July 29, 2010

Gordon Ramsay

Not from my collection!
Since it seems I'm going to be subjected to yet another iteration of Gordon Ramsay bitching people out about food, I thought I'd put a few thoughts about him and his shows down on paper. Er... electrons.

My introduction to Chef Ramsay (whom I'm going to call Gordon, because it's my blog and I can) was on the UK version of Kitchen Nightmares. It was an interesting peek into the world of food-and-beverage, the simple and yet complex business of running a restaurant in the face of economic realities, food trends and fashion, and the changing face of the British dining-out culture. It was a reality check, and one that many of the restaurant owners desperately needed. It very ably illustrated some basic rules of restaurateuring: have a vision, and stick with it; keep up with trends and fashions, lest you stagnate; use the best, freshest ingredients, and forge relationships with the people who provide them. Know your own strengths and weaknesses, and surround yourself with people who can compensate for your lack of expertise; if you're a chef, do the cooking and let someone else manage front of house; if you're not a cook, stay out of the kitchen. Have a clear structure of command. Consider what message it sends to let the staff drink in the bar after their shift or on their days off.

So many lessons, for both the restaurateurs and the viewers. But what was really remarkable about that show was that it came across very clearly that Gordon cared about the restaurants he was trying to save, about their owners, about their staff. Having had one of his own restaurants fail, he was well able to spot where people were going wrong, and - more importantly - suggest simple, workable ways to turn those things around. Whittle the menu down to something manageable, get rid of the bought-in menu items, use cheaper ingredients to reduce food costs while still making them into something delicious and remarkable, fire the incompetent/indifferent/unskilled chef and hire a good one, train kitchen and/or front of house staff properly, get rid of the 1970's decor along with the 1970's menu items, find something you're good at and make that a feature. Many of the owners Gordon worked with were in debt up to their ears and facing bankruptcy if they couldn't figure a way to turn business around, and Gordon knew what that was like. So he cared. He wanted to help them get back on their feet, to make a go of a business they'd poured their heart and soul into, and he was prepared to do anything to make that happen, including making people angry and making them cry if that's what it took to make them see the light. He insulted their food, he criticised their business practices. He even swore sometimes.

But only sometimes. No, really. Only sometimes. And, memorably, when one of the lady owners objected ("there's no need for that sort of language, Gordon!"), he changed his tack.

And the show was such a success that what could be more natural but that he should do Kitchen Nightmares in the USA? And since it's America, and everyone knows Americans like their reality television confrontatational, loud, and belligerent, the participants, in addition to having failing restaurants, were also arrogant and argumentative, bellicose with Gordon, and generating a truly dysfunctional dynamic among the staff and - sometimes - the patrons. Thus, only the Sweary Gordon would do, because the only way to act and react to the participants was with colourful abuse. He may have singlehandedly popularized the word "wanker" in the USA (though I don't know that it's actually popular, but a heck of a lot more Americans know what it means, now).

And then, what to my horrified eyes should appear, but Hell's Kitchen, in which would-be-professional-chefs subject themselves to forced infighting and systematic and ritualistic humiliation, as a short-cut to an executive chef post at a Desirable Restaurant somewhere in the world. Sweary Gordon is in sweary evidence and swears like a cranky, gratuitously sweary thing. When a team wins a challenge, and the reward is spending a day hanging with Chef Ramsay, they invariably remark that they didn't realize he could be so much fun, so relaxed, so different, outside the kitchen. And I invariably roll my eyes and think "it's his television face, you idiots", because nobody in the world could be such a prick as the Sweary Gordon, all the time, and still be (a) married, (b) in business, or (c) alive, given how many people around him carry sharp pointy objects around as part of their work.

Personally, I don't much care for reality TV of the competitive variety; I don't care to watch people have hissy fits at each other, all in the name of winning lots of money or prestige. And thus, I don't much care for Hell's Kitchen. However, Gordon Ramsay is an ex-schoolmate of my Beloved's (they weren't close, and aren't in touch), and thus anything Gordon gets a chance in our house. (We don't have any of his kitchenware, though. And one look at his cookbook had me backing away: too complex, too pretentious, too reliant on obscure ingredients, to be really enjoyable for someone like me.)

And thus we come to MasterChef USA, in which passionate amateur chefs compete to be the first American Master Chef (a title whose significance, purpose, and cachet I am unclear on as yet). The first show aired on Tuesday, and we're still at the 'audition' stage, in which those who made it through the first round (video audition, presumably), show up and make their specialty dish for the panel of three judges, who taste and then either award them the symbolic apron - the cooking equivalent to Idol's ticket to Hollywood - or destroy both the dish and its cook's dreams with a few well-chosen words. ("I encourage you to continue to date chefs, because you're never going to be one" was among the most searing dismissals from this week, but I'm sure the guy who opened the show by making Beer Cheese soup was also shattered to hear Gordon say "that has to be the most disgusting soup I ever tasted in my life".)

So far my money is on the female physician whose inspiration and talisman is her mother's book of family recipes, and the young father who had to put his dreams of culinary school on hold in order to provide for his family. Oh, and the Korean guy who, according to Gordon, "moves like a chef, and cooks like one too". They are my front runners.

I hope they have Mentor Gordon on tap for this show. I don't think I can stand much more of Gratuitously Sweary Gordon.


  1. eh eh..I enjoyed that. I actually have a soft spot for sweary (and sweaty) Gordon. I quite liked Hell's Kitchen. It's one of the only reality shows I've kept watching. It comes across as a bit scripted...but, hey, that's TV :)

  2. I've learned a lot from sweary, sweaty Gordon, I must admit, but in all I actually prefer his persona on "The F Word" (the F-word in question is "food"), which I think is on BBC-Canada. He's passionate and knowledgeable, but good-humoured and friendly. Probably because he doesn't have to bollock anyone.

    I end up paying attention to Hell's Kitchen in spite of myself, because it's like watching a train wreck sometimes. But I hate watching the chefs snipe at and about each other when it's time to pick who goes home. Reminds me too much of picking teams for sports in school. *shudder*

  3. You know, I absolutely love Gordon Ramsay, I think my fave is "The F Word" which sometimes airs on the food network up here. I think they take turns between there and BBC Canada, and I don't subscribe to BBC canada so I haven't seen The F Word for a while.

    I love Hells Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares (prefer the British one though) but I am ANGRY with what they did to Master Chef USA.

    My folks live in Australia and they came here babbling endlessly about Master Chef Australia and how positive it is blahblahblah. Finally I just up and downloaded it, how the heck else am I going to see this show in Canada... and I absolutely LOVE it. I spent all of my bandwidth for July on downloading much of it, and it really is a positive and inspiring show. I think Food Network Canada should pick it up and air it, because it's fantastic.

    Master Chef USA, I was hoping to see a different side of Ramsay. On Master Chef Australia, they might have some constructive criticism for you but they won't spit your food out or insult you up and down. It's about amateurs becoming a chef, and about learning. Master Chef USA feels like Hells Kitchen Lite and I am truly disappointed after seeing it. Not to mention MC-A is on 6 days a week in Australia, and it is very immersive. I've loved it, absolutely loved it.

    There is a time and place that I love Douchebag Ramsay, and Master Chef USA is NOT the place for it. I want the Ramsay I saw who cried on the F Word because he had his pigs he reared at his home slaughtered to feed his family, and the first time he saw them hanging he could not handle the sight before him. I WANT THAT RAMSAY!!