I’m a proud member of several ‘cults’. I’ve been a member of the ‘Cult of Mac‘ for over a decade and a die-hard Trekker and Red Sox fan since I was ten. Recently I’ve enrolled in a new cult that is sweeping the nation; The Cult of Ramsay. Emeril Lagasse? Yesterday’s table scraps. Rachael Ray? Couldn’t cook her way out of a wet paper sack. These days it’s all about the silver tongued chef from Scotland that took the UK by storm and gives Jamie Oliver nightmares.
When I first caught the commercials for Fox’s reality TV show Hell’s Kitchen (new season starts June 4th) starring Gordon Ramsay, I couldn’t stomach the man (no pun intended). I watched in horror as he screamed at contestants and wondered why anyone would put themselves through such, well, such hell. Then I tuned in to watch a few episodes of season 2 with Mindy and I instantly understood why Gordon was always berating the chefs. They sucked! The people the producers pick to compete on Hell’s Kitchen are classic examples of reality TV contestants. Chosen for their colorful personalities, as well as their primary ability to create drama, five-star chef Ramsay is surrounded by talentless hacks who are there for the sole purpose of cooking up their fifteen minutes of fame. Surprisingly I found myself rooting for Gordon and not the contestants each week. I’d scream at the TV right along with him, “Don’t you know the difference between sugar and SALT?!”
Gordon Ramsay has learned through success as well as failure what makes a great chef. To his credit, and despite his sometimes harsh words, he is a skillful teacher. When Gordon yells at a chef, it’s for a damn good reason. It’s obvious watching him cook and run his kitchen that he is a perfectionist in every sense of the word. From recipes and technique to presentation and showmanship, Gordon insists that everything be perfect for the customer. The students under his wing usually realize this and take the verbal abuse with grains of salt just so they can improve and receive a seldom heard compliment from him. When given, it’s like a small nibble of the finest truffle because they know it was hard fought and well earned.
As intense and addicting as Hell’s Kitchen is, I have to say that I enjoy his other UK series even more. The F-Word is another reality cooking series now in it’s third season in the UK with previous seasons airing on BBC America. The show invites a team of guest chefs on each week to cook for 50 patrons in Gordon’s restaurant. The team that has the most successful services (starters, entrees and desserts) earn accolades from Ramsay and bragging rights for all of Britain. The show is fast paced, snarky and features some amazing recipes that you can find on the F-Word’s website. The beef fillet with a gratin of mushrooms seen here is our favorite.
Another Ramsay TV dinner includes ‘Kitchen Nightmares‘ where Gordon attempts to rescue restaurants on the brink of failure. He does this by spending an intense no-holds-bar week at these establishments and critiques them on everything from their food and decor to service and menu choices. Viewers have watched him turn struggling eateries thousands of pounds in debt, into successful, standing room only restaurants. He doesn’t always succeed, but when he does, it makes for incredible television.
Despite his enormous success, Gordon Ramsay does have his critics. Many think of him as a showman chef that’s all sizzle and no steak. Ramsay does have a flair for the theatrical that can get him into trouble. On a recent UK episode of The F-Word, he trotted a freshly killed deer through his dining room so guests could get a better appreciation for venison. Needless to say PETA wasn’t pleased. He’s also is keenly aware of his sex-symbol status to the women (and men) of England and flaunts it every chance he gets. Every episode of Kitchen Nightmares features a sequence where Gordon talks to the camera while he changes, bare-chested, from his civilian clothes to his chef’s jacket. Every time we watch Nightmares we take bets on when he’ll change. It’s kind of like how Mr. Rogers changed from his business suit to his sweater and sneakers, but with a lot more chest hair.
In the end, I can overlook the swear words and the showmanship because I have a deep appreciation for what Gordon does. In his own flashy way, he brings his love of cooking and the world of fine food to us at home. To Ramsay, the customer is king and everything he says and does serves this guiding philosophy. I used to think he was an arrogant son-of-a-bitch who got his jollies from humiliating inexperienced chefs. After watching and listening to him, I know that he’s really a tough drill sergeant that molds recruits into fine culinary weapons. As they say, “war is hell”, but it also makes for some damn fine TV.