Why Hell's Kitchen is not a real food show
It's a lazy Sunday afternoon (mainly because I'm avoiding the task of Defrosting the Freezer...more about that later) and I'm sitting here contemplating TV Reality Cooking Shows.
Hell's Kitchen is yet another reality competition show that is ostensibly about cooking. Star chef Gordon Ramsay pits two teams together in the kitchens of a mockup restaurant, where the contestants must learn to be able to serve the diners with food that's up to Chef Ramsay's standards. It originated in the U.K. on Channel 4, before Fox took Ramsay and the show concept over to the U.S. (There was a second season of Hell's Kitchen on Channel 4 with two 'celebrity' chefs replacing one Ramsay, but it was unmentionably awful so let's forget it ever happened.)
One reason I don't talk about Hell's Kitchen is simple - I can't legally view new episodes here while I'm in Switzerland. I'd have it get it via nefarious means (you know what they are, and if you don't, don't bother). I did catch a couple of episodes when I was in New York in July, and they also showed the first season on ITV, which I can get via satellite.
But the main reason I don't talk about Hell's Kitchen is that to me it's not a real food show. The only food part about it is the restaurant setting.
In Top Chef, the preparation and creation of restaurant quality food was at the center of the show, despite the reality show trappings. That's what made it interesting for me. The other aspects like the inter-dynamics of the personalities and things were fun to watch and talk about too, but above all, the demonstrated ability of the chef-contestants is what made it worth watching from a foodie point of view. The same attraction holds true for Project Runway: although the personality clashes and Jeffrey being mean to Angela's mom and things make for good drama, the highlight of the shows are when Tim Gunn is walking around critiquing the designers in-progress work, and then seeing their final creations go down the runway. It's thrilling in a way to see how Michael can turn a piece of plastic into an elegant looking shrug, just as it was fun to gawk at, and discuss the merits of, Stephen's artsy platings.
What Hell's Kitchen is about is mostly Gordon Ramsay's outrageous personality. Then, there are the often silly little human dramas that go on as on any reality show. There are glimpses of the contestants' creativity or lack thereof, but too few of them to really count. I can't remember any of the food invented by the Hell's Kitchen contestants; the only food I do recall from the show are a couple of ones that they had to serve in the mock restaurant (that the chef wannabes keep on screwing up), such as Ramsay's famous Beef Wellington. But we know already that Gordon Ramsay is a world class chef with several successful restaurants, so of course any dish he's specified has to be good. No drama there.
So what we are left with is mainly is the sight of the mostly hapless chef wannabes-contestants running around like frightened chickens while Gordon Ramsay hurling a stream of abuse at them. It's fun to an extent, but not really enlightening or anything. Hell's Kitchen may draw a bigger audience than Top Chef (I don't know if it does, but it is a network show while Top Chef is on a cable channel), but that doesn't mean it's worth watching from a foodie point of view.
Incidentally, Ramsay has two other U.K. produced food shows: Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, and The F-Word. The F-Word is some sort of talk show/cooking/variety thing which I can't stand watching, but Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, where the Big F*er goes around the country trying to fix failing restaurants, is really entertaining and thought provoking. It is shown sometimes on BBC America in the U.S., so try to catch it if you can...or use those mysterious nefarious measures. I don't think they could bring the Kitchen Nightmares format to the U.S. though...Gordon Ramsay would probably get shot by someone at one of those restaurants-to-be-made-over people in the first 30 minutes. (Update: If you are reading this you probably know that the format was imported to the U.S. Aside from the frequently awful fakey editing and the highly annoying narration, it's basically the same as the original.)
(P.S. We finally settled on a new refrigerator, and should get it delivered this week. Thus the need to Defrost...not one of the fun tasks to do in the kitchen...)
[Update:] Here is a link to a news story about Gordon Ramsay winning a libel suit against a U.K. newspaper that ran an article claiming the production crew of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares had faked an episode of the program.
(Comments closed since it attracts an amazing number of half-wits. One reason why I have stopped talking about food TV shows.)