Hell's Kitchen


The viewing public is condemned to being fed a steady diet of Apprentice rip—offs, it being an iron law of television that a successful show will spawn numerous bastard offspring. My antipathy to Donald Trump being what it is (I treasure Spy Magazine's repeated characterization of him as a "short—fingered vulgarian"), and my knowledge and experience of business being what it is, I could not stomach the original. Donald Trump is no more an authority on management than I am a billionaire real estate developer.

But one of the spinoffs, Fox's Hell's Kitchen, is actually quite a bit of fun, especially if you don't mind a bit of sadism along the way. Fox is repeating the season debut from last week at 8 PM (Eastern and Pacific), along with episode two following at 9 PM. You could do worse when it comes to mind candy.

The premise is that a group of professional and non—pro cooks are gathered together under the supervision of Gordon Ramsay, a celebrity chef from London (originally from Glasgow). Ramsay is a nasty piece of work, who is obviously modeled on Simon from American Idol.

The cooks are divided into two teams working in adjacent open kitchens in the brand new Hollywood restaurant named (natch) Hell's Kitchen. Like all the so—called reality shows, they will be gradually whittled down to a survivor who will win "his own" restaurant (we are not informed of the legal niceties, but I suspect something like a one year lease, as opposed to any real property).

What makes it fun is the natural empathy we all experience when seeing someone forced to face up to the kind of challenge we might face when cooking a new recipe. But on television. And with a hyper—critical chef standing over our shoulder, and willing to shove a plate of food into our chest, if he doesn't like the result. In comparison, the humiliation of a souffl which didn't rise, a sauce which didn't quite taste right, or a dish served at a dinner party which nobody tastes beyond the first bite, is nothing to worry about.

I've visited a few restaurant kitchens in my day, and it is absolutely true that famous chefs are a testy and imperious lot, on the whole. Especially when the orders are backed—up, and everyone is rushing to keep head above water. It is a high pressure environment, hot, noisy, and stressful.

But Ramsay is way over the top. He is a nightmare. So much so, that viewers can't really take him seriously, though the hapless contestants must. So, our sympathies lie with all of them, the more piteous the individual the better. And the Fox casting directors have picked quite a congregation. (Shockingly, there appears to be not one African American among them, though, a television faux pas of the first magnitude, especially given the prominence of blacks on America—region>'s culinary scene.)

I will stipulate that the show is hokey in the extreme. But as an amateur chef and observer of the fine dining scene, I plan on watching the series for as long as I can stand it.

Thomas Lifson   6 6 05