This is the most heartfelt post I’m going to make all year.
This is not just about strong feelings. This is about pain. Agony. An empathetic embarassment that has me squirming in my seat.
And it’s about triumphs. Joys. That sweet taste of success.
I’m gonna talk about one of my great loves; Television Cooking Challenges.
Specifically, WTF is up with Hell’s Kitchen?
Look, I have two favorite cooking challenge shows. Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef.
Both shows have standout hosts. Both shows focus on fine dining. Both shows have a lineup of chefs competing against each other for the final prize. Both shows generally start by teaming up the chefs early on, and then once the lineup is whittled down, focusing more on individual effort. And both shows have minor challenges followed by a major challenge that results in feeding other people and having their final product be judged in terms of success or failure.
And yet, you put these two shows up against each other, and they feel nothing whatsoever alike to me.
Let’s start with the biggest difference; the lineup of contestants.
I’m going to be brutally honest here. I have to be, because season after season, this drives me batshit.
There is, as far as I’m aware, no equal employment opportunity overseeing the selection of contestants. Right? The show producers have the power to choose whoever the hell they want to compete on their show. They can watch videos, read letters, do background checks, look at photos, read resumes, and then throw all that shit out the window and pick someone walking by on the street pushing a mop because they fill some special niche that they think will test well or whatever the bloody heck is going through their heads.
The contestants on these shows are not there because the show was forced to take them. These people are who the producers WANTED to take, their favorite choices out of all the options presented to them.
So, what the F&*( is up with the producers of Hell’s Kitchen?
Is this really working for them? Is this what Gordon Ramsey wants? Redneck and ghetto fine cuisine?
Look, I’m fine with the concept of taking skilled ‘real’ people and giving them a shot at their dream job. And I’ll tell you, it is apparent that when the contestants on Hell’s Kitchen are on that show, they are working, and cooking, their asses off. They are busting their asses to make it happen, and they are pushing that food out as best they can, to the best standards they can.
they’re just not at that skill set. They’re working their asses off desperately because they are so far out of their depth, and sinking fast. They’re fighting like hell to make it to that promised brass ring at the end.
But are you telling me that these people are the best qualified skilled chefs they have available to compete? REALLY?
Because I’ll tell you something, I flip on over to Bravo and check out tonight’s season premiere of Top Chef All Stars, and what I’m seeing there are real chefs, with real skills, real talent, real creativity and, if this is what’s holding you up, real tattoos and individualistic personality that show time after time that they can bring it, and I mean ALL of it, to the table.
In Hell’s Kitchen, I watch as the final five are trying to finish a dinner service, and the question isn’t “can they cook a scallop divinely”, the question is, “Will Ramsey catch the completely raw scallops that idiot sent to the pass before they reach the customers”.
I mean, are you serious? How can you watch these shows side by side and tell me that this is the best Hell’s Kitchen could come up with!
And if those aren’t the best… if they are intentionally picking trailer trash and Waffle House cooks for the show rather than the most skilled competitors available, then what is their actual goal here? What is the true focus of entertainment?
I watch Top Chef, and I marvel at the skill, the brilliance, the creativity and mastery of cooking I see in the chefs that compete. I admire Padme’s beauty, poise and gentle sense of humor. I enjoy every moment of Tom Collichio’s screen time, as he brings gravitas and a feeling of professionalism coupled with mild snarkiness to the kitchen.
And I cheer tonight as one of my favorite TV personalities, Anthony Bourdain, joins the judges table. Yes, even after his behavior tonight. He says it, and he means it at the time, even when he’s an asshole. I always admire honesty, even if he is crass. I have watched almost every episode of his show No Reservations, and I don’t give a damn about his politics, he’s my kind of person. And hey, anyone that has his attitude and also has the balls to hang with Ted Nugent on the Nuge’s ranch within range of Ted’s firearms, AND go ahead and shoot ’em, is a badass. plus, did you see the episode where he let the cops tase him? That shit was hilarious.
