Hi, and welcome to “Hell’s Kitchen,” the latest effort to put a television camera in a restaurant kitchen, stir up drama, call it “reality” and hope it’s interesting to viewers. The last such effort (that I recall) was “The Restaurant,” which had middling success, due in large part to the total ickiness of its star, Rocco. By the end, we were rooting for Rocco to lose his damn restaurant. But shouting Brits are always more interesting than shouting New Yorkers, simply because there are slightly fewer of them on American TV.
Or so Fox must figure, because this time around they’re giving us British chef Gordon Ramsay, famous for his cooking and notorious for his temper. Ramsay is to take 12 wannabe chefs and whip them – almost literally – into a shape that would make them deserving of their own restaurant. If you came here hoping to see pretty shots of pretty food and hear detailed instructions of how to cook and serve it, you’re in the wrong place. Go watch the Food Network or something. But if you revel in watching people cuss and throw food – and who *doesn’t* enjoy that, really – then this is the show for you.
Ramsay, born in Glasgow and trained up as a chef in London, owns several restaurants in London and has spent nine years running as “England’s Best Chef” – surely not a high bar. I mean, I’ve eaten English food. Ramsay is known (by others, perhaps, or just to himself and his publicist) as “the bad boy of celebrity chefs.” Again, probably not such a high bar. Amidst a lot of yelling-and-cursing footage, Ramsay tells us he gets perfection by pushing people to the max. That’s what he intends to inflict on the 12 “Hell’s Kitchen” contestants. The one who survives – as much by keeping out of Ramsay’s way and eating crow when necessary, probably, as by actually cooking well – will win command of their own restaurant kitchen.
This culinary boot camp will take place in a restaurant literally named Hell’s Kitchen, somewhere in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, and featuring some cool real flames in the sign outside. The kitchen is equipped with 72 cameras, ostensibly the better to give us real, heart-stopping, onion-mincing action and drama. A quick preview sequence of the rest of the season promises us lots of crying and screaming, and possibly someone quitting. Ramsay is called, in quick succession, a maniac, a devil and -- *gasp* -- “worse than Simon Cowell.” As if Simon is THE standard by which all other Brits are measured. (I thought we were measuring them all by Colin Firth. I guess we’re just lowering standards everywhere, aren't we, people?!)
No, “Dewberry” Does NOT Mean “Elf.”
Our 12 lambs to the slaughter are from all over the country, says the voice-over, although anyone reading their bios can see they're primarily from all over New Jersey. I'm guessing a casting director got lazy (and pocketed some travel reimbursements.) The intros are scattered, but I'm going to collect them all here, like a single bowl full of sauteed mushrooms:
Jessica: a corporate headhunter, Jessica loves to cook and sees this as her opportunity to make her dream come true.
Dewberry: Ok, what the hell? Who was smoking crack when they named this boy? He sounds like an elf. But he ain’t built like one. Dewberry is a baker, and looks like he might eat more pastries than he sells. He says his love of food is a southern thing.
Andrew: a young'un at 24, Andrew has already been in the restaurant business (in an undefined capacity) for several years. How, I don’t know, as he’s billed as an office manager. His dream is to become EITHER a chef or a state senator. Um, so his interests are widely varied, I guess. Having met some state senators in my time, I will say that Andrew would probably find the restaurant business to be much more entertaining.
Wendy: a perfectionist, she says fine dining is all about attention to details, and she’ll do whatever chef Ramsay asks. In other words, she’s our kiss-ass.
Elsie: a mother of six, she's excited but scared. She says she's never worked alongside a chef and wonders what the hell she's getting into.
Mary Ellen: a bartender, Mary Ellen wants a new career.
Michael: from California, and already works as a cook. He has lots of tattoos, and says this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
We also have Jimmy and Ralph, and if either of them get a chance to introduce themselves, I missed it both times I watched the tape. But info from other sources tells me that:
Ralph: is a free-lance chef, whatever that means.
And Jimmy: is a purchasing supervisor.
Crap, that’s nine. Where ARE these people? Why can’t they just bloody introduce them? Ok, I remember a Chris from later in the show. Chris is an executive chef. Oh, and there’s Carolann, who evidently is a waitress but not a cook.
That’s 11. I swear to god, this is driving me crazy. Who am I missing? WHO?!!
Oh! Jeff! Ok. Jeff is a finance manager. There. That’s 12. Phew. (I shall now stop with the stream-of-consciousness typing)
Also, we'll have Jean Philippe, the hunky maitre'd with a French accent I could die for. Plus, two sous chefs.
