the chefs out kitchen when Elise consistently failed on cooking their fish. Will and Paul, who had done nothing wrong that service, are infuriated that they got kicked out. Then sous chef Andi walks in and asks for Will and Paul. It turns out that Ramsay personally requested to have Will and Paul return to the kitchen to help him complete the service, which ended up as a huge confidence booster for the two chefs.
The Finale of Season 9, with Paul's speech for his mother as he was announced the winner.
Elsie from Season 1. Unlike Julia from Season 3, Elsie had no cooking background and was labeled as a "Mother of Six". She somehow made it to the top 4 and after going through a lousy service (due in part by her accidentally telling on LIVE TV that she won a challenge and making the other competitors team up against her), was sent up for elimination. Ramsay actually took note and gave her a second chance to call someone out. She decided to take the blow and got eliminated. However, Ramsay congratulated her on how far she came and wished her the best of luck.
Meta-example: In the fifth service of season 10, Patrick was kicked out of the kitchen after collapsing pretty badly during service, and in the Confession Cam afterward, he was crying, apparently because he was kicked out. But he revealed on his Twitter that a few sick kids from the Make A Wish foundation were in the restaurant that night, and they weren't going to be served, and THAT was why he was upset. Aww...
It's become a bit of a tradition now over the past few seasons for Chef Ramsay to let the third-place finisher keep their jacket as a sign of respect and as encouragement for them to keep their dreams of being an executive chef alive.
Season 9's Blue Team had a lot of good sports. Will, Paul, and Tommy would usually clap or say their good-byes to anyone (including members of the Red Team) that were eliminated, starting somewhere around the middle of the season. The trio also had heartwarming moments by comforting Natalie after her final service, as well as hugging Jennifer whenever she had received her black jacket, telling her she deserved it.
After Jen in season 4 tried to sabotage voting for elimination the remaining chefs had had enough. Corey, Christina and Petrozza had become very close and in discussing putting their best chef Corey up to get Jen eliminated she gets scared it will backfire, so Petrozza comforts her and offers to nominate himself.
This was glossed over in light of what Jen tried to do, but the reason why Jen was caught trying to sabotage voting in the first place? Corey did not nominate Christina for elimination. In order to determine who should be nominated for elimination, each of the chefs wrote down two names that weren't their own with the condition that they didn't put down the same name twice. Corey immediately noticed that Christina's name was written down twice by the same person. Why? She didn't write down Christina's name and asked Christina if she wrote her own name down. Keep in mind that this was the same Corey who put Christina up for elimination earlier in the season in order to get rid of the competition. This scene shows just how much she's matured and how much she respects Christina enough to prevent Jen from cheating.
Season 11 had Nedra sticking up for her teammate Mary when she was getting made fun of by the blue team in episode 6. Even though she may be considered a scrappy of the season, she does show that she does care for her team in more ways than one.
Back in Season 3, Aaron, to put it lightly, didn't have an easy time. Aside from breaking down prior to the first service, he collapsed during the punishment in the third episode and was hospitalized. Fast forward to the 4th season, and at the restaurant, the Red Team sees Aaron, happy as ever. He says a quick hello before walking off, but it was sweet to see him acting much better. It makes knowing his death a few years later even sadder though.
At the Season 11 finale, Dan was pretty much acting like the total jerk he was throughout the whole season. It was a big surprise that he gave a passionate Pet the Dog moment to Mary when it was revealed that Ja'Nel won the service. He went up to her, hugged Mary and apologized not only for his behavior but also said that he'd make it up to her someday.
In a meta-example, after season 11 winner Ja'Nel failed a drug test and was unable to take the job at Caesar's Palace, Gordon stated that she was still an amazing chef, and that he will help find a job for her once she "sorts out her personal issues".