I find myself really cheering for different chefs on Top Chef for the win, but in the end I respect each and every one of them.
And then there is Hell’s Kitchen.
I start watching each season for one reason and one reason only; to watch Gordon go off on idiots.
To date, he has not disappointed me. Each season, sure enough, there are people there to give him a reason to go off. To get upset. To go on a frustrated rant about how awful, terrible or incompetent a service was.
I rarely find any contestant on Hell’s Kitchen that does not, at some point, have me glad to see them get an ass chewing.
I don’t watch Hell’s Kitchen to cheer on a talented chef. I don’t want ANY of them to win. I watch to see Gordon Ramsey rip someone a new asshole. Plain and simple.
Is that what the producers of Hell’s Kitchen are aiming for? Are they picking people that are almost, but not quite talented chefs intentionally because the point is to give Gordon people to yell at? To watch bickering and backstabbing and drunken jacuzzi scenes?
I mean, damn. Seriously. I love watching Gordon rip someone a new one, but how much better could the show be if we had some contestants on there that were excellent striving for greatness, rather than mediocre striving for acceptable?
I love Top Chef. Sometimes, it feels like, sure, there are some politics behind the scenes on who is or is not allowed to continue on, but it’s pretty tight. And everyone really brings their “A” game and kicks ass. I’ve never watched a Top Chef and thought that one of the competitors didn’t belong there. Those are some insanely talented chefs.
And watching them compete, I really do feel great for them when they succeed, and I do feel bad for them when a dish isn’t considered a success. I feel like I can own up to watching Top Chef with pride. It’s a great show.
Watching Hell’s Kitchen makes me feel like an illiterate redneck with a dirty secret, possibly involving siblings who are also bound by the laws of matrimony. All right, sure, I *am* a mostly illiterate redneck, but it’s still an embarassing guilty pleasure.
It’s the same pleasure I’d get from watching R. Lee Ermy have a TV show about bringing 16 morons to a fake boot camp, with the one person able to make it through to the end of training winning the chance to go to Iraq for a one year combat tour as a First Sergeant.
No, seriously. I’d be cheering R. Lee on as he ripped the morons a new one, as one failed to complete a three mile run, or another couldn’t find the courage to do a slide for life, or failed to qualify at the rifle range, or couldn’t keep his left foot straight from his right. But in the back of my head would be the knowledge that no matter WHICH one of these idiots won the final prize, ain’t NONE of them going to be qualified to go to Iraq as a First Sergeant. Oh, HELL no. Why? Because no matter how much hard work and pure HEART the person has, they don’t have the actual training and skills, nor the experience to get the actual final job done!
And likewise, I just can’t see any of the people that compete on Hell’s Kitchen, no matter if they’re the one left standing at the end or not, being capable of handling taking over as the new Head Chef at the fancy fine dining restaurant that is each season’s prize.
I wish them well, but, hell, I wouldn’t eat there after seeing their performance. I have this thing where I don’t LIKE salmonella poisoning, thanks a whole bunch.
Is it just me? I mean, HOLY SHIT, I just watched the two shows back to back tonight, and I just have to wonder, really, is it just me? Am I delusional here?
It’s like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. I’m watching these chefs compete and Gordon scream and yell, and I see the final episodes where a winner is selected and everyone is clapping and screaming and crying and cheering, and I’m all like, “But… they sucked! They can’t. cook. salmon! They sent raw chicken to the pass to serve to a customer. Raw f’ing chicken! Holy shit, are you people all crazy!?! That dude spent the whole time stabbing other people in the back and dividing the kitchen into a resentful hate filled mess! And now you’re putting HIM in charge of a real team? HOLY SHIT! How do you give that person the Head Chef job after seeing all of that! OMIGOD!!!”
And then the blog writer died from overuse of exclamation points.
Okay. I’m calm now.
I’m glad I got that out of me. That’s been bugging me for a long friggin’ time.
Damn, this season of Top Chef is gonna be gooooooooood!
As Hank Williams once said, “All my rowdy friends are coming over tonight….”