You know, I really dislike it when shows barely introduce their contestants, instead opting to throw us into the action. And I really didn’t like it this time. However, upon later reflection, I realized that it doesn’t matter. These 12 people are not the point of the show. Gordon Ramsay is the point of the show. These other 12 people are just like stage props to show him off.
Cook It Like It’s Hot, Cook It Like It’s Hot
Anyway. Moving on. Immediately upon gathering the 12 contestants in the kitchen, the sous chefs spring a surprise on them -- they've got 45 minutes to make their signature dish for Ramsay. NOW!
Dewberry says everyone looked like a deer caught in headlights. The group spreads out through the kitchen, frantically dicing and slicing and making food that we don't really see, except for Mary Ellen's endive salad -- she informs us that she really loves endives. Um, ok. You can love your endive, but don't *love* your endive, m'kay sweetie?
Ramsay arrives and the cooking sputters to a halt. All 12 dishes are brought to him under silver platters, and the poor cooks stand waiting for the screaming to begin.
First up is Andrew, the cook behind a dish of penne. Ramsay tries a bite, spits it out, and terms it "dogshit." Well, so much for small talk, I guess. Andrew says it could use some salt, to which Ramsay says, "Think you're smart, eh?" Andrew's told to get back in the #$%^ing line.
Ramsay also dislikes the endive salad, pointing out that with 45 minutes, Mary Ellen might could have, you know, *cooked* something. He also slams Jimmy's chicken with goat cheese as tasting like "a dehydrated camel's turd." Say what you want about Ramsay, but the boy makes for colorful quotes.
Ralph's seared red tuna with noodles also gets a thumbs down. Elsie's turkey tacos, however, win the first kudos of the night, however mild those kudos might be -- Ramsay says they look disastrous but taste ok.
Dewberry, unfortunately, made baked spaghetti, and by the time it's his turn up he's thinking, "oh my god, he's going to kill me." Well, if words COULD kill, Elsie would already have won this thing. Dewberry survives, but he hasn't impressed the master.
Nor has Chris, an executive chef. I'm told that an executive chef is like a manager type position, which would explain why Ramsay later disdainfully says that this
guy sits on his ass all day. He's made salmon on a cedar plank -- a bit of unnecessary pomposity, in my view, as who gives a crap about the plank? Can I eat the plank? No? Then don't give it to me, give me some fries instead. Ramsay isn't any more impressed than I am -- he says the fish is raw and that Chris himself is, in fact, a "plank." As in, basically, dumb as.
Jeff, who quit his job for this, gets props for his sauce but nothing else. Jessica's cajun crabs send Ramsay running for the water bottle. Michael's scallop appears to have a part that doesn't belong there, and Ramsay makes him eat it. When Michael says it's not
bad, he's told he has “a palate like a camel's backside.” I'm starting to see a camel-fetish pattern here.
Carolann is the last up. She made chicken parmesan, a risky move since her little fried chicken breast, with its sauce and cheese, looks a lot like it came from Friendly's. But amazingly enough, Ramsay likes it. He says he likes the simplicity of the presentation and the moistness of the chicken. You could have knocked me over with a feather (or a flick of a camel's tail.) Clearly, all those who made fancy fish bits on parts of deciduous trees took the wrong tack to impress the chef.
Overall, Ramsay claims to be horridly depressed. He says there's very little promise here, but that he has vowed he can make anyone into a master chef. But oh, it will be so hard. It will be such a feat if he manages it! Yeah, right.
Really Inventive Team Names
Now that he has viciously crushed 11 egos, it's time to divvy up the 12 contestants into two teams, red and blue. On red is:
Jimmy, Elsie, Dewberry, Jeff, Chris and Carolann.
Andrew, Mary Ellen, Jessica, Wendy, Ralph and Michael.
"Be prepared ... for anything ... and everything," Ramsay intones slowly and sinisterly. (because, of course, one MUST speak slowly to sound sinister. Even a camel knows that.)
The group is shown their dorm, just steps away from the kitchen, while Ramsay slathers on the line about how he's just about to PANIC and doesn't know HOW he's going to work with such shoddy cooks.
Surprise! On THIS Cooking Show, We’ll Be … Cooking!
But remember when Ramsay said they should be prepared for anything? You know, two seconds ago? Well, it's time for anything. AND everything. The group is dragged back to the kitchen, where they're told that -- *gasp* -- Hell's Kitchen (the restaurant) is open
*tonight*. They'll be doing the cooking, he'll be doing the judging, and at the end, one team will win and someone from the losing team is going home. So they'd better fricassee like a mofo if they want to keep living in a dorm off a kitchen and take verbal abuse in a cute-but-mean accent.
