[2 March 2010]
I didn’t want to like him, and for a long time I didn’t, instantly changing the channel whenever I saw his mottled face shouting bleeped swear words and inexplicably calling someone a Muppet. But then I got into contemporary cooking shows and somewhere in that transition I finally sort of understood the appeal of Gordon Ramsay.
British celebrity chef Ramsay is the histrionic host of numerous food-themed shows both here and in his homeland. “Food-themed” is me being generous, because while there’s certainly food here and there, shows like The F-Word, Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares are really more about manipulation, wallowing in manufactured confrontation and Ramsay’s gargantuan ego.
The American version of the formulaic Kitchen Nightmares, currently airing its third season on Fox, always sees Ramsay called in to save a failing restaurant. I’ve watched most or all of maybe 10 episodes of the show, and they all fall into a very firm template: Ramsay arrives, samples the food and is appalled. And despite the show’s popularity, every single chef and/or owner is stunned by the criticism.
Ramsay then observes a dinner service that goes down in flames, returns the following day to help craft a dinner special, watches everything fall apart again, completely remodels the restaurant’s interior and its menu “overnight”, and eventually splits town through a gauntlet of awkward hugs.
Ramsay’s success rate in turning these restaurants around isn’t terribly high, but they’d have probably all collapsed without him anyway, so I suppose there’s something to what he does, even if that “something” is the restaurant capitalizing on his name until their episode finally airs.
Most episodes of Kitchen Nightmares seem to happen within 50 miles of Midtown Manhattan, though for the first time in my brief tenure as a viewer, Ramsay finally hit a restaurant in Brooklyn.
I’d never been to Mojito, though I’m fairly certain I’d seen it before as I’m a sucker for Cuban sandwiches. But was it before whenever last year Ramsay stepped in and tried to fix the problem? And since then, have the former couple who co-own the joint gotten less irritating than the program made them come off as? And what’s the story with that one server’s Vulcan hair?
Before now, the episodes of Kitchen Nightmares I’d seen had all been set in restaurants in New Jersey, other parts of New York, even the Midwest. What was it about this one being a place in Brooklyn that got my attention? And do other people in other parts of the country feel the same when they live within spitting distance of a restaurant featured on the show?
Now that I’ve given in and accepted Gordon Ramsay as my personal obnoxious television chef, will he ever hit someplace where I’ve actually choked down a meal. Or will these near misses be enough to give me a phony sense of televised community?