Oct 03 2006

My weekend in Hell’s Kitchen

Not the famous New York City neighborhood (sadly), but the Fox Network TV show.  And yes, I realize that it's been on the air for two seasons now, but I live in Sweden, remember?

Reality TV shows have been a guilty pleasure ever since I saw "Puck" dip his grubby fingers into a communal jar of peanut butter on The Real World: San Francisco. It's the voyeur in me, I guess. Sweden's Channel 5 aired the entire 1st season of Hell's Kitchen over the weekend, and despite missing the first four episodes on Saturday, Dr. Darling and I were both hooked by early Sunday afternoon.

For those who haven't seen it, Hell's Kitchen is pretty standard reality TV fare…12 wanna-be chefs of varying experience compete against each other in a restaurant kitchen atmosphere under the tyrannic eye of Gordon Ramsay, a world class chef whose eateries have earned numerous Michelin stars.

There's no doubt that Ramsay is a talented chef, but his main job on the show seems to be insulting his apprentices.  When I asked my sister if she'd ever watched it, the first words out of her mouth were, "Is that the one with the head chef who screams a lot and makes his assistants cry?"

She was right of course. I was already familiar with Chef Ramsay's abrasive personality from the BBC series "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares ". In that show he travels around the UK trying to save restaurants from financial ruin and I got completely sucked in after the first episode. I don't know why, but there's just something oddly compelling about a guy with an expensive haircut who cusses like a longshoreman in a Scottish accent.

Ramsay runs Hell's Kitchen like a culinary boot-camp, with the contestants actually living in the same building as the "restaurant."  This makes it really convenient for Chef Gordon to wake them up in the middle of the night for dramatic tasks like baking bread.

Each evening the apprentices cook dinner for a dining room full of "customers", who are essentially extras and are probably even being paid to be there.  Which is why it's so funny when they get all huffy because their food is taking too long. I can just hear the conversation:

Fake Diner #1:  This is ridiculous. Just how long can we be expected to wait for free fois gras ballotine with cured beef and apple compote?

Fake Diner #2:  No kidding. I haven't got all evening to sit around being on national TV. Let's go to Taco Bell.

I sure hope Channel 5 runs season #2!

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