As it turns out, the kitchen, and the restaurant, is split up equally. There's a red kitchen and a blue kitchen (not literally, color-wise) and they each have their own tables out in the front of the restaurant. The sous chefs will each supervise one kitchen, and Ramsay will move around on an ad hoc basis, screaming as necessary. They must learn five starters, five entrees, and five desserts (no salads. Sorry, Endive Girl.)
Chris, the executive chef, says he'd rather be on a team of dishwashers, since they understand how a restaurant kitchen operates. Do they really? Because the restaurants I've worked in (admittedly, they were of Chili's caliber) kept the dishwashers sequestered
away in the dishwashing room. Not so much in the kitchen, the dishwashers. But I digress.
There is a 35-person staff -- waiters, and the like -- handling the front of the house. But as Ramsay says, "you need bloody good service to complement the food." With that, he sends Jeff and Ralph to the wait staff for the night. Ralph is irked, but Jeff is relieved; he says he's good with people. (foreshadowing, thy name is Jeff.)
Redundantly, Ramsay tells us he wants the best out of the cooks. "No panic, no wimps, no tears, no blood, just pure concentration," he intones.
As Useless as a Poopy-Flavored Lollipop
After about two hours of the cooks learning their new dishes, it's 7 o'clock, and time for customers. Or, rather, "guests." You can't tell me these people happened to wander in off the street. I'm guessing this is a "friend of a friend" type dealio.
Ralph takes orders and delivers the first one to Ramsay, who yells it out. No one moves. "You stand there like wimps, five bloody wimps!" he shrieks. He yells the order again, and they scuttle away to cook.
Before long, orders are piling in, and Elsie presents her first dish to Ramsay -- a risotto. However, when he turns the dish sideways, then upside down, the risotto doesn't even move. Not a good sign. He flings it, plate and all, into the trash and demands she redo
it. Elsie is almost in tears.
Meanwhile, Ralph has a table of blondes who are getting a bit twitchy for their food. I don't know why, as none of them look like they've eaten more than a bran muffin for 20 years.
In the kitchen, Michael is complaining that there's no lobster pasta. He tells Ramsay, who asks if there are lobsters? (yes) and pasta? (yes) and then points out at the top of his lungs that those would be the ingredients for lobster pasta and that perhaps Michael should shut up and make some, because he's NOT taking a dish off the menu.
Back out front, Ralph's table is whining that they've waited 50 minutes for appetizers. I'd be bitching too, but then I didn't get invited to eat for (probably) free and (maybe) be on TV. I think it's more the last one that prompts one of the blondes to get up and march to the kitchen, where she means to bitch at Ramsay. Fortunately for our entertainment, he bitches first, and tells her to shut up. He tells us service and standards are more important than a bimbo. So, insulting customers equals ... good customer service? Can that be right? It’s like seeing the promised land! Can he come give a motivational seminar to my boss? Because I've been trying to sell that line for years.
Pissed off, the bimbo goes back to her table, where she sits back down meekly.
You Go To Hell! You Go To Hell and You Die! (Nothing Personal)
During all of this, some people have actually gotten their food! *gasp* But evidently this is amazing, because Ramsay is testing every dish and if it doesn't meet his approval, it has to be redone. AND, if any dish from a table's order must be recooked, it ALL has to be redone. Already, Chris has had an overcooked fish part shoved in his chest, and Jimmy's been yelled at about making crap.
"My reputation's on the line," Ramsay fumes. "I didn't come to America to look second best." Second to what? Starvation?
Andrew has begun to think Ramsay doesn't like him. Perhaps it's because when Andrew wants to ask a question, Ramsay demands that Andrew come to him. Hey, chef's prerogative. When Andrew comes to ask whatever it is, he gets his head bit off anyway. Ramsay says it's not about Andrew.
"Kitchens are run on emotions. I may get upset, but it's not personal," he says. Well, and if Ramsay doesn't know these people any better than we do ("Andrew is 24 and likes cooking and long walks on the beach") then I guess he feels like he's just yelling
at nameless, faceless peons.
Ow! It’s Hot! It Hurts! It’s Hell!
Elsie's second risotto passes the test and is sent out. Jimmy's still having trouble, though -- the red team is one dish away from sending out their first entrees, and he burns his hand trying to take something out of a hot metal box. The food in question seems to fall on the floor, which I guess means all those entrees are going in the trash, and Jimmy stomps off to doctor his hand and fume.
Ramsay opines that the big-boned Jimmy will never be a great chef as long as he weighs so much, because it makes him clumsy. I thought a lot of chefs WERE overweight? God knows I would be. "One enchilada for table 14, and one for me..."
Meanwhile, we notice that Carolann is actually standing stock-still, staring off into the distance. Ramsay notices too, and pulls her off desserts (none of which have been required yet) and tells her to make herself useful actually cooking something. She looks
Ramsay then rounds on Jimmy, telling him he's screwing everything up. And then Jeff arrives, trying to put in an order, and Ramsay says he's not #$%$ing ready to take the ticket, leaving Jeff standing there helpless. The entire kitchen is "in the weeds," as we used to say at Chili's, and Jeff is having trouble placating customers, who've begun nibbling their napkins.
Undaunted by their first less-than-warm reception, the blonde bimbos go to talk to Ramsay again. I think they've been sitting there for two hours without so much as a wheat grain in sight.
By now, it's 9:30 p.m., and the first entrees are going out. So are some of the customers, who are starting to get fed up and leave. Informed of this, and seeing that the kitchen situation isn't likely to improve, Ramsay throws in the towel. He tells both teams to stop what they're doing, because he's shutting down the kitchen. He just can't deal with it,
he says. Ramsay storms out in a huff, leaving poor cute Jean Philippe to tell the customers that after almost three hours, they won't actually be getting any food. One woman calls it a disaster. Disaster, stunt-for-ratings, tomato, tomahto.
Andrew, by the way, thinks he busted his ass tonight.
Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall, Who’s the Least Sucky Of Them All?
After Ramsay calms down and the remaining livid customers are bullied out the door, the teams gather to hear how badly they did. Ramsay says that since everyone did so badly, he's using customer comment cards to help him decide.
Remember Jeff's people skills? Yeah, not. No one liked him as a waiter. Well, he didn't like them either, he says, calling it a horrific experience. On the other hand, Ralph's tables said the service was outstanding. I don't know what he did out there to please them in
the total absence of food, but it worked. Maybe we shouldn't question him too closely.
There also appear to be a few comments on desserts -- one team only served one, which the customer liked, and the other team served several that everyone hated. So based on all that, Ramsay decides that the red team loses. The blue team still sucks, he's careful to point out, but the red team sucked more.
Ramsay then deems Elsie to have been the "least bad" of the read team, and as her "reward" she must nominate two team members to be put on the chopping block. Ramsay will eliminate one of them. She has 30 minutes to go back to the dorm and be pressured by her team. She is very uncomfortable.
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Dewberry Scorned
Back in the dorm, Jimmy's convinced he'll be one of the two and doesn't even try to win Elsie over. Carolann keeps telling Elsie that she (Elsie) "kicked ass" tonight, but Elsie doesn't want to hear it; she huffs off to lay down, followed closely by a nervous Dewberry. (how's that for a good name for a rock band? "Nervous Dewberry". Yes? No? Ok, maybe not. It does sound more like a Smurf.)
Dewberry says he's not happy there, of course, but doesn't want to go home. Elsie pats his leg and tells him to hush, that he's safe. *foreshadowing again*
Jeff thinks he's in jeopardy, too. And, conjuring up the spirits of reality-show contestants past, Elsie tells us she's not here to make friends.
Both teams return to the dining room for the Spatula of Doom ceremony. (ok, there's no spatula. And no ceremony. But there should be.) Elsie nominates ... Carolann! and ... Dewberry! That backstabber! Both of them are surprised, and so is Ramsay. He tells Jeff
and Jimmy they really dodged a bullet.
Elsie said she chose Carolann because the two of them are the least knowledgeable around the kitchen, and if their team is going to be one down, someone who's a
cooking ignoramus should be the one to go. She chose Dewberry because he lacked energy and interest that would hurt the team. In Elsie's defense, we see a clip of Dewberry standing around and Ramsay shouting at him to move and stop acting like an overgrown muffin.
The two are given a brief chance to defend themselves. Carolann says she should stay because Ramsay shouldn't underestimate her because of her lack of experience.
Dewberry says he does have a base knowledge of kitcheny things and that's the best he has to offer.
Surprisingly, since he loved her chicken, Ramsay chooses Carolann to get the first spatula out of town. He says she turned her back on the team, and ceremoniously hangs her chef's jacket on a meat hook. Ok, maybe that's better than a spatula. Carolann is very angry, and says it's disappointing to see her dream disappear. *poof*
Elsie says she's never been through anything so stressful in her life (sheltered much?) and Dewberry is plotting some payback if he gets a chance.
Dewberry and Elsie face off; the AC in the kitchen is turned off during the dinner rush, making the "Hell" in Hell's Kitchen feel literal; dinner goes to pieces, customers revolt (I hope they have pitchforks; every revolt needs pitchforks); and a chef walks out. Phat32 will be holding your hand through every twist and turn.
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