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Hell’s Kitchen

Jun
23
2008

Against my better judgment I watched Hell’s Kitchen the other night and. It contained:

So much for “reality” TV.

Gordan RamsayOr perhaps it is reality in what passes for most commercial kitchens these days. But I understand Thomas Keller runs a quiet, focused, and phenomenally effective kitchen at The French Laundry. And probably because it makes great TV, the idea – instilled by many an egomaniacal cook – that abuse and teaching go hand-in-hand stays with us.

Judging from the show, Gordon Ramsay is a pig. A small-minded martinet far more interested in his power than in the food. I’m unimpressed with his skin-tight chefs’ jackets and even less impressed with his ability to motivate cooks beyond anything but terror.

I did my homework. I watched a full episode and forced myself to watch half a dozen segments on YouTube. Ramsay complained recently on NightLine that, “Unfortunately, today at the age of 41, my persona gets judged over my substance, which is really frustrating.” Poor baby. Did he think people would ignore his referring to people as “stupid cows?” In that same episode he balled out a customer who had the nerve to complain. Did he think we would assume he had ability when we don’t see him cook but do hear him have tantrums?

He went on to say of his critics, “Have they actually spent a 16-hour shift cooking 70 to 80 lunches, 120 to 150 dinners short staffed, fish cook is not turning in, produce inconsistent because of the weather?” In one episode he screams at a contestant who talked back to him that the contestant is rude.

Sounds like a whiner to me. I have no doubt he could beat the crap out of me, and only a little more doubt that he would, given the opportunity. Hell, for all I know he’s a decent cook, I just see no evidence of that in his show. And yes, I understand the reality show concept. But let me compare Hell’s Kitchen with Bravo’s Top Chef.

Watching Top Chef you get a genuine feeling for each chef’s culinary personality, for how they think about food. Sure, Top Chef also is mostly about personality, but it’s about everyone’s personalities, not just the odious obscenity-filled rantings of an egomaniac. Watching the show you learn why the chefs make the choices they do in ingredients and techniques and you learn why the judges reach the conclusions they do. Food may not be the main point in Top Chef, but it is an important point.

I hadn’t expected to like Top Chef, but a couple of fellow cooks talked me into watching it and I got hooked. The various contests are generally more realistic than I expected. They selected chefs who are good to begin with and over the course of the show you can see contestants getting even better.

The judging strikes me as knowledgeable and it’s formed by consensus – unlike Hell’s Kitchen where one madman’s opinion is the only judgment. I’m well aware that in a professional kitchen the only opinion that does count is the chef’s, but with no way of knowing whether I might be inclined to agree with the chef – or in Ramsay’s case actively loathing him – I gain nothing from his pronouncements. When the last episode of Top Chef rolled around, though, I appreciated the quandary the judges faced. And for what it’s worth, their choice of Stephanie Izard as the Top Chef made sense to me: I know I wanted to eat her food.

I don’t know that I’ll tune in to Top Chef again, I watched most of the last season and I suspect that was enough. But I do know I’ve seen enough Hell’s Kitchen to last a lifetime. Recently, poor little Mr. Ramsay says he’s going to avoid the telly in the future.

Apparently he can’t take the heat